Friday, February 29, 2008

Virtual vs chain link fences

Never did understand the enthusiasm for a "virtual" (aka electronic burglar alarm) fence on the border. A real chain link fence has real deterrent value and doesn't suffer from power outages, software crashes, broken wires, and all the other ills of electronic devices. It's also cheaper.
By the way, it doesn't take much of a truck to push thru a chain link fence, so they don't keep out vehicles. A vehicle proof wall like the Israeli's put up is much more expensive than a fence.

Sell hard drives, call them green

Western Digital is claiming to roll back global warming with a new hard drive that saves 4 or 5 watts over the competition. Big deal. Turning off a single light bulb will save 60 watts, and no body excapt your mother thinks you can stall off global warming by turning off lights when you leave the room. Four or five watts will make a laptop's batteries last a bit longer, but it won't save the world.
BTW, I got a foot of new snow on my porch, it's zero out side, and another foot of snow is expected tomorrow. Must be global warming.

Prince Harry serves in Afganistan

Prince Harry wanted to serve in combat badly enough to work a deal with the press, keep secret the fact that he was in country in return for good photo coverage and perhaps an interview afterwards. The deal didn't keep, someone leaked, and Harry is being rotated home before the Taliban launch suicide bombers at him.
Good for Harry. Sets a good example. How many US leaders have sons or daughters serving in a combat zone?

State funded aid to education

The Manchester Union Leader has a story about the state school funding situation here. I read t the article, and the only part that made sense to me was the $914 million part. That's a lot of money, I wonder where it is coming from. Is the state planning to skim that much money off the town property taxes for redistribution? There was talk about a new formula for sharing the money but I don't know just what it means. I was unable to determine from the article whether my town would be a winner or a looser.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How high will Grafton County phone bills go?

According to the Manchester Union Leader, the Fairpoint Communications deal to take over Verizon's telephone service in the up country is going to go thru, the public utility commissions in Maine, NH and Vermont have OK'd the deal.
So what does that do for us customers? Will Fairpoint ask the public utility commissions for a rate hike to pay off the bonds they floated to buy the aging Verizon poles, wire, and central offices? Does anyone think there is any growth or income opportunities in the wired telephone business? In a day when none of my three children has a wired phone? Verizon is selling out 'cause they aren't making money. If they can't make money what makes anyone think Fairpoint can?
Fairpoint has made happy talk about more broadband in the North Country. The hard fact is that broadband (DSL) only works out 18000 feet from the central office. To cover the area with DSL they have to put in a central office every 36000 foot. My nearest central office is Littleton, about 75000 feet away from here. I don't believe Fairpoint is going to put in the the two additional central offices needed to bring DSL coverage all the way from here to Littleton. Or anywhere else.
If my telephone bill starts climbing, I can always buy a cell phone. I think I can even keep my wired phone number.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Justice delayed is justice denied

Nineteen years ago Exxon Valdez struck a rock, ripped open her tanks and spilled a ship load of sticky crude oil into Prince William Sound.
Today, one of the various lawsuits resulting from this terible accident entered the Supreme Court. A maritime tragedy, unbelievable fish and bird kills created nineteen years of welfare for lawyers. And it isn't over, the Supreme Court will take its time, the lawyers will invent new things to litigate. If the lawyers can stretch it out for 19 years, they can probably keep it going, and the fees flowing, for another nineteen years.
This ain't justice.

Greens freak out on mercury

Those high efficiency compact fluorescent bulbs save 75% on electricity compared to plain old incandescent "light bulbs". They also contain a trace of mercury, which will be released if you manage to break the bulb. The Boston Globe has some really drastic cleanup procedures in the event of breakage. This part is a howler, " consider cutting out the piece of carpet where the bulb broke." Yeah right. Try explaining the hole in the living room wall-to-wall to your significant other when he/she gets home from work.
This is pure disinformation. Compact fluorescents contain only 5 milligrams of mercury, far less than the amount in thermometers, furnace thermostats, the fillings in my teeth, and plain old fluorescent tubes. If I break a compact fluorescent I'm just gonna sweep up the broken glass and be done with it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cutting up plywood, a better way

Maybe I'm getting old and feeble, but wrestling a 4*8 sheet of plywood thru the radial arm saw single handed no longer feels safe. I fear the sheet will wedge the blade and cause a kickback, or the unsupported cutoff piece will fall to the floor, tearing the material , or I won't be able to keep it going straight.
So for many years I have been dissecting the big sheets by laying them on saw horses and having at them with a hand held circular saw ("skilsaw" we call 'em up here). Being hand held, getting a straight cut can be difficult. I used to clamp a straight board to the plywood and use it as a saw guide, a trick I picked up from an R. J. DeChristoforo book. As long as the board was truly straight (not guaranteed with modern lumber) and stayed pressed tightly to the plywood, that works.
Yesterday I came upon a better method. For rip cuts the long (8 foot) way, I snapped a chalk line right onto the plywood and then ran the saw free hand following the chalk. This gave me a noticeably straighter line than the guide board gave me.

Republicans have a chance in 08

John Podhoretz writing in Commentary thinks that unlike 06, the Republicans have a good chance in 08. Podhoretz sees Iraq as the major driving force behind both the Republican loss in 06 and the chances for victory in 08. He attributes the rout in 06 as a combination of terrible performance in Iraq, Katrina, the Harriet Miers nomination, and the immigration bill of 06. He sees the improved Iraq situation, the Democratic failure to pull the troops out, as decisive. He says the democratic nominee has two choices on Iraq, alienate the hard left by going for victory or alienating the independent voters who see no reason to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Podhoretz' best bit:
"...according to polls, the present Democratic leadership in Congress is the object of an icy public scorn several degrees cooler even than the permafrost in which George W. Bush has been embalmed. "

Monday, February 25, 2008

The North Korean Threat?

Saturday Wall St Journal has an op-ed interview with General B.B. Bell, currently US commander in South Korea. The General talks about the various threats from North Korea, the size of their army, the closeness of of North Korean artillery to Seoul, the North Korean nukes, the outgoing South Korean government, just about everything EXCEPT:
Likelihood of the North Korean government loosing control, like the Soviet satellite governments did in eastern Europe at the end of the '80's. If the NK government comes unglued, whose troops will intervene to "maintain order"? The Chinese? The South Koreans? Both? What does China do if North Korea starts reuniting with South Korea?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

To FISA or not to FISA

Lots of hard talk between the Bush administration and Nancy Polosi's House of Representatives about a wire tap (FISA) bill. Bush wants the bill and Pelosi doesn't want to pass it. The bill would prohibit suing the telephone companies (telco's) for cooperating with the intelligence community (actually the National Security Agency, NSA for short). That's necessary, the telcoes are as patriotic as anyone, but they aren't going to expose them selves to expensive lawsuits just for helping Uncle out. The telco management has a responsibility to their stock holders, and they can't do things that get them sued, cause it costs like crazy to defend your company at law. So unless Pelosi is owned by the tort lawyers, she shouldn't have a problem with immunity for the telcos.
Beyond that, the bill ought to allow NSA to tap the phones of the enemy, and require a warrent for cops to tap US citizen's phones. Probably ought to say that wiretaps without a warrent are not admissable in court, except in cases of spying and terrorism. Should allow warrentless tapping of foreign calls even if the foreign calls are routed thru US telephone equipment. I'd also be willing to allow warrentless tapping of international calls, i.e. one party is located overseas.
The newsies haven't really reported on what the bill would contain, probably because they don't understand the issues. US citizens don't want Big Brother tapping their phone, but they do want Big Brother tapping Al Quada's phones. We ought to be able to write a law t hat says that in 2000 words or less.

Metric cheating. 12 mm is NOT 1/2 inch

Been making the benchwork for the HO train layout. Purchased some 1/2 plywood for the layout top. Cut 1/2" dadoes in the frame to accept the plywood. Damn, the fit is loose. So loose that the glue is gonna have to work overtime to take up a gap that big.
Question, what's off? The plywood or the dado set? Some measuring with a vernier caliper finds the 1/2" plywood measures only 15/32", or 1/32" shy of true, where as the dado set measures 1/2" like it should. Great. Must be plywood exported from some metric armpit, 15/32 is 12 mm pretty much dead on. Must be selling metric 12 mm plywood to the gullible Merkins and calling it 1/2" . That's only about 1/32" shy of what it should be. I've been cheated out of 7 percent of the plywood I paid for, and what's more annoying is I can't cut a 15/32" dado to get a good tight fit, my dado set only adjusts in steps of 1/16", I can do 7 /16" or 8/16" but I can't do 15/32", not with this dado set anyhow.
Things like this make me anti-metrification. It's as bad as when they changed the whiskey bottles over to metric, reduced the size and kept the price the same.

Judith Miller on reporter's shield law

Judith Miller, the ex NYT reporter who was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to name sources in the Valerie Plame affair, wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Wall St Journal, advocating a federal shield law that would allow "reporters" to keep their confidential sources confidential.
Current federal law gives no special rights or privileges to reporters. They are just plain ordinary citizens in the eyes of the federal law. When a judge demands a citizen testify in court, he can compel testimony with the threat of a contempt charge. Contempt is a crime that carries a jail sentence, and the judge can impose same purely on his say-so, no jury, no appeals. The only exceptions are clergymen do not have to reveal things learned in confession, lawyers do not have to testify against their clients, doctors do not have to testify against their patients, wives do not have to testify against husbands (and vice versa), and the citizen does not have to testify against himself (5th Amendment).
These exceptions have been part of common law since Blackstone's time (or before) . The law allows one to keep intimate conversations with very close relatives and advisers secret. The protection against self incrimination is an American innovation to prevent extraction of confessions by cruel and unusual methods.
Problems arise with a shield law. Who's a reporter anyhow? With the rise of blogs just about anyone (like me) can claim to be a journalist. I would resent a law that gave privileges to NYT reporters that were denied to me. If a broad definition of journalist is used, then nearly anyone in the country can refuse to testify on the grounds that they are journalists.
Then I have reservations about "confidential sources" in the news business. A news story based upon confidential sources is most likely a smear. Ask John McCain about that. Or the confidential source fears prosecution for compromising classified information. CIA officers leaked highly classified information about tapping bin Laden's satellite phone, reading electronic financial transactions, tapping Al Quada cell phones, and wire tapping international calls. All of these leaks did grave damage to US intelligence. Far as I am concerned, those sources ought to be revealed and then prosecuted for espionage against the United States.
So, no shield law. If the judge says "testify", you testify or go to jail.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Who has more creds, McCain or the NYT?

The New York Times threw some mud at McCain in the form of a front page story insinuating McCain had a sexual relationship with a lady lobbyist, eight years ago. As a pay back for favors rendered, McCain wrote letters to the FCC prodding them to settle a station license case. The NYT story was weak, no named sources, no solid accusations of wrong doing, just innuendo, and eight years old.
McCain responded vigorously, derided the editorial judgment of the NYT, denied any involvement with the lobbyist (with his wife standing next to him on the podium) and his campaign organization called and emailed all his important (and not so important) supporters. Heck, I got an email about it, and I'm more of a well wisher than an important supporter. Then, somehow, Rush Limbaugh dropped his anti McCain stance and lit into the NYT for running a smear.
Far as I can see, McCain has more credibility with the country that the Times does, and the event is going down as a vicious smear by the left wing MSM rather than an accusation of wrong doing by McCain. I guess the Times has finally managed to discredit them selves with the electorate.

Who to point the finger at? Microsoft or HP?

Andrew Garcia, blogging for E-Week, gives a luke warm review of Vista SP1. He finally installed Vista onto his everyday use PC, as opposed to the magazine's lab machines that he doesn't have to face up to every day. Andrew finds the Vista won't work his HP Laserjet 1000 printer. "The HP website had a note from December 2006 saying Vista drivers were coming soon, but there has been no further news in the intervening 14 months. It's disappointing, but I can't blame Microsoft for HP dropping the ball."
Well Andrew, I do blame Microsoft for making unnecessary Windows changes that broke a working driver. Every couple of years Microsoft changes Windows and everyone in the industry has to redo all the drivers for their products, just 'cause Microsoft changed the way Windows works, again.

Heparin from China

The Wall St Journal has an article about a Chinese heparin maker. Exterior photo shows a beat up one story garage like building, surrounded by piles of junk. Description of the raw material (pig gut) and processing steps (concrete fermentation tank) are disgusting. The thought of feeding anything coming out of that yucky place into a live patient, anywhere, is stomach turning. Patients ought to beware of heparin, since it might have come from there.
The reporter then veers off into fantasy, suggesting putting in a paperwork system that would allow back tracking from a bottle of heparin to the serial numbers of the pigs it was made from, pig by pig. Three thousand pigs go into each kilogram of purified heparin. After a patient curls up and dies from bad heparin, does he care which pig from China killed him? Especially as said pig long ago became pork fried rice? Effort should go toward inventing a more sanitary method of making heparin, not doing paperwork to document how dirty the current product is.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spiderwick Chronicles

Enjoyed it last night in the newly remodeled Jax Jr theater up here in Littleton. It's a fine kid's fantasy movie, with a mostly child cast. I figure watching kids movies helps keep me young. I won't spoil it by rehashing the plot here. The hero is very well played by Freddie Highmore, a boy about the age that Daniel Radcliffe was when he started playing Harry Potter. Actually he plays a twin brother (Simon) and himself (Jared) and the Hollywood magic makes both twins show together in the same scene as slick as Disney was with Hayley Mills playing both twins in The Parent Trap many years ago. It's a better movie than The Golden Compass, nearly as good as the Disney Narnia movie, but not up to the level of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings.
It's a proper movie with a brave hero who faces his challenge squarely and defeats it. Kids aged four to fourteen will love it, along with grownups who can still get in touch with their inner child.

Mentally ill smoke 44% of all cigarettes (WSJ)

Wow. Page D1 of the Tuesday WSJ had this amazing fact. In short, the Journal is saying that smoking is a sign of mental illness. That oughta do as much for the anti smoking crusade as the spread of smoke free buildings did. I write this as a reformed two-pack-a-day smoker. The article goes one to detail problems with Chantix, a give-up-smoking drug. There are reports that Chantix causes suicidal thoughts and erratic behavior. Some 34 suicides have been recorded among 4.5 million Chantix users, which makes Chantrix a thousand times safer than driving to work. Not to worry, some lawyer is working up a class action suit as I write this .
Another sign of cluefulness. "all quitters should know; nicotine withdrawal can cause wicked depression" . All smokers know this. Trust me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Obama on TV

Last night Obama beat Clinton in Wisconsin. This makes him so famous that the TV people ran a 40 minute, uncut segment of Obama speaking live at a rally in Houston, TX. It was a fine performance by the best orator in the race. Thru the fine flow of superb rhetoric, I caught two things I didn't like so much.
He opposed standardized testing. That's a pander to the teacher's unions. Teachers complain that they are forced to "teach the test". As a parent, I want them to teach the material in the test, rather than wasting class time discussing multi culturalism, moral relativity, the unfairness of life, peace and justice, oppression of the American Indians, the evils of corporations, comparative worth, the evils of the Bush administration, global warming, environmentalism and other fads. I want the teachers to stick to reading, writing, arithmetic, and US history. For extra credit they could teach music, art, and geography.
He opposed NAFTA. That's a pander to organized labor. As a US manufacturer I like NAFTA. It gives my salesmen in Mexico and Canada a big edge over my Japanese and European competitors who have to pay a tariff that I don't have to pay.

Who needs a little cargo plane?

They call it C-27, it's a small transport, that looks like a twin engine version of the old reliable C-130. It is a 10,000 pounds of cargo aircraft, considerably smaller than the 40,000 pounds of cargo C-130. Range and airspeed are about the same. Short field capability (important to supplying troops in the field) is hard to judge. Somewhere on the web the C27 claims to operate off 580 meter (1500 foot) runway and the C-130 claims 660 meters (2000 feet). However there are pictures on the web showing a C-130 landing and taking off from an aircraft carrier, and those are only 1000 foot long. Apparently the Navy considered using the c-130 for carrier on board delivery (COD). Testing showed it was possible, but the C-130's wing only cleared the carrier's island by 15 feet, which is pretty hairy. The Navy went ahead and developed a special COD aircraft to reduce the pucker factor on their fliers. Price for the smaller aircraft is supposed to be $37.4 million whereas you can have a brand new C-130J for $50 million. In short 30% more dollars gets you a plane that carries four times as much. The only real justification for the smaller aircraft is better maneuverability. I remember flying down valleys in the old twin engine C-123 and the thought of doing it in the much bigger C-130 is kinda scary.
A Pentagon plan (not yet funded or even approved) would buy 78 C27's, give 54 to the Army and 24 to the Air Force. You wonder why they don't just give all of them to the Army. A single squadron of 24 unique aircraft doesn't make sense. Any aircraft worth owning is worth owning in quantity. Doing all the special training, both air crew and mechanics and buying all the special ground support equipment doesn't make sense for just a handful of aircraft.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How not to make a movie

They reran "King Arthur" on cable TV the other night. I watched it, (again) and decided it was a turkey (again). I had vaguely hoped that re seeing this flick would expose some hidden beauty that I missed watching it in the theatre some years ago.
The King Arthur legend is a natural for a movie. It's old, it has been a best seller for a thousand years, it's still current. Just the title is enough to sell tickets. But, somehow Jerry Bruckheimer, despite a couple of decent movies in his background, blows this one, big time.
Arthur, played by Clive Owen, fails to make the movie go. Movies are powered by the protagonist (we used to say hero, but that's sexist in these later days). The hero, a decent man, is faced with some great evil that he resolves to conquer. The movie shows us how he accomplishes this, with the climax, the vanquishing of the evil, being reserved for the last reel. The audience has to know, early on, just what the hero is attempting to accomplish. The movie only makes sense to the viewer if they understand where the hero is attempting to go. The hero's goal has to resonate with the audience, a hero attempting to become the world's nerdiest nerd won't cut it.
In the opening scenes we learn that Arthur's goal is merely to resign his Roman Army commission and retire to a comfortable estate near Rome. Not a world changing goal. Plus Clive Owens depicts Arthur as a mature man at his prime, way too young to be thinking of retirement, unless he is the ultimate slacker. Then a slimy papal legate demands Arthur accept a suicide mission for him and his men. Instead of telling His Holiness to take a hike, Arthur tamely accepts, even though the enlistment of his men is up, and they all expect honorable discharge from the army that very day. After some confused shouting matches, we see Arthur and his six knights set off on horseback. No where do we see Arthur saying anything to convince his men to go into the valley of death with him, he ends the last shouting match with a curt order, and off they go.
So, the hero is off on a quest, north into the darkness beyond Hadrian's Wall, with his knights, that makes no sense emotionally either for them or for the audience. Hardly something to put us on the edge of our seats.
On the quest, Arthur rescues the very cute Guenevere (Keira Knightley) from a dungeon. Arthur begins the relationship by setting Guenevere's broken fingers, by hand, no anesthetic. Guenevere gives forth the expected scream of pain. For the rest of the movie Guenevere throws herself at the uncaring Arthur with little visible effect. Guenevere has to slip into Arthur's one man tent after dark and drop her robe to the floor before Arthur so much as kisses her. The movie ends with Arthur and Guenevere's wedding, but we don't see Arthur propose to her. How can the audience relate to a man with so little passion?
Arthur suffers from too few armed men following him. In a proper movie, the cavalry arrives in enough strength to save the day. We, the audience, have seen enough westerns to understand how many cavalry men it takes to drive off the Indians. Arthur's six knights ain't enough to maintain order on a high school playground, let alone drive off Saxon armies numbering in the thousands.
So, we have a hero with no goal, no leadership skills, no interest in women, and few followers. Camera men who can't properly light a scene, knights of the Round Table wearing black motorcycle leathers instead of shining armor, and unconvincing props. And script writers who discard all the well known Arthur legend in favor of their own inferior imaginings. No wonder Hollywood is dying.

Friday, February 15, 2008

No issues, Plead process to delay FISA bill

Lehrer Newshour did a piece on the failure of the US House to pass a new FISA bill. Steny Hoyer for the democrats and Somebody-or-other Hoogland (sp?) for the republicans got a solid bit of air time to explain their sides.
Democrat Hoyer didn't talk about issues he cared about, but he had a lot to say about "process". He had a lot of Not-Invented-Here talk, a lot of "we don't have all the paper work talk", more "we need more time" talk, but never did he mention the contents of the bill, or any problems with said content. In short he stalled, in public, on national TV. Made himself and his party look stuck on stupid.
Republican Hoogland did a little better. He explained that the telco's need immunity from law suits when they cooperate with intelligence agencies. If the telco's have to fight off 40 lawsuits for helping out, next time they won't help. Only the telco engineers know how to make the fancy electronic switches cough up the desired phone calls. Without telco support, intelligence agencies can't do anything. If the telco suits find out that cooperating just gets them in trouble, they will stop cooperating.
Hoogland failed to explain how the new bill was going to limit wire tapping to Al Quada terrorists and not authorize every two bit sheriff to tap any old phone just for the hell of it. All in all, a very poor public performance by both parties.

Update: Could it be that the trial lawyers want the opportunity to collect fees by suing the telcoes? After all the trial lawyers are one of the heaviest contributers to democratic campaigns.

Record Crop Prices, Increase Farm subsidies

Wall St Journal shows crop prices up 100% since 2006. Places like China and India have enough money to buy food overseas, and biofuels are sucking up plenty more. Farm income is as high as it was during WWII after adjusting for inflation. On a raw basis, farm income is five times what it was in WWII. Business in good in the farm belt, farmers are buying new machinery, pickup trucks, appliances and remodeling farmhouses. Things are the best they have been since who knows when.
Same page of the Journal describes how much money the federal government is planning to spend on farmers. A $6 billion increase on an unspecified, but much larger, farm bill is acceptable to the White House and the Republicans. The Democrats claim $6 billion is too small.
Question. Why should farmers get any federal subsidy at all. What makes farming worthy of my tax dollars? Why not subsidize my company instead. Or steel or oil or semiconductors or autos or motorcycles or .... we all need money too. Who doesn't? Why do farmers get a free ride on my tax money?
The Great Depression has been over for 60 years, but the farmers are still raking in subsidies that were laid on to cure said depression.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

CIA interrogations by Army Field Manual

Odd way for Congress to write a law. The law flat out says "Use only interrogation techniques in Army Field Manual". So what does this mean really? If Congress intends to outlaw waterboarding, why not just say "no waterboarding?"
Law, acts of Congress, ought to be declarations of general principles that don't change over time. The Army rewrites its regulations and field manuals nearly every year. Next year's edition might permit much harsher treatment. Does Congress want to delegate interrogation policy to a board of Army officers? A law saying "Use this manual" isn't general or long lasting.
Of course, a law that defines acceptable and unacceptable interrogation procedures in 25 words or less is hard to write. On the other hand Congress has thousands of bright lawyers in it and working for it and you would think they could do better than this.

Bonehead Insurance for Wall St.

Used to be, bankers were the makers of loans. The steely eyed loan officer would examine the borrower and his business and decide if the loan, if made, would get paid back. Then some of the steel went out of the bank backbones, and they started buying bonds. Then a bond or two defaulted, leaving the bank out of money. So the banks started buying "bond insurance". Pay a small premium, and the bond insurer would promise to make the bond good even if the bond issuer fled the country. The bond insurers only insured state, country, or municipal bonds which are incredible safe. The state, county and municipal governments have taxing power, they can always raise taxes to pay off the bonds and they cannot flee the country to avoid payment. Nice safe business for the insurer, you just collect the premiums and keep them. You never have to pay anything out.
Then the bond insurers started to insure sub prime mortgage bonds issued by brokerage houses. The steely eyed loan officers didn't have clue as to what such a bond was worth, but if they could insure it who cares? The bond insurers wrote trillions of dollars of such insurance, even though they only had millions of dollars to pay off claims. Now that the sub prime bonds are defaulting left and right, the bond insurers will be broke in another week or so.
Did the premiums paid on sub prime bonds do any good? If you are Merrill Lynch, worth trillions, why are you buying insurance from a smallish insurer with much less money than you have?

The many panes of Windows, Pt 5

E-Week reports that Internet Explorer has yet more vulnerabilities, holes that permit hackers to take control of your computer. The latest bug[s] surface in the image uploader functions of Facebook , Myspace and Aurigma. The article recommends a complex resetting of Internet privilege to "high security". Apparently the bug is only in Internet Explorer, so a better way would be to switch to Firefox.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Start of the shelf layout (Model Railroading)

The itch to build an operating HO model train layout got scratched today. Decided upon a thin around the walls layout that allows the guest bedroom to still hold guests. Expected guests are mostly grandchildren, who will think model trains are neat. This is the basement guest room, I have an upstairs guest room for grown up guests.
One wall will have a 2 foot deep shelf for trains, on the other three walls, the layout will be narrower, one foot or a half a foot. I made up some big angle brackets to support the wide two foot side. Gussets are 3/8" plywood. A piece of 1*2 lumber goes on the wall, a piece of 2*3 lumber goes on top. A 3/8" dado in the wall lumber and the top lumber accepts the plywood gusset, and some Titebond II carpenter's glue bonds the gusset firmly into the wood. I made up seven brackets from wood I had kicking around the garage, making the cost of this part of the job zero. I painted each bracket with two coats of left over wall paint, so they match the room's sheet rock nicely.
After an internet recommendation, I bought a Zircon stud finder at WalMart. It's battery powered, $17, and works like a charm. It found every stud, even locates the edges of the stud. The wall brackets went up with 3 inch sheet rock screws, and every screw bit into a stud. Variable speed electric drill sinks the sheetrock screws no sweat. Studs go every 16 inches, making for seven studs from one corner to the other. I put seven brackets on the seven studs and that ought to be plenty strong.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is Bin Laden still alive?

Transterrestrial Musings blog speculates that Bin Laden has been dead for years. He figures the reason we haven't seen a Bin Laden video for a long time, just audios, is that Bin Laden is actually pushing up daises and is thus unavailable for filming. Audio tapes are easier to fake than video so we just get audio. The piece ends wondering why our "intellegence" agencies won't call OBL dead.
Another real good question is why CIA issues a press release authenticating every OBL tape. Smarter, and of more benefit to the United States, would be to say nothing. As it is, the United States government, via CIA, confirms OBL is alive each time they authenticate one of his tapes. Let OBL's people do the selling of OBL's tapes as real, as opposed to fake.

Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag and Chris Drew

Great book of cold war submarine war stories. Decribes the underwater collisions, the tapping of Soviet underseas cables, the Glomar Explorer, the trailing of Soviet missile subs. Reads like "Hunt for Red October" but these stories are true. At least as true as sea stories told years afterward can be. Describes a political tug of war between the Navy and CIA for control of submarine secret operations. CIA finally won, and then had so much fun showing the "take" from submarine operations around Washington ("Look how clever we are") that secrecy was compromised. Seymour Hersh broke the story of salvaging a Soviet sub on the front page of the New York Times, largely based on CIA leaks. The book points out how big a PITA Seymour Hersh has been and for how long. Good old Seymour has been doing uncomplimentary stories about the United States since Viet Nam days. He is still at it, writing in the New Yorker Magazine (rather than the NYT), with down beat stories from Iraq.

No TV cameras at the 9/11 trial??

According to the Lehrer News Hour, the trial of KSM and the other 5 9/11 plotters will NOT be on TV. Big mistake. You put the trial on TV to let the whole world know how guilty the bastards are. Do the trial on a Quonset hut at Gitmo and nobody watches, nobody knows, and the effect is lost. In fact, our Islamist enemies will say the trial is rigged, a drumhead courtmartial, and KSM &Co are converted into martyrs.
Even the Iraqi's televised Saddam's trial. Could it be that in the rule of law United States a televised trial will come out like the OJ Simpson trial?

Monday, February 11, 2008

After seven years we are gonna try the 9/11 terrorists

Good idea. A good public televised trial will go far to convince folks worldwide that the United States has real enemies that have caused horrible injury to to nation. It should squelch the "truthers" who claim 9/11 was a put up job. Too bad it took the administration seven years to bring an indictment. Assume the ever efficient US courts or military commisions and appeals will take another seven years to play out. Justice delayed is justice denied. We should have executed the 9/11 bastards five years ago.

Why to keep the electoral college system

We should stick with the old electoral college system for just one reason; the citizens are used to it. It's been there since George Washington's time, we learned about it in school, and the bulk of the citizens think it is OK. It gives legitimacy to the newly elected president. In particular it transforms a tiny edge in the popular vote into a sizable majority in the electoral college, so a new president has his popular mandate strengthened. New presidents need all the help they can get, otherwise a fractious Congress will stymy all their initiatives.

Repulican VeepStakes

Lots of talk about a vice president for McCain. My views. McCain wants to wait until he is formally nominated at the Republican convention before he talks about or nominates a VP, lest he offend Republicans by appearing to claim the nomination early. Given McCain's age, a lot of voters will be reassured if the vice presidential candidate is in excellent health (unlike Dick Cheney), is ready to assume the duties of president should McCain die unexpectedly(unlike Dan Quale), and shares McCain's political views. Voters like McCain, but they would like an insurance policy just in case the grim reaper comes early. I think these considerations out weigh selection of a vice president just because he can bring in a couple of states worth of electoral college votes. Thoughtful voters want some continuity should bad things happen.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Ann Colbert show comes to town

Just been watching C-Span's rerun of Ann Coulter's talk to Young Americans for Freedom (a conservative outfit). Why do we think Ann has any intellectual weight at all? She is amusing, with an endless store of zingers, but other than that, the Colbert Report has more substance. She started off trashing Obama, commenting upon his family background with a nasty edge to it. Nothing quite over the line, but managing to call him a black candidate for blacks which is mean spirited at best. Then she started in on McCain, raking up all the votes he made that upset conservatives. She called McCain less electable than Romney which no experienced adult believes. At no time did she say anything of real value or show real insight into political character, US politics, international relations or economics. She is an empty skirt.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Regulation piled upon regulation

For the third year in a row, the NH legislature will discuss allowing Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) to build a wood fired electric plant. Under a green initiative from our new Democratic governor, electric companies are required to get 25% of their electricity from renewable sources. PSNH is attempting to meet this requirement (wood IS renewable) but the state government won't approve building the plant. Talk about catch 22. With one hand the State government giveth green power and with the other hand taketh it away.

Friday, February 8, 2008

You can't make everyone happy

Now that Mitt Romney has withdrawn, John McCain will be the Republican nominee, barring an act of God. Scrounging around for more copy to put on TV, the newsies have found the inevitable soreheads who don't like McCain and are giving them air time. After allowing aforesaid soreheads to ventilate on national TV, the newsies then declare the Republican party "deeply split" and offer advice. Do a little groveling and then kiss and make up is the tenure of the advice. And, to his credit, McCain did some of this yesterday in front of the Conservative Political Action Comittee (CPAC) yesterday. He was gracious to the withdrawing Mitt Romney, polite to Huckabee, and told the assembled CPACers that he would do his best as president. He got a good hand for that. McCain has been in politics a long time and he knows you don't kick people, even liberals, in the shins just for the fun of it. They remember and will get even if they can.
Actually, McCain is the strongest candidate the Republicans can field. He has a compelling personal story and respect bordering upon awe among the electorate. I won't soon forget the deference, politeness, and respect offered the senator at a campaign stop in northern New Hampshire some months ago. There was snow on the ground, the modest meeting room was jammed with voters, all wearing heavy boots and winter coats. John McCain walks into the room and everyone rises and gives the senator a standing ovation. None of the other candidates got that kind of respect up here.
Of the detractors actually named by the TV, few of them deserve much credence. Ann Coulter writes a lot of rabble rousing stuff, James Dobson said he wouldn't vote for anyone, and Rush Limbaugh, well, Rush is Rush.
The endorsements from prominent politicians indicate that professional Republicans think McCain is a good candidate with a chance of winning. They don't indorse losers, it makes them look foolish.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Windows 7?

According to Lee Gomez at the Wall St Journal, the Microsofties are planning the next step after Vista, currently called Windows 7 internally. Wow, Vista sputtering, everyone likes XP, and they are working on yet another Windows.
They must be thinking up yet more features to burden Windows with. For me, I don't want more features. Windows XP has about 20 zillion "features" that I know nothing about, don't trust, and wish would go away. Can I think of a feature that I want in Windows, that isn't already there? No.
Windows is one of those facts of life that you have to live with. All the computers come with it, all the programs you care about run under it. If you are doing a software project, it has got to run under Windows. Programs that don't, are dead on arrival.
Windows XP does all the things an OS ought to do (and a few that it ought not to do). Vista is XP with copy protection. Vista has all kindza code to prevent duplication of music CD's. MP3s, DVDs and what ever. Why should I want Vista, which is slower than XP and gives me a hard time about copying anything? Even my own stuff?
This is the time for someone to introduce the mini OS. Smaller, faster, leaner and meaner than Windows. Runs Office and Firefox. Virus proof. Prevents web sites from running code on your computer. Limits email programs to viewing email, prevents email from loading malware into Office.

Reflections on a Revaged Century by Robert Conquest

Conquest attributes the disasters of the 20th century to the related ideologies of Communism and Naziism. He explains how both movements recruited and created true believers who would commit any crime to gain the ends of the party. And crimes they did commit, the Soviets killed tens of millions of Russians during the terror of the 1930's, the Nazi's killed 6 million Jews, a million or so other Germans, and then started World War II which resulted in more tens of millions of dead. Conquest defines a dangerous ideologue as a person willing to commit crimes against people to further their ends. Clearly some of the blogosphere qualify here.
Conquest declares that George Orwell (1984 & Animal Farm) and Arthur Koestler (Darkness at Noon) did as much, or more, to bring down communism than anything else.
Moving on, Conquest mentions modern fads of environmentalism, global warming, and multi culturalism as insipient ideologies gathering strenght. His book is copyright just be for 9/11 and as a consequence does not mention Islam.
It is a good read.

MRAPS is put out to pasture

Back in October last year, the army was getting ready to buy better than 2000 heavy armored trucks (MRAPS). I posted about it here. These babies were heavy and tough enough to survive running over a land mine (IED in today's jargon). $28 billion dollars (one hellova lotta dough) was appropriated for these behemoths.
Well, now it seems that MRAPS isn't quite so cool, the Marines are scaling back their buy from 3700 to 1300 trucks. The Army is considering a similar cut.
MRAPS is a mine proof version of the hummer. To achieve mine-proofness, MRAPS weighs 16 tons vs the hummer's 3 tons, and requires 330 horsepower vs the hummer's 160 horse. Could it be that MRAPS is just too heavy to be useful?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Conservatives Thirst for Death

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and some right wing bloggers are trashing McCain for "not being conservative enough", what ever that means. Too bad. McCain is the most electable Republican out there. Better McCain and campaign financing than either democrat and US tax payer funded health care.
McCain will win the Iraq war, the democrats will turn Iraq over to Al Quada. Sensible Republicans will go with a winner rather then turn the presidency over to the democrats.
Politics is not about "ideological purity". Politics is "Let's make a deal". A deal means each side gets some of what they want. A well crafted deal will stick 'cause each side gets enough to keep 'em happy. The skillful politician can expect "his" side to trash him for "compromising our principles" and "back room deals" after cutting the deal.
McCain has cut a few deals in the past that I don't really like, but he is still the most electable Republican, and I'll put up with the deals I didn't like rather than give the White House to the democrats.
The "conservatives" who don't want McCain to win the nomination have a death wish.

Miserable election coverage

Both Fox and MSNBC don't know how to cover an election with more than two candidates. Watched both channels last night, 'cause I wanted to see how Super Tuesday came out. Hopeless. Never did they display a chart with ALL the candidates on it, ranked by vote totals or delegate totals. In stead they had a miserable tote board display that only had room for TWO candidates to show at a time. The turkeys then scrolled the display. By the time it had scrolled to the bottom you forget what the top results were.
Fox had a great big map of the USA with some states colored silver against a beige background. No state names, no capitals, no vote tallies, no color coding, nada. Even funnier, Bill Hemming finally tries to chalk up a vote total on the state of NY. Does he use a white board marker? No, Bill makes scribbling motions and two seconds later you see the numbers wipe onto the map from the electronic back room. We had better visual aids back in third grade.
Couldn't stay awake long enough for California to come in. So, next morning, I listen to NPR on the clock radio. The NPR guys are innumerate. In a half an hour of bloviating, they never told me the delegate count, or the vote totals. They used a lot of adjectives like big, heavy, large and so on, but never a number.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Senate Intelligence hearings

The morning Wall St Journal has an op ed piece by John Bolton condemning the NIE that let Iran off the hook, and the leaking thereof to the press. Far as Bolton is concerned, that NIE totally stopped all efforts to apply diplomatic pressure or sanctions to Iran over the Iranian nuclear weapons program. He feels the intelligence/state dept bureaucracy pulled off a publicity coup that forced US foreign into their dovish path. I tend to agree with John Bolton, the bureaucrats are seizing power that rightfully belongs the the elected administration and the elected Congress.
Bolton pointed me toward the Senate intelligence committee hearing on C-Span as I write this. We got thru the senator's opening remarks and now Mike McConnell, the Intel Czar is on. He just told us that large numbers of Al Queda operatives have been "neutralized". Mike obviously needs a dictionary. The word should be "killed".
Then we had McConnell, Hayden, Fort, Mueller, and Maples (Intel Czar,CIA, State Dept,FBI, and DIA) give a five minute pep talk. Randall Fort, the State Dept guy, came across as the complete bureaucrat, saying absolutely nothing but taking five minutes of fancy words to do it. The military officers (Hayden McConnell and Maples) were better public speakers.
Questioning finally came around to John Bolton's Wall St Journal piece. They never mentioned either Bolton's name or the Wall St Journal, but it was clear what they were talking about. McConnell stepped up to the plate and accepted responsibility for it. He beat around the bush, never really closed on why it was released/leaked, and why it let Iran off t he hook. He did admit that if he had the chance to do it over he might have phrased it a little differently.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Hillary promises to make everything better

The Wall St Journal offered Hillary a nice big space on the Op Ed page today. She filled the space with text, but it isn't an effective piece of writing. She says the country is going to pot, it's all Bush's fault, but elect me and I'll make a long laundry list of things get better. No details, no explanations of sacrifices that might be required, just a list of things that she will make better, somehow. All the things on the list are good things, we would all like to have them, but with out a discussion of costs or specific tax breaks, federal spending, new laws, ways to make it happen, it's just mindless happy talk.
Given the importance of the platform, the op ed page of the largest circulation newspaper in the country, on the day before Super Tuesday, I expected something better from Hillary.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

GM to kill Cadillac

According to this, GM plans to drop the Cadillac DeVille, the real Caddy, within a couple of model years. GM officials admit that DeVille is the largest seller in the Caddy lineup with 58K units sold this last year, but that ain't enough.
Real problem is the DeVille is getting old, it's still front wheel drive when rear wheel drive is hot. The car has been on the road for better than ten years, with just a bit of rear end restyling in 2000. GM probably doesn't have the money to develop a new version. Plus it's nearly the last of the big six passenger cars in the GM lineup, a body style that is out of fashion.
Of course GM lacks anything else in their lineup that is in fashion. So drop a good seller 'cause it's too much trouble to redesign it after 10 years of good sales. Thinking like this has gotta have something to do with GM losing money and market share.
Too bad. My '99 Deville is a wonderful car, and it looks like you won't be able to buy anything like that again.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Radial Arm Saw Revival

It all started with ripping a 2*10 down to size on my ancient Craftsman radial arm saw. The newly cut edge didn't look square. I slapped a try square on the board and yup, the cut wasn't truly square.
This is not the end of the world. Radial arm saws have a number of adjustments to make them cut right. I started making them, and the real problem became apparent fairly quickly. The plywood saw table had warped over the years. Laying a 4 foot straight edge along the saw table showed nearly 3/4" of warpage.
Damn, should a done something about that long time ago. I vaguely remember making that table sometime back in the '70s. So ho, off to the lumberyard for a piece of plywood. Back of the mind worry, how do I get a 4*8 sheet of plywood home on the roof of the DeVille?
Arriving at the lumber yard, I ask for "MDF" (medium density fiberboard) and the lady behind the counter says "Oh, that's special order". "Do you have anything else?" I ask. They did, they had four or five different glue-and-woodshavings synthetic sheetgoods, including plain old plywood. The plywood price was outta sight, so I bought a 2*8 sheet of "Industrial Flakewood" for $15.66. Makes me feel kind of out-of-it when a plain old lumberyard is full of high tech new products that I have never heard of, and have no idea of what their properties might be.
The yard kindly cut it in half so it would fit in the back seat of the DeVille. That solved the "how-do-you-get-it-home" problem. Times like this I miss my old minivan.
A few cuts and some hole drilling, and trusty old Craftsman has a slick new table and looks a lot newer. So much for a one day puttering in the shop project.

Clinton vs Obama on CNN last night

They had the two candidates seated so closely together that you'd think they were dating each other. I tuned in on the odd chance I'd get to see a real slanging match. No way. Nary a harsh word, no flying mud, very polite and civilized.
Issues. They did talk issues, even got into a little detail on universal health care. I was unable to detect any difference between the two on issues. In other words the only reasons for picking one over the other are subjective, style, wardrobe, speaking ability, likeablity, gender, race, nothing objective.
Both of them would implement universal tax payer funded health care for everyone. Both would let the Bush tax cuts expire to pay for it. Both would abandon Iraq to Al Queda ASAP. Neither talked about reducing the amount of money (currently 16% of GNP) poured down the health care drain. Neither talked about how much health spending would increase with Uncle paying all doctor's bills. Neither talked about earmarks and the reduction thereof.

All good reasons to vote Republican.