Saturday, April 30, 2011


As I lecture, I emphasize the parallels and connections between the ancient past and modern events.  For example, I point out the part that the Second Bank of the United States played with loose credit encouraging land speculation in the period after the War of 1812--and how this led to the Panic of 1819, which threw a large part of the American population out of work for a while. 

I am reading a paper by a student about the economic effects of the Black Death, and how it helped to destroy feudalism, because land lost much of its value when so much of the peasant labor force died.  She draws a parallel to the collapse of housing prices and the number of vacant houses because of it.  It is obviously not anywhere near as severe as the Black Death, but it is an interesting point--what sort of economic and political consequences might this have?

Joan of Arc Has Her Own Web Site

With documents, letters, and a timeline about her.  Alas, you can't IM or Skype Joan.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Recently Read

James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).  A detailed exploration of the motivations for why Civil War soldiers joined up and stayed in the fight.  McPherson examines letters and diaries of more than 1000 soldiers, North and South, white and black, to ascertain why they did what they did.  It is a powerful reminder that Americans on both sides were deeply committed to their causes in a way that I suspect few Americans are today.

Charles Nicholl, The Reckoning The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (1994).  This is a fascinating exploration of the wheels within wheels of Elizabethan secret agentry and its part in the death of the noted poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe--who was both an agent of the English government, and perhaps was killed by its agents as part of the Machiavellian workings of the battle between various factions within Elizabeth's government.

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010).  Back in 1951, a poor black woman named Henrietta Lacks died of an astonishingly fast growing cervical cancer.  At the same time, scientists were trying to find a way to grow human cells in a culture for research purposes.  All attempts had failed--until these cancer cells taken from Lacks' body after death (and apparently without permission of her family) surprised everyone.  

Skloot's book is several different, closely intertwined and fascinating stories.  One is the story of how Lacks' cells made possible enormous scientific advances, creating much of what is modern medicine.  You will learn an enormous amount about the process by which Lacks' cells continue to reproduce about like you would expect cancer cells to reproduce--but far more effectively than anyone expected.  It is almost like a bad 1950s sci-fi movie.

It is also the story of the ethical problems of human research, with examples that will curl your hair of the use of prisoners in the 1960s.  If you know anything about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and then you find out about this, you can start to see why some of the really outrageous claims popular in black ghettos (such as "AIDS was invented by the federal government to kill off black people") get as much attention as they do: there's a long and pretty sordid history on medical research and blacks.

It is also the very tragic story of Henrietta Lacks growing up in a poor tobacco farming community in Virginia that is depressingly similar to Alice Walker's The Color Purple.  Henrietta Lacks ends up married to her first cousin--with whom she shared a bedroom from a very young age.  Her husband (who was still alive when the book was written) seems to have contributed to Lacks' fame and immortality by bringing her home a witches' brew of STDs, including an HPV strain that is still identifiable in her continuously reproducing cells in labs around the world.

While you can feel tremendous sorrow for the circumstances of Henrietta Lacks' life, and that of her children and relatives, Skloot does not sugarcoat the situation.  There is much here that reminds you that an awful lot of the evil that has destroyed so many black people in America isn't the result of racism; it is stuff done to them by their own families.  This is one of those books that makes you want to cry.

As you may have guessed from the above links, I have dropped my boycott of Amazon.  The book that originally provoked it is gone, and it appears from this that Amazon has learned that there is nothing courageous about offering such materials.

Something Shocking Has Happened

Top notch customer service.  I have a Char-Broil brand gas barbecue (model 463751306) that we bought shortly after we moved into this house.  We get some awful windstorms up here (in the original sense of awful: "awe-inspiring").  We have had heavy tables and chairs picked up and carried away by the wind.  The barbecue has been knocked over a number of times. In one recent expression of Mother Nature's fury, the handle on the barbecue cover was utterly shattered, and the valve controlling gas flow was jammed hopelessly into the on position.

I emailed customer service at Char-Broil because I could not quite figure out which part to order.  They responded by phone a day or two later with a detailed and useful message.  I called back, and quickly determined what parts I needed with a representative who was clearly interested in getting my barbecue working at minimal cost in repairs.

I could learn to love this.

Living on NyQuil

My wife and I are both recovering from something nasty that is hitting a lot of people in the Boise area.  She bought some of what purports to be "original flavor" NyQuil--which to say that is a "flavor" implies something positive.  Looking at this awful tasting green stuff, my wife decided it isn't a mint julep--more like a grasshopper julep.

There's a Lot of That Going Around

Some of the papers that I am grading are quite entertaining, often for the right reasons.  But there are moments: the Black Death caused an outburst of "anti-semantic fervor."  As long as it does not cause anti-syntactic fervor, too.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

For Those Who Regard Zombies...

as the most pressing social concern in the world today: the first Zombie Proof House

I have a vague recollection of reading that during the ten year or so civil war between Stephen and Matilda in the twelfth century over who would rule England, the country was so lawless that any houses built above the mud hut level were effectively fortresses.  This looks like the sort of house that rich people will have built for the civil collapse that is likely to happen if we do not do something about these yawning budget deficits now.

At this point, I am quite prepared to accept an increase in taxes as long as it includes substantial spending cuts.  Why, I could even tolerate something as barbaric and savage as the federal government spending levels of 2006 to accomplish this.  I would find a two point increase in marginal income tax rates on people making above a million dollars a year an acceptable part of such a budget, even though it would only make a small difference in the net deficit.  (Since these would be mostly Democrats who funded Obama's 2008 campaign, do not count on that happening.)

The Long Form Birth Certificate

It took long enough.  Some people are still hanging on to the belief that it is a fake.  If so, it was at least done by someone reasonably competent (unlike the Bush Air National Guard memos).  I suspect that Obama finally realized that keeping this controversy alive was not just making Republicans look stupid, but the increasingly mystified reactions from Democrats was eroding his numbers.

Now we can start worrying about the more serious problems of the Obama Presidency, such as his unwillingness to confront the spending disaster that is making Bush and the Republican Congresses seem positively financially responsible.

UPDATE: I notice that WorldNetDaily claims that twins born the day after Obama, and whose birth certificates were registered (and therefore numbered) three days after Obama, have a lower certificate number.  Now, that would be a most curious and worrisome problem.  But WorldNetDaily images of those birth certificates are so small that all you can see are the certificate numbers--not the dates.  I blew up the images, and yes, WorldNetDaily may be right about this, but you would think if you had confidence, you would supply high resolution pictures.

Semester Is Coming To An End...

Finally.  Two more weeks and I am done.

I installed Skype on my dual boot PC this evening for an television interview that did not pan out, and oddly enough, Skype worked fine under Windows, but the sound was faint and scratchy under Linux.  I was having problems keeping the connection between the docking station and the monitor, so I removed it--and voila!  The sound problem with Skype under Linux went away.  My guess is that the docking station has some hardware problems because of connection intermittency--and somehow, the Windows device drivers managed to handle those problems, but the Linux drivers did not.

I found the Android development kit for Linux, and I may start playing around with this once the summer hits.  If no private sector company will hire me, perhaps I will have to figure out some clever app for the Android phones, and make some money that way.

When Will The World End?

If in doubt, the End of the World Notification Service web page collects the various predictions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I Could Get Addicted To Linux Again

I was trying to get a Linux script written today at work that to be honest, I should not even need to be writing.  I'll leave out the gory details, but previous people who no longer work there have left us a development environment that would have been perfectly acceptable in about 1975, and even somewhat excusable in 1985.  (I was working in the industry both years, so I know of what I speak.)  Today?  Not even slightly.

Anyway, the script that I was writing was really not that complicated, but using vi (or vile, as it is properly known) makes me rapidly lose interest in doing anything, and I am not having any luck installing any of the minimal sets of emacs on the Linux boxes we use.  (A good friend provided me the microEmacs source that he uses, but whatever variant of Linux we have at work does not have the term.h file defined--which I thought was about as vanilla as you could get when it comes to Unix/Linux variants.)  Aggravating matters, I am using telnet to connect up, and it is astonishing how slowly everything seems to work that way.  

I could put in a request to have our operations sorts install emacs there, but it would probably take a year or more for it to happen.  You know the way that Dilbert parodies the security paranoia of Dilbert's corporate IT sorts?  It is perilously close to being that way--although admittedly, we are running a prison system, so a fair bit of paranoia is probably appropriate.

Anyway, I mentioned a few days ago that I was replacing the soon to be dead hard disk on my older notebook so that I could run Windows and Ubuntu Linux dual boot.  (The soon to be dead hard disk is now a 20 GB portable USB drive.)  This is a pretty obsolete notebook--a Compaq NC6000 that HP gave me in 2007 when they upgraded my work notebook.  Yet Ubuntu Linux, in Terminal mode, using emacs, runs like a bat out of hell!  I was able to recreate the script in about ten minutes that took me at least an hour to do at work.  Some of this is because I had to remember how to write csh scripts again, and remember how to use sed to extract just some of the information out of wc -l, but also, Unix/Linux is still a spectacular development environment for basic software development, once you get vile out of the way.

Of course, I am blogging from the Linux box!

Trying To Stop a Fight in a McDonald's Can Get You Shot To Death

In Britain.  From April 21, 2011 Mirror:

A DAD-of-four who split up a fight in a McDonald’s was shot dead moments after being told he wouldn’t see the morning.

Raymond Mitchell, 34, had only popped into the restaurant to buy a hot chocolate.

But he apparently caused offence after splitting up two men fighting in the queue.
One of them, who had several gold teeth, shouted at Raymond: “You are gonna die tonight, you are not gonna see the morning.”
Read more:
I notice that I do not hear gun control advocates giving Britain as an example of the effectiveness of very strict gun control laws anymore.  I wonder why?

I Can Do It A Lot Cheaper

Instapundit links to an ABA Journal item about how it costs about $100,000 for top law professors to write a law review article.  While I am skeptical of the assumptions behind that $100,000 per law review article published (that half of a law professor's time each year is spent on research and writing), my only reaction is: why are they so inefficient?  I occasionally write law review articles that have an influence--and I could whip out five or six of them a year, if someone was paying me to do that full-time.  It would be so interesting and so much fun, it would not take $100,000 a year to persuade me to do it, either.

I was surprised to find out that many law schools actually compensate their professors for getting law review articles published.  I wish it worked that way for non-law professors!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Good News

There are a lot of companies trying to hire Java engineers in Boise at the moment.

UPDATE: A friend in the Bay Area tells me that employers are having trouble hiring people for tech jobs out there as well.  This is encouraging news.  If you are in a job sector or region that is not yet showing signs of recovery, have courage.  Even Obama could not destroy the power of the American economy forever.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Just Saw The Conspirator (2011)

I have a few concerns about parallels to Gitmo that make me wonder if they were forced or inaccurate--after all, Robert Redford directed it.  I need to spend some time checking these parallels for historical accuracy--perhaps I will write a movie review for PajamasMedia based on my research.  But from the standpoint of filmmaking, The Conspirator is topnotch.  Fine, often understated performances; beautiful sets and attention to period detail; a powerful story; even a script that leaves the historical ambiguity in place that while we can be pretty sure that Mary Surratt received an unfair trial, there is some serious uncertainty whether she was actually innocent or not.  The film even has a mildly serious acknowledgment that in wartime, justice sometimes takes a backseat to the survival of a nation, no matter how ugly the results.

UPDATE: Was not able to sell it, so...

The Conspirator

I teach history.  I write history books.  As a result, my reaction when I see a drama about historical events usually ranges somewhere between rage and disappointment.  I understand the need to modify events and speeches for dramatic effect, or to combine several characters in the interests of keeping a storyline moving.  I have written one screenplay concerning an historical set of events, and I know that rigidity can destroy a story.

That said, there are films that really impress me.  Glory (1989), for example, takes a few minor liberties with history, but leaves alone the important facts and ideas about Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the first black Union regiment during the Civil War.  At the same time, it is about as perfect as any film can be: exciting; thoughtful; emotionally stirring; patriotic; beautifully filmed and edited, with a cast of powerful actors.

Other films drive me crazy, because they had so much potential to be historically accurate—and chose not to be.  Mel Gibson’s The Patriot (2000) is also exciting and emotionally stirring, and also a fine example of the filmmaker’s art—although not at the same level of Glory.  What infuriated me about The Patriot was that it was clearly based on the actual events of Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion’s campaign against the British during the American Revolution—but took enormous liberties with the historical facts.

When I saw the first reviews of The Conspirator, with references to the parallels to current events, I was a bit worried.  Then I saw that Robert Redford was the director—and I was very worried.  Was this going to be a hit piece on President Bush?  The film is about the people tried and executed for their part in the Booth conspiracy, which involved more than simply the assassination of President Lincoln.  The government tried the defendants not in civilian courts, but by military commission.  Shades of Guatanamo!  

I admit I went into the film with considerable apprehensions about this.  There are some parts that immediately smacked of intentional manipulation—but they turned out to be true.  The hoods?  Yes, they were real, and not just for transportation, as with the prisoners on the way to Gitmo, but 24 hours a day.  These hoods ordered by Secretary of War Stanton were far more uncomfortable than anything handed done at Gitmo.  A couple of sessions of waterboarding would be considered a less severe torture than these.

Similarly, the hysteria of the nation after Lincoln’s assassination was very real—in many respects, much more severe than anything that happened after 9/11.  Of course, one difference is that the loss of life in the Civil War was vastly more severe.  I do not want to spoil the film for you, so I will not give a point-by-point examination, but on every point where I found myself wondering, “Is Redford trying to score political points with this comparison?” the historical evidence is completely solid.

I was also pleased that while The Conspirator certainly takes a liberal point of view concerning the question of military trials, it does at least acknowledge that the government’s position was not necessarily malicious.  There were legitimate concerns, not just for national security but also for the task of rebuilding a shattered nation.  While the film does not mention it, the presidential suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was one of the great Constitutional crimes of the Lincoln Administration.  Lincoln’s view—sounding much like something that President Bush or Attorney-General Ashcroft might have said in 2002 or 2003—was that the nation itself was in peril, and it was better to violate one part of the Constitution than “the government itself go to pieces.”  Today, we can look back at such clearly unlawful steps as arresting members of the Maryland legislature to prevent Maryland’s secession, and recognize that Lincoln was operating in a crisis situation.  Lincoln justified his actions by the pursuit of a greater good, and today, liberals grudgingly admit that he was right.  How many years will it take before liberals can look back on the Bush Administration’s occasional overstepping of its authority after 9/11, and give them the same benefit of the doubt?

I am also pleased that the film avoided the cheap and easy strategy of making Mary Surratt into a pure victim.  Much like the real evidence of history, the film shows the ambiguity of the evidence.  She did not receive a fair trial—but she was probably not innocent, or at least not completely innocent.

As history, I am very pleased.  As film, I am thrilled.  Variety’s review called it “‘12 Angry Men’ with kerosene lamps.”  I would strongly disagree.  Unlike 12 Angry Men, it is not confined to a jury room, or a courtroom.  Much of the drama indeed takes place in a courtroom—but it is by no means confined to that setting.  The matte paintings, the sets, and the attention to period detail shows that the producers spent a lot of money recreating Civil War Washington in great detail.  The acting is powerful in its subtlety, with strong performances by James McAvoy, Robin Wright, and Kevin Kline.

This is a somewhat cerebral drama.  If your idea of a great film involves lots of explosions, car chases, and gunfights, you will probably want to pass.  But if you are looking for an interesting reminder that crisis often leads to difficult decisions, I can strongly recommend The Conspirator.

Drive Cloning

I found a program called DiskImage XML that a number of people thought highly of for cloning a disk drive, when getting ready to install a new drive.  It seems to do what needs to be done.  I created an NTFS Active partition on the new drive (connected through a USB adapter).  I used the drive to drive copy.  But it does not boot when I put the new drive into the notebook.  No errors--just sits there, stupidly, when it should be booting.

I hate to pay someone to do this, when it is probably something simple.

UPDATE: Now using Acronis Migrate Easy.  It is free for a 15 day trial--which is more than sufficient for cloning a hard disk.  It seems a bit more automated and well packaged specifically for cloning hard drives.  I'm running it now on the other computer.  I'll report back in a few hours when I get from the theater.

UPDATE 2: It works, and it works very well.  You can download what they call the demo version of Acronis Migrate Easy (which means, a 15 day trial) here.

Sarah Palin: Great Speaker

See it here.  And without a teleprompter.

Maybe she isn't qualified to be President.  But she sure looks a heck of a lot stronger than any other Republican whose name is being discussed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Beautiful Finch of Some Sort

In spite of the rain (and occasional snow flurries still!), we are getting a variety of songbirds.  They are lovely to wake up to in the morning.  This little critter, some sort of finch, was eating outside the kitchen window.

I am afraid the focus was not great--I was close enough, and with enough zoom, that not every part was in equal focus.  It appears to be a House Finch.


I have used the U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail system for shipping ScopeRoller products for several years now.  The major reason that I switched from UPS, a private sector company, is that I needed a way to calculate shipping costs on the website.  UPS did not make this easy, and finally, I decided to use Priority Mail because they had a flat rate box.  I could fill up their flat rate box with just about anything lead weights and I would know exactly what it would cost to ship anywhere in the U.S.

Eventually, this expanded to an international flat rate Priority Mail service, and then they added a small box (too small for my product to fit) and a large box (useful for the very large caster sets that I build).  Again: having a guaranteed maximum price really simplified calculation.  If a customer is nearby, sometimes the shipping comes in a bit less than the flat rate price.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had switched from 5" diameter to 3" diameter casters, and this had several positive effects.  Yet another pleasant discovery was that I can now use the Postal Service's Regional Rate A box for shipping most of ScopeRoller's products--and instead of $10.50 for shipping, it is even cheaper! 

It also is a nice tight fit.  I recycle grocery shopping bags for packing material, and nothing is loose inside the box now.

That Shooting in the Netherlands

A scholar studying gun control issues in the Netherlands tells me that local news coverage indicates the shooter had been diagnosed schizophrenic, hospitalized for ten days after a suicide attempt, and had apparently stopped receiving treatment.  Weirdest of all, since the Netherlands has very strict gun control laws--his gun permit was not revoked after his commitment, diagnosis, and at least one suicide attempt.

I do not think that there is much merit to restrictive gun control laws.  For ordinary criminals, they clearly do not work.  For the mentally ill, they have the potential to work at the margins, perhaps disarming a few people with serious mental illness problems who should not have guns.  However, a recurring problem is that even societies with very strict gun control systems--do not seem to work very well.  Hamilton, the guy who committed the horrifying Dunblane Massacre in the 1990s had a license to own several handguns.  Yet, he was well-known to the police as a pedophile, was not a member of a gun club (as Britain's very strict gun control laws required), and there had been a number of complaints by parents that the guy seemed unhealthily interested in little boys. 

In a discretionary license issuance system like Britain, this should have been the last person who would have qualified for a license to possess a handgun.  It has been suggested that Hamilton's pedophilia may have actually helped him to get a permit--with some dark suggestions that he had similar interests with a number of police officials in the area.  There have been other hints and clues that indicate that perhaps being a member of a fraternal organization with some of the police officials of the area may have helped him to skip the rules that would otherwise have applied.  We don't know, because nearly all the records were sealed for 75 years, ostensibly to protect children that Hamilton had abused.  I suspect that it was really about protecting police officials from answering questions about how this guy had a license.

Similarly, the Martin Bryant mass murder in Australia some years back also involved some very questionable decisions by local police.  At least two people died under at least suspicious circumstances, leaving Martin Bryant enough money to be independently wealthy.  One was his father, who was found stabbed, shot, and weighted down with diving weights in a pond.  That was ruled suicide. 

The other was an elderly woman who Bryant was apparently a gigolo for, who died in a car accident.  Bryant was in the car at the time of the accident--and there were witnesses who said that the old lady had said that Bryant would sometimes playfully jerk the steering wheel away from her while driving.  This was ruled an accident.

In both cases, Bryant inherited significant amounts of money from these dead people--and police seemed not even slightly prepared to investigate any deeper.

Restrictive gun control systems are a bad thing--but there is something worse: and that is when these restrictive systems are not obeyed.  Some people look for deep conspiracies to explain this: "The Illuminati are arranging for world wide gun control!"  But there is a simpler explanation: corruption and cronyism prevents these systems from working, and when a tragedy happens, the solution is not to look at police corruption, but at stricter gun control laws.

Righthaven Again

The details of the contract between Righthaven and Stevens Media (owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal) have been unsealed in a court case, much against Righthaven's wishes.  Having read the contract in detail now, I can see why they are upset.  It turns out that contrary to the claims made in the lawsuits that they filed against hundreds of people (me included), they were not the owners of the copyright.  As Legal Satyricon (who just also happens to be the attorney whose firm defended us) points out, this is a big problem for Righthaven:
For those of you lack fluency in Copyright law, Silvers v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 402 F.3d 881 (2005), says that you need to assign a specific right under 17 U.S.C. § 106 – and not the bare right to sue – for a copyright assignment to be valid.  Other courts, such as Sybersound, have held that you need an exclusive right in order to sue for infringement of your copyright rights.
Hundreds of lawsuits were filed--and settlements extracted under threat of those lawsuits--with the now apparently false claim that Righthaven owned the lawsuit, and was not simply suing on behalf of Stevens Media.  Sections 3.3 and 3.4 are quite clear that Righthaven is suing on Stephens Media's behalf--not that Stephens Media has sold the copyright to Righthaven.  Stephens Media  "shall have the right to reassign any such copyright" hardly sounds like Righthaven bought the copyright at all. 

I think this is going to be a very big problem for Righthaven.  If they have any sense, they will stop suing, and make sure that they have enough money to defend themselves from the suits that are going to be filed by people who made settlements based on the apparently inaccurate claims in those suits that Righthaven owned the copyright.

UPDATE: There seems to be other provisions of this contract that do seem to grant them copyright ownership.  Very confusing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Unneeded Disclaimers

From, this astonishing disclaimer:
8 X 10 Storage shed
picture Not Actual Size 
Oh, I don't know.  Maybe if you have one of those 40 foot wide flat screen monitors on your computer....

Promises, Promises

The Daily Beast claims:
The budget deal, angrily rejected by Nancy Pelosi as it passed Thursday, was the last straw. Patricia Murphy on why some liberals are now pushing for a primary challenge to the president.
It's Jimmy Carter all over again!  At least, we can hope.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Very Close to Giving Up on TurboTax

I mentioned last year that TurboTax pulled a Geithner on me (although not in my favor) by pulling in my Schwab statement's interest and dividends for the year--but leaving the previous year's data in place, more than doubling my interest and dividend income.  I was able to fix this manually, but it was a good thing that I checked it carefully, and did not just trust the software to do the right thing.

Guess what?  Exact same mistake this year.  It left 2009's interest and dividend income in when it imported the 2010 data.  I'm not a liberal, so a mistake like this isn't going to put another million dollars in the IRS's pocket, but still, this is a non-trivial amount of extra tax it computed.

If you use TurboTax, and have interest and dividend income being automatically imported from your broker, I would encourage you to verify that you are getting what you are supposed to be getting.

UPDATE: That does it.   Form 1099-B from Schwab had three bond sales on it--but TurboTax repeated one of those sales.  As it turned out, it had no impact on my taxes because there was no capital gain on it.  (It was a Fannie Mae bond that I had bought at par, and which was called at par.)  But if this had been something with a capital gain on it, it would have increased my taxable income. 

I am small fry: a few bond transactions each year, so it is pretty easy to verify the accuracy of this stuff, but imagine if you were a progressive or Marxist, and had hundreds of bond transactions a year.  How would you know that TurboTax had screwed up?

I'm Sure There's a Purely Natural Explanation

But it sure would be nice if there wasn't.  CBS channel 5 in San Francisco reports that man ran out of a San Francisco porn store "engulfed in flames" with third degree burns:
Arson investigators said it was not exactly clear how the man caught fire. Police indicated he had apparently been watching videos in a private booth when the fire ignited.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yet Another Reason To Keep Pot Illegal!

Global warming.  My first reaction when I saw the headline was to snicker loudly:

People growing marijuana indoors use 1 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, and they create 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year (not counting the smoke exhaled) according to a report by Evan Mills, an energy analyst at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
After medical pot use was made legal in California in 1996, Mills says, per-person residential electricity use in Humboldt County jumped 50 percent compared to other parts of the state.
I am not quite sure that I believe this.  Either a big chunk of Humboldt County is growing pot, or the amount of electricity to run those Gro-Lites is just beyond belief! Perhaps we need to build nuclear power plants to keep the potheads happy.

Hard To Believe This Could Happen

A Yale student died of "asphyxia due to neck compression" when a lathe she was operating grabbed her hair.  (And probably one of the prettiest operators of a lathe in recent history.)  The lathe that I have is not very powerful--and I do not have long hair.  It is a sobering reminder that when operating any power machinery, you darn well better be careful.  No loose clothing.  No loose jewelry.  Have your hair short, in a bun, or otherwise somewhere that it can't get in spinning machinery.  One of my sisters, when quite young, had an unfortunate accident with a mixer and one of her braids--but a mixer is nothing like a powerful lathe.

New Article on PajamasMedia

"Pay No Danegeld"

Gray Hair: The Enemy of Employment

I have always thought that there was something a bit vain about worrying about gray hair--but it is becoming increasingly apparent that being "old" (you know, more than 40) is a major problem for software engineers looking for a job.  For the next time that I start worrying about this, any suggestions on products that work well, especially on a beard?  I cannot imagine using such a product on a regular basis, but once through the interview process, I know that my performance is quite sufficient to overcome the prejudices against being ancient, and I can then go back to being myself.

I somewhat resent having to play games like this, but it could be worse, I suppose.  There was a time, only a few decades ago, when some Americans had to use skin lighteners for the same reason.

Leveling The Drill Press

I keep getting more and more focused on precision--even with tools like a drill press, which are not necessarily terribly precise.  I can at least aim for more precision, however.

The latest effort is to get the drill press exactly level to the floor.  During some of my manufacturing processes, I use a bubble level to make sure that parts are exactly square to the drill bit or tap.  Of course, this assumes that the drill press table is square to the drill press spindle, and that both of these are square to the floor.  I knew that my garage floor is not exactly level, but I learned to compensate for the difference--which direction from exactly level the bubble in the level should be.

The base of the drill press has four 7/16" holes intended for mounting it to bolts in the floor, or to a plate that contains such bolts.  I do not have anything to mount those holes to, so I tapped those holes for 1/2"-13 bolts.  Then I verified that the drill press table was exactly square to the spindle, not by trusting the degree marker on the table, but by putting a square to the table and a long drill bit in the chuck.  Then I put 1/2"-13 bolts in those tapped holes, and turned them until the bubble level on the drill press table was exactly centered.

I doubt that this makes a huge difference--but it means that instead of being off as much as a degree or two when I drill and tap a hole, I suspect that am now off by half a degree or less.

No, It Still Makes Sense To Make House Payments

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was not getting any tax advantage anymore from my house mortgage interest, because I pay so little interest, and it might be time to pay it off.  But it turns out that the amount of interest that I pay is so little that I only have to earn about 3% interest net taxes on my savings to make the mortgage a wash.  That is not at all difficult to do.  Even my PayPal account pays 3% interest, and tying the money up in a 30 year Treasury will give more then 4.5% at the moment--so it comes out, after taxes, at better than 3%.

I'm Glad The Europeans Have Very Strict Gun Control Laws...

It prevents things like this from happening.  From the April 9, 2011 Daily Mail:

A gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon at a crowded shopping mall outside Amsterdam on Saturday, leaving at least six people dead and wounding 11 others, Dutch officials said.
The attacker was among the dead after fatally shooting himself at the Ridderhof mall in Alphen aan den Rijn, Mayor Bas Eenhoorn said. The suburb is less than 15 miles (25 kilometers) southwest of Amsterdam.
Four of the wounded were in critical condition, five were in serious condition and at least two others were slightly wounded, Eenhoorn said.
Actually, all that strict gun control does is guarantee that no victims are going to return fire.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Lucidicus Project saw a sneak preview of Atlas Shrugged and liked it:
The opening sequence features a racing locomotive and television news flashes describing the dire state of the world—a world in which rail transportation has reemerged as the only efficient way to move people and goods due to high oil prices. The introduction is gripping and ought to be enough to get anyone excited for the story. I, for one, fully support the decision to set this adaptation in the year 2016, rather than to attempt to recreate the original era of the novel.
I confess: it is always a struggle to know whether to update a story for modern sensibilities, or to leave it in its original context.  I was disappointed to see Starship Troopers updated into modern sensibilities, because part of what made Heinlein's novel so charming was how it captured the 1950s sentiments--and was shocking change we have experienced since then.

I also saw The Book of Eli yesterday--and I was utterly startled by it.  For a film that opens as a violent action film, it is about as bluntly Christian as mainstream Hollywood can produce.  The latter 1/3 of this film is the type of film that Hollywood used to make: The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Miracle in the Rain.  At the same time, the violent action film that is the first 1/2 or 2/3 of the film will attract a lot of people who are unlikely to be otherwise exposed to the Christian message in even a diluted form in post-Christian America.

I am watching a fascinating documentary,  Azorian: The Raising of the K-129, about the CIA's Glomar Explorer project to raise the Soviet nuclear submarine K-129 from 16,000 feet of ocean in the 1970s--one of the most impressive engineering projects ever attempted, and which was largely a success.  I knew quite a bit about the project--but the more I learn from watching this, the more impressed I am. 

Remember that the reason we won the Cold War was not that we had more courageous spies and military: the Soviets were never short of these, either.  We won the Cold War because we outengineered and outproduced the Soviet Union.  When Reagan bluffed with the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviet Union did not know that it was a bluff (or at least, was largely a bluff).  Knowing that we stuck a claw through three miles of ocean to lift 2/3 of a nuclear submarine to the surface in the 1970s must have made the Soviet leadership realize that they were confronting the most capable engineers the world has ever seen.

Doing Taxes Gets Less and Less "Fun" Every Year

For the second year in a row, my mortgage interest does me no good.  I don't pay enough mortgage interest to exceed the standard deduction anymore.  (Or another way of looking at it, I don't make enough money anymore.)  It may be time to pay off the mortgage instead.

My part-time employers (teaching) calculate the amount of federal and state income tax to withhold as though the pitiful wages they pay me is a full-time position--so they withheld nothing at all for the IRS.

This is going to be a very painful check to write.  The temptation to stop doing any work except my daytime job is getting very strong.  At least it would simplify my taxes.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Drive Cloning

The replacement hard disk for the Linux/Windows dual boot PC has arrived.  I will be putting the new drive on through a USB connector so that I transfer the old drive's contents to the new one, then install the new one.  There are a variety of freeware programs out there for doing the transfer from the old disk to the new one (a process known as cloning, because you have to get the boot sectors right).  CloneMaxx looks attractive because it supposedly works with multiple partitions, not all of them Windows.  Does anyone have experience (good or bad) with any of the freeware cloners?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

These Are The Days That I Get So Discouraged...

I am exhausted from teaching three sections and working full-time--and I see no realistic end in sight.  There are gobs of private sector jobs here in Boise for software engineers now--but I am apparently too old for an interview.  (I am told that I should drop the first 10-12 years of experience off my resume, so that I do not seem to know as much.)  I really can't imagine doing this 1 3/4 time employment year after year, and it is not really practical to live just on a state government job.

UPDATE: I should probably stop whining and get used to it.  This problem is not going away soon--maybe not in my life time.  One of these days, the left is going to lose control of the government, and the temptation will be very strong to take some sort of revenge--you know, like the sequence in Dr. Zhivago where the proletariat take over the Zhivago home in Moscow, and the Zhivagos have to live in one large room.  I suppose the equivalent after the Revolution (assuming that we are not too depraved of a society for that to work) would be requiring the leftists to give up their private jets, oceanfront homes, and penthouses and fly commercial, live away from the coasts, and live in ranch homes.

Another Strategy for Tapping With a Drill Press

I mentioned a few days ago a technique for getting exactly square tapped holes using a drill press.  One downside of that approach is that a tap wrench and tap are often substantially longer than the drill bit used to drill the hole.  In many cases, this means that you have to move the table down to have enough room for the tap wrench and tap.  Now you may have to move the workpiece a little so that the tap is exactly aligned with the hole.

I came up with an even simpler method, at least when tapping relatively soft materials such as acetal.  After you drill the hole, replace the drill bit with the tap and turn the chuck by hand while turning the press downward.  (You can use the chuck key to hold the chuck while turning it without the risk that you might loosen the chuck.)  This works well, and solves the problem of the tap and wrench being much longer than the drill.  This gives you the precise squared threads of that other technique, and only requires two hands.  The other technique is a bit clumsy for those of us who, unfortunately, lack three hands.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Machining Nuisances

I needed to cut a diagonal slot in a piece of acetal, so I put in the Sherline vise, mounted that on the tilting table at 30 degrees, and started cutting.  The Sherline vise under the best of conditions just does not have a lot of clamping force.  The head on the 10-32 machine screw that provides the clamping force, unfortunately, is now pretty chewed up, so I need to replace it--limiting the clamping force even more.  The next result was that I could not do what I needed.

I have a drill press vise that I squared pretty decently last year that I use for larger workpieces--but it is way too large to fit inside the Sherline tilting table.  I am thinking of removing the front and rear of the tilting table from the two pieces of very flat aluminum, and installing them on two much larger sheets (which I will also have to make as flat as I can using the vertical mill).  I could make a tilting table big enough to handle this larger drill press vise.  Of course, how do you hold a piece of aluminum larger than the drill press vise, when you are going to mount the drill press vise on those pieces of aluminum later?  The answer is not the Escher device, but to mount the aluminum plates on something that fits inside the vise.  This may require several passes of approximate squaring.

If I had to pick a single aspect to the Sherline vertical mill that drives me utterly crazy, it would have to be the Sherline mill vise.  It simply does not have enough grip to handle anything large enough to be worth my while to machine.  There are other mill vise makers out there, but I suspect that retrofitting the tilting table to handle my larger drill press vise is probably the right solution.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Bad Sign

When you receive a paper that seems to be so much a parody of Bill and Ted from Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Adventure that you are actually laughing.