Monday, December 31, 2007

Posting from New Account

I'm testing posting from another Google account.

Your U.N.C.L.E. on DVD!!!!!

Outstanding news!! Time Life now has the first season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964--65) on DVD!

The first season includes the Project Strigas Affair, which featured guest stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy!

Friday, December 14, 2007


Noted in Michael's Google Chat status: SimpleDB.

Very interesting.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Spam Trap

Fascinating! From Slashdot, an article on a new type of spam detection in
Abaca's new filtering techology that bases detection on a computed reputation of recipients rather than email content or the sender.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Python Differences

Okay, here's a list of things that are different in Python that one may as well get used to. I think that most of these weren't immediately obvious to me, rather, I had to pick up on them after a bit of time.

Everything is by reference

All variable assignments are by reference, i.e., they copy the address and never copy the values. If a and b are arrays, a = b, does not copy the array as in Perl. Now a is a reference to the same array as b. Of course for scalar values, this does copy the value so to state things more precisely (i.e., correctly): Every variable is a scalar which is a simple scalar value or a reference to anything more complex than a scalar.

When you do want to make copies of something like an array, you need to import copy and use that module.

Learn the way of the %

Gone are the days of simple print statements and simple comma separated lists in print statements. Python brings us back to the days of printf for everything.

The format is something like '%, %s!' % ('Hello', 'World') or 'The answer is: %d' % x. Okay, granted no printf-like function is required, but % is an infix operator. (That in itself is an interesting departure for a language that uses functions and methods for a lot of operations). I didn't realize this at first, but simply plan to use this feature all the time! That means any time you deal with building strings. However, you can use the + to concatenate strings.

This is a side-effect of Python not having an indicator on variables such as $var in Perl. You can't simply say print "Hello $place!" in Python, because there's no $ to say that place is a variable, so you have to say print 'Hello %s!' % place. If you try print 'Hello ', place, '!' it won't be quite what you expect because Python adds an annoying space for every comma in a print statement.

Does this meet Python's goal of being “clean?” Hmm...

The main point here is that I had to make the shift from thinking % was a way to do things to realizing it is the way.


The first thing you realize is that, because there are no variables like $var, there's no real difference between single and double quotes. The typical reason for using one is that you want to have literal instances of the other inside. For example, "Now here's a string." or 'Add the word "please" to your request.'

Then, later you realize that symbols like \n really are interpreted in both types of quotes and, in fact, you have to use the raw indication by prepending a letter r, r'print this \n literally.', to not interpret special symbols.

Everything has to be initialized

I can't complain about this one, but there's no automatic initialization of anything. The Pyton dict is the equivalent of a Perl hash. In Python, you can't access an element of a dict unless it's been initialized, even if to the value None (which is Python's equivalent to NULL or undef). This means that, in what should be a relatively simple loop, you always have to test for existence and add a clause to initialize if necessary.

Similarly, you can't use a simple variable before initialzing it.

The end result is that Python always forces you to be rather serious about programming and doesn't allow the same ability to dash of a useful expression the way Perl does. It's a philosophical difference that I can't argue about either way, however I do miss the latter sometimes. Well, okay, one doesn't really miss the latter, one simply switches back to Perl.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Colleges Outsourcing Email to Gmail, MS

This Slashdot article on college oursourcing to Gmail and MS Live hits the topic spot on and covers it well. It's a highly-recommended read!

I have a couple of comments.

Worrying about privacy in the realm of email is nuts. People just don't get what email is. It's probably already crossed the Internet in the clear! For real ways to address these issues see my discussion of alternative email ideas.

Too late! I've already forgotten the second comment.

Blackberry Curve

Okay I have a Blackberry Curve 8320 and I'm now fully on the bandwagon. Blast it all…

P.S. I use the downloaded Gmail client for email.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Andy Rubin Interview

Here's a ZDnet interview with Andy Rubin. The answers tend to be short and press-release-like, but it does cover much of the Android announcement at that level.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More Android!

As promised, the Android SDK has been announced. Check out the site and watch the videos there.

Now you can write the next, great app for our phones!

Friday, November 09, 2007

UNIX Dictionary

Alas, /usr/dict/words is no longer generally available on UNIX (or at least Linux) systems! However, I found this copy on-line FWIW.


Electric Arc Videos

Here are some cool electric arc videos. The second in this first series is one of my favorites. When an actual arc forms, it's a column of plasma. Since plasma is (very) hot gas it generally rises which eventually breaks the column, i.e., the arc.

Arc Videos

This is what started me on the path of arc videos. Someone sent a video of these tesla coils playing the Super Mario theme music. This isn't the one I saw but these are the same coils, I think.

Super Mario Tesla Coils

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Saw Comet 17P/Holmes!

So tonight I got out of the car and was looking at the stars. It was pretty clear. As I was gazing at Perseus I remembered that the comet, 17P/Holmes, which has recently become significantly bright, was maybe in that area.

There it was!

I went inside and got the 7x50 binoculars which still conveniently had their tripod mount, so I grabbed the camera tripod, too.

The comet is quite bright and quite round. It's the nicest comet I've seen in quite a while! Go out and take a look if you haven't seen it.

(Surprise! Wikipedia has the best coverage of the comet that I've found so far. They have exceeded Sky and Telescope. I don't know why S&T doesn't have their traditional finder chart and published ephemerides. Ah well. S&T does have an interactive sky chart but now you haves to register to use it.)

Spaceweather (Amazing!) also this main page.
Ephemeris from Harvard CFA
A Blog


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Android: The Phone


These sources are pretty much reliable.
Here are interesting reporting and various opionions. They may or may not be on target.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Massive Pile Up on CA Highway

There was a massive accident pile-up on a California Highway reported via AP and Breitbart…
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - More than 100 cars and trucks crashed on a fog-shrouded freeway Saturday, killing at least two people and injuring dozens more, the California Highway Patrol said.

Also, witnesses said…
“There was probably 2-foot visibility in the fog when I got here. It was really bad,” said Mike Bowman, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “It looked like chaos. Cars were backed up on top of each other.”

Okay, here's the punchline near the end of the story. Ready?
The freeway's northbound lanes were shut down indefinitely as investigators worked to determine the cause of the crash. Traffic backed up for miles south of the wreckage.

Monday, October 29, 2007

HD Parm Command

Someone at work forwarded this useful hdparm command.

hdparm -aAcCgiIMmn

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Python: Copy a Tuple to a List

Okay, here's how to copy a tuple to a a list, i.e., to an array.

>>> [x, y, z] = t
>>> a = []
>>> a[:] = t
>>> a
[1, 2, 3] -- An Introduction to Erlang

One of my colleagues at work did a tech talk on Erlang recently which is an interesting language. Here's a nice introduction at On Lamp. -- An Introduction to Erlang

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Extreme Programming (XP) Wiki

There is a nice set of wiki pages on Extreme Programming at the original Ward Cunningham Wiki at

The normal, extremely well done!, Extreme Programming home is here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Cool Pumpkin Carvings

Here's a site with some very cool pumpkin carvings!

Happy Halloween!

Field Trip to WAGA

Also here's a cool set of pictures from a field trip to WAGA Channel 5.

Bank America Tower in Atlanta

Here's a page with nice pictures of and from the top of the Bank America tower! Apparently the Atlanta Radio Club has some equipment up there.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Object Relational Mapping, NeXT and Apple

This article in Wikipedia, Object-relational mapping - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, makes interesting references to the history of NeXT objectoriented programming, Web Objects, and Apple.

It says NeXT's Enterprise Objects Framework “provides the technology behind the company's e-commerce Web site, the .Mac services and the iTunes Music Store. Apple provides EOF in two implementations: the Objective-C implementation that comes with the Apple Developers Tools and the Pure Java implementation that comes in WebObjects 5.2. Inspired by EOF is the open source Apache Cayenne. Cayenne has similar goals to EOF and aims to meet the JPA standard.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Python Properties

Okay, Python does provide a mechanism for get- and set- methods for an instance variable: The property() function. You can find it documented in the Library Reference. Granted, I haven't really used this yet, but it exists.

There are two approaches. These examples are copied directly from the above Library Reference by Guido van Rossum, edited by Fred L. Drake, Jr.

class C(object):
def __init__(self): self.__x = None
def getx(self): return self._x
def setx(self, value): self._x = value
def delx(self): del self._x
x = property(getx, setx, delx, "I'm the 'x' property.")

Then, there is the so-called decorator, which is quite convenient.

class Parrot(object):
def __init__(self):
self._voltage = 100000

def voltage(self):
"""Get the current voltage."""
return self._voltage

I believe that this functionality doesn't work for “classic” classes. That means you have to declare your class as a subclass of object, as shown above.

There's also a mechanism for creating a property class for implementing get and set methods for a variable, but I'll have to go back and look it up.

Part of the problem is that the property() function is buried in the Reference Library but isn't part of the Tutorial under the object discussion.

Okay, there's a pretty decent discussion in the Release Notes for Python 2.2.3. It even covers the subclassing of property to make the get and set functionality work for class attributes.

Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon

Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon is released today.

Here are some links.

Here's a list of some of the features for Ubuntu Server.

  • More Ubuntu focus on the server platform
  • AppArmor
  • Tickless idle mode
  • Easier mass deployment
  • Landscape system management
For the desktop:

  • Better printer support
  • Streamlined integration of Firefox extensions
  • Compiz 3-D included!
  • Write to NTFS!
The image is from Cnet

Refracting Light the Wrong Way

Wow! Layered material that refracts light the wrong way is featured in this National Science Foundation press release.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Selectricity Voting

Selectricity is an interesting voting site that lets you set up elections and allow voting via email, cell phone, etc.

Friday, October 12, 2007

X-Wing Rocket Launch

Things we'd probably never see if not for the Internet.

Launch of a 21-foot long X-Wing. Apparently they don't make them like they used to, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

From Seth.

Wiki Advice

This article has interesting advice on building a good Wiki. Note that this is about the software, not content.

The author doesn't like CamelCamel case so I strongly disagree on that point. I consider CamelCase not only a good idea but essential. MediaWiki is particularly annoying on this point, though I've decided I can live with it.

The point about good search with relevant results is important, IMHO.

Looking back over it, maybe I only agree with about half of the article but I'll post it here anyway.

Data Center Knowledge

Data Center Knowledge: Data centers, design, power, cooling

A cool site on data centers.

Cartoon: Xkcd

xkcd - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language - By Randall Munroe

Someone just showed this to me recently. It's sometimes funny IT humor. I haven't read enough to tell how often.


A very informative and concise talk on OpenID by Simon Willison.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Happy 50th Birthday Space Age!

The Space Age is 50 years old today! Wow. Sputnik was launched on 4 October 1957 at 19:28:34 UT.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Excellent MythTV Notes and HOWTO

This site seems to be an excellent MythTV HOWTO and collection of notes.

Time Warner Cable ISP and Privacy!

Clark Howard discussed Time Warner's privacy policy on the air on 27 Sep. Here is a quote from his show notes on (as linked above). I wonder what Comcast's policy is? (Obviously, I should go and (re!)-read it.

Do you hate legal mumbo-jumbo? Well, consumer reporter David Lazarus recently read through Time Warner's entire 3,000 word privacy policy and terms of service. What he discovered is that Time Warner reserves the right to track the Internet habits of its high-speed customers. This info includes what websites you visit, how long you spend on them and what e-commerce purchases you make. They can also read your personal e-mails, according to the terms of service. Time Warner is also allowed to disclose personally identifiable info about its customers to advertisers, direct mail operations and telemarketers for a price. A company spokesperson claims they're not doing all this just yet, but Clark wonders why Time Warner is even allowed to reserve the right to totally invade your privacy. And it's not only Time Warner that has these kinds of policies -- AT&T tracks very similar info on its customers and records their TV viewings habits. While it's never good to look reflexively to Washington for a solution, Clark believes in this case we need an ironclad privacy policy from Congress to protect the privacy of your viewing and surfing. After all, would the CEOs of Time Warner and AT&T -- or those on Capitol Hill -- like it if the public saw every one of their e-mails?

New Google 411 Service

The new Google voice-recognition 411 service is very cool. Check out the video.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gmail Unread Mail

Okay, looking on Google groups I found out how to do something I've been needing, wanting, and wondering about for quite a while: How do you search for Unread email?

It turns out that apparently, Unread is a hidden label. So, you can put this in your search field:


OR, if you want to search another particular label for unread email:

label:unread label:ImportantMessages

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New Job

I've never posted my biggest news here. After 22 years I left Emory and moved on to new employment. My last day at Emory was actually 20 July 2007, so this post is a little late.

Who's my new employer? You have to ask me for that information.

I'm still in IT, still in Linux, still doing basically the same things at the same level that I was before.

I started the new job on 6 Aug.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Boot 145 OS on One PC

Okay, 145 OS' beats my old 10 on my Fry's PC!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Scale of the Universe

Someone recently posted an article explaining the scale of the universe via various analogies. We do have a hard time percieving a wide range of scales where distance is involved. However, humans seem to have a perception of time that has a large dynamic range. So, I've found the best way to talk about the size/scale of the universe is in terms of light-travel time. (In other words, how long would it take light to travel that distance).

  • to the Moon - ~1.25 seconds
  • to the Sun - eight minutes
  • to Pluto - about four hours
  • to Alpha Centauri - about four years
  • to Sirius - about eight years
  • to the Orion stellar complex - about 1500 years
  • to the center of our Milky Way galaxy - 30,000 years
  • Diameter of our Milky Way galaxy (visible arms) - 100,000 years
  • To M31 the Andromeda Galaxy - 1.5 million years
Other clusters of galaxies are typically at distances with a light-travel time in the realm of 100 million years. All of these distances are approximate.

Oh, and you can basically ignore any talk of distances to the farthest galaxies, clusters, or talk about the size of the universe or distance to the edge of the universe. Most of those distances are highly model-dependent, and the concept of distance barely applies. After all, everything is moving on cosmological scales, the universe is expanding. That's all another discussion.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RIP Tom Snyder

RIP Tom Snyder. I always enjoyed the Tomorrow show and later the reincarnation on CNBC. In addition the pretty well-covered history in this article, I thought the tight, close-up shots they used were pretty cool.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Python Now

Okay, I've been using Python for a handful of months. I've gotten over the white space as langauge element business. I still don't favor it, but I get it. I personall still prefer braces or something like them for delimiting statement blocks, but I can live with the white space.

There are two unforgivable sins in Python.

The first is that instance variables and method names in an object class definition occupy the same name space! This means you can't have a variable called file and then a method to get/set it cadlled file(). As soon as you write a value to the variable (self.file = something) you've overwritten your method definition! Am I missing something here?

So you either have to use the built in direct access obj.file = something which you can do directly to set (and get), but you've lost the ability to massage data as you set or get it. Or you have to resort to obj.get_file() and obj.set_file(), or a method that does both.

Okay, I forgot what the second one was.

Update 18 Oct 2007: Okay, there is a way. See this post.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Crossing the Rings of Uranus

From Sky and Telescope, the Earth will cross the rings of Uranus for the first time since their discovery!

On Thursday, August 16th, Earth will cross the equator and ring plane of Uranus, and astronomers all over the world will be on watch. The unusual geometry offers a unique view of the planet's atmosphere, satellites and ring system.

Uranus's orbital period of 84 years means that we get ring-plane crossings only every 42 years. During the last one, in 1965, little was known about the distant planet, the ring system hadn't been discovered, space telescopes sounded like science fiction, and the 5-meter Hale telescope on Palomar Mountain was the world's largest.
Seth sent over this interesting take on the Internet.

Periodic Table of the Internet

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Comet Linear C/2006 VZ13

From Sky and Telescope:

Comet LINEAR (C/2006 VZ13), now crossing through Draco and Bo├Âtes, has far exceeded expectations. It was originally predicted to peak in brightness around magnitude 10, a pleasant spectacle for people who enjoy viewing faint comets through telescopes. But the latest magnitude estimates range from 7.5 to 8.0, making it an easy sight through 10×50 binoculars in a dark, transparent sky.

As of July 10th, the comet appears as a bright, round fuzzball roughly 8' across, with little hint of a tail. It will probably peak in brightness shortly after July 14th, when it comes nearest to Earth. Then it should fade gradually until perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, on August 10th. But it will be disappearing into the evening twilight by the end of July.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Who's the Emptiest?

So after the amazing web page, Seth and I embarked on a discussion of emptiness, where I claimed:

Other things, the Solar System, and even galaxies are similarly sparse. I find it fascinating that two galaxies can pass through each other with probably no stars colliding. (Gas, however, is a different matter, to speak, and gravitational, tidal forces are really, really a different matter!)

Which led to an interesting question. Which of these is the emptiest? My first intuition was that the average distance between objects, cubed, would give a rough indication of emptiness. Now, as I write this, it's obvious that emptiness is just density. In this case we're talking about particle density (things per cubic-length) and not mass density (grams per cubic-length).

Here's my first, rambling shot at the question.

As a start, the Sun is about 100 Earth's in diameter but the nearest star is four LY away which is about 24e12 miles. The earth's diameter is about 8000 miles, right? (I never can remember, but we are headed east at about 1000 mi/hr meaning the circumference is about 24,000 miles and over pi * d gives 8000 as d).

That make the Sun about 8e5 miles in diameter. So the nearest star distance is 24e12 / 8e5 = 3e7 diameters.

The web page you sent says the proton diameter to atom diameter ratio is about 1e5 so that makes a galaxy maybe 300 times emptier [sic] (3e7 / 1e5 = 3e2), or taking it in a volume sense, (3e2)^3 = 9e6 =~ 10 million times emptier. Wow. I wonder if that's right...

Now take the Solar system. If the Sun is 8e5 miles in diameter, we know the earth-sun distance is about 93e6 miles. 93e6 / 8e5 =~ 12e1 = 120. So the Earth is only about 120 solar diameters away so the solar system isn' t nearly as empty as an H atom. By volume 1e5 / 1.2e2 =~ 8e2. By volume (8e2)^3 =~ 6e8 so the atom is 600 million times more empty!

Neptune is at about 35 AU I think so that makes it about 4000 diameters, still less ``empty'' than an atom.

H-Atom Scale Model - 11-Mile-Wide Web Page!

Seth sends this link that is the coolest, most clever, and shocking thing I've seen on the web!! It's a scale model of a hydrogen atom.

It's a relatively simple web page with an electron as a single pixel, a proton as an image 1000 pixels across, and enough pixels between them that, at 72 pixels/inch the web page itself is 11 miles wide!!! That said, at least in Firefox it renders instantly and you can easily scroll to the right where the electron is.


China Practices Weather Control

This is a fascinating story of China practicing weather control.

Basically they're seeding clouds with silver iodide, but on a fairly large scale. Using anti-aircraft guns is an interesting approach.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007


After something like 15 years, I have stopped receiving email on Monolith. A few minutes ago I changed the forwarding address in LDAP to forward email off-campus exclusively.

Monolith began as a NeXTslab computer on my desk top. It was my main workstation from the early 90s until maybe about 1997. The system was first set up in my office in Uppergate House, then made the move to Cox Hall. It also went with me for the brief stint in the University Apartments Tower penthouse. Sometime in 1997, when I moved from Cox Hall to the North Decatur Building, Monolith's soul moved to a SPARCstation 5 and Solaris 2.5.1. In later years it evolved into an Ultra 10, then a Sunblade 150. The OS probably made its way through Solaris 2.6, and maybe Solaris 9. I don't recall if it was ever Solaris 8.

For the past few years, Monolith left my main workstation and became a more humble Debian Linux box running on a Pentium II system with 96 MB of RAM and a 4-GB hard drive. It's been serving it's main duties as an email server (running Exim for the MTA and Cyrus IMAP), and a web serve running Apache. For the past six months, Monolith has been hiding in the machine room on the fourth floor of the Woodruff Library.

Today I'll shut down the web server and email services and then will remove the box sometime this week.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Keyboard Type in Ubuntu

Here's a question: Where is the keyboard type stored in Ubuntu Linux, or in Linux in general?

The answer is, in the file /etc/default/console-setup.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Upstart Replaces Init

Though I knew that the Ubuntu project had replaced init(1) with a new scheme, I've largely ignored it until now.

Here's a nice article on the rationale behind the change.

Here's the Upstart home page.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Quote of the Day

Okay, this is a good one. From Michael's signature…

First we thought the PC was a calculator. Then we found out how to turn numbers into letters with ASCII — and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we've realized it's a brochure.

Douglas Adams

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Six Scientific Questions

From the Observer Gardian.

We asked three writers, three scientists and two broadcasters to answer six basic scientific questions, and their answers appear to confirm the arts/science divide.

This was a fun, and somewhat disturbing exercise.

Can you answer these questions? (Before you look at the answers and/or read the article).
  1. Q: Why does salt dissolve in water?
  2. Q: Roughly how old is the earth?
  3. Q: What happens when you turn on a light?
  4. Q: Is a clone the same as a twin?
  5. Q: Why is the sky blue?
  6. Q: What is the Second Law of Thermodynamics?
In my own case, I had the most trouble with number four (the clone question) and a bit of trouble with number one. The rest I had ready answers for.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Not a problem? That's A Problem!

What's this sudden use of “no problem” or “not a problem” instead of a simple “your're welcome”? I suddenly realized that people (mostly young) are using this expression more and more. It's not quite right. In fact it's worse than that.

You order coffee at the drive through. You get the order feedback and the total. You say “Thanks!” They say, “No problem.” Well, I didn't think it was a problem! I didn't think I was putting them out of their way to take my order.

I ask a receptionist at an office for help. She's very helpful and gives me the information I need. I say, “Thank you,” and she responds, “ Not a problem.” Is the subtle message here, Well it may look like you completely made me go out of my way to help you, but is really was no problem at all? I could buy that idea if I just randomly wandered off a hallway into someone's office and asked for help. But a receptionist? That's a stretch. And at the drive-through? “Oh, it's no problem that you completely interrupted my train of throught while I was sitting here in this window waiting to take your order. Don't worry about it.”

Am I the only one bugged by this? I haven't seen anyone else mention it.

I'm really curious about how this particular usage originated. I can't help but feel there's an important and disturbing message buried in there somewhere. Is it part of the communication protocol between a person and someone who's 25 or 30 years older—just another strange and mystifying part of the senior citizen's benefit package?

This really is a problem!

Now the response would make sense if I had said, “Thanks for going to all the trouble to help. I really appreciate it.” Is that the message that's sent now by a simple “Thanks”? Maybe no one says thank you any more, so when you do, it's so shocking to the other party that they are compelled to assure you that it was no problem for them, really.

A couple of days ago I ordered coffee, got the usual “No problem,” drove around to the window to be told that they didn't have what I ordered after all, and was asked if a substitute would be okay. I said, fine. They apologized for the trouble. I said, “Not a problem.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The IT Crowd

It was a few months ago that Mike told me about The IT Crowd which was one of the funniest TV shows I've seen in a long while. There were about six episodes on-line.

However, it looks like it's being re-produced for NBC and I'm not sure I'm enthusiastic about that. I expect that I'll much prefer the British version.

BTW, most of the on-line versions seem to have been pulled. This is very disappointing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What does CHKDSK do?

Bah! Okay I have a hard drive going bad so I'm running Windows XP CHKDSK on it. While I'm staring at the little green bar and the announcement of which phase it's on, I was wondereing what each phase did.

Here's a nice like to a MS explanation of CHKDSK phases, and what it does, and how to estimate how long it will take!

Here's a short version.
  • Phase 1 - Checking files
  • Phase 2 - Checking indices
  • Phase 3 - Checking security descriptors
  • Phase 4 - Checking sectors

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Summer Solstice!

I just missed it. The summer solstice is at 18:06 UT / 14:06 EDT Today 21 June 2007, just a few minutes ago.

Friday, June 01, 2007

New ELP Videos on YouTube

Here are some great, new ELP videos on YouTube.

Tarkus in 1997 at Montreax

This is very much like the concert I saw at the Hi-Fi Buys amphitheatre here around that time. And, yep, the old Moog is still there! 8-)

This was the piece the opened with. Note that, in the middle, Tarkus transitions to Pictures at an Exhibition. I thought that was pretty cool.

Rehearsing Karn Evil 9

And more KE9 rehearsal

Wow! Studio footage of rehearsal, presumably during recording of KE9 on BSS (which was released in 1972 I believe).

The Barbarian

A at best fair copy of The Barbarian. This looks like it was videotaped from a TV screen. Still, it's from the early 70s.

Emerson on the Letterman 1986

Playing Coming to America, which was one of the staples of The Nice (before ELP).

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Street View on Google Maps!

Curt forwards a note announcing...

Google snuck a new feature into Google Maps this week, no official
announcement yet but I stumbled on it this morning.

Do a search in one of the following places:

Las Vegas
New York City
San Francisco / Oakland / Silicon Valley

...and then look at the buttons in the upper right of the map. There should
be a new button marked "Street View". Click and enjoy.

Sorry, no coverage in Atlanta yet.

This is quite fascinating. The note goes on to acknowledge that A9 (shown to me by Jim K at the time) had done something similar previously. Of course the Google interface is more cool…

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Yahoo Mail Cancelled

Well, I've finally done it: I cancelled my Yahoo! Premium email and personalized email address (domain name). I'd actually transferred the domain name to a different service some time ago. I believe Yahoo was still charing $35 a year for the DNS name when most services charge between $5 and $10 (sometimes free). Gmail has far surpassed my premium email account, which also had an annual fee.

I deleted all of my folders, filters, and such and popped down all the email I wanted to keep. Now the account is a plain old Yahoo mail account with ads.

In the mean time, Google just keeps adding services to Gmail. The latest is 20-MB attachments.

Yahoo! certainly set the pace for a while, with the best web-based email service around. There are a lot of people that still prefer it and I'm not planning to cancel the free acount. Their services are more impressive now and the new, fancy email interface is impressive in some ways. However, I simply prefer the Gmail interface. It's incredibly powerful but simple to use.
Gmail is truly a new way of doing mail whereas Yahoo has basically copied Outlook Express, et al.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Since just posting about a blog entry from SmugMug, I looked at their About Us page and found the brief account of their story compelling!

Going with Sun

Don MacAskill, CEO of SmugMug, blogs about selecting Sun. I think most of his experience and description resonates with our experiences.

Monday, May 07, 2007

150k Layoffs for IBM

Robert Cringley in his column I Cringely writes that IBM may be laying off 150,000 US workers!

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Ack!! Okay, I'm learning more Python. I have to admit, it seems fast to write, and the code is more brief. Or maybe more clean. It's notably different looking from Perl.

I've been at it for less than three weeks and have already been able to write a Notification class and have almost finished a DBnc (named-column database) class. Very soon I should have a fully functioning HostDB class (which I just finished writing in Perl last week). With those in hand a production host monitoring script in Python should be ready, maybe today. Again, I just finished the Perl version of it last week.

I feel like I know most of the core of the language but there are some subtleties I'm still not clear on which will probably jump up and grab me at some point. I'm not sure I understand the difference in double- and single-quotes around strings. I'm not sure the meaning is the same as in Perl (or ksh).

I also have the logging and csv libraries pretty well in hand, now, along with mapping dictionaries (which are like Perl hashes). Handling command line args, file I/O, and regular expressions are working in my code.

I'm also trying to figure out how to write class modules, particularly in the area of comments in the code, author fields and such, and I need an expression to pull the CVS version number into the version field.

I've started using the three-double-quote comments/documentation in class and method definitions but I'm not sure how much decorating and such I can do---another thing I need to check into. I want to draw borders around the comments to set them off, using underlines and verticle bars, but I wonder if any tools want to reformat that text.

Learning how to use the code to install and how to make a distributable package are next on my list. I've already done a couple of installs (and found out you need to apt-get install phython2.4-dev or whatever version you are using, for setup to work correctly).

I've been able to learn almost everything from the Tutorial and the Library Reference. I did spend 20 to 30 minutes in a bookstore reading some of the O'Reilly book at one point (while waiting on the customer service desk to find a reserved book). I've gone searching on Google for the answers to a couple of questions but typically the trail led back to the above two documents.

An any event, I'm having fun with it.

Cool Stuff on Shared Google Reader

Don't forget to look at my Shared Google Reader. It's over there in the right hand column, near the top. A lot of articles and such I would previously have put here in the blog are there on the shared reader, since it's a single click. I add items from time to time here in order to include comments, but most of what I read that I think is interesting, and that I read via the Reader, is over there.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Check out this video of BumpTop, yet another physics-based desktop paradigm. Things are getting interesting, weird, and more weird. There is also more Beryl demon in this post.

I guess this is the actual bumptop site:

Monday, April 30, 2007

Quote of the Day

From today's AWAD:

The older I grow, the more I listen to people who don't talk much.

—Germain G. Glien

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mouse Message

Nice! My mouse froze again a few minutes ago on my Edgy Eft - Gnome - Beryl desktop. I thought it was a driver problem or some instability from the above. However, after killing the X session and restarting it, someone (Xorg?) or more likely the mouse driver, told me that my mouse power was getting low and it needed to be “recharged.”

Of course! My Logitech wireless mouse neede new batteries!

A trip to the supply cabinet with help from Jim K solved the problem.

Linux Disk I/O

Here's a very nice description that drills all the way down into the kernel I/O code for a Linux read() call.

Actually the whole document by Andries Brouwer is worth reading.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Where's the Text??

Okay, I want to learn something new. I want to find out about something. More and more lately, I find web sites with links to information about a topic that are videos, flash animations and such. Okay, those are fine but Where is the Text?? Usually I want to READ about a topic. It's faster and I can skip around. I usually don't want to watch a video!!! Lately, I keep coming upon cases where I can't find any text but only video.

The most recent example was this morning at Sun's web site. All videos. Argh!

Maybe the text is there somewhere but it sure is getting harder to find. At least it is in some cases, which are way too many for me.

Real Estate Plot Roller-Coaster

Okay, here's a new idea for plotting data. Taken from the Freakonomics Blog, this is real estate data from 1890 to about the present, plotted as a roller-coaster ride. This is just cool! (It's a 3m41s video).

Friday, April 13, 2007

How Do You Pronounce CentOS?

Since we plan to use CentOS4 on the compute nodes of the new cluster, the various pronunciations I hear in our phone conferences keep bugging me.

I found this discussion which doesn't shed any true light but only confirms that multiple pronunciations are in popular use, and there isn't an official version.

I pronounce it like SIN-toss and continue to prefer that version.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Supercomputing Comes to the Rust Belt

An interesting article on rust belt companies converting to a new business.
Three years ago, when Michael Garvey began looking for ways to revive his family's 85-year-old manufacturing business in down-on-its-luck Youngstown, Ohio, he settled on a surprising solution: supercomputing. For much of a century, the tiny company—originally Trumbull Bronze Co. but renamed M-Seven Technologies—specialized in casting bronze parts for steel mills. But now, it has started making money by collecting and analyzing vast storehouses of data to help larger manufacturers improve their operations.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

203 Milllion Linux Phones by 2012

This article in Information Week by Eric Zeman reports on a prediction by ABI Research of 203 million Linux phones by 2012!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Linux Mint

Hmmm. Another distro. This is Linux Mint, based on Ubuntu which is based on Debian, .... So why another distribution?

Here's a summary of what I read.
  • Slightly different look and feel. Green/blue instead of orange/brown.
  • Multimedia already installed including support for MP3s, video, flash, DVDs, etc.
  • Ready Wi-Fi support (they say).
Here's the Linux Mint Home page and this is a brief review.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Linux MCE

Linux MCE (i.e., Media Center Edition, a la Windows) looks very cool. Today, as I post this, their site is down from being, uh, Dugg. However, Digg is pointing to a semi-entertaining and semi-annoying video demo. Actually I continue to be more impressed with MythTV, etc., every time I see it.

Pournelle Comments on Global Warming

Jerry Pournelle comments on global warming in his 5 March View. Excerpting:

There's a lot more gas about Global Warming, but none of it causes me to change my view: yes, the Earth is warming, as apparently is the rest of the Solar System. The warming trend is hardly alarming: we have had warmer periods in historical times including the Medieval Warm Period. Yes, CO2 levels are rising, and since warm water holds less dissolved gas than cold water, any trend that warms the seas will accelerate that. The levels are high, but we don't really know the effect -- CO2 isn't a very efficient greenhouse gas. Water vapor is.

As the seas rise the surface areas become larger; this increases evaporation, which increases water vapor. Water vapor is a rather efficient greenhouse gas. Higher water vapor content usually means more clouds. Clouds are bright and tend to reflect received sunlight, reducing the insolation reaching the Earth. Models reflecting (no pun intended) this are in a very primitive stage and are not incorporated into the computer models that predict doom (doom now being 17 inches of sea level rise rather than Al Gore's 17 feet).

Enough clouds can produce cooling trends.

Ice ages are far more destructive than periods like the Medieval Warm (many say we should be so lucky as to get something like the Medieval Warm). The polar bears seem to have survived the Medieval Warm (proof: there are polar bears).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


It's no secret that I've engaged enthusiastically in pogonotrophy for 29 years!

Happy Vernal Equinox

Happy Vernal Equinox which was last night at 20:07 EDT = 0:07 UTC!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Publish a Google Spreadsheet Chart

Okay, after reading the previous links, here's a very cool tool that lets you publish a chart (that automatically updates) on a web page from a Google spreadsheet! It's very cool. The app downloads the data, allows customizing the columns used, colors, etc., and generates the code that you can paste into a web page!

Here's a sample I just made!

Google Speaks Emacs!

Amanda reports on this fascinating set of modules in the Google Web API that provides access to Google services from Emacs! Cool!


Google Apps APIs

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jim W. Backus, Inventor of FORTRAN, Dies

At the New York Times, Jim W. Backus, 82, FORTRAN Developer, Dies.

Here are some excerpts.

Fortran, released in 1957, was “the turning point” in computer software, much as the microprocessor was a giant step forward in hardware, according to J.A.N. Lee, a leading computer historian.
In an interview several years ago, Ken Thompson, who developed the Unix operating system at Bell Labs in 1969, observed that “95 percent of the people who programmed in the early years would never have done it without Fortran.”

After the war, Mr. Backus found his footing as a student at Columbia University and pursued an interest in mathematics, receiving his master’s degree in 1950. Shortly before he graduated, Mr. Backus wandered by the I.B.M. headquarters on Madison Avenue in New York, where one of its room-size electronic calculators was on display.

When a tour guide inquired, Mr. Backus mentioned that he was a graduate student in math; he was whisked upstairs and asked a series of questions Mr. Backus described as math “brain teasers.” It was an informal oral exam, with no recorded score.

He was hired on the spot. As what? “As a programmer,” Mr. Backus replied, shrugging. “That was the way it was done in those days.”

In 1953, frustrated by his experience of “hand-to-hand combat with the machine,” Mr. Backus was eager to somehow simplify programming. He wrote a brief note to his superior, asking to be allowed to head a research project with that goal. “I figured there had to be a better way,” he said.

Mr. Backus got approval and began hiring, one by one, until the team reached 10. It was an eclectic bunch that included a crystallographer, a cryptographer, a chess wizard, an employee on loan from United Aircraft, a researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a young woman who joined the project straight out of Vassar College.

Mr. Backus, colleagues said, managed the research team with a light hand. The hours were long but informal. Snowball fights relieved lengthy days of work in winter. I.B.M. had a system of rigid yearly performance reviews, which Mr. Backus deemed ill-suited for his programmers, so he ignored it. “We were the hackers of those days,” Richard Goldberg, a member of the Fortran team, recalled in an interview in 2000.

After Fortran, Mr. Backus developed, with Peter Naur, a Danish computer scientist, a notation for describing the structure of programming languages, much like grammar for natural languages. It became known as Backus-Naur form.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


So what is the UCAC? I wasn't even familiar with this catalog. It's the USNO CCD Astrograph Catalog. From their web site (and I've added some brief, explanatory comments [in italics]):

This is an astrometric, observational program, which started in February 1998 at CTIO [Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory]. All sky observations were completed in May 2004. The final catalog is expected not before mid 2007. The second data release (UCAC2) became public in 2003. Positions accurate to 20 mas [milli-arcseconds] for stars in the 10 to 14 magnitude range are obtained. At the limiting magnitude of R=16 [red magnitude = 16] the catalog positions have a standard error of 70 mas. Proper motions [apparent motion of a star across the sky] are provided using various earlier epoch data. Photometry is poor, with errors on the order 0.1 to 0.3 magnitudes in a single, non-standard color.

Occultation by Pluto!

There will be in occultation of Pluto of UCAC 25823784 on Sunday morning 18 Mar 10:56 UT (6:56 EDT). It will be astronomical twilight for us, so I don't know if it will be possible to see Pluto in the Southeast. In the Southwest US, it should be visible.


Sky and Telescope doesn't even mention it in this weeks pages!! What's that about??

The picture is from IOTA. Go to their site to see the full image.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

UFO Sightings

Hah! This Ask Yahoo question (Why do most UFO sightings happen in the United States?) popped up on my Gmail Clips this morning which I found completely fascinating! Particularly this paragraph:

The National UFO Reporting Center lists thousands of "close encounters" submitted by users. According to its database, the United States has far and away the most reported UFO sightings. In fact, California alone has reported more than China, England, India, and Brazil combined.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Girl Scout Cookies

The thing I like best about Girl Scout cookies is that each serving is individually wrapped!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

How Does DST Work in Linux

I've been working on answering this question since yesterday afternoon. I'm close to an answer but don't have a complete one yet.

Here's a Slashdot posting on the subject.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Optimus Keyboard

What's this I hear about an “Optimus keyboard?” Ohhhh, after looking at their site, now I see. It's something I imagined at one time—a keyboard where the key symbols change! Very cool.

Every key of the Optimus keyboard is a stand-alone display showing exactly what it is controlling at this very moment.

(key image from

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Linux Time Notes

Here's a nice tip sheet on Linux time (note that it's pretty RedHat-centric).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Quote of the Day

From today's AWAD

Lots of times you have to pretend to join a parade in which you're not really interested in order to get where you're going.

Christopher Morley,
writer (1890-1957)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lunar Eclipse

I looked at the lunar eclipse last night for a few minutes between 19:00 and 20:00 EST. By the time the moon was above the trees it was well past totality and was into the partial phases. It was in the clouds the whole time I looked at it. The view was not very ideal.

I was using my 7x50 binoculars on the camera tripod (an ideal arrangement!).

Here's an AP posting via

Binocular Image Stabilizer --- Brilliant!

Sky and Telescope has an article by Alan M. McRobert on his new binocular image stabilizer made from some simple wood pieces. Brilliant!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Total Lunar Eclipse This Weekend

There will be a total lunar eclipse this Saturday night. Binoculars are best for observing!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Amazing Ubuntu Conversion!

Okay, we have these cool new workstations. They are Sun Ultra 20s with
  • Two dual-core AMD Opteron 1218 (four cores total) at 2.6 GHz (Santa Ana 90nm)
  • 2 GB RAM
  • Two 250-GB SATA drives (Hitachi HDS7225S)
  • RW DVD, etc.
Of course I quickly installed Ubuntu 6.10 Edgy Eft and I'm now turning it into my workstation.

Here's the cool part. I copied all of my files over from the old system.

scp -r oldhost: .

Since this copied all files including window manager and Gnome configs, this brought over my complete environment! I'm done! The whole conversion consisted of that!

Of course I had to log out and log back in.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Perl, Minimal and as a Beginning

So here's a post regarding a new book, Minimal Perl by Tim Maher (and a Slashdot review).

This is a cool idea, a way to look at a usable and easy to learn subset of Perl if you already know tools like sed, awk, etc. This is, in fact, a large part of how I learned Perl.

The thoughts that this leads to, and which really interest me, regard using Perl as a First Programming Language. Teaching and learning to program is a topic that interests me and I've watched the parade of programming languages used for this purpose with amusement, joy, and more recently, horror.

We used to have BASIC and Pascal (Blissful Sigh), but then moved to C (Incredulous Gasp!), then to Java (Hesitant, Lesser Gasp). Some schools seem to be using Scheme, an offshoot of LISP (Faint to Unconsciousness).

I believe that I understand the reasons for all of these choices at the time they were made. I get it. But, I'm not convinced that some of them are the best First Programming Language. Java is probably okay and, thank goodness, gets out out of using C. C++ was an improvement over C as well. I believe Java is an improvement over C++.

I'm not sure how I feel about teaching beginning programmers about object oriented programming or LISP-based functional, non-procedural programming.

What I've wondered about is trying to use Perl as a First Programming Language. It could only excel in that role if you leave a lot of parts out and focus on a simple, BASIC-like subset of Perl. But is there still too much inevitable wierdness (the weirdness that I love!) in Perl to make this a bad idea? I've thought about a book, Perl as a First Programming Language, along these lines, but I'm not sure I'm convinced yet.

Here's an important example.

Life with Perl used in simple mode is good up to the point you need to write a counting loop. Here's how to do it in BASIC (sort of) and it's typically one of the first things you learn in BASIC.

FOR I = 1 TO 10

or something like that.

Now, think of what we need to do in Perl.

for ($i = 1; $i <= 10; $i++) {
print "$i\n";

Hm. Well, a Perl aficionado might point out you can do this:

foreach $i (1 .. 10) {
print "$i\n";

I'll keep thinking about it.

The Gyroball

Here's an article on what is said to be the first new baseball pitch in 30 years, the gyroball.

Google Apps Premier

Hmm, Google Apps Premier.

But possibly the most compelling aspect of Google Apps -- at least from the standpoint of potential customers considering a switch from Microsoft products -- is the price. Google is offering the whole package for just $50 per user, per year. Microsoft does not publish volume licensing prices for the Enterprise Edition of Office 2007, its latest entry in the office productivity market. The price of a standalone copy of the Professional Edition is $499.

Some analysts believe Google Apps could save businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in IT support and personnel costs alone. "You could buy 1,600 Google Apps licenses for the cost of one IT worker," says Nucleus Research analyst Rebecca Wettemann, who notes that because Google Apps is Web-based it greatly reduces the need for deskside support.

Friday, February 09, 2007

LED Light Bulb

I've heard predictions that they are coming. Well, one is here! An LED-based “light bulb” that is said to output the light equivalent to a typical 70 watt bulb using only nine watts of input power. The cost is between $60 and $70. That's a bit expensive but I expect that they will have a very long lifetime—much longer than a compact flourescent lamp, for example.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The IT Crowd

Mike told me about this series the other day. This British sitcom is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time (as he said)!

The IT Crowd (on YouTube).

There are six episodes and most are uploaded to YouTube in three parts. Be sure to watch the first episode and don't miss the first part of the second episode (the commercial is my favorite scene of the series).

To find some parts I had to search on “The IT Crowd Ep3” or “The IT Crowd episode5”, for example. There seem to be six episodes overall.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Which Linux (For My Business)

This article is a decent answer to the question, Which Linux should I choose for my business?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Using the Macbook Pro

A series of blog posts on ZDnet Hardware 2.0 by Adrian Kingsley-Hughs on using the MacBook Pro.

Visible Proper Motion of Stars at Galactic Center

Amazing! Visible proper motion of stars at our galactic center!

CHARA Measures Size of Exoplanet

The CHARA array was used to measure the diameter of the planet's primary star HD 189733 and thus infer the diameter of the orbiting planet!

Interesting QM Interpretation

This is an interesting interpretation of quantum mechanics. Hm. My first reaction is to be old-fashioned and think that our traditional explanations are good enough, however there may be something of value here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Shuttleworth Talks About Granny's New Camera

This is an insightful, brief post on Mark Shuttleworth's blog about hardware support on Linux.

Shuttleworth's blog: Here Be Dragons.

Who is Mark Shuttleworth?

iPhone and Beyond

Okay, I actually watched the entire MacWorld keynote about the iPhone. It's the first time I've ever watched the whole thing (that I can remember). I have to admit, it's the coolest thing I've seen in a while.

I think they are getting closer to a converged, single, personal device that does all of what you want to do. There is amazing technology built into this device. Apple has raised the bar to a new level and I think others will quickly follow (as they did the iPod) and as closely as they can without violating the 200 patents Apple mentioned.

The biggest question for me is, How well does the touch screen keyboard actually work? It looks pretty good, but I'd have to actually hold one in my hands and try it. For pointing (not typing) I personally don't mind the stylus approach. It's very precise, cleaner (not rubbing my greasy fingers on my display!), and is using a familiar tool in a familiar way. (BTW, I don't mean that my fingers are abnormally greasy, but all human fingers are. Thus the fingerprints made famous in crime fighting…).

The next question is the browser. It's fantastic to have a full-featured browser on that platform. But I wonder if the little zoom feature would become tiring and bothersome after a while. There's no question that an iPhone for on-line web work and browsing would be **great** if you had nothing else available. That's not the same as having an alternative that you happily use all the time.

Also, IMHO the iPhone is too expensive to buy, but it will bring interesting things to the market that are significantly cheaper. Look at all the MP3 players that follow the iPod and Windows Vista's GUI chasing after Apple's OS X.

Here's one fascinating project that's already in the queue: Moko. The really interesting news here is that's it's an open platform that developers can, uh, develop on. Now that will be interesting.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Comet McNaught C/2006 P1!

Comet McNaught C/2006 P1 is getting very bright! It's low in the dawn sky just before sunrise, and a little tricky to see. In spite of that, recent predictions have it as bright as Venus!

(The top picture is by P-M Heden and was published in The below diagram is from January's Surprise Comet by Roger W. Sinnot,


Amanda sends a link to this article about the mysterious number 6174. Hah.

What Really Happened on Mars

This is a story about troubleshooting a system-level computer problem.

This is a fascinating article by Mike Jones about the Pathfinder system resets that occurred. The problem was a race condition around a mutex. The article is a quick read and interesting story. It also describes a very typical system problem and what it's like to figure it out.

The Lessons Learned section is the best part!

Goodbye Pegasus Mail

It looks like development of Pegasus is coming to an end. Pmail brought desktop-friendly email to many users as our campus evolved to desktop PCs, connected by LANs and file servers (Novell) which were then connected into a campus-wide internet.

As time went by, Pegasus (actually Mercury probably), became a source of annoyance with issues like only being able to forward email to an IP address and not a host name (and thus not being able to take advantage of our DNS round-robin balancing and DNS fail-over processes at the time).

Monday, January 08, 2007

How To Survive the First Week At Work

This interesting article popped up on my Gmail web clips.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Mozy On-line Backup

Jim told me about Mozy Friday evening. Here's an article pointed to by Tech Web. The offer on-line storage that is free up to 2-GB and then $5/month after that. Very interesting. Your files are encrypted.

Map an IP Address!

Wow, use this site to map (on Google maps) an IP address. It works pretty well. It was off by several buildings at Emory but did get the campus (for my desktop system).

Realistic Android

Here's a pretty realistic android. I also found this video.

D Programming Language

I read an article on this new programming language, D, by Walter Bright, the main developer of the original Zortech C compiler.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Falling Sand

For a lot of fun (and wasted time) try Falling Sand.

Text To Speech

Okay, this is a pretty good text to speech translator.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Here Come Plastic Chips

The Financial Times reports on plastic electronics. Quoting from the article:

By using a cheap and simple set of processing operations to build up layers of circuitry on plastic “substrates” – the material on which circuits are formed – rather than silicon wafers used in conventional microchips, the developments promised to slash the cost of making semiconductors.

The initial products from the factory will be pieces of plastic about A4 size. The basic plastic substrate will be polyethylene terephthalate, a form of plastic used to make drinks bottles.

By 2009 the Dresden plant should be producing 2.2m units of A4-size semiconductor sheets a year. They will initially be used as flexible “control circuitry” for large displays the size of a piece of paper that can hold large amounts of information – equivalent to thousands of books.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tidal Power

I've always been fascinated with the rotation of the earth as a source of energy. There is a lot of energy stored there that we could use. Of course the environmental impact, eventually, could be quite huge. I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation one time and there was indeed an immense amount of energy to be had if you only slowed the earth enough to extend the length of a year by one second! The earth is already running that much slower than our standard time as illustrated by the leap seconds we now have to add sometimes twice a year!

The easiest way to use the earth's rotation as a source of energy is based on tides. Tidal forces extend the water surface of the earth into an oblong, extended shape which in cross-section looks like a big cam. Let something float up and down on that cam to drive a generator and you're done!

Most real-life approaches more efficiently use the in- and out-flow of water during tides. The New York Times has a video of a recent installation of such generators. Wikipedia also covers tidal generators quite well.

I'm still curious about the details of the energy transfer here. During normal tides (see the Wikipedia article) energy is transferred from the earth's rotation to the moon's orbit. The moon slowly moves to a higher, longer-period orbit and the earth slows down. So the earth is already slowing.

Thus the question is, when we steal tidal energy, where does it come from? Are we slowing down the earth more than normal, or are we just stealing some of the energy that would have been transferred to the moon. I suspect it's a combination of both.

If we are just stealing the energy that would have been transferred to the moon, then I think the environmental impact is inconsequential. Who cares if the moon's orbit doesn't get larger! If that's an important natural process, then I suspect no human has discovered what it is yet.

If we are slowing the earth down more, then that's a different matter and my opinion is that we just use caution and don't get carried away to the point that we end up with a 48-hour day. That might be a problem.

Figuring out where tidal energy comes from is an interesting problem to think about. I'll have to dedicate some cycles to it from time to time.

Where does the energy we use end up?

I suspect that most of the energy that we “use” ends up being radiated into space as electromagnetic energy of one form or other. Some of it goes into chemical changes on earth, including, unfortunately, in the atmosphere in some cases (but with questionable significance).

We increase the entropy of the universe in this way, particularly since much of that energy is thermal in nature.

However, as has been pointed out, the entropy of the universe is already nearly maximum due the cosmic microwave background. These other changes are insignificant, tiny steps closer to the max.

(The illustration above was drawn by me using Windows Paint).