Monday, February 28, 2011

GIMP, the poor man's photoshop

It's a great program, it's free, runs under Windows, and it's fans claim it can do everything Adobe Photoshop can do.
Trouble is, no manual. No overview. The program has a zillion options, and it's very difficult to figure out what they do. The on-line help is full of "alpha channels" and "layers" and other strange words all of which lack a definition in ordinary English.
With all the fancy options, GIMP cannot, or I cannot figure out how to make GIMP, do a cut and paste. My needs were very simple, I wanted to print out a stone wall texture that I could use to cover up the wood basement of a HO railroad building to make the wood look like a cut stone basement. I had a snippet of stone wall and all I wanted to do was copy and paste the snippet to fill up a 8.5 * 11 piece of paper.
I finally had to use plain old Microsoft "Paint" to do the copy and paste. Fancy GIMP just would not do it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sea Turtle mythology (navigation)

An article in "Wired" claims that sea turtles navigate by sensing the earth's magnetic field (quite possible) and can sense longitude magnetically (not likely at all). The author is clearly unfamiliar with magnetic compasses, magnetic variation, and magnetic dip, all subjects well known to seamen for hundreds of years. Nor has he read the classic investigation of homeing pigeon navigation done many years ago.
Finding longitude at sea has been intensively studied for centuries. The only way to do it magnetically is to measure magnetic variation. The magnetic poles are not exactly at the geographic poles which means magnetic north varies from true north. Variation ranges from zero to maybe 20 degrees, depending upon where you are. Variation is measured by comparing magnetic north (compass reading) with true north. For human navigators true north is found by observing Polaris, the north star, or by use of a gyro compass (invented around the time of WWI). It is doubtful that sea turtles can use either method.
The earth's magnetic field lines run horizontally at the equator and run nearly vertically right at the magnetic poles. The angle of the magnetic field with respect to the ground is known as magnetic dip, and can be measured with a simple apparatus, essentially a magnetic compass mounted on its side. Human navigators do not use magnetic dip to find latitude because measuring the height of the sun at noon gives a much more accurate latitude indication than magnetic dip does. But the magnetic dip method could be used by sea turtles.
I doubt that sea turtles are better animal navigators than homing pigeons are. Homing pigeons are so good at finding their way back to their homes that they were used to transmit messages up until the invention of portable two way radios in WWII. Pigeons navigate partly by observing the sun and partly by sensing the earth's magnetic field. On overcast days pigeons depend upon magnetic navigation. Attaching small permanent magnets to the pigeon's feet will disable their magnetic sensing. Pigeons released with magnets on overcast days always get lost.
I suspect the real truth of the sea turtle story is that the turtles can sense the earth's magnetic field and can navigate about as well as homing pigeons, using the same techniques. I do not think the turtles, or the homing pigeons can sense longitude.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Boeing wins the tanker contract

I've posted on this before. The Air Force announced Boeing gets the tanker contract ($30 billion) and Airbus, aka EADS, looses. Let's see if the contract award survives a challenge, last time Boeing challenged an EADS win and their challenge was upheld in the courts. Barring a successful challenge by EADS, Boeing has a nice fat contract that will give them business for the next decade. We are talking 180 big 767 airliners with the seats removed and fuel tanks in stalled. That's a big and lucrative job.

Obama and Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

On a slow news day Obama knows how to get our attention. He declared a recent act of Congress, the Defense of Marriage Act, unconstitutional. He distracts the newsie's attention from his weirdo responses to Egypt and Libya by bringing up a hot button topic, (a wedge issue) that his left wing base will love, and perhaps the independents will not be offended by.
As a matter of process, Obama is way out in left field by declaring an act of Congress to be un constitutional all. The standard procedure is to propose new legislation to Congress, rather than declaring existing legislation unconstitutional.
As a practical matter, Obama will solidify his left liberal base, attract a lot of press coverage, and outrage the Republicans. Where the vast mass of independents really stands is unknown, clearly Obama thinks this will rally them to his banner. I hope he is wrong but you never know, Obama was clever enough to get elected president, so you cannot write him off as a dunderhead.

The American Revolution

It's a DVD I borrowed from the Franconia town library. It's good. It's a four DVD set of lectures on the revolution by Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College. I've watched the first two DVD's, some 12 lectures. Professor Guelzo clearly knows his subject backwards and forwards. He speaks at length without notes. The format is the classic college course lecture, Professor Guelzo stands at a podium and delivers a lecture. There are some audio visual aids, maps, portraits of revolutionary war participants, the sort of thing a professor might use in a real college.
This guy is good. I watched all 12 lectures in the first set of DVD's and stayed wide awake. He presents the generally accepted history of the revolution, in plain and clear speech, no jargon. No conspiracy theories, no politically correct deviations, professor Guelzo tells the story straight, with lots of detail.
If you have a child looking for a college, consider Gettysburg College. If they have one guy this good on the faculty, they probably have more.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What's Boeing to do?

Boeing's best selling product is the plain vanilla 737 single aisle jet liner. It's a good plane, it's been in production for a long time, it has orders that will take years to fill.
But, arch rival Airbus has announced a "New Engine Option" (NEO) for it's bread and butter airliner, the A320, direct competitor with Boeing's 737. Airbus will put Pratt & Whitney's new geared turbofan engine on the A320. Airbus publicity claims a 5% fuel savings. It is already beginning to gather orders, dispite the fact that it won't be delivered for years.
Question for Boeing. Should Boeing start design on a 737 replacement? Downside is enormous costs, embarrassing delays, an engineering department still tied up in knots with the long delayed 787 program. Plus the Boeing engineers can't come up with a plane that would be much better than the existing 737. Plus, as soon as a 737 replacement is announced, customers will delay orders, waiting for the new model to become available.
Driving Boeing toward a new design is the fear that the new Airbus plane will be decisively superior to the long-in-the-tooth 737 and capture the market. The 737 is the market, or at least the largest part of the market. Boeing sells ten 737's for every other model they sell.
As of now, Boeing hasn't said what they plan to do.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Language Drift

I've noticed a change in the meaning of "pistol". Used to be, pistol meant the same as handgun, and came in two flavors, revolvers and automatic pistols. Recent usage in the trade seems to use "pistol" to mean "automatic pistol" and not revolver. Handgun is now the generic word that includes revolvers and automatic pistols.
This change has filtered thru to the dictionary. A great big 1967 dictionary defines pistol to be the same as handgun, a firearm designed to be fired with one hand. A newer 1997 dictionary drops the "fired with one hand" bit and defines pistol as a handgun with a single chamber, which rules out revolvers.
Part of the change comes from Charles Weaver, who taught us all the two hand hold for combat shooting. Weaver had something. I was taught to shoot single handed. Only after I switched over to Weaver's two hand grip did I win an Air Force sharpshooter ribbon. And if you watch TV, the cops now always grab their guns with two hands, which kinda makes the "designed to be fired with one hand" definition passe.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bahrain, a strategic American ally?

I've heard both left wing (NPR) and right wing (Fox) newsies call it that. "A strategic naval base", "important ally", and some other vague phrases. This talk has sprung up in the past few days after anti government protests started happening in Bahrain. The US Navy does have arrangements with Bahrain for docking ships in the harbor.
Bahrain may be a nice place, but it's too small and too far up the Persian Gulf to be a "crucial ally" or "strategic partner". Bahrain is a smallish island (290 square miles) a few miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia. That makes it only a few minutes flying time from Iran, not a clever place to keep expensive Navy warships. A Pearl Harbor style air strike from Iran could be launching Exocet missiles before even the fastest computers could respond. The Persian Gulf is a bottle, with a very narrow neck at the Straits of Hormuz. Iranian artillery and missiles can shoot clear across the straits, giving the Iranians the option of becoming very unpleasant should the mood strike them. The Gulf is not the place to station ships for operations against Somalia or pirates.
Bahrain is a fairly prosperous place. They have a population of only 738,000, some oil, same industry built with oil revenues, a lot of tourists and a GNP of $7.8 billion. That comes out to $10,000 a head, not too shabby, even by US standards.
It is a nice enough place to attract Michael Jackson as a permanent resident.
Nice place and all, it's not a crucial interest to the United States, not like Eygpt or Israel is. Too bad the newsies don't understand that.
And, it's a good bet that the political unrest will settle out with a reasonably pro-American regime in charge. The Bahrain tourist trade is too important to drive off the well paying American tourists.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Robin Hood with Russell Crowe & Cate Blanchette

Some how I missed this one when it was in theaters. The DVD turned up in the Franconia library, so I borrowed it. After watching it I'm glad I didn't pay to see it in the theater. The movie is devoid of plot. There's a lot of riding and fighting, and shouting matches, but the movie never gets anywhere. This is a Robin Hood movie, and we expect to see Robin accomplish something, you know, raise King Richard's ransom, marry Maid Marion, outwit the Sheriff of Nottingham, steal from the rich and give to the poor, that sort of stuff. In this movie, Robin doesn't do squat, in the course of nearly three hours of film.
You know the plot is in trouble right from reel 1. Robin starts off as an archer in King Richard's army besieging a minor castle in Aquitaine. A castle defender gets lucky with a crossbow and puts a bolt thru Richard, who dies shortly afterward. Right there the movie is in trouble, in Robin Hood movies King Richard is supposed to return from crusade in the nick of time to save the day. That's not gonna happen here.
After Richard's death, Robin somehow gets the job of bringing Richard's gold crown back to England. Lot of riding, lots of fighting, and Robin finally gets to hand the crown to Queen Eleanor at the Tower of London. It's just like dropping your shirts off at the laundry, Robin hands the crown over and then rides out the main gate. Into another 90 minutes of movie. He meets Maid Marion, but the relationship is too complicated to describe here. There is a scene of a French invasion of England. It looks like D-Day, with medieval LST's, complete with square drop ramp bows being rowed to the beach. What happens to the French invaders is never made clear. At the close of the movie Robin turns to Marion and says "I love you Marion." Then they roll the credits.
I guess the last Hollywood script writer died before this flick was filmed.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Right to Repair

Pushed by EPA, new car's computers are wired into every part of the car. When you take the car in for an inspection sticker, they don't measure the emissions anymore, they plug into the car's on board computers and ask the car if it's burning clean. If the microprocessor thinks the car is clean you get a sticker. If the microprocessor thinks the car smokes to much, no sticker.
When your car's microprocessor give you thumbs down, fixing it can be tough. The mechanic asks the microprocessor what's wrong. The microprocessor replies with a bunch of code numbers. You have to have a code book to figure out what's what.
The car companies only make the full code book available to their dealers. Independent mechanics are left looking at a bunch of numbers. Nothing they can do without the code book, which the car companies won't give them. Gotta take it to the dealer. As a car owner, you know that taking the car into the dealer is gonna cost you heavily.
The independent mechanics are supporting a "Right To Repair" law that would force the car companies to publish the full code book. Car companies and their dealers (dealers can be a potent political force) are dead set against it.
Me, I take my car to a good independent mechanic, and he takes good care of it. I think he, and all the other independent mechanics should have access to all the codes. My car will run better after Bob Warden fixes it than it will after any dealer mechanic works on it. And for less money.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Republican Dark Horse

The Pemi Baker Republican committee invited Herman Cain to speak at the annual Lincoln Reagan dinner last night. Good move. Mr. Cain is one helova good public speaker. He brought the house down , repeatedly. There was a standing ovation at the close of his remarks. He's the best and most moving speaker I have heard since Martin Luther King. Fifty years ago I attended a King rally and came away deeply impressed. Mr. Cain is the first speaker I've listened to since then who makes the same sort of impression. He connected with the rural, white, middle class audience in an obscure small town way up in the north woods.
Mr. Cain has an impressive resume, mathematician working for the Navy Dept, serious executive experience with the likes of Burger King, hosted his own talk radio show. He has zero political experience, this is his first run for public office of any sort. His trip up here is clearly an advance mission for a NH primary campaign. I wish him well.
And, you ought to go hear this man speak.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It takes forever.

The new F35 fighter has been nine years in development. Aviation Week estimates that they have 6 more years of testing to go. So far 600 test flights have been accomplished. Over the next 6 years 7800 more test flights will be flown. That's a helova lotta test flights. My old Air Force fighter squadron (20 aircraft) only flew 3000 sorties a year.
A lot of this test flying is for the airplane's software. F35 has 8 million lines of code integrated and flying, and another 4 million lines to go. Software is released in blocks. Block 0.35 is flying and only provides basic "aviate and navigate" functions. Block 1 (which requires a hardware upgrade) does "sensor fusion" what ever that might be. Block 2 integrates weapons and datalinks, Block 3 is the final release. Sounds like we don't have a real fighter until block 2. Not much use to a fighter that can't launch weapons.

You have to wonder how much of this software is really necessary. For instance the Air Force was happy with the quality of the synthetic aperture radar maps returned from test flights. Mapping is not a core mission of fighters, we have recon aircraft and satellites to do that. Expensive fighters ought to be used go gain air superiority (shoot down enemy fighters).
By the time all the testing is finished and the F35 can go into mass production and squadron service the damn thing will be obsolete.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Obama ought to shut up about Egypt

Obama has gone of TV damn near every day talking about Egypt. He ought to stop. All he does is anger the Egyptians, undermine a loyal American ally, encourage Islamist crazies, and make him self, and the United States, look clueless.
Speaking of clueless, take Director of National Intelligence Clapper. He said on TV that the Muslim brotherhood is secular, and eschews violence. Right. Tell that to Anwar Sadat, gunned down by the Muslim Brotherhood while reviewing a parade. Tell me about the secular nature of Muslim Brotherhood offshoots Hamas and Al Quada. Clapper needs to be fired, quickly.
And just as I write this, Obama is back on TV, talking about Egypt, trying to tell the Egyptians to be good and democratic and other fatherly things that must be infuriating to Egyptians. The US is not Egypt's father.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Town Budget, Franconia

Getting ready for town meeting next month, the Franconia selectmen released the town budget for next year. The meeting was attended by town employees and a handful of citizens. Essentially, the plan is to spend pretty much what was spent last year, give or take a some chicken feed amounts. Line item budget totals $1.36 million. With capital improvement projects, the library and the transfer station added in, the town budget gets up to $1.99 million.

Out of this budget, the big items are:
Police $283,221
Highway & Streets $364,894
Recreation Programs $105,211
Transfer Station $252,696

Items that will draw or should draw comments at next month's town meeting are:
New police cruiser $27,200. A Crown Vic to replace one that is only three years old with only 80,000 miles on it.
Transfer Station $252,696. This seems like a lot of money for a fairly simple operation that is only open half the time. Some justification of costs would be nice.
Dispatch Lines $28,883 I believe this is 911 emergency call support. It seems awfully expensive for just an answering service.
Town vehicles $112,350 There are Capital Reserve Funds for 15 town vehicles, which soaks up quite a bit of money.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Strong temperature inversion

The weather folk had predicted bitter sub zero cold over night. Early this morning my kitchen thermometer read a chilly PLUS 11 degrees. Car started trouble free, and his thermometer dropped from the toasty PLUS 29 degrees in the garage to PLUS 11 degrees as I pulled onto Rt 18 (Three Mile Hill Road). I cruised down hill into Franconia some 1000 feet below my place at Mittersill. At the bottom of the hill in Franconia it was MINUS 5 degrees. We had a 16 degree temperature inversion in merely 4 miles. That's strong.
NOAA keeps temperature records over the whole world gong back to the 1600's when the thermometer was invented. By the 1980's they had some 14,000 stations reporting. Then in 1990 occurred the great purge, some 7000 stations were dropped. I have to wonder what dropping all those stations did to the world average temp, when we have a 16 degree temperature difference over a distance of only 4 miles.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What's worse a virus, or the anti virus?

Dunno. It's been a long long time since I had a virus. But I had antivirus just yesterday. It started out virtuously enough. I decided to do a virus check on the laptop. It's been a long time, so each of my antivirus programs updated itself, and its database over the internet. After each update, a lengthy scan. Two hours in one case. I ran my favorite three, Ad-Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy, and AVG. All are freebies available for down loading. No virii were detected by any of the three.
Next morning, I booted up to check email and do some websurfing. Boot was ultra sluggish, and loading Thunderbird took so long I though the machine had crashed. Hitting Ctl-Alt-Del brought up the Windows task manager, which revealed that a "process" named AAWsomething-or-other was hogging as much as 100% of my CPU time. Some hackers had "improved" Ad-Aware to always load a real time scanner at boot time. This baby is supposed to check traffic one the internet and alarm when it sees a virus slipping into your machine. That's nice and all, but it slows the machine down too damn much. So, uninstall AdAware.
Next day, machine is still running slow. Task Manager shows a bunch of "processes" named AVGsomething-or-other are active. Must be real time scanners installed by AVG. So, uninstall AVG.
Today, boot up, and draw a couple of scary error messages at boot time. One message said "Cannot find a file with a name that starts with AVG". So much for a clean uninstall. Then it started Firefox to run a survey from AVG asking why I had uninstalled AVG.
So, now I am running almost barefoot. I still have firewall up (ZoneAlarm) but no realtime scanners and no disc scanners. I don't do file sharing, I don't insert strange media (flash drives, floppy disks or CD's), the router has been doing a good job as firewall, and I have autorun turned off. The desktop has run bare foot and virus free for more than a year. Lets see if laptop is as lucky.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Egypt Part 3

Listening to NHPR this morning and I heard this from "an administration spokesman".
"Our objective in Egypt is to secure free and fair elections."
Oh really? That statement is guaranteed to raise hackles across Egypt. All Egyptians hear that as "The United States wants to impose a government upon Egypt." Not diplomatic, to say the least.
The United States should be saying "We respect the right of the Egyptian people to choose their own form of government". That is the only proper thing for a democracy to say about foreign governments.
Now, you know and I know that the United States really wants a stable, decent, secular government in Egypt, one that will maintain the peace treaty with Israel, co-operate with the US, and improve the lot of the mass of Egyptian people. It would be nice if elections caused this to come about, but we cannot be fussy. Last time we did "free and fair elections" over there we got Hamas (offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) in charge of the Gaza Strip. We certainly don't want Egypt taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood. Remember, the Muslim Brotherhood is the outfit that killed Anwar Sadat 30 years ago. Today the Brotherhood is the only political organization in Egypt, if elections were held today, they would win. In fact if elections are held in September, the Brotherhood may well win.
If the Egyptian power structure (mostly the Egyptian Army) can cut a deal and make it stick without too much breaking of heads, we are happy. We care about results more than we care about process.
Let's hope the Obama administration understands this.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

County medical insurance

Back to the county commissioners meeting. The HR guy said that the county's medical plan was up for renewal. And the insurance company was talking premium hikes. I asked the HR guy how many bidders he had. "Just one" he replied. "It's a sole source procurement. One company didn't even submit a bid when we asked." Which means we taxpayers are about to get robbed again. The way you keep costs down is you have multiple bidders and go with the low cost bid. When there is only one bidder, hold onto your wallet.
This is something Concord could fix. We could pass a NH law allowing health insurance companies with a valid license from any state in the union to sell insurance in NH. That would give us more bidders. The few New Hampshire insurance companies would bitch and moan, but Grafton County could get a better deal.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Right to Work

The state legislature held public hearings on a New Hampshire Right to Work law yesterday. A LOT of people attended, so many the hearing was held in the legislature's hall, the biggest room in the state house.
The Union people were out in force. Even without the buttons, you can kinda tell who the union people are. Beer bellies are the giveaway.
Testimony was intense. The union people see right to work as destruction of their unions and get very passionate about it.
Over the course of the hearings a figure of 7 to 10 percent union membership in the state was offered and everyone seemed to accept it.
Industry likes right-to-work states. In New Hampshire, we need more industry. Our young people are leaving the state to find work. We have a terrible unemployment problem. We have a tax revenue shortfall. More industry would solve all these problems. Becoming a right-to-work state will bring more industry into New Hampshire.
Right to work will bring industry to offer good factory jobs. The benefit of more jobs in the state far outweighs a small inconvenience to the small portion of New Hampshire citizen who are union members.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The $1 million water tank.

The other juicy tidbit from the country commissioners meeting is the water tank. Back in 2009 the county let a $1 million contract to install a big water tank to insure plenty of water at the county complex in case of fire. Said tank was built and plumbed in. After which, one (or more?) tests of water quality at the complex failed. In short, good drinkable water from the Woodsville system, after passing thru the county's $1 million tank was no longer drinkable, or at least not all the time.
Fingers have been pointed in lots of directions. However the county has no plans at present to sue the contractor until he fixes it. We have a county attorney on staff, and even a county court in which to try them. You'd think they would want to work at their trade.
I fear the fix will be at county taxpayers expense.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Grafton County Commissioners, weekly meeting

The rabble rousing started on Sunday, at the Grafton County Republican committee meeting. Newly elected county commissioner Omer Ahern invited a bunch of us to attend the commissioner's weekly meeting. "Just to see what's going on" Omer said.
So I drove over. Meeting started at 9AM. Various department heads reported results, issues, and actions taken to the commissioners. With one exception the department heads all mumbled and faced away from the audience, making it quite difficult to hear them. They also spoke in bureaucrat code words making it even harder to follow the drift. Occasionally a commissioner would rephrase what was said for the benefit of the audience.
The county attorney reported on a project to acquire new case management software. The county already has such a system, but the state of NH was offering $35K of free money to buy a new and web based one. This would allow county attorneys to do PowerPoint presentations in court. Cool. There was no discussion of security of the web based system, such as what would keep hackers from posting every county case file on WikiLeaks.
Note to Concord. I think we might have found somewhere to cut $35K from the state budget. In fact make that $350K (10 counties times $35K).