Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bye Bye Pontiac

It's sad. No more Pontiac GTO's. We had a Pontiac once. Big black '59 wagon with the 389 V8. It was big enough for a family of five with skis, gear, luggage and the family cat. The cat hated it. Once it jumped out the drivers window into a toll basket trying to escape from the car. The driver (father) was quick enough to grab the cat out of the basket, heave it into the back seat, roll up the window and drag race out of the toll booth like nothing ever happened. And before the cat made a second try for freedom.
That wagon had the worst transmission known to man. Three on the tree. First gear was too high, you had to slip the clutch to get the car rolling on the flat. Starting up hill was bad. Lots of burning clutch smell, and without a master's touch on the pedal, bucking, surging and engine stalling. Plus an unreliable shift linkage. It would occasionally get stuck in reverse, and you had to pop the hood and fiddle with the linkage to get unstuck. It acted up on the old man on Boston's central artery, during rush hour, in a driving rainstorm. He was plenty wet (and mad) before he got the car to run forward again.
Lot of talk on some car enthusiast blogs about "the channel" and the need (or lack of need) for two or three or four GM "channels". Those guys were probably car dealers worrying about loosing their franchise. GM doesn't need "channels". It does need product, cars that people will buy. Pontiac doesn't make GTO's any more, and the last interesting Pontiac was the Firebird. Except Firebird wasn't a real car model, it was a Chevy Camaro with a Pontiac nameplate. Everyone knew that, the styling was distinctive, and anyone with two brain cells firing instantly recognized the simularity of Firebird/Camaro. GM would have saved money and raised sales by marketing the Camaro under just one name. Consumers are saturated with advertising, in fact most of us consumers automatically ignore commercials. It takes a LOT of advertising to cut thru the mental filters TV watchers have evolved. Better to spend the money on one car brand than split it between two brand names attached to the same car. Guys (pony cars are a guy thing) who would buy a Firebird are equally likely to buy a Camaro. Why dilute the advertising by selling the same car under two different names?

Dawn over Marblehead. Microsoft wises up slightly.

Microsoft is going to partially disable autorun in Windows 7. Of course they couldn't bring them selves to disable it all the way, CD-ROM drives will still autorun, but USB flash drives will not.
Me, I have disabled autorun with a hand patch to my registry. On earlier versions of Windows you could turn autorun off in Device Manager. But Microsoft loved autorun so much that XP makes it harder to kill. You now have to run regedit and do a hand patch to the registry. User friendly that is.
Autorun is that feature that makes music CD's start to play for just inserting the CD into the drive. It also makes software CD's start to install hands off. It is a gaping security hole in Windows. Autorun will load and execute any kind of code off the CD or flash drive for just inserting the media into the drive or USB slot. Put a virus on a CD and infect every machine the CD ever sees. Sony used autorun to infect user's machines with an anti copy root kit to prevent copying CD's. Malware can spread by copying itself to USB flash drives.
If Microsoft actually cared about Windows security, they would remove autorun completely. Apparently they still love it too much to kill it all the way.
Computers work just fine without autorun. Users just have to click on the CD or flash drive to make it play or run. Much safer that way. I'll click on a million CD's to play them rather than autorun just one ugly piece of malware that eats my hard drive.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Electronic Medical Records Horror Story

The writer, an asthma patient, describes a near death experience in hospital. All the doctors and nurses were too busy working with a clunky computer system to treat him. The asthma nearly killed him.
The writer works in IT and he talks about data models and message models and other technical stuff. In simpler words, this is an example of the don't know squared problem. The medical people don't know, that they don't know what they need. It's a typical situation. The customer wants "it" computerized but that's as far as his thinking goes. The vendors do their best and present the customer with a vast written specification, 100's of pages, which only makes sense to the vendor who wrote it. "My eyes glaze over" (MEGO) . Eventually the spec is signed, so the job can proceed, even though the customer still doesn't understand it. If the resulting system isn't too too bad, it goes into service.
I had thought that the medical business would have come up with a workable system by now. Manufacturing has SAP, Engineering has Orcad, administrators have Office. Each system has been in use for 10 years or more and is basically satisfactory. Sounds like the medics are not there yet.
And this story doesn't get into security issues. An electronic medical record system based on Windows computers hooked to the public internet will be totally vulnerable to high school hackers. Your medical records will be "accessed" by anyone who cares; employers, insurers, private investigators, the ex-wife, bill collectors, cops, lawyers, parents, children and god knows who else.
Neither did the author talk about portability issue. For the system to be worth much, records entered by your doctor, at his office, should readable at the hospital should you later get hospitalized. Or at the next hospital after you move. Without the fiercest sort of federal supervision, competing vendor's systems will be unable to read records created or edited on other systems.

Why does swine flu get more press than plain flu?

Dunno. The swine type sure does drive the newsies into a headline orgy. How does it differ from plain old influenza? Is it more contagious, more virulent, or what? Or does it just give a DNA match with cases from Mexico, or swine, or something. Do I care if complex lab procedures show a match with something else?
Unless I hear something that matters, I think it's just another flu varient, the likes of which we hav been seeing for centuries. Anyone remember the Asian flu of 1957? It went thru boarding school like a house afire, every kid in my school came down with it. They all recovered too.

Words of the Weasel Part 8

Budget Cut. After jacking up the federal budget by trillions, Obama claimed a 100 million budget cut. To be realized by buying office supplies in bulk. Right.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Calling the law offices of James T. Sokolov....

You think the GIECO Gecko gets a lot of TV air time? Take a look at the lawyers, out fishing for plaintiffs so they can do yet another personal injury case. Lately the lawyers have been advertising for drug company plaintiffs, Avandia and Vioxx and others.
Every time one of these ads run, the cost of health care goes up. The lawyers are looking for plaintiffs claiming injury from FDA approved drugs. The drug companies jump thru a thousand FDA hoops to get the drug approved for sale. Drugs on the market survive a process so rigorous, years of testing, reports, committee meetings, memoes, retests, yada-yada-yada, that any doctor,nurse, or reasonable person will believe they are safe and effective.
And yet, with a sympathetic plaintiff and a wily lawyer, the drug companies still get sued. They obey all the rules, file all the paperwork do everything a responsible corporation ought to do. Does no good, they still get sued. And loose, big.
Vioxx, passed all the FDA tests, got to market. After a few reports of adverse side effects (heart attacks?) surfaced, FDA withdrew the approval of Vioxx. The lawyers closed in and squeezed $4.6 billion in hush money of of the maker. Not sure what happened with Avandia, but the lawyers run ads for Avandia plaintiffs every hour on Fox News.
Congress could fix this. There ought to be a law saying "Manufacture, sale, and presciption of FDA approved drugs and medical devices is never cause for a lawsuit. Manufacturers, drug stores and doctors shall not be punished for making, selling or prescribing FDA approved drugs and devices or complying with FDA regulations such as drug labeling. "
There are a lot of other scams in the malpractice lawsuit racket, but one act of Congress could rule out a big bunch of them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Battery life of Kodak Z1485

About 51 pictures. From a Kodak Lithium NON rechargeable battery. The camera lacks a low battery indicator. When its little microprocessor thinks the battery is low, it just shuts down. Lens retracts, power LED goes out. Acts just like the camera is broken, except it will come back to life when you replace the dead battery with a charged one.
Staples wants $30 for a Kodak rechargeable lithium battery and $40 for the Kodak charger. I'm going to try the net, see if I can get something cheaper, even if it isn't Kodak.
So, battery options are
1. Kodak NON rechargeable CVR3 Lithium two cell pack $?? (ten maybe?)
2. Rechargeable Lithium plus charger $35 off the net?
3. Plain Alkaline AA cells. Just tried a pair. The camera does power up. I'd expect life to be half that of Lithium, so it will cost about 10 cents a picture.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Nothing on line is secure

First came the Wall St Journal story about enemy hackers planting "take-over-this-computer" code in critical machines running the electric power grid. If it works, the enemy will be able to turn out the lights in America come war time. Then comes a second Journal story, about vast amounts of data on the F22 fighter plane stolen by somebody.
The F22 story has a few loose ends. The Journal didn't say whether the data was classified or not. Loss of classified data is much more serious, because classifed data is never kept on a machine connected to the public internet. Loss of classified means either someone violated security procedures, or the enemy has learned how to invade secure networks.
The take away from these two stories, is simple. Data on corporate networks is easily taken by anyone. Think about acquiring your competitor's designs, drawings, test procedures, customer lists, payroll, build costs, in short every bit of intellectual property he has. Think about your competitor doing the same thing to you. How long can you compete in the market if all your plans are public knowledge?
The fix is simple. Don't put important stuff on the corporate network. Your corporate computers all run Windows, the most vulnerable operating system known to man. The network linking them together is all run by Windows. Windows can be cracked by highschool kids.
Corporate networks tied to the public internet closely enough for email to work, are vulnerable and despite corporate IT's best efforts, the hackers can get in. The only solution is to keep important data OFF the network.
Let the hackers wade thru zillions of chitchat emails. That will keep 'em busy. Don't feed them red meat.

Paper or Plastic?

One good thing about paper, it burns. Paper and cardboard packaging goes into the fireplace and that's the end of it. If its plastic, it goes into a $1.50 Pay-as-you-throw bag.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Smith & Wesson 460XVR Super Magnum revolver

Last month we had the .45 cal pocket pistol, this month we have a wild and crazy hand cannon. Smith claims a muzzle velocity of 2200 foot per second from this humungous 4 1/2 pound 15 inch long, .45 caliber revolver. The muzzle velocity is rifle grade, resulting a pistol that hits as hard as a rifle. It weighs nearly as much as an M16. It's a revolver, presumably 'cause only a revolver is strong enough to contain the 56000 pounds per square inch chamber pressure.
This Smith has twice the muzzle velocity and hence four times the hitting power of Dirty Harry's celebrated .44 Magnum. Since that movie was made the "most powerful handgun in the world" has become four X more powerful.
The article in American Rifleman mentions a muzzle blast so loud as to demand wearing ear defenders OVER ear plugs and avoiding indoor ranges completely. Recoil is described as "stout".
MSRP $1446.
I'm thinking this is show off gun, too heavy, too loud, and too hard to shoot for use in the field. But it's cool.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is the Sun getting brighter? or Dimmer?

Probably not. But the measurements are not accurate enough to be sure. Only satellite observations really count. Changes in levels of air pollution over the past 30 years throw ground based measurements off. As might be expected, the measurements from different satellites are different by a small mount. For instance Nimbus 7 , launched in 1978 and out of service by 1993, gives Total Solar Irradiation as 1373 watts per square meter. The ACRIM 1 satellite, active from 1980 to 1990, gives a lower number of 1368 watts per square meter. Other satellites give other numbers. The spread from high to low from 1978 to today is about 0.6 percent.
The raw data suggests that the sun has cooled off by 0.6% since 1978. But it's more convincing to say that modern satellites read just a little bit lower than the first satellite launched 30 years ago. It is possible to correct the satellite data to make them read the same. If this is done, some conclude that the Sun has cooled by 0.047% but others say the corrections should be done differently.
All of the satellites are/were sensitive enough to see the 11 year sunspot cycle. From sunspot max to sunspot min is about 0.1%. Personally I think the change in solar output over the sunspot cycle is too small to effect weather or climate. No one has shown an 11 year cycle in any sort of earth weather data. The long term change in solar output, after corrections, is smaller than the sunspot variation.
Bottom line, the long term change in solar output is too small to see reliably with current satellites, the change (if any) is too small to detect.
This data makes it hard for me to believe that solar variation has anything to do with global warming since 1978.

When does a laptop need more ram?

Answer, when the commit charge is double the size of physical memory. And the disk activity light comes on steady and the machine slows to a crawl.
Windows uses an old operating system trick, when it runs of out memory to run programs, it swaps stuff in memory out to hard disk and loads whatever it was that wanted into memory. This allows Windows to run modern bloatware on small memory computers. When the bloatware is too fat to fit into memory, Windows just loads the part immediately needed, and swaps in other parts when necessary.
This works after a fashion, but when over done it leads to thrashing. Windows swaps in something new and throws something else out of memory. Then the part just tossed is needed so Windows loads it back over something that is needed next and so on. Progress drops close to zero and disk activity goes berserk.
Laptop had been hapily running MS Office, Firefox, Thunderbird, and WinXP all in 256 Megabytes of RAM. Then I asked Kodak Easyshare to print a single picture on the inkjet. Hoo boy. Machine locks up, disk activity LED comes on solid. Minutes pass. I wait and eventually the print emerges from the inkjet. Many minutes.
I look in Task Manager (Ctl-Alt-Delete). Physical Memory 256 Meg. Peak Commit Charge 556 Meg. Uh oh. Commit charge is Microsoft jargon for all the physical memory in use plus all the stuff waiting in the swap file to get into physical memory. Easyshare is so plump that it requires twice as much memory as the poor old laptop has.
Hmm. Maybe 256 Megs of Ram is a little chintzy these days. Open up the bottom of the laptop and find just one memory stick, a 256 Meg stick, plus an empty RAM socket. All I gotta do is buy another stick of memory and double my RAM. Some time later at Staples, they don't have 256 Meg memory sticks anymore, they are obsolete. But $30 gets a 512 Meg stick that fits, and the laptop boots up with 256 + 512 = 768 Meg. Cool.
When I started in this business 128K (K not Meg) of Ram on a PDP-11 was enough to run a seven user timeshare system. Now I need 768 Meg just to print a picture.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why is Windows slow?

'Cause it's as full of stuff as a Christmas turkey. Case in point. Plugged in a printer to the laptop. Just to make sure everything was hunky-dory I clicked "Print a Test Page". It did. Good deal, the printer works.
Read the freshly printed test sheet. It lists ALL the software files used to print the test page. THIRTY SEPARATE FILES, just to make the printer work. That's thirty times as many files as it ought to be. Printer drivers are simple animals. All they do is take stuff out of disk files and send it to the printer. Every so often ask the printer if it's feeling OK, and if not, put up the Out of Paper indication. Only Microsoft would use thirty separate programs to handle a task that single 8.5*11 page of C code can deal with.

Free money to end Great Depression II

"Good News! The porkulus bill the President Obama signed into law in February 209 provides for a one-time payment of $250 to Social Security beneficiaries".
Lead sentence on a note from the Social Security Administration that hit my mailbox yesterday. Wow. $250 in free money. I didn't know that little bennie was hidden in the porkulus. I'll take it, I mean who turns down free money?
Will I go out and spend my free money to stimulate the economy? Not likely. It goes into the checking account and will pay bills. There are always bills to pay.
How much did this add to the national debt? If there are 10 million SS recipients, the cost is only $2.5 billion, a pittance compared to the $787 billion porkulus bill.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kodak Easyshare. The software, not the camera

Kodak confuses us customers by marking "Easyshare" on the cameras and then using it as the name of the camera support program. You know, the CD that comes packed with a new camera. It's the program that sucks photos out of the camera and onto the hard drive. Anyhow, I am talking about the Easyshare program, not the camera here.
I'm currently on the lookout for a Easyshare replacement. What do I have against the factory program? Several things.
1. Slow and fat. It takes forever to load. Tries to become ram resident, i.e. load automatically at boot time whether you need it or not. Which slows the computer's boot up. After I defeated Easyshare's automatic loading, it still worked, but it wouldn't stop and shut down. It hung around in ram slowing everything else. I used Windows Task Manager to kill it off and the machine became noticeably quicker.
2. You can't find your photos out side of Easyshare. This is a pain. To upload photos to Facebook or other websites you must find the photos on disk, using programs other than Easyshare. Easyshare uses numbers for filenames. So, is the cute photo you just uploaded 110575.jpg or is it 110492.jpg? Who knows?
3. Easyshare's "albums" don't coorespond to disk file folders. I upload some photos into a album 20-03-09. (automatically generated album name of today's date.). I sort them out, moving some pictures into album "cats" and others into album "model trains". When I go to upload the pictures from "model trains" I can't find the files in folder "model trains" they are still in folder "20-03-09" Cool. I'm having trouble locating photos I sucked in today. God help me finding anything next year.
4. Easyshare offers to put your photo's on the web, so others can link to them. Only it doesn't work. To get a link to a photo on the web, you have to pay money to buy "Gallery Plus". Cheaper is to put your photos on Photobucket, which is free and will give you a link to the photo for use on other websites.
5. Easyshare won't "move" a photo from one album to another. All it does is copy. To "move" you have to first copy the photo to the new album and then delete it from the old one.
6. You can't back up your Easyshared photos on your hard drive. The "album" information (which photo from which folder goes into which album) is hidden somewhere on hard drive. Just backing up the Easyshare folders to CD won't get the album information. And without that, you will never find the photo you need out of a modest collection of only a thousand photos.
So, soon as I find some other program that will suck the photos out of the camera, I'm ditching Easyshare.

Blame Elliot Spitzer for the AIG collapse

Charles Gasparino of the New York Post gets it right. Spitzer forced Hank Greenburg, the founder and long term CEO out of AIG. The place went down hill under Greenburg's successors.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Can Obama end Great Depression II?

Obama is making speeches. He's good at that. He says that federal health care, education, and alternate energy are "investments" that will pull the economy out of its death spiral.
Oh really? Let's go one by one. Health care. The real problem with health care is we put too much money into it. We put 16% of GNP into health care. That's twice as much as any other country in the world. Health in the United States is no better than health in the other industrialized countries. Life expectancy, and infant mortality are just as good overseas as they are in America. But in America we spend ("invest") twice as much money on health care.
This is a disaster. The cost of American products is jacked up 16% just to pay the worker's health care. Our overseas competitors products only get marked up 8%. Guess who wins the contract? Or, why is production moving overseas (outsourced)? To get away from the 16% of GNP health care cost imposed upon American produced goods.
Obama is pushing universal health insurance. Want to bet that greater health insurance coverage will increase the percentage of GNP "invested" in health care? In short, Obama's universal health insurance push will make a bad situation worse.
Education? We have college graduates running out of our ears. There are so many excess college graduates that we have them driving cabs and waiting tables. And we graduate too few scientists and engineers and too many black studies, women's studies, education, sociology, and other silly studies majors. We don't need more college education to save the economy. We need more economy to offer jobs to the college educated.
The one place American education needs help, the inner city ghetto schools, just got a kick in the head. Charter schools got defunded in Washington DC. And Obama didn't speak out against it.
Alternate Energy? Windmills and solar panels. Cool and oh so green. Very expensive. And useless. The electricity has to stay on all the time. Windmills get becalmed, and the sun goes down at night. So responsible electric utilities have to build real power plants to handle the load. Most of your electric bill goes to paying the utilities mortgages on plant and equipment. Fuel costs are small compared to capital costs. Alternate energy spending just raises capital costs. You have to pay for just as many real power plants plus the alternate energy plants. Alternate energy could double electricity costs.
In short Obama's plan[s] to pull us out of Great Depression II mean dumping more money into health care, paying more college tuitions, and raising the price of power. Does not sound like a winner to me.

WSJ attacks Comic Sans

The rise of the font snob. Comic Sans (sans serif) is an informal font packed with Windows. It's quite popular. The WSJ article goes on at length (and with tongue in cheek) about the rise of people/groups who dislike Comic Sans and agitate to stop its use. Wow. Next thing Comic Sans Tea Parties.
It makes me feel old. I used write letters in Comic Sans to the children at summer camp (No email at summer camp). At the time I thought it was a nice informal font trying to look handwritten. The anti Comic Sans rant in the Journal makes me feel totally lacking in proper taste, proper style, and je ne sais quoi.
Actually, Comic Sans still looks pretty good to my untrained eye.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Synaptics Touchpad Driver, Syntpenh

This driver can be completely omitted and your touch pad will work just fine. Windows XP comes with a driver for the Synaptics touchpad that makes all the usual mouse/touch_mouse things work. The fancy, plump, and sluggish Synaptics driver supports a couple of things I never use, like tap-to-click and pressure sensitivity. I was able to completely remove the Synaptics driver using add-and-remove programs in Control Panel. After rebooting the laptop the touch pad still worked and the machine was perceptable more lively.
In short, speed up your laptop for no cost, just remove the Synaptics touch pad driver. I did this in Windows XP, but it ought to work in Vista and Windows 7.

Kodak Z1485 IS Picture Size

This camera offers 14 Megapixels, which is a selling point. (More is better). It stores them JPEG compressed with a typical snapshot size of 6 megabytes. This is a compression ratio of about 7, quite modest as JPEG goes. Where does 7 come from? An crude approximation, assume each raw pixel is stored as Red, Blue, and Green (RGB), 8 bits (one byte) for each color. That makes 14 Megapixels into 43 megabytes. Divide by the JPEG compressed file size and you get to 7. Actually the camera probably uses YUV color encoding, which permits each color pixel to be stored in merely 16 bits, but let's stick to the crude estimate based on 24 bit per pixel RGB color encoding.
Of course, 6 megabyte snapshots are slow to upload, and suck up disk space. Plus having more pixels in the image than you have on the display device doesn't improve image quality. For instance my laptop LCD screen is 1024 * 768 or 786,432 pixels. Putting more than 786,432 pixels into the image won't improve the image seen on the screen. That's a lot less than 14 Megapixels.
So I set the picture size down to 5 megapixels and took some close up shots. This reduced the JPEG compressed image size to about 1 megabyte, with superb quality as viewed on my laptop screen. I plan to leave the camera set that way, cause the camera memory will hold more pictures, they upload faster, and it could be that the camera is smart enough to average adjacent pixels together which would reduce image noise and improve the light sensitivity of the image sensor. The Kodak documentation hints (but doesn't come flat out and say) that averaging does take place.
With a 2 Gig plugin memory card, the camera could hold 300 snap shots at 14 megapixels per shot. With 5 megabyte shots, the capacity jumps to 1800 snap shots. Which is like infinity on the smallest memory card Staples sells.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cap and Trade according to Aviation Week

The airline community is watching cap&trade closely since they are massive users of fuel. Aviation Week reports that Rep Henry Waxman, D-Calif, bald headed twit with an attitude, and Ed Markey, D-Mass, my old rep, dunderhead supreme, have drafted a 648 page Cap and Trade bill. Right there we are in trouble. Nobody knows what's hidden inside 648 pages of legal gobbledegook, and it will take months to read and understand it all, so if it passes, we have no idea how much it's gonna hurt.
Apparently Obama would decide how much CO2 America could emit (the cap). Most likely the cap will be lower than current emissions, so we are in more trouble right there. Somehow permits to emit so much CO2 would go to people like electric utilities. CO2 emitters (just about everyone) might get permits given out for free, or might have to buy them at a government run auction. The government run auction brings in cash, so good chance the final bill will be written that way. The oil companies would have to buy permits to cover the CO2 emitted when the fuel they sell is burned. They would raise fuel prices to pay for the permits.
In short, Aviation Week sees cap and trade as a fuel tax, lightly disguised, and wrapped up in a green ribbon.
The airlines are hoping the fuel tax paid by the airlines would go to improving the airline infrastructure (airports, nav aids and such). Fat chance of that happening. The airline spokesmen admit that fuel taxes are coming, the public will allow them to pass

Filene's Basement up for sale

According to the Boston Herald Filene's Basement is going bankrupt and the entire chain is up for sale. Another old time Boston landmark dies. I used to buy suits there. You could get a decent wool suit, that even fit right, for a whole bunch less than the price upstairs in the regular Filenes store. Then there was that radio commercial years ago. "Here we are in a heavily fortified pill box at the entrance of Filene's basement. In just a minute the doors will open and we will be assaulted by an army of shoppers...." Can't remember what they were selling (it wasn't Filene's basement) but it was a cool ad.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Plymouth NH Tea Party

Yesterday the Tea Party in Plymouth NH went off without a hitch. Weather was superb, and the turnout was heavy. I estimated a crowd of 200 which is a lot for Plymouth, small town America, with the emphasis on "small". The affair opened with the pledge of allegiance and singing the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. We had lots and lots of great signs. Numerous local speakers lambasted wild spending, higher taxes, and reckless borrowing. The crowd was all local Grafton County types, of all ages.
I can assure everyone that this was a local Grafton County affair with zip for assistance from outside the county. The TV news has been spreading a story that tea parties are Astroturf from Fox News or corporate interests. Pure malarkey. This deal was organized by, for, and in Grafton County. I know the organizers, in fact I was one of them, and we are all real Grafton County people.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Camera Kodak Z1485

I am getting with the times, and getting a digital point&shoot to go with my antique 35mm Kodak Retina. The Retina has been out of production for 50 years, although it still works just fine.
I started out at Staples, about the only electronicky place up here. I did the usual thing, fingered all the camera's on display, wrote down the models and went home to consult the Internet as to the merits of each one. There was an Olympus FE310 for $118, but all the internet hits bitched about short battery life. There was a Canon A590 IS which everyone on the net liked.
So next day, back to Staples intending to buy the Canon. Sorry, we are out of the Canon and that model is being discontinued. Arggh. So I settled on a more expensive Kodak Z1485 cause it was somewhat larger, offering more camera to wrap my hands around and offering some control of aperture and shutter speed. It could focus very closely, which is handy for photographing model trains.
So, I tried it out, taking a portrait of yours truly to post on Facebook. That worked out. The self timer does work, although it requires a steady finger on the shutter release. It goes like press the self timer button, then press the shutter release to the FIRST click, and then press it all the way home. Feeling that first click is delicate. The battery powered LCD viewfinder is marginally readable in sunlight. You can do it but you have to squint. If you hold the camera vertically (portrait mode) the review mode rotates the image 90 degrees, so it displays right side up with the camera held horizontally. This undocumented feature confused the bejeezus out of me until I figured out what was going on.
The Kodak supplied software to suck the pictures out of the camera onto your computer is fat, it soaked up 600 megabytes of hard drive. It also installs a plump, always resident, driver that eats up cpu time and kernel memory by constantly asking "did he plug the camera in?". Documentation and human interface have the usual computer geek obfustication. You don't download photos from the camera, you click Tools->CameraBrower->Sync&TransferManager. I still don't know what "sync" is about. Transfer does work. It has a "erase the photo's off the camera after transfer" feature which I don't trust enough to use.
The camera does accept AA batteries, but they have to be Lithium AA batteries, not something you find in the average grocery store. It comes with one NON rechargeable Lithium Battery. Rechargeable batteries and the charger are $26 extra off the net. The camera documentation (and a Google search) failed to reveal whether the camera would charge batteries if plugged into a computer. In fact the manual says nothing about battery charging or battery life. I have been unable to find a battery charge indicator anywhere on the camera. So if you care, you oughta have a spare charged battery in your camera bag.
So far, it does take good pictures. Fourteen megapixels and a 4X optical zoom. The autofocus is effective. It has a video mode, which I haven't figured out yet. It won't play video back on a TV.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Small cars seen as safety risks

Some one conducted a series of head on crash tests, and surprise surprise, the lighter car looses in a head on crash with a heavier car. Obviously we should all drive Sherman tanks.
Or, try using the steering wheel, go hard left or hard right and avoid the head on. Hit a phone pole, hit a bridge abutment, doesn't matter, hitting anything stationary is a whole bunch better than going head on with even a SmartForTwo.
If steering is beyond your capabilities, better go shopping for that Sherman tank.

Camaro redux

Nostalgic column in the WSJ about the return of GM's Camaro. The writer has been fond of Camaro since it cam out in '67. He opines that GM would be in better shape if it had a few cars like Camaro that drivers actually like. I can relate to this. I liked Camaro from way back. It offered as much pizzazz as Corvette for half the price. There came a time in my life when I could afford a Camaro just to drive to work.
Then came a ski weekend. I invited Gigi and her boyfriend to come up to Cannon. Over the phone I heard "Oh I dunno. It's gonna snow this weekend and JD's car isn't too good in snow." I reassured her that the roads would be plowed and the forecasted snow would make the ski conditions especially good. I must have been persuasive and Friday night GiGi and JD and JD's big black Camaro showed up at Mittersill. It got stuck backing into my driveway. Saturday it got stuck entering the Peabody Slopes parking lot. That night it couldn't make the grade on Lehan Road going into mother's place. Even when we popped the rear deck and had two of us sit on the rear bumper to put more weight on the drive wheels. We parked it at the bottom of the hill and walked the rest of the way.
That kinda burst my Camaro bubble. After that demo of totally unroadworthiness in winter, I knew if I ever took a Camaro on a ski weekend I'd never hear the end of it from the rest of the family. It would take years to live down. So. No Camaro.
Too bad. It's still a nice car in good weather. I stuck with front wheel drive minivans and sedans which can pull themselves up three mile hill in an ice storm. And GM still needs some decent cars. I'm currently driving one of the last ones they ever made, a '99 Caddy DeVille. God knows what I'll buy when the Caddy finally wears out. Certainly nothing in today's GM lineup is attractive.

Tea Party, Plymouth New Hampshire. Tomorrow

Been reading a few internet rants about evil, immoral and fattening Tea Parties organized by Fox News. Pure malarky. The Plymouth NH Tea party is organized by purely local folks, with zip for support, publicity, or anything else. I ought to know, I'm doing a part of the organizing, and I'm pretty local and small time. The others in the effort are just as local. Some of them are bigger time than I, but nobody is anywhere close to being a state wide figure, let alone a national figure.
The Plymouth Tea Party steps off at 3:30 in the center of town. Hope to see you all there.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why require presidential OK to use force against pirates?

According to the TV news, Obama issued the OK to use deadly force against pirates. Should not all US Navy captains be authorized to use any amount of force against pirates, at any time? At least against pirates at sea, attacking merchant shipping. Maybe we can require presidential OK to bombard pirate ports, but any Navy ship ought to be able to take out pirates attacking ships at sea, without checking with the president.

Congress could do something about piracy

Ships ought to have a small arms locker, with rifles and pistols for the ship's crew. Why don't they?

Probably 'cause the owners are afraid of getting sued if their crew shoots a pirate, and getting hassled by port authorities all over the world who believe in gun control.

Congress could pass a law saying small arms are legal on board all US flag vessels, shooting pirates is legal anywhere, and any port that hassles US flag ships over carrying arms will get hassled by the US of A.

Surely Captain Phillips' sailors could have done even better against four gunmen in a bass boat with a few ordinary rifles for self defense.

Happy Easter

So, I got up, watched the morning pundits on TV . It was snowing and 35 degrees up here. So I went to church. If you go to church at all, you oughta make Easter. Lots of other folk feel that way and the church was packed. Might have 40 people and a flock of kids. Cutest part was the Easter Egg hunt after services. The kids loved that part. Still snowing.
After church I made a dump run and then visited with my Mother. It was still snowing on the way home and it's beginning to accumulate about now.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pirates of the Indian Ocean?

How can four gunmen in a bass boat stand off the US Navy?

How long will 187 jet fighters last in wartime?

Hard to say. Last time I went to war, my air wing lost 90 fighter planes in 90 days. That's a plane a day from just one base.

Defense Secretary Gates has decided to stop the F22 program at 187 planes. He is going to shut down the F22 production line, which means no more F22's, ever. Gates feels that the F22 is too expensive ($150 million each) and too specialized (only does air-to-air) and not needed going up against the likes of Iran. All this is true.

On the other hand, going up against a more up to date enemy (China? Russia?) we will need F22's. F22 is the hottest fighter in the world, every one fears going up against it. The Japanese want to buy it. Exercises have F22 gaining a 30:1 kill ratio against every other fighter.

To win, or even survive, a war, air superiority is everything. Air superiority means our helicopters, transports, and close air support aircraft can fly where they please, and our ground forces don't have to worry about getting bombed and strafed. It means the enemy's helicopters, transports, and close air support gets shot down by our fighters.

F22 delivers air superiority. Until we run out of them.

Maybe we could fund more F22's out of the $787 billion Porkulus bill? Aircraft production is real economic stimulus.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

US electrical system hacked by enemies

Yesterday the WSJ kicked up a storm with a front page article stating the US electrical grid computers have been infiltrated by spyware and trojan horse malware, sent by URL's located in Russia and China. The article went on to warn that in case of war enemy nations would be able to turn out the lights all over the country. Or even worse, disable automatic protection systems and cause equipment to self destruct. Just turning out the lights can be life threatening in heating season. Damaged heavy equipment can take years to replace.
To be that vulnerable requires three blunders by utility engineers. First is excessive automation, too many unmanned plants, remotely controlled. Second is connection to the public internet, and third is using Windows computers.
For instance, I know of a remote controlled gas turbine generator in Peabody MA. They turn it on, and turn it off from a control room located miles away. Proper design would route the control signals over a private line, say a fiber optic line hung off the power poles. That way, a malicious hacker has to climb a pole, and splice a tap into a glass fiber with the wind whistling past his ears. Not so comfy as working a mouse in the comfort of an air conditioned computer room.

If the utility bean counters forced engineering to use the public internet, 'cause it's cheaper than stringing a few miles of fiber optics, then the system is vulnerable. State utilities regulators ought to check on this sort of dangerous cheap cut. As a rule, no connection to the public internet should be allowed for any operational systems.
Second rule, never use Windows for any industrial control system. Windows is not real time. It will not service interrupts while other programs are running. Should a program lock up (fairly common) , interrupts are locked out and emergencies like fire, overheat, over current, over speed, name-your-own-disaster will not get serviced. Plus, Windows is a server operating system with dozens of external entry points that allow remote users to request the "load and execute this program" service. Windows is so eager to serve that any teen aged hacker can take it over and make it do anything he wants. No experienced engineer would ever entrust anything important to Windows, but the company bean counters might force him too. Windows computers, despite their many flaws, are still the cheapest way to go.
Bottom line. It ain't hard to make the electrical grid immune to hackers. It won't cost all that much, compared to the price of a couple of new generating plants. Public utility commission should enforce the rules against use of the public internet and the use of Windows.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The ghost of Computer Associates EZ Trust anti virus

A blast from the past. Now when the kid's laptop boots up, it whines that EZ Trust antivirus is out of date and your computer is at risk, and the sky is falling. Back when the kid's laptop was new (maybe five years ago) EZ trust was the family anti virus, mostly because it had a cute picture on the box and was cheaper and less flakey than Norton. We gave up on it when it failed to update after a year, even after charging my Mastercard for a new year's subscription. Then the maker, Computer Associates got into some dreadful scandal that made the Wall St Journal.
So, five years later, some trace of the old antivirus is still lurking in the depths of the hard drive and the registry. A google for "EZ Trust Registry" brought up a raft of hits several of which gave good clear instructions for cleaning EZ Trust off for good. There were nine disk files to delete and a couple of registry keys. Some of the disk files were in use, and Windows Explorer refused to delete them, but a trick file zapper (GiPo_Moveon_Boot) took care of that. I made several passes with regedit looking for "virus" and "EZ Trust" and deleting every key that referred to EZ Trust. There were a lot of them.
Next I tried to go on line to make this blog post. Arrgh, Internet is dead. I reseated the network cable, powered cycled the cable modem, and futzed around. Then I tried a "repair connection" option inside Internet Explorer. Bingo, pay dirt. IE reported a layer in the network stack with an EZ Trust name was bad and would it be OK to remove it? I quickly clicked "yes" and every thing started working. In fact the computer is livelier than before.
Lessons learned. Antivirus programs suck up ridiculous amounts of CPU time and burrow deep into Windows. They don't remove cleanly, you have to clean up after them.

A mouse in the house

After getting the kid's old laptop to play, I needed a real mouse. The usual laptop built in thumb pad is a pain to use, and this one way getting flakey, it occasionally left clicked all by itself with unfortunate consequences, like accidental file deletion. So I grabbed the mouse off the dying desktop. No go, lap top doesn't have a mouse port to plug it into. All it has are USB ports.

USB was supposed to replace the keyboard port, the mouse port, the speaker& mike ports, and the printer port thus saving five electrical connectors on the back of the laptop. One trouble with this plan. USB doesn't work until Windows boots all the way up. If for some reason Windows croaks, your keyboard is dead, making it impossible to boot from a recovery disk, program the BIOS, run diagonostics, and in general try to fix the problem. Lesson learned. Don't buy a desktop that lacks a real keyboard port.

Anyhow, the old standard mouse won't plug into USB, I needed a USB mouse. So ho off to Staples (the only vaguely electronicky place up here) to buy a mouse. Staples had a regular house house with a dozen different mice. I settled for the cheapest $15 mouse from Logitech. I passed on the fancier wireless mice costing as much as $99. Plugged in the new rodent and lo and behold, it works. Windows carries the code to work USB mice as well as standard mice, and Logitech had followed the standards closely enough for it's mouse to work with Microsoft's software.

Next step, read the instructions, printed in English French Spanish and Lower Slobbovian. The instructions promised a mouse powered orgy if only I would download Logitech's mouse driver package. Being somewhat stupid, I Firefoxed out to the Logitech website and looked for the driver. Logitech has been making mice for many years, and the download page offered pictures of about 100 different mice. Just pictures, no part numbers. On the internet all mice look alike. I began to doubt the wisdom of proceeding when I found out the driver (Setpoint 4.72) was a 52 megabyte file. That's bloatware supreme for a mouse driver.
Doubt rose higher as the install took a good 15 minutes. After the install finished the laptop slowed down. A lot. Bad sign. Plus, all that Setpoint 4.72 offered was to switch the left and right mouse buttons, not something anyone in their right mind wants to do. So, bring up "install and remove programs" and try to remove the mouse driver. All that did was cause failure messages saying the driver could not be removed until Windows had been rebooted. Arrgh.
At least, the reboot worked, I was able to blow Setpoint 4.72 into the big bit bucket in the sky.
That's the last mouse driver I'm ever gonna download.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Porting Thunderbird

Computer started dying last week. It had enough life left to back stuff up to CD before giving up the ghost. Luckily I had a spare computer, in fact, several of them, laptops abandoned by the children when they bought new. There was an HP unit that seemed to have a bit of life left in it. It was sluggish and out of disk space, but after removing a zillion games, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and running Windows Update for hours and hours, it became much more usable.
So, mission for the day, get my back email, my address book, my filters, and signature block off the CD's and into Thunderbird on the new machine. Thunderbird wants to serve multiple users, keeping each user's email and address books separate. To make this happen, Thunderbird keeps everything associated with a user in the user's private file space. So, with Explorer, cruise out to the C drive Documents and Settings/your_own_name/application_data/Thunderbird. Sometimes "Mozilla Thunderbird"
Go down one more level to "Profiles". On the old machine, copy "profiles" and all it's subdirectory out to CD to make the trip to the new machine. Under "Profiles" there will be one, maybe more, directories with computer generated names. If just one, your have found it, If more than one, you have to find the one containing your up-to-date stuff. Check the date stamps inside the directories or look inside a file profiles.ini in the "profile" directory.
On the new machine, install Thunderbird, and examine the "profile" directory it creates afresh. You should be able to now copy the computer generated name sub directory off the CD and into the new "profiles" directory, edit the file pointer in the "profiles.ini" file to point to the newly imported subdirectory and be done with it.
For some reason this didn't work. Each time I tried it, Thunderbird would get sick and refuse to start. The winning strategy is instead to copy the important files off the CD and into the newly created computer generated name directory. File abook.mab is your address book. Your various mail pouches (inbox, trash, sent, etc) are represented by pairs of files e.g. inbox and inbox.msf. You now copy the pairs of files off the CD onto the hard drive. Be sure to get msgfilterRules.dat off the CD if you use message filters.
After four hours of trial and error I got my old address book, with it's mailing lists, barrels of old mail, and all the message filters up on the new machine. My tricky signature file with a pointer to this blog got lost somewhere, but the rest of the stuff works. The message filters needed editing of their target mail pouch after the move.

A Model Sunday

The Ammonusuc Valley Railway Association has a modular HO layout. We accepted an invitation from the Lebanon train Show to bring the layout to the show. So, the clock radio starts yakking at me to get up at 5:30 Sunday morning. It's still dark. And snowing. Had to brush 1/2" of the white stuff off the car. Global warming at work. Got down to Lebanon at 8 and the rest of the club plus the trailer full of layout all arrived just about then. It being mud season, we couldn't back the trailer up to the back door, it would have sunk. Everything had to be hand trucked in the front door and down the corridors to the show room. Good thing they put in those wheelchair ramps, they are much easier to get up with a hand truck than the front stairs.
They let the showgoers in by 10. We had the layout mostly running by 10:30. We gotta get a new level, the one in the club tool box reads different amounts of tilt depending upon which way up you set it.
Had a fair turnout on the customer side, a little lighter than on the dealer side. I shopped around and picked up some minor stuff. I looked at structure kits for a hundred dollars, (too pricey for me) found some decals, some rolling stock, and called it a day. By the time we got the layout taken down and drove home it was 6:30. Time for a fire and a drink.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What does Fox News have against Mark Gettlefinger?

Glenn Beck (and others) have been calling for Gettlefinger to be fired just like Rick Wagoner was.
But why? Gettlefinger's job is to extract the most possible money from the auto companies for his UAW workers. He's been quite effective at it. With the auto makers teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, Gettlefinger's UAW has made some concessions. The concession probably aren't enough, yet, but Gettlefinger's job is keep his people's paychecks and fringe bennies up, not to save GM or Chrysler. Just cause he can play harder hardball than the GM weenies, doesn't make him a bad guy.

FASB Folds

The Federal Accounting Standards Board (FASB) repealed the mark to market rule today. Wall St loved it, The Dow jumped better than 200 points, and nearly broke thru 8000. Abandoning mark to market means banks can carry worthless (nobody will buy them) assets at the price they paid for them. Presto, chango, zillions of dollars worth of mortgage backed securities can now be carried at what ever the bank wants to call their value, rather than their true market value. Toxic assets just got fumigated.
Remind me never to buy stock in any financial institution.
Big question. Will the banks believe the new plumper balance sheets? The banks have been whining since September that nobody will loan to them. Probably because everybody with money to loan fears the bank will go broke before they get their loan paid back. The fears, fueled by things like Lehman, center around the question of how much money does Bank X have in the vault to pay off depositors who make withdrawals. By law the bank is supposed to have 10% of depositors funds in the vault, preferable in cash. Due to continued bank whining over the years, the requirement for cash has been weakened, and "liquid assets", say mortgage backed securities and credit default swaps, now count as reserves. If a bank fails to pay out cash to depositors upon demand, it's broke. Word gets around and all the depositors run down to the bank and withdraw every penny, that is fatal to banks. Lenders to banks are worried that the bank might go poof just about any time.
Knowing that the bank reserves can be largely toxic unsellable assets isn't going to calm nervous lenders. Who probably won't lend.