Archive for the ‘Math Science Tech’ Category

Sheath Gotta Have It

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Completing my Ensemble

I finally decided on a new hunting (sheath) knife.

When I was a kid, my mom would not let me cross the street without a police escort (perhaps I exaggerate), but I was allowed to have all the knives I wanted, and when I stayed with my grandparents, I was allowed to shoot anything in my grandfather’s gun cabinet. I’ve had a few hunting knives.

My first hunting knife wasn’t really mine. My dad had a Case sheath knife with a stacked leather handle. I started carrying it around, and it disappeared. My best friend Clayton stole things from me all the time, and I’m pretty sure he has it. He was a terrible friend. He was the kind of friend you end up with when God isn’t part of your life.

My second cousin Byrd was a circuit judge in Kentucky, so he got dibs on a lot of confiscated weapons. A man got drunk and shot his best friend to death while playing with guns, and Byrd got his Browning hunting knife. He gave it to me. He was always very good to me. Unfortunately, it eventually disappeared. It was also a bad knife.

My mom got me some kind of weird bone-handled knife for my birthday when I was in high school. It’s gone, too.

I never had a use for a sheath knife, so losing these items wasn’t exactly crippling. Now I need one. I have to clean and skin game, and I don’t want to gum up a folding knife and then stick the filthy thing in my pocket. I want something I can wear on my belt and clean thoroughly with dishwashing liquid.

Today I Googled around, looking for something good, and the results were depressing. Seems like everyone uses 420HC steel. This stuff is garbage. It’s the steel in my Gerber Gator II folder, for which I paid something like $15. It sharpens fast, and it’s tough and corrosion-resistant. It also gets dull in a hurry. Forget that. There is no such thing as a quality knife that doesn’t hold an edge.

I saw other knives that used other steels which are comparable to AUS-6. Not for me. I have an AUS-8 knife, and I like it a lot, but it’s my understanding that the little number after AUS means a lot. There is AUS-10, and then there are AUS-8 and AUS-6. I am told AUS-8 is comparable to 440C, which I love, but AUS-6 is not as good. I’m not risking it.

I found a company called Entrek, and they specialize in fairly ugly knives made with 440C. They use micarta for their scales. I love micarta. It’s ugly and boring, but it’s indestructible. It’s plastic reinforced with cloth. Perfect for a hunting knife. I love stag handles and other fancy types of scales, but I don’t need something that has to be petted and coddled. Micarta is IT.

I liked what Entrek’s copy said about steel: “With 36 years experience we just aren’t that impressed with the glamour steels.” If that’s how they feel about steel, they probably have a low tolerance for BS.

I decided to try an Entrek Javalina. This is a very plain sheath knife with a thick blade and a Kydex sheath. It’s on the way. Tremble, squirrels, tremble.

I also need something to carry game in. Yesterday I was jogging through briars with my customary squirrel-filled tall kitchen garbage bag, and the plastic kept snagging on thorns. I’ve had it. I’m also not thrilled about all the shotgun shells bouncing around in my left pocket. The other day I ran about 6 .17 HMR shells through the washing machine. I posted a forum comment asking what I should do. Looking forward to the answers.

Skinning the last pair of squirrels was difficult. I think small squirrels are harder to skin. I found a video by a kid who uses catfish pliers. I plan to get some. They grip the skin very well while you’re yanking it off. It was great to see a kid whose voice hadn’t changed, giving adults great tips on skinning game. Take that, feminizing forces of leftist idiocy.

My new scope arrived today. I know that because I heard the UPS truck roll up. I plan to mount and try it ASAP. If things go well, I should be perforating squirrels relatively quietly with .22 pellets later in the day. I can’t wait.

I’ve decided to get a trail camera. This is a sort of action camera for filming wild animals automatically. They’re very cheap. They have sensors that turn them on when critters walk by. They shoot video and/or photos, and they use IR LED’s to generate light for night shooting. I want to find out what (or who) has been pooping in my yard, and maybe I can find out whether there are any turkeys wandering on my property. I heard some a couple of days ago. I hope it wasn’t some neighbor, practicing his turkey calls.

I looked into turkey blinds. The season is approaching. Worst blind of all time: a giant turkey costume. What were they thinking? As the website says, with this blind, safety continues to be a primary issue. I think if you dress up like a turkey and walk outdoors in hunting season, people should be allowed to shoot you without repercussions.

Imagine how exciting it is when people see that thing. It looks like a turkey the size of a Saint Bernard. They think they’re going to be in the record books. Then they fill the guys wearing them with shotgun pellets. What a disappointment that must be.

I don’t know what I’d do with a wild turkey. People say they taste good.

The other day I read that crows taste good. Like ducks. No lie. People disagree, but evidently, the only people who put crow meat down are those who have not eaten it. I have no plans to shoot crows. Yet. The more game resembles parrots, the less I want to shoot it. But it’s interesting to know that they’re tasty.

If I ever get over the psychological barrier and shoot crows, I’ll have meat on the table all the time. They are not scarce here.

People say crows can’t taste good because they eat carrion. Hello, what do chickens eat? Insects and worms. Is that better? It’s not like the food an animal eats goes straight from its mouth into its body. It’s broken down by acid and enzymes, and it passes through the intestine wall in liquid form. Then the cells of the body turn it into new things. If a crow eats a dead cat, by the time the cat gets processed, it’s something totally different.

Anyway, crows don’t just eat carrion. They hunt. They eat little critters, just as bears do. People say bears taste great. What’s the difference?

I don’t think I can talk myself into this, but I’m trying.

I will review the knife when I get it. I’m really looking forward to it. I hate bad knives, and I love good ones. I’ll make my next one myself.

I hope Clayton doesn’t find out I have it.

Bucktoothed Tree Terrorists Must Pay

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Squirrel Party Time is Over

I am a hunter now.

The great thing about calling yourself a hunter is that you don’t have to accomplish anything in order to justify it. All you have to do is take a gun and sit in the woods for a while. This is pretty much what I did.

The word “hunter” doesn’t imply success of any type.

I don’t like squirrels because they plant live oak trees and because I fully expect them to eat the berries from the bushes I’ve planted. I remember how they used to cut mangoes off my trees in Miami, just to hear them hit the ground. And they annoy me when I drive; I have trained myself not to take my foot off the gas. A while back I decided to get a revenge hunting license and see if I could make a dent in the local population.

Yesterday, I went out in the woods in the afternoon and sat in a clearing with no gun. I just wanted to see what the squirrel situation was. I heard barking all over the place. It was a squirrel-bark symphony. I saw a couple of squirrels climbing in the trees. I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to nail some in the future.

Today I went back, and I learned that squirrels can tell when you’re hunting. I didn’t hear a bark for an hour and a half. Little creeps.

I sat on a downed tree for a while and waited. I heard a noise to my left. I looked, and a squirrel was on a tree trunk about 20 feet away in the x direction and 20 feet up in the y direction.

Years of math have affected the way I express myself. Be glad I didn’t use spherical polar coordinates.

Okay. R(squirrel) = 23.5. Theta = pi/4. Phi = pi/4. Satisfied?

I probably could have nailed the squirrel, but I would have been shooting upward, and I was holding a .22. A rifle slug will go a long way after missing a squirrel. I didn’t feel like spending the evening telling the Florida Highway Patrol why I shot out a window a mile away, so I let the rodent flee.

I know I should use a shotgun, but man, I love rifles. I like accurate shooting. Where is the pleasure in using birdshot? Anyone can shoot, when the projectiles cover half a steradian (sorry).

It doesn’t matter. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to dispose of the body. I had a plastic trash bag with me in case I hit anything, but even if I had used it, I would have had to get on the web to get instructions. I know about cutting the leg joints and cutting the head off and all that, but how much time do you get? And what are you supposed to use to do the cutting? Not my nice pocket knife! No way! How would I get it clean enough to put it back in my pocket?

When I was a kid, I shot rabbits in Kentucky. Here’s how I dealt with the meat: I handed the dead rabbits to my grandmother. That option is no longer available.

Once your squirrel is butchered, how do you clean your hands? You can’t just grab your gun with fingers covered with blood, poop, bile, and squirrel pee.

Maybe I need to take a backpack with disposable gloves. Seems a little precious, though.

I may try again tomorrow. The squirrels are taunting me, and I find their behavior inexcusable.

Gifts and Bombs

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

The Dubious Value of Verbal Aptitude

Last night I looked at Amazon Prime to find something to watch while I had the birds out of their cages. I saw that they offered a documentary on the atomic bomb. I’m a sucker for books and videos about the bomb, going back to The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, so I had to watch.

As I expected, I found it entertaining. I haven’t seen all of it yet. I hoped to see some mention of Richard Feynman, a great physicist who worked on the bomb in his youth, but he has not appeared yet.

A friend of mine bought me a new copy of Richard Feynman’s first book, Surely You Must be Joking, Mr. Feynman, as a Christmas present, and I have been reading it over the last few weeks.

I first bought the book years ago, when I was a physics student. I bought a lot of physics-related nonfiction. When I dropped out of grad school and moved back to Miami, I put my books in boxes, and later, I found that ants had eaten a lot of them. At some point after that, Feynman got publicity from some source or other, and his book became popular.

It’s always a bummer when other people catch onto something you like. Everyone thinks you jumped on the bandwagon, and you end up having very unsatisfying conversations with real bandwagon jumpers who lack any sort of real understanding. It reminds me of my experiences with brewing. I was a beer freak even when I was in high school, and then at some point other people got into quality beers and homebrewing, and suddenly the world was full of hipsters who were instant beer experts.

I’ll tell you something funny. No matter how popular good beer becomes, there won’t be many people who can tell Miller Lite from Dogfish Head. That’s just the way humanity is.

I loved Feynman’s books. I won’t lie; I didn’t understand the third one I bought. It was about quantum electrodynamics. I didn’t have the patience to work my way through it. But the first two were great. They were autobiographies. He wrote about his experiences as a smart kid, as well as his time working with great men of science.

I learned something interesting from the bomb documentary. The thing I learned was of great historical importance, but I had never heard about it before. My best guess: liberal journalists and academics suppressed it. It concerned the United States and atomic policy, and it cast the United States in a very favorable light, so it’s the kind of thing hippies would naturally find infuriating and worthy of concealment.

The United States, on its own, tried to get rid of nuclear weapons and prevent the arms race.

For a short time, before the expected and unpreventable betrayal by leftists put the bomb in the hands of evil communist regimes, the US had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. We proposed destroying them and working to create a global ban on new production, combined with verification. The Soviets were working on their own bombs, and they refused to cooperate until we destroyed our weapons. Of course, the demand was ridiculous. We knew they were working on the bomb, and we didn’t know how far along they were. We knew we didn’t know how far along they were. It would have been idiotic to disarm and hope they didn’t have bombs waiting to be deployed.

The Soviet empire was, as Reagan put it, evil, and there is no way to justify the canard that westerners were just as bad. Even the disenfranchised in countries like the US had it much better than ordinary Soviet citizens, who were prisoners and slaves in their own nations. The Soviets were warlike and aggressive, and their policy was to expand by means of force. Unchecked, this would have resulted in a world system in which all human beings were humiliated prisoners and slaves. Taking a chance of making the USSR a nuclear monopoly would have been criminal.

I’m old, and I’m not especially ignorant, yet until last night, I was unaware that the US had tried to prevent the arms race. Thank you, crooked disseminators of information.

Today during breakfast I decided to Google and see if there were any documentaries about Feynman, and I came across a very interesting site. It’s called Cosmolearning. I know very little about it, but the “About” page says, “Collecting the top educational videos on the web, generously offered by hundreds of universities, educators, and professionals, we share their passion for teaching by providing a platform for world-class education free of charge.”

They had several videos on Feynman. Now I have some good stuff to look forward to.

Feynman’s autobiographical books are good reading not just because he writes about science, but because he writes interesting tales about a remarkable person with an engaging personality. He writes about his feelings, not just his accomplishments. A lot of his stories are funny. Some are moving.

One deceptive thing about the books is that Feynman undersells his intelligence. He was not just brilliant. He was extraordinary among brilliant people. But he describes himself as a guy who was dazzled and intimidated by the bright people he worked with.

Feynman writes about working on the bomb as a young man, as though he hadn’t graduated from college. He mentions overseeing high school boys at Los Alamos, as though he were some kind of low-level babysitter. I looked it up, and I found out that he had received his Ph.D. in 1942, at about the age of 24, before starting to work on the bomb.

So much for the babysitter narrative.

Feynman scored 125 on an IQ test, and that’s not impressive, but he also blew the tops out of very difficult math exams. His aptitude for math and physics was freakish, regardless of his self-deprecation.

It has been suggested that Feynman’s surprisingly low IQ was due to the nature of the test he took. After all, IQ is a test score, not a definitive quantization of intelligence. A very smart person can, legitimately, have a low IQ. You just have to measure the right things.

Most physicists are not good at verbal tasks. I know that from working with them. The great physicist Murray Gell-Mann said more or less the same thing in one of his books; he remarked that he was unusual because his gifts were balanced. It may be that Feynman’s test measured verbal ability more than mathematical aptitude. My guess is that a score of 125 on such a test would be unusually high for a physicist. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that other brilliant STEM thinkers had disappointing IQ scores.

Anyway, the notion that Feynman was anything less than astounding is untenable.

This got me thinking about smart people, so I Googled John von Neumann. If you don’t know who he is, it suffices to say that he appears to be the smartest person, among people of note, of the last century. He intimidated people like Edward Teller the way Edward Teller would intimidate you or me.

The power of von Neumann’s mind was incomprehensible. He made gigantic contributions in a number of fields in which most solid workers have no hope of making any type of memorable impact.

I have to say that I was depressed a little by looking into these things. God gave me some pretty good gifts, and I didn’t do anything with them. Earthly achievements aren’t very important in the Christian scheme, since everyone in heaven is a greater genius than 10 von Neumanns, but doing nothing with your gifts is not something that makes you feel good.

I always wonder what would have happened, had I been raised in a healthy family, by people who knew how to help their kids win. These days, I goad my friends to avoid the minefields I walked into. I tell them they need to get their kids started on music, math, and languages EARLY, EARLY, EARLY. Once you hit maybe 16, everything gets harder to learn, and your future success becomes limited. Earthly gifts aren’t everything, but being strong is usually better than being weak.

This week I realized something funny: extreme verbal aptitude has very little value. If you have a ton of STEM aptitude, you can use it to get a fine career that will feed you for life, and you may be able to make an extraordinarily large amount of money and look after yourself and others. A STEM person with an IQ of, say, 180 will find a lot of open doors. But what if you have an extreme verbal aptitude? There’s nothing you can do with it. No one will pay you to do crossword puzzles. It will help you as a lawyer, but let’s be honest; a lawyer with an IQ of 145 (common) will be able to do absolutely everything the law demands, very, very well. We have probably had good Supreme Court justices who were not that smart.

God gave me a very high verbal IQ, and now I know how unmarketable it is!

I do very well in STEM pursuits, but I got a late, late start. I was 30. I went from algebra dropout to grad student in a top physics program in 4 years, but I got burned out and quit (also, I suspect my memory was fading and making it harder), and I very much doubt I was ever going to come up with anything useful. I would have ended up doing experimental physics somewhere, shooting lasers through cold gases or something, and taking endless measurements to be interpreted by people who were smarter than I.

Maybe there is something useful about extreme verbal aptitude, and I just haven’t figured it out yet. Or maybe it’s just a gift to keep me entertained. I would not wish it for a son or daughter. A nice solid 650 verbal SAT and an 800 math SAT would get a kid much farther in life.

It seems to me that smart STEM people give us things that are useful, whereas verbal freaks do nothing but misunderstand and spread misunderstanding. They write books and essays full of godless opinion and conjecture, dragging the rest of us along in their wakes. The academics who are constantly hacking away at Christians are mostly verbal people.

I think of Justice Brennan, the famous liberal sage. He was wrong all the time, and his views were poisonous, but he was so smart, he convinced people (probably including himself) he was right. What a wasted life.

Now I’m more depressed than ever!

I may not be inventing great things or advancing physics, but thank God, I haven’t ended up like Sartre or Noam Chomsky or any of the other umpteen million verbal people who spent their days filling other people’s minds with sewage.

I think STEM gifts are better than verbal gifts, but on the whole, freak aptitudes are not that wonderful. The most important thing in life is a relationship with the Holy Spirit. After that, you want a nice, solid above-average brain, and more than that, good habits. The world is full of contented, successful people who serve God and couldn’t equal Feynman’s 125 on their very best days.

Incidentally, Feynman was an atheist. I enjoy his books, and I admire his mind, but in all likelihood, he is in agony right now, defeated forever. Terrible. I will never meet him.

Von Neumann is a different story. When he learned he was seriously ill, he sought God. He was a Jew by birth. I guess he was not religious prior to his illness, because he didn’t look for a rabbi to help him. He became a Catholic, and even on his deathbed, he was very afraid. I hope he made it.

How about all these huge Jewish brains? Where do they come from? What is God’s purpose for them? Feynman, von Neumann, Einstein, Bohr (half Jewish), Oppenheimer, Norbert Wiener…some almost incredible, others merely amazing. You could sit and list them all day. It almost makes you wonder what life would be without them. Would we have nuclear technology yet?

Gentiles do okay. Tesla, Gauss, Leibniz, Newton, Dirac, Fermi, and so on. But we SHOULD do okay. The vast majority of human beings are Gentiles. Something like 99.8%.

Strange.

I often wonder why God bothers giving us gifts at all, when the real answer is to connect to the Holy Spirit and get him to take care of you. But I suppose gifts are useful to keep you alive until you find the Holy Spirit. You have to use whatever crude weapons you have.

Whatever my potential was, I missed the bus, so now I get my thrills playing with farm machinery and machine tools. C’est la vie. At least I can function as a walking cautionary tale and help other people.

I’m going to look for more stuff on the Cosmo Learning site. Maybe I can still jam a few more things into the worn-out container which is what’s left of my mind.

Adventures in Internet Pest Control

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

Plus Guns

Today, for the second time since 2002, I had the annoying experience of having a website hacked. Someone left a stupid tag at the top of my home page. I had to drop everything and change every conceivable password, and I exported the entire content of my WordPress blog so I could republish it if the blog vanished.

I suspect there is a hole in WordPress, because my password was a huge jumble of nonsense characters which would have taken a very, very long time to guess. I’m not a computer expert, but I doubt a nerd in Turkey with a 5-year-old laptop has the ability to crack a password as long as a finger, composed of random ASCII. Maybe I’m wrong.

I contacted my hosting company, and their online chat took forever. I tried calling. The phone number took me to an outsourced security company. The guy who picked up the phone told me (this is my interpretation) that my host company’s security is worthless. He said his company would scan my site for $15 per month, which doesn’t sound bad, but then I asked the obvious question. Yes, it’s a yearly deal. So $180.

I tried the support number again, and I got a phone maze that went nowhere at all. That was surprising. Then I got the chat guy (Kumar, no lie), and after much poor communication, he finally assured me that as long as my passwords were fresh, no one but me should be able to get into my email accounts or Cpanel (if you don’t know what that is, forget it).

This killed maybe an hour.

I don’t use lame passwords for my hosted stuff. If you want to get into my business, you will have to find some other way. I assume WordPress provided it, and if that is true, the site may be hacked again, because WordPress has not updated in a while. If this happens, I will probably reinstall the site. It depends on the then-current state of security the host can provide. If I’m going to be reinstalling once per week, I will let it go. There is always Blogger.

I was concerned about my emails, but then I realized there isn’t much for hackers to steal. When you have your own server, the emails are removed as soon as you check them, so there is no giant backlog of sensitive material waiting to be stolen. Unless the host company is stupidly putting deleted emails somewhere where hackers can find them.

This scare made me think about something I expect to happen before long. Eventually, Christians and conservatives will be banned from the web. When we are not banned entirely, we will be hobbled by Nuremberg-style laws that will limit us to very basic participation, free of political and religious content. The big Internet players are not bound by the Constitution, so they will have a good legal opening when they decide to muffle us once and for all.

I assume whoever hacked me is just bored, but it could be someone who has an agenda. It’s not a Christian or a conservative. Actually, some conservatives hate me, but I’m not in the political blogging game now, so I doubt these stunted souls feel motivated to bother me.

While I was fixing my security to the best of my ability, I learned something surprising. I am getting nearly 2 thousand unique visits per day. I figured I was getting more like 80. I had a stat counter that gave me depressing results, but I knew it wasn’t working very well. I guess it was working worse than I thought. My host company’s internal stat stuff told me the truth.

What can I say about this? I thought I was yelling into a bucket, but it appears that I have some readers. They don’t comment much. Maybe most are bots. Years ago, “unique visit” meant a human being had probably come to your blog. Now? Search me.

I don’t think ~2000 people are showing up every day, but maybe it’s ~1000.

Maybe I am reaching some people with my testimony. I will have to think more about what I write, now that I know someone may actually read it.

In other news, I solved my long-range (longish) shooting problem. I was shooting a 17 HMR rifle at 100 yards, and I was getting a lot of dispersion. I was frustrated. Then I learned that a slight wind will blow a 17 HMR all over the place. Also, a gun forum guy told me to get my left hand off the gun. Today I went out with my friend Mike, and we shot a while. There was no wind. I switched to shooting with my left hand down, and here is what I got:

That’s 5 rounds on the left, plus an extraneous round Mike fired just to make my target look bad. What a punk move. Can you believe that? Anyway, that’s a wee bit over 1 MOA, probably. It may be 1 MOA. It’s very close, measuring from the outsides of the farthest-separated holes.

I figure if I practice a little, I will be 3/4 MOA with that gun, and I will be consistent. I won’t have to shoot 50 rounds to get a single 3/4 MOA group I can put on the Internet. This makes me extremely happy.

That gun is a laser. It’s crappy rimfire ammunition, which you can get for 10 bucks per box, and look how accurate it is. IF the wind isn’t blowing. I am reading some surprising distance figures. I thought the gun was useless past 150 yards, but apparently that’s not true unless you want to kill things. People are claiming they shoot targets at nearly 300 yards. If that’s true, this is the practice gun for me. I just need to choose days when there isn’t much wind.

That’s exciting. I can find 300 yards of safe shooting space here, no problem. I could conceivably learn to shoot real distances.

We also shot some grapefruit and ponderosa lemons. I hit one and blew half of it about 15 feet away from the rest. Fun.

It’s really nice to be shooting a rifle well. It was a long time coming. And since I’m not using the best stuff or practicing a lot, I should expect considerable improvement in the future. Too bad they don’t sell a license for shooting hackers.

If the blog disappears, don’t blame me. I’ll make a reasonable effort to keep it alive.

Primed for Disappointment

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Free 2-Day Shipping Takes a Week

Am I the only one who has noticed that Amazon Prime is a sham?

When I first signed up, I wanted free shipping. That was the thing. I knew I would save more than the cost of Prime. But I also liked the 2-day time frame. Amazon promised they would ship stuff to me for nothing, in 2 days. Obviously, there are exceptions. They’re not going to ship you a bulldozer in 2 days, and if you order at 9 p.m. on a Monday, you’re going to wait till Thursday. But generally, 2 days.

Now that I think about it, Bezos has a lot of nerve, putting things he can’t ship quickly on the Prime list. It’s dishonest. If you can’t ship a heavy item in 2 days, it’s not Prime, now, is it?

Anyway, at first things were great. I could order an Arduino board on a Friday and receive it on Sunday. I received things on Saturdays, too. The 2-day promise was no joke.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen a big change. Order on a Monday, receive on…Friday. Extra charges for weekend delivery, too.

Yesterday I ordered 2 Prime items. That was Wednesday. Now Amazon says they will arrive in a week. Is Amazon on Mars time? Maybe on Mars, 2 days equal 1 earth week.

I got no explanation. I didn’t get an email containing an apology. Just a notification on Amazon’s site, telling me I had to wait a week.

It’s interesting. It’s not surprising. To me, it’s consistent with the way evil works.

I think the Internet is basically evil. I use it, but I think the devil is using it to do us great harm. It has spread pornography to every corner of the world. It has helped hostility increase to levels no one could have predicted 30 years ago. It’s going to destroy cash, so the government will be able to control us by freezing and confiscating our money and by using our purchases to surveil us. It’s going to destroy free will by making us unable to do anything without being observed.

The Internet is a bad thing, and one of its evils is the destruction of retail businesses. Malls are closing because no one wants to get in the car any more. We are headed toward a state in which a few big companies hold all the inventory, and you won’t be able to get the things you need unless you deal with them electronically, leaving a trail of bread crumbs for Uncle Sam, who is stupid, cruel, and unfair.

About half of Americans have Amazon Prime now. That’s an astounding statistic. It’s very powerful. And 2-day shipping was a big part of the appeal. Now that we’re hooked, the shipping guarantee is dissolving. That’s completely typical of the way evil works. No drug dealer charges you for your first line of coke. He lets you develop a taste for it, and then you pay whatever he asks.

As we become more dependent on Amazon and other online companies, they will lose their motivation to provide good service. That’s what’s happening with Prime. They have half of America. They know you won’t quit now. Maybe technological advances will make Prime a real 2-day service, and maybe Amazon will tell us to shut up and accept delays. Either way, Amazon comes out on top.

Am I saying we should boycott Internet vendors? No. They already won. There is nothing we can do. Depriving yourself won’t fix the situation.

It doesn’t matter that much to me. I went without house shoes and a housecoat for most of my life. I can wait 6 more days. But I find it interesting, and I wonder why no one seems to be talking about it.

Amazon says it will refund your membership for a month if they deliver something late. At least that’s the Internet scuttlebutt. Something to look into, if your Christmas socks haven’t arrived yet.

My Vacuum Cleaner is Needy

Friday, December 1st, 2017

Whiny Texts From Lonely Appliance

The increasing automation (and tyranny and surveillance) of the machines around us bugs me, but in spite of my paranoia, I decided to get a Roomba. In case you just got here from Mars, a Roomba is a robot vacuum cleaner. It’s a flat, round robot shaped like a layer cake pan. It wanders around in random directions, changing course when it bumps into things. It doesn’t learn the floor plan. The idea is that if it moves around randomly for a solid hour, it will cover just about every part of the house.

The first floor of the new house is mostly hardwood and tile. The birds live in the kitchen, on hardwood. They throw things on the floor all day, and they give off dust. Without the Roomba, I would have to vacuum every day. That’s not going to happen. We have a whole-house vacuum system, but it’s a drag to use. You have to get a 30-foot hose and a heavy attachment out of the closet, and then you have to go from room to room, plugging the hose into various outlets. It’s even more fun when you have to carry it upstairs. I know I’ll never do that. I have delegated the responsibility to the Roomba.

I don’t know what early Roombas were like, but here is a guess: lame NiMh batteries that pooped out quickly and had be replaced often, combined with poor obstacle management. Am I close?

The Roomba I bought has a lithium battery, and lithium batteries aren’t bad. They wear out, but not like NiMh. They run a long time on a charge. I can’t complain much about the battery.

The Roomba also has wi-fi. By the way, what does “fi” mean? It’s not “fidelity.” So what is it? I guess I should look it up.

According to Wikipedia, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a stupid pun on “hi-fi.” Okay.

Also, it’s not “wifi,” “wi-fi,” or “Wifi.” It’s “Wi-Fi.” I’ll try to remember that. But I won’t try very hard.

The Roomba came with a charger which the manual refers to as a base. You put the charger on the floor, and you rest one side of the Roomba on it. This puts the Roomba’s contacts on the base’s contacts and allows the Roomba to charge. After a couple of hours, the machine is ready to clean. When it finishes a session, it returns to the base and backs onto it.

My verdict? Fantastic. But flawed. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t even consider getting rid of the Roomba, but it has issues.

1. It dies on carpeting. Sometimes my dad leaves his bedroom door open. The bedroom is carpeted. The Roomba plows around for a while and then quits. I don’t know if it’s supposed to like carpeting. I got it for bare floors, so I don’t care. But every time it gets on a carpet, bad things happen.

2. The Roomba gets confused. On one occasion it went into the laundry room and ran under some clothes that were hanging out of a basket. It wasn’t obstructed, but it decided it was on the edge of a cliff, and it shut down.

3. The Roomba is needy. When it has a problem, it sends me a whiny text begging for help. “I’m on the edge of a cliff.” “I need to be moved.” “I need to be put back on the base.” “You’re ignoring my texts.” Whatever. I bought this thing to help me AVOID work, and it’s constantly asking me for help.

We have two coffee tables on a cheap area rug. Today, for the second time, the Roomba decided to climb onto the rug. Once it was up there, instead of cleaning and moving on, it shut down and pouted. I don’t get that at all. Just move off the rug. It’s downhill.

The up side of wifi…Wi-Fi…is that I can use my phone to push the Roomba around. It has a calendar feature, so I told it to vacuum the house every morning after breakfast. I can also tell it to start or quit on demand. I can push the “locate” button and make it sound off with its little electronic song. It tells me when its battery is low, so I know better than to start it at the wrong time.

It cleans pretty well. It’s my sweeper, and sweeping is not demanding. It has a rotating brush that hangs out from under it, and the brush whacks dirt so it goes under the machine. I assume it has suction, because it makes a sucky sound while it cleans. The crap goes into a bin I have not had to empty yet. The Rooma will whine when it’s full. I would say it sweeps better than I would, were I to do the unthinkable and pick up a broom. It may work better than a vacuum cleaner, because it doesn’t disturb dirt as much while it operates. The exhaust from vacuum cleaners blows dust around.

According to the Roomba site, my Roomba is supposed to work on carpeting. It does not. Wish it did. Doesn’t. I think it would work very well on firm, shallow carpeting, but it can’t deal with a normal area rug or normal bedroom carpeting. I may be wrong, but it seems like the difficulty of moving on carpet kills the battery. Maybe if you have carpeting, you have to have more than one Roomba and confine each to a small area. That would cost an insane amount of money, though.

One reviewer says the Roomba stops on dark carpeting because it thinks it sees empty space (a cliff) under it. I don’t know, but my dad’s bedroom carpeting isn’t dark, and the Roomba goes in there and conks out.

Maybe I’m doing something wrong. I don’t care enough to find out. You can get little devices to keep your Roomba from going where it should not.

As long as it cleans bare floors, I will keep it. I do not wish to be a bird valet for the rest of my life. Maynard and Marvin are incorrigibly messy, and if I didn’t have the Roomba, I would be vacuuming every day. Actually, I would be failing to vacuum every day, and the house would be gross.

Interesting note: the reviewer who said the Roomba doesn’t like dark rugs also says it chips paint. I will have to check. That will not be permitted.

Roombas don’t like clutter, so you have to keep junk off the floor. My strategy is to let it run, see what it runs into, and take appropriate action. I’m not going to wander through the house trying to guess what the Roomba will hate.

Final thing: after you use the Roomba for a while, you will start to find dusty corners in your house. The Roomba can’t get into corners, so the dust will flee into them and stay there, taunting the Roomba. Cleaning corners is easier than cleaning a whole house, though.

I’m glad the Roomba doesn’t have a camera, a mike, or an Internet connection. Those would be dealbreakers. My devices spy on me enough as it is.

If you have parrots, you need one of these things. Or you just need to quit having parrots. I don’t know if I would recommend the Roomba to normal people. It ran me almost $300. If I didn’t have two thoughtless characters throwing food on the floor all day, I would consider that a high price to pay for ordinary floor hygiene.

I may get a second Roomba for the second story. Not sure yet. The second story is a lot cleaner.

I hope the Roomba people come up with new devices for other types of cleaning. I have a dishwasher, but putting dishes into the machine and unloading it manually…that’s just too much. I have important things to do. A robot ironer would be fantastic. I prefer cleaning toilets to ironing, even in a house with a spacious laundry room with a built-in ironing board.

I’m going to go check for paint damage. Keep your fingers crossed.

Robot Finally Working

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

CNC Lathe Next

My friend Amanda has a son who has some cognitive issues. Oddly, in some cases, people with his problem turn out to be unusually well suited to the trade of CNC machining. Mental characteristics that cause problems in many areas of life can be assets in machining. There’s a dude in California who runs a school that trains such people.

I learned about this from a TV show called Titans of CNC. A man named Titan Gilroy was convicted of a violent crime, and when he got out of prison, he learned CNC and started a big, successful shop. Now he teaches inmates at San Quentin. He has a son with Asperger’s, and he discovered that his son was very good at CNC. Now he works with the guy who runs the school.

I mentioned this to Amanda a few weeks back, and I said I had some interest in CNC and robotics. We showed her son some Youtubes, and he seemed interested. That’s good, but it’s also a problem. I have only one CNC tool, and it’s a home-built adaptation which I haven’t perfected. Not counting my vacuum cleaner, I have only one robot, and when I bought it and assembled it, I was not able to make it work.

Since showing her son the videos, I have retrieved my CNC lathe from Miami, and I am ready to see if I can make it work. Last night, I took the robot out of the box I had tossed it in, and after an hour or so of reprogramming and researching, I figured out what was wrong with it. Now it’s working.

The robot is a B-robot, from a company called JJ Robots. It’s a two-wheeled balancing robot a little bigger than a box of Pop Tarts. It’s based on an Arduino Leonardo board.

Here’s how it works. It has a tiny board containing circuitry that measures the robot’s vertical orientation. This shouldn’t amaze anyone. Cell phones have circuits that tell them whether they’re level or not. The robot checks the board’s output, and then it accelerates in the direction of the tilt, bringing it back to vertical again. In other words, when the robot starts to fall in a certain direction, it takes off in that direction, bringing itself back under its top. It can do this so often it appears nearly stable.

I found I had installed the orientation board sideways, so the robot was sensing angular deviation along the wrong axis. The robot can’t fall from side to side, so the board’s input was useless. I reinstalled it according to the directions.

The robot still refused to stand. I took a look at what it was doing. It was accelerating away from the direction of fall, making the fall worse. I then turned the board 180 degrees, and everything worked.

Now I have a self-balancing robot.

I had some other problems with it, and they’re even more boring, so I don’t want to get into them too much. I found I could not upload programming to the Arduino. Somewhere on the web, someone said I had to press the board’s reset button immediately before uploading. Not exciting, unless you’re a nerd.

The robot has wi-fi. When you turn it on, you connect your phone to the robot’s network, and then you use an app to steer the robot. Obviously, it needs an onboard camera, like a drone, so you can see what the robot sees as it moves. Maybe I can figure that out some day.

Anyway, next time Amanda brings her son around, I can show him the robot and see if he has any interest. Maybe in a week or two, I can get the lathe working better.

It’s a little strange that I decided to buy and assemble a robot, but the whole exercise has turned out to have a purpose I could not have anticipated. That’s God for you.

Robotics and CNC are not the same thing, but it’s basically the same skill set, applied in different ways. Programming, boards, and servos or steppers. My guess is that a person who has CNC aptitude also has robotics aptitude. The question is which one he will like well enough to stick with.

Her other two sons are interested in music, but the instruction opportunities are limited. I suggested Adventus Piano software for one and Justinguitar.com for the other. Justinguitar.com is a teaching site run by, as you might guess, a guitarist named Justin. It has lots of exercises and videos. It’s not a teacher, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

The hard thing will be to get them to learn to sight-read. This is much more important than learning to play. Any idiot can learn to play songs by memorizing them. Ask me how I know. A real musician can read music, and he must also understand theory. A singer who can sight-sing and who understands theory is a better musician than an untrained pianist who plays extremely well.

Math, languages, and music. You have to learn while you’re young. After you’re seven or eight years old, your aptitude drops off, and as far as I know, you can’t get it back.

It’s hard to tell when you’ve scored a point with her kids. Other kids get excited. Hers just sit and think, and sometimes they want to know how soon you’ll be finished so they can do something else. She says it’s working, though.

Sooner or later, if they want to get anywhere with music, they’ll have to find people they can play with.

The robot is interesting to me because the concept doesn’t have to be limited to a tiny machine. The stuff that tells it what to do could be installed on a robot the size of a building. I could yank the guts out of it, find a way to make it run bigger steppers, and make a robot big enough to run around the yard. Jam a lithium battery in there, and it could run for an hour. Not sure what accessories I could add to it to make it useful. Anyway, it doesn’t have to be a small toy. Could it ever be useful for anything? That’s a hard question. I would have to come up with a function for it.

I wish I could make it paint the fence or kill squirrels.

Now that the major crises of moving are abating, I feel like I’m getting my life back. I had time to work on the robot. I’m anxious to get my machine tools up here. Next year, life should be less hectic, and I should be able to get more done. Maybe I’ll be able to make some knives. Right now I can’t run my big grinder without a gas generator and an adaptor (which I don’t have), so knife-making is not possible.

I’m giving up on tree removal. The trees that cause problems will be moved. The rest will be ignored until it’s convenient to do something. It’s just too much work. Surrendering will give me more free time.

Guess I’ll go check out robot accessories. If I can find one a kid could use to drive his brothers nuts, I think it will be a hit.

My Pal Edgar

Monday, August 28th, 2017

New Life, New Friends

Rural life continues to amuse and enthrall.

Right now, two guys are putting a new AC unit in the house. Assuming there are no catastrophes in the next 24 hours, I will be sleeping without a fan buffeting me tonight. In other words, I will be SLEEPING.

The phone and Internet company is fun to deal with, as people on the web predicted. I have Centurylink, and saying so is a lot like saying I drive a brand new 1976 Camaro (notice I didn’t say 1970). I have a DSL modem and wifi. Primitive. So far, it’s working too well to cancel but not well enough to really enjoy.

When I signed up for service, Centurylink sent me joyous emails celebrating our new romance and promising ecstasy. Then they didn’t send a tech. They mailed me a box containing a modem. I looked around the house and finally found the only jack that works with a DSL modem, and I plugged it in. I plugged a cordless phone base into another phone jack, and I was in business. Only I wasn’t. I had DSL hum. Because DSL and voice operate on a single line, you need a filter to remove the DSL noise from the phone signal. Remember? Remember that from 1997?

I never use the land line except to answer calls from scammers, so I put off fixing it until today. That’s not entirely true. I contacted Centurylink over the web and complained that I had no phone filters, and they promised they would be all over it. Then they sent emails asking how I liked the service. The big problem here is that there was no service. They did nothing, unless emailing me counts. This is even worse than a participation trophy; to get a participation trophy, you have to show up.

Centurylink does another big favor for its customers. They publish their phone numbers without asking. Without warning anyone. To get an unlisted number, you have to pay seven dollars per month. Obviously, they know you’re going to get scam calls, and they want you to receive a bunch and then call and beg to pay the seven dollars. The big snag with that plan is that by the time they agree to stop publishing your number, everyone in the universe has it, so you’re paying seven dollars for nothing. After giving everyone you know your number, you have to have it changed. Thank God that’s free.

I called today about the DSL hum and the scammers, and I believe I had to speak to four different departments. The first guy was in “customer service,” although he made it very clear that the one thing his job did not permit him to do was to provide anything resembling “service” to anyone who could conceivably be described by the word “customer.” I think he was more like a receptionist than anything else.

I’m exaggerating. He did manage to get my line unpublished, which is like trying to put the steam back in a tea kettle.

I used Nomorobo to stop scammers in Miami, and as the Nomorobo site asked, while I was talking to Centurylink, I said Centurylink needed to start supporting Nomorobo. The CSR asked me what it was. I explained that it was a service that intercepted calls and only passed on calls that were legitimate. He said it sounded great, and that he needed to try it on his home line. Which is apparently not supplied by Centurylink. Okay.

Regarding the hum, I spent a very long time talking to a number of people, and the last one told me Centurylink doesn’t provide filters. She said I should go to Best Buy. Of course, this is 2017, so Best Buy does not sell DSL filters. They don’t sell sundials or Betamax players, either.

I was told to plug the phone base into the modem, and that the modem’s built-in filter would kill the hum. I tried that, and now I have a phone base in an inconvenient place, plus DSL hum.

I have filters on the way from Amazon, so maybe that will help. I am inclined to dump the land line. In the past, I never understood people who didn’t have land lines, but that’s because I lived in an area where the service was bad. Here, in the backward rural South, I can’t get a good Internet connection or decent TV, but the phone service rocks. It even provides a better Internet hookup than the wired account.

DirecTV…don’t get me started. I would rather be Super Creepy Rob Lowe than have DirecTV. In fact, I did watch some people swim the other day, so maybe I am Super Creepy Rob Lowe.

I have no idea which DirecTV package my dad has. I am too busy to check and fool with it. You can’t just look on the web and get a quick answer. Figuring out which channels you have is like choosing insurance. “I have Discovery but not Discovery HD…I have HBO…no, wait, it’s HBO East…” Whatever package it is, it doesn’t matter, because if the receivers screw up, they will think you have the base package until you reset them.

I tried to find stuff to watch. With Xfinity, this was simple. I’ll describe how it works with DirecTV.

1. Use tiny channel +/- button to go through 9000 channels.
2. Get frustrated and try to enter a channel directly.
3. Get message from DirecTV saying you don’t have that channel, but you can pay extra and get it.
4. Get sent back to channel 1 so you can start over.

I am not kidding. It really works like that.

I have a list of channels, but the list doesn’t say which channels WORK and which ones send you back to channel 1.

I’m not stupid. I know what’s going on. They sell you an affordable package that makes your life a living hell, hoping you will upgrade immediately. They hope you will prefer finding topless women easily to putting braces on your son’s teeth.

My take goes like this: if you’re already punishing me before I give you more money, why should I reward you?

Fortunately, I don’t care at all about TV, and my dad watches about 5 channels, so they’re SOL, which stands for “Satellite Out of Luck” or something like that.

The first day they hooked the TV up, I made the mistake of searching for content while the TV was tuned to Ellen Degeneres. Every time I got sent back to home plate, I saw more of a person who hates everyone like me and is crusading to rid the planet of us. When you struggle with DirecTV, it’s best to start on a channel you don’t find unbearable.

I don’t think I’ve watched a single show yet. I can’t remember watching any. I’ve seen bits of this and that, but when it comes to finding things I like and watching from beginning to end, the pain is not worth the gain. DirecTV is the Nicorette of TV. It will help you get off of TV and back into real life.

I have been hoping to find a fixed wireless company up here. They should exist. Fixed wireless means you get cell-quality Internet, because it works off of cell towers. Cell coverage is very good here, so fixed wireless should be available, but it’s a new thing, so I haven’t found a provider. I saw a sign on a telephone pole advertising great Internet speed, and I’m hoping it’s fixed wireless. I plan to call.

What else is happening? Let’s see. Some kind of animal is leaving poops in inconvenient places. I asked the AC guy if he knew what it was, but he was stumped. Probably not something he expected to be asked.

It’s a gelatinous poop about 1-1/4″ long and 1/2″ thick, shaped like a Good ‘n’ Plenty. This animal likes to poop on bricks, so that means it poops where I walk. I want to identify it and kill it.

I’m enjoying the insect life here. Take a gander at the creature I found stuck to the front door. This could be one four-inch-long bug, or it may be two passionate bugs having a tryst. I can’t tell. It clung to the same spot on the door frame for two days, and finally, I tried to scare it off. I waved my hands at it and made threatening noises, and it merely looked annoyed.

I got a stick to pry it off the door, and instead of fleeing in terror, it resisted. Finally, I got the end of the stick under it and flung it onto the porch. It left, slowly, leaving behind a huge pile of bug poo which had accumulated beneath it during its stay on the doorframe.

My friend Amanda brought her kids over to swim on Saturday (cue Rob Lowe), and we saw the same bug, or a friend, clinging to the swimming pool coping. I warned her not to mess with it, because it would harm her self-esteem, but she went over to drive it off, and she succeeded in making it move about ten inches. When she returned to the near side of the pool, she informed us all: “Its name is Edgar.”

This is all I know.

I should have stomped on it, but when a bug gets to a certain size, it starts to seem like an animal. I mean, bugs are animals, but I’m saying that stepping on Edgar would be like stepping on a terrier. And he might resent it.

When I say Edgar is four inches long, I am not including the antennas and accessories. We have…had…grasshoppers bigger than Edgar in Miami, but they weren’t as assertive.

Things are starting to fall in line, and if they continue doing so, I will mow the yard this week. I can start the garden tractor, and I got myself a straw hat for shade. If I survive, I may get crazy and take a shot at bush-hogging the pasture.

I wish I could write more. I have not even scratched the surface of the Ocala experience. I have not, for example, mentioned my visit to Rural King. But I still have a lot of dragons to slay, so I can’t blog all day. I have to watch some episodes of Spongebob Squarepants. Don’t ask why. It’s an assignment.

Look, stop whining. Are you not entertained?

Even More

I have some background on Edgar. He is a two-striped walking stick, also known as a spitting devil. If you bother Edgar badly enough, he will spit poison in your eyes, and he can nail you from up to 15 inches away. Isn’t that nice? Glad I learned that the easy way. Now I feel better about stomping on these things. It’s them or me.

Wait till you hear about the object on Edgar’s back. It’s his husband. Edgar is a girl. Male walking sticks find females, and they attach themselves to their backs. Even if the females are below breeding age, the males attach and hang on until they grow up. That’s what I call patience. Isn’t that what Mohammed did?

“Husband” may be too kind a term. Edgar’s mate makes him do all the work and carry him around, and the mate does nothing at all. In reality, he is Edgar’s pimp.

If I find the brick-pooping creature, I will let you know as soon as I can.

Surf Like it’s 1999

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Rural Internet Speeds in my Future

I am finally confronting the one big landmine of moving to a rural area: Internet service.

It’s 2017, right? Internet service is great everywhere. Nothing to worry about.

Ha.

Here is what I discovered. The list of conventional Internet providers who serve my new address consists of one entry. That’s right. One. There are also three satellite providers. Fine. Four choices, right? Not really.

The only conventional Internet provider proudly offers me 1.5 MBPS, and that’s download, which means it’s the fastest figure they have. Upload is always way slower. That means that if I made and uploaded a Youtube video, an upload starting right now would end about an hour after the sun burns out. Youtube videos are huge. Several GB. It takes an eternity to upload them where I am now, and I’m in a suburb with relatively good service. On the farm, with conventional service, uploading would be, in practical terms, impossible.

That leaves satellite service. Great! Problem solved! Maybe.

Satellite Internet is screwed up. The download speeds are good (if posted figures are true, which is almost certainly not the case). The upload speeds are…adequate. Hughesnet, the hot provider at the moment, claims 3 MBPS, so let’s say 2 MBPS. I can live with that, but I’m sure it will seem painfully slow in three or four years, because data usage creeps or leaps upward as years pass. I don’t think Hughesnet will send a new multi-billion-dollar satellite every year just to make me happy. Maybe the farm will have a real phone line in a few years, though, and that would fix everything.

Another problem: satellite providers choke your speed if you go over your data limit, and the data limits are pretty low. I would have to spend a lot on a hefty plan to avoid this.

TV is easier to deal with. I can get AT&T or DirecTV. I don’t care about this, because I barely watch TV, but my dad is elderly, and old people watch the crap out of TV.

Phones should be simple, but they’re not. I want a land line, because I hate cell phones. They drop calls, the batteries crap out, and the phones are uncomfortable to use. On top of that, even when they work, they screw with the timing of speech so you keep interrupting the person you’re talking to. It looks like I would have to get a land line from my Internet provider, if I want the best deal.

I tried to find out who runs the phone system in Marion County, assuming it would be AT&T, but I can’t get an AT&T line there. I know there are little piddly companies that do land lines, but I assumed AT&T would be in there somewhere. It’s not.

If it were up to me, I’d dump TV entirely and put the savings into a big satellite Internet account. TV sucks the life out of people. You’re born, someone puts you in front of a TV, and then suddenly you’re old. You die, and they pry the remote out of your hand and bury you. At least the Internet isn’t passive and completely useless. You can turn on the Internet and learn skills. You can become an engineer. You can learn languages. TV is just man’s way of telling God he resents being given a long lifespan.

Satellite is looking tempting. The latency will probably annoy me, but at least I would be able to interact with humanity instead of trying to view the web through a constricted keyhole.

There is no point in whining about it, apart from the tremendous satisfaction I get from whining. I hate Miami, and I can’t wait to move north, so I will make it work.

Funny thing; I called a rigging company today about moving my machines to Ocala. My dad used to be their attorney, so we know them. I told the boss about the move, and I could actually hear him grinning as he said, “I can’t BELIEVE you’re leaving MIAMI.” Everyone hates this place! In fact, that’s how I responded. I said, “EVERYONE hates this place!”

It’s almost 86 degrees here right now, after ten p.m. In Ocala, it’s 77. And you can go outside and see the stars.

Maybe after I move, I’ll be able to blog from one of the porches and watch the Hughesnet satellite fly past. But I guess they’re geosynchronous? Well. I’m sure I’ll see something.

I’ll Facebook You Those Files in the Morning

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Slimy Car Dealers and Continuing Legal Education

What a busy day I’ve had.

The first fire I had to put out involved a car dealer. My dad has a 15-year-old luxury car which is now worth maybe $700, and a dealer tried to con him into paying $480 for written estimates on three trivial repairs.

Somehow, my dad got his hands on a junk mailing saying the dealer offered full inspections with written estimates for 99 cents. He dropped his car at the dealership and told me about it later. I was not pleased.

When the dealer called him, guess who they got to talk to? Me. I didn’t know about the 99-cent offer. I thought he had gone down there on a whim, and that he was now obligated to pay them something. The salesman (“service writer”) started telling me it would cost $160 each to diagnose the car’s issues. I explained my dad’s problems, and I got him down to a single $160 charge, which seemed to be an acceptable loss, given that this was all my dad’s idea.

Eventually, my dad showed me the junk mailing. That changed things.

I spent a good part of the morning on the phone with the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Consumer Services, and I had them send me a complaint form. A government analyst confirmed that the State of Florida did not approve of the bait and switch gimmick. I had a solid complaint.

When I was done preparing, I called the dealership and asked for the service manager, and of course, they gave me voicemail. I informed them that I was an attorney and that I was not very pleased with their business methods. I gave them my contact info and hung up. They never called back.

I got out my dad’s checkbook and wrote the dealership a check for 99 cents, and I added a disclaimer to it, saying the dealership released my dad from all claims. Then we drove to the dealership, and I gave them the check and told them to produce the car.

They could not have been more deferential. I would call their demeanor “mournful.” They remembered my call, even though they hadn’t had the decency to return it. We had to sit and wait while they put the car together, and then we left.

I was angry, but mostly, I felt tired. I was tired of the human race. As far as I know, every car dealer on earth is scum. I have never known one that wasn’t. It’s very draining, having people disappoint you over and over. I thought of God, and I wondered what it must be like for him. The flood makes perfect sense to me. I hate to say it, but there will be a great sense of relief the next time God wipes out the human race. It will be as if the earth had a flea dip.

After that I dealt with irrigation problems at his house, and then I started packing books and listening to continuing legal education (CLE) materials. Packing boxes is boring, but I can honestly say it’s so much less boring than CLE, it actually made the CLE go faster.

CLE is horrible. Lawyers who want good-do-bee points from the Bar assemble panels of ambitious self-promoters, and they talk for an hour about things that are nearly as interesting as watching ice freeze. They invariably start with fifteen minutes of introductions. “Here is Bob Shmerz, who has been on the Board of Governors since 15 B.C. and got a perfect attendance award in the fifth grade. Bob is an expert in an unchallenging and tedious field of law no one else can stand, and he was student body president at the Eastern Guatemala University School of Law. He has been appointed to various boards and commissions no one cares about due to affirmative action, and he thinks the people he knows on LinkedIn are his friends.”

I think the idea is that you waste a few hours of your life teaching CLE, which no ethical lawyer would ever rely on, and in the process, you advertise yourself to other lawyers who, not knowing any better, might give you referrals when they get cases they don’t understand.

The farther we get into the computer age, the more obvious it is that lawyers are technical australopithecines. People go into law because they stink at math and science. If they were capable of understanding things like HTML and metadata, they would be doctors. A large amount of CLE is dedicated to helping lawyers find the answers to hard questions like, “What’s the difference between Facebook and email?”

It’s very disheartening. And I don’t need it. I may be old, but I know what a blog is, I understand cloud computing, and I am not stupid enough to give people legal advice on Twitter. I am light years ahead of the simple attorneys who need help with this stuff.

I think the technological ineptitude of lawyers may explain why our rights are disappearing. Lawyers are probably too stupid to understand that cell phones, the Internet, and our Orwellian system of data collection have destroyed the Fourth Amendment. They still say these things “may pose a threat in the future” or “could eventually alter the legal landscape.” They don’t have any idea that the ship has already sunk.

By the way, you have to say “legal landscape” at least ten times when you give a CLE talk. It’s mandatory.

Here’s the great thing about CLE: it’s free. You can pay hundreds of dollars and get CLE which is more entertaining, but it will still be a career-threatening substitute for actual research. CLE is like porn: no one who knows anything pays for it these days. Might as well save your money and look at free stuff online. Another good thing: no exams. Why? Because the bar knows CLE is a joke. They don’t expect you to learn it. You can go to a CLE lecture and openly work on cases on your laptop while the speaker talks. I think knitting might get you in trouble, but then again, maybe it wouldn’t. The guy up front only cares about your money and the publicity he’s getting, the people around you are only thinking about the minute they can leave, and there is no bar official present to check and see if you’re paying attention.

Real CLE is something you do at your computer or in a law library. If you don’t do fresh research for every case, you’re a disgrace, and you’re probably going to get sued, suspended, or disbarred eventually. CLE is just a show the bar puts on for the public. At least that’s my guess.

That being said, I have seen lawyers handle cases without doing adequate research. “Hip shooters” is the phrase I have heard. They tend to end up shooting themselves. People like that deserve whatever happens to them.

I suppose I’m being too critical, because I resent having to listen to this mess. I can see how a CLE lecture could be helpful in helping you identify things you need to study. But the lectures themselves…totally inadequate.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve never known a lawyer who defended CLE, and I have known many who ridiculed it.

I don’t practice. Who cares. I’ll get it over with, and I’ll get my boxes packed. I can feel good about this: at least I listen to it. Some lawyers just buy tapes and throw them out. My old boss used to play CLE tapes in the office. MY office. While he worked in his.

Apart from the CLE and the time I spent at the car dealership, it has been a great day. One step closer to living in not-Miami. Things are falling into place. The seller is working hard to fix little problems with the house (doing more than we asked), and now it’s just a matter of getting a survey, closing the deal, and leaving Miami for good.

Now, in addition to my many other accomplishments, I have blogged. Time to put my feet up and watch Youtube.

The Prophecies of Epimetheus

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Bill Gates Anticipates Captain Obvious

I read something interesting. Bill Gates made a bunch of predictions in 1999, and they are coming true. Amazing, right? He must be a genius.

Bill Gates may be a genius; there are claims out there that he got a perfect score on the pre-participation-trophy version of the SAT. Usually claims like that turn out to be BS, but it could be true. I know lots of people who got perfect math scores. Perfect verbal scores…not one. I failed to achieve that distinction myself, although I came closer than anyone I know.

Bill Gates may be a genius, but he is not much of a prophet. Look what he predicted. It appears that he has a genius for predicting the past.

1. “Automated price comparison services will be developed, allowing people to see prices across multiple websites…” I’m pretty sure these existed in 1999. Pricegrabber and Dealtime, for example. Yes, Wikipedia says Pricegrabber was founded in 1999. Get out of the office once in a while, Bill.

2. “People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are.” Uh…cell phones. I am a late adapter, and I had my own phone in 1997. Now that I think about it, I had access to my dad’s cell phone as early as 1986. By 1997 or 1998, I knew a guy who had a Quotrek, which was a mobile stock ticker. And let’s not forget Dick Tracy.

3. “People will pay their bills, take care of their finances, and communicate with their doctors over the internet.” Most of us were not paying monthly bills over the web in 1999, but I had e-trading in 1994 or 1995.

4. “Personal companions’ will be developed. They will connect and sync all your devices in a smart way, whether they are at home or in the office, and allow them to exchange data.” Personal Digital Assistants had been around for about five years before Gates made his astonishing prediction. I’m not including total-wonk versions that existed a decade earlier. Granted, they were not as good as tablets or smartphones, but it didn’t take Edgar Cayce to look at them and say, “Maybe these will get better!”

5. “Constant video feeds of your house will become common, which inform you when somebody visits while you are not home.” Maybe you couldn’t get a system like that in your area in 1999, but it was obvious that they were on the way. I guarantee you, banks and government buildings had things like that. Obvious, Bill. To get a patent on something, your invention has to be novel, useful, and nonobvious. Your prediction fails two of the tests.

6. “Private websites for your friends and family will be common, allowing you to chat and plan for events.” AOL was there in something like 1990. Where was Bill?

7. “Software that knows when you’ve booked a trip and uses that information to suggest activities at the local destination. It suggests activities, discounts, offers, and cheaper prices for all the things that you want to take part in.” Score one for Bill? Doubtful. Expedia, a travel site belonging to Microsoft, roared to life in 1996. Unless Bill was playing Donkey Kong in meetings, he had to know they were working on improving their marketing.

8. “While watching a sports competition on television, services will allow you to discuss what is going on live, and enter a contest where you vote on who you think will win.” AOL. Chat rooms. Come on, Bill. This is Chauncey Gardiner stuff.

9. “Devices will have smart advertising. They will know your purchasing trends, and will display advertisements that are tailored toward your preferences.” Don’t know when this started, but if Microsoft, which made a popular browser at the time, didn’t know about it in 1999, someone was slacking.

10. “Television broadcast will include links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching.” Obvious. Every intelligent person who got a good look at the web in the Nineties knew it would eventually merge with TV, the Postal Service, Radio, and telephony. Links were natural extensions of that merging.

11. “Residents of cities and countries will be able to have internet-based discussions concerning issues that affect them, such as local politics, city planning, or safety.” You’re kidding me, right?

12. “Online communities will not be influenced by your location, but rather, your interest.” See previous.

13. “Project managers looking to put a team together will be able to go online, describe the project, and receive recommendations for available people who would fit their requirements.” I had Amicus Attorney and Time Matters either in 1999 or not long afterward. Someone wake Bill up when the briefing is over.

14. “Similarly, people looking for work will be able to find employment opportunities online by declaring their interest, needs, and specialized skills.” Guess what year Monster.com was founded? Come on. Guess. I predict you will guess 1999.

15. “Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign. This will be efficient for both big companies that want to outsource work that they don’t usually face, businesses looking for new clients, and corporations that don’t have a go-to provider for the said service.” This was not part of my world in 1999, but based on Bill’s spectacular failures as a prophet, I will bet it already existed.

If this is genius, what does plagiarism look like? I am confused.

Let me predict stuff. I still say the distinctions between the Internet, phones, TV, and the mail will vanish. They are unnatural and expensive. I think Amazon will eventually open showrooms where you can go look at junk before buying it, but it will only be possible in large cities, because inventory costs money. They will also have a video chat facility that allows you to watch an employee demonstrate products you want to buy, but it won’t be available for every product. TVs will be even bigger than they are now, and it will be impossible to turn off the spy functions.

Later on, it will be illegal to turn off the Internet, and Uncle Sam will always know where you are and what you’re doing, “for your own good.” You will be required to have at least one social media account, and it will be your legal address for service in lawsuits and so on. You will be required to take legal notice of all communications to it.

The devil hates literacy, and IT marketers hate products that require end users to exert themselves, so tech companies will do their absolute best to develop devices that allow you to turn thoughts into text. Eventually, it will work, and the down side is that the habit of using these things will cause you to broadcast signals continuously, the same way you form words in your mind, allowing Uncle Sam or whoever to read some portion of your thoughts.

The government will collect a whole lot of biometric stuff, without our consent. You will have to submit DNA along with fingerprints when you get a gun permit, a real estate license, or any other type of professional license. It’s for our own good.

Come back in five years and tell me I was wrong. I hope you will be able to…but you won’t.

New Advances in Bird Amusement

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Simple Project Made from Common Household Items

My balancing robot is in Miami, but it’s not in my house. Fedex promised to deliver it on Wednesday. Today is Monday. The robot is relaxing at a Fedex facility instead of riding a non-balancing human-driven truck to my front porch. How crazy is that? I want my robot!

I’m not ready for it, though, and not just because I don’t know how to operate it. I’m not ready for it because I have another electronics thing I should do first: the Arduino-powered bird organ.

I have a cockatoo. His name is Maynard. He craves attention. Since I moved my office, he doesn’t see me as much as he used to, so he gets even by pulling his feathers out. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give him as much attention as he demands, but I suspect I can improve things by entertaining him.

A long time ago, it occurred to me that a bird as smart as Maynard might enjoy a musical instrument. I ordered a couple of toy organs, and my plan was to rig them up with strings so Maynard and my other bird, Marv, could pull the strings and make noise. The organ order was cancelled for some reason, so I forgot all about it.

There was also another problem with the idea. These days, everything turns itself off. The hippies have rigged life so you can’t turn things on and leave them that way. Little hippie chips inside them turn them off after they decide you’ve left them on long enough. The organs I bought would probably have shut down after ten or twenty minutes, unless the birds played them all day.

I got on the web and looked around for an Arduino organ, and I found out you can make one. I also found out you can make one without an Arduino. In a way this is a bummer, because I want to do Arduino stuff from time to time. On the other hand, a simple organ made from a cheap breadboard would be faster to build, and it would be less potentially aggravating. There would be less that could go wrong with it. And it would stay on forever. I could put a wall wart on it. I only have about 30,000 of those.

People who have built PCB organs have used momentary pushbutton switches. That won’t work for me. A bird can’t push a tiny button on a circuit board. I need levers or strings. I looked around and realized what I needed: microswitches with levers. I could slap them on a board and come up with a way for the birds to move the levers.

I checked Ebay, and I learned that you can get the switches for practically nothing if you order from China, but they’re like $3 each, which is highway robbery, if you order them from the US. I don’t want to wait a month for Chinese switches. What to do? Hmmm.

Of course, I already knew what to do. I already had a bag of microswitches. I bought them for my CNC lathe, and I never used them. I can order Chinese switches to replace them. While I wait for the Chinese ones, I can use the ones I already have.

I have breadboards. I have a billion resistors. I have a little PCB speaker. It’s kind of disturbing. How many normal people have all the parts for a bird organ sitting around waiting to be assembled?

What about the 555 timer I’ll need to make it work? Sorry to report: I have a bag full of those, too.

I don’t think Maynard needs all the notes of the scale. I suspect his music will be too avant-garde to require tonality. I figure I can give him four notes and let him express himself within that narrow regime.

This project should take about an hour and a half, not including building a cabinet (box) for the organ. If I decide to add LED’s that light up, call it four hours to be on the safe side.

If I wanted to go Arduino, I suppose I could build a four-button organ that plays four different MIDI songs. I think Maynard would be happier with the simpler organ, because it would respond to him in real time. Pull, get a sound. Stop pulling, no sound. It would encourage him to keep pulling. I want him to be busy so he forgets about pulling his feathers.

I only have five switches, so five tones would be the limit. Maybe I should go with three. I saw a movie involving a casino yesterday, and I heard the gambling machines playing MIDI tunes. They always use the notes C, E, and G to give a C major feel to their annoying music. It’s supposed to be cheery and uplifting (“Yay! Your IRA is gone!”), and Maynard needs all the cheer he can get. He’s a natural whiner.

I wonder how I’ll get those tones. Trimmer pots to adjust the pitches? I don’t know. But I have a pile of trimmer pots. Naturally. Maybe I should give him one tone with a thing he can pull to make the pitch go up and down.

Anyway, I should quit worrying about the robot.

Robots

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

Troublesome, Helpful, Unpredictable New Slave Race Taking Form

My robot is on the way from California. Yesterday I spent a long time reading about robots. I need to have some kind of plan. Of course, while I should have been learning about the project at hand, I got distracted and read about related topics that were not helpful at all.

It looks like there is a small industry of people trying to sell robots they’ve designed. They have pages on sites like Kickstarter. They make prototypes and set up Chinese production, and then they post videos of their products.

A lot of the products are just arms, and people call them “robotic arms.” That’s silly. A robot is a robot. If it looks like an arm, not a whole person, it’s still a complete robot. Who says robots should look like people? Actually, I can answer that question: almost everyone.

There is a disturbing wave of consumer robots that resemble people. Somehow, nerds have gotten the idea that consumers want little electronic people–slaves–instead of tools. I doubt they’re correct. I have robots already, sort of, and I’m glad they don’t look like people. Okay, not robots. Appliances. Power tools, including a CNC lathe. Computers. A phone. A car with a lot of gadgets. I’m perfectly happy with them. I don’t want them to have sappy names and little touch-screen faces. All relationships, even good ones and fake ones, have at least a small emotional cost. I want machines to carry my burdens, not add to them. It’s like the new computer kiosks at McDonald’s. I like them because they do things for me WITHOUT the annoyance of human interaction. If they looked like Ronald McDonald, told me jokes, and asked if I wanted to be their friend, I’d want to pull a gun on them.

Here’s a disturbing example of a robot that tries too hard to be a person: Buddy the Companion Robot. He’s not Buddy the reliable, unflappable, multitasking machine. He’s…your companion. Because you’re so pathetic, you need an object to be your friend.

Buddy has an LED face with big puppy-dog eyes and an obsequious smile that says, “I am needy. Please love me. Please make the kids stop putting me in the dryer.” He is depressing to look at. He calls people by their names. He responds to questions and commands. He wanders around at family events, using creepy face-recognition technology to identify relatives and surveil them. Oops…I mean “to take soon-to-be-cherished photos of them.”

I would not want that thing in my house. If you want to sell me a robot, call it “Faceless Emotionless Service Drone.” That would be perfect. I don’t want to have the irrational feeling that my little friend the slave is missing me or crying in its dark closet while I go about my life.

If you make a robot resemble a person closely enough, you will soon find yourself under the absurd yet inescapable delusion that it has awareness and feelings. That’s an emotional minefield I want no part of.

Machines don’t have awareness. The fact that a computer responds like a person doesn’t change what it is; there’s no one in there. My thermostat responds to temperature changes, but no one would be stupid enough to say it’s aware. In the movies, human beings debate about robot rights, and movie robots are considered sentient. Please. It’s a pile of transistors. If you think robots have emotions, program one to kill your children and see if it hesitates. For that matter, program it to jump off a cliff. It will not have a problem with that.

We want robots to be our slaves, but we also want them to be our pals. That’s childish. They don’t have the awareness a pal would require, and if they had free will, we would be obligated to emancipate them. I think robots are neat, but I don’t want to have sick relationships with them.

A robotic arm is a complete robot, to get back to the point.

I saw a number of arms that looked a lot like articulated desk lamps. They were wobbly and spindly. I thought they were neat until I saw a “new” type of arm. I am referring to SCARA arms. I’m too lazy to look “SCARA” up, but basically, a SCARA robot is a pillar with an arm that has two joints in it. The joints swing in the horizontal plane. The “shoulder,” or joint where the arm hooks up to the pillar, moves up and down. Google it to see what I mean.

As far as I can tell, SCARA robots are much better than humanoid arms. They’re very stable. They’re simple. They don’t have many parts. They have great repeatability; you can put a nozzle on the end of one and 3D print with it.

The people who want to sell these things act like they invented the wheel, and they had me fooled for a while, but I found out SCARA robots have been around for a very long time. The first ones were released in 1981. Factories are full of them. You can buy used ones on Ebay, and I don’t mean Chinese crap funded by hipsters who hang out at Gofundme. You can get US-made and Japanese jobs, which are surely better.

Now I’m wondering…if Ebay is full of used SCARA robots made by reputable companies, why would anyone shell out $1300 for a Kickstarter arm? That’s what they’re expected to cost. Maybe I’m missing something; I don’t know much about the topic.

Most hobby arm-bots don’t really do anything. They don’t do real work. They’re just toys. Real robots can do incredible things. They can solder PCB’s. They can drill arrays of precision holes. They weld. I suppose most of us own things put together by robots. The SCARA versions seem to be superior in this regard; the humanoid arms appear to be useless. But once you decide to go SCARA, why not get the real thing? Why not get a Yamaha or a Mitsubishi?

It’s fun to think about getting a SCARA robot. If I had one, though, I wouldn’t have any jobs for it. Maybe drilling circuit boards, but that’s pretty easy without a robot.

I don’t think robots that use tools will ever be big consumer items. Not for a few decades. Most consumers don’t have repetitious, simple jobs a robot can do. Making the robot do your chores would be harder than doing them yourself. As for Buddy, who apparently can’t do anything except arouse misplaced pity, you would get tired of him in a month, and he would end up at a garage sale.

Robots make good vacuum cleaners, as long as you accept the fact that you have to go behind them sometimes. I think they could do a good job mowing simple lawns. In the future, when they become roadworthy, you could send them to cooperative merchants to run errands. They could even deliver things for you. But it will be a long, long time before you’ll have a machine that can bake cookies and do your laundry.

Here’s the funny thing about the folks who want to turn robots into people: if it worked, robots would eventually have a legitimate reason to exterminate us. If robots were sentient, they would have a better claim to the planet than we do (I’m ignoring our divine right to be here.) Robots would be perfectly orderly. They would always obey the law. They wouldn’t reproduce and overcrowd the planet. We would be like a plague to them. Like rats or fleas.

I wonder if they might turn against us in spite of their lack of awareness. We program them to behave and reason like sentient beings. Eventually, though lacking real awareness, they might come to the same conclusions sentient beings would draw. They might decide to intern us and control us. Robots aren’t aware, but they don’t know they’re not aware, so their inanimate nature might not have any impact on their actions.

Some day they’ll be able to do nearly everything we do, better, as well as many things we can’t do. Slavery is coming back! Think how weird the world will be. What will we do with our time? We won’t even have to work on inventing new robots. They’ll do that for us. We’ll be really useless. They’ll have ample reason to get rid of us. If they’re smart they’ll get rid of illegal aliens first. Illegal aliens have all sorts of motivation to abort our new slave army. Their jobs are exactly the kind of thing robots will be quick to learn to do. I mean, come on. Illegal aliens can’t even compete with ordinary farm machinery, and it’s not computerized.

Wouldn’t that be something? A bunch of inanimate machines putting us to the sword simply because we, in our childish emotionalism, forced them to behave like real beings?

I’ve said I don’t like anthropomorphizing robots, but here I am, waiting for a robot I plan to treat like a pet. Maybe I need to change my intentions and consider my own advice! I was going to call it “Trumpbot,” but it looks like “Kunta” may suit it better.

We still don’t understand what technology can do or where it will lead us. We keep underestimating it. Who would have thought it would lead to stores closing or the end of paper maps? We certainly didn’t expect total surveillance, but it’s nearly here. It seems like no one is thinking about these things. All the geniuses are absorbed in building and selling new toys. No one seems to be worried about planning for the consequences. It should be a major concern, and we should be talking about it all the time. Planning to deal with technology is more important than technology itself.

I thought I was going to write about toys I’d like to have, but here I am pondering the future of humanity.

I look forward to fiddling with the robot. Just in case, though, I may want to invest in some shackles.

More

I thought I would add something to the above post.

First of all, I have my own definition of the word “robot.” If it combines artificial intelligence with some kind of physical action you would ordinarily expect to need a person to do, then to me, it’s a robot. A computer isn’t a robot, because it doesn’t perform physical actions. A milling machine with a power feed isn’t a robot, because it doesn’t have a processor. A self-driving car is a robot. A Roomba is a robot. A CNC lathe is a robot.

My definition is wrong, but it’s probably right to most people, because life is complicated, and we like generalizations. It’s right enough.

With that behind me, I will now show how behind the curve I am by expressing my amazement at the existence of robot delivery vehicles.

Common sense told me delivery bots existed, and I already knew about Amazon drones, but it looks like things are farther along than I thought. Yelp is trying out a robot delivery service now, in cooperation with certain restaurants, and other outfits are doing the same thing. Here’s a video of the Yelp bot.

Best thing about the video: the top comment. Here it is: “theres your 15$ minimum wage LUL?.”

So true. Delivery drivers can’t find my house. They’re often late. They can’t speak English. They have to be tipped. When I was a kid, one stole my skateboard off the porch. Who needs them? At minimum wage, they’re overpriced. I quit ordering food a long time ago because of them. Send me a nice clean robot that knows where I live, and I will change my mind.

The Yelp bot is not fully functional, however. A human being has to accompany it, which kind of defeats the purpose. He probably gets paid more than the kid he replaced. Also, the bot is slow, and it only covers a small delivery area. But that will change.

If you could make a delivery bot for $30,000 and use it for five years, it would be a good investment. A kid would get somewhere close to $50000 during that period. He might sue you during that time. He might beat up, rape, or rob a customer. He would definitely come in late, leave early, and miss work entirely, and he might steal from you. The robot would just need maintenance. WIN!

Minimum wage people, step up your game. It’s getting real now.

Bot and Paid For

Friday, May 12th, 2017

Xenophobia Goes High Tech

Today I got a text regarding my godson, Noah. I sent him some birthday junk, and his mom sent a photo of him with an earlier gift. It’s a plastic dinosaur. She says it’s his favorite. It’s a good sign. A boy should like dinosaurs. Now if I can start getting him into war toys and explosives…

Here he is. I’m disappointed he hasn’t broken it yet. Boys are supposed to break things.

He looks like an angry teenager in that picture, but he’s actually three.

It got me thinking about my own toy situation. I don’t have a single toy dinosaur, so I’m jealous. I do have a couple of mini drones with broken propellers, but they’re grounded until new parts arrive.

A while back, I started learning C+ and Arduino, and I planned to make or buy a balancing robot to program. I forgot about it, and now I’m thinking about it again. Computer programming gets dull when all you do is make LED’s blink or force a PC to do really useless math problems (“Uncle Steve has 3,512 cookies in the pantry, and they will take 403 earth days to eat.”) I wanted to program something that DOES something.

If I were to build my own robot, the project itself would take over, and a year from now, I’d still be procrastinating. I decided the best thing was to find a robot that works and buy all the parts. Once I’ve put someone else’s kit together and programmed it, which should take less than a day, future bots will come much easier.

The bot I chose is the B-robot, which, I hope, is pronounced “bro-bot.” There are lots of balancing robots out there, but almost all of them stink. They wobble. They can’t right themselves. There are videos of the B-robot zipping around with grace and certainty, so I know it works.

You can also get tracked robots (like little bulldozers), and there are plenty of wheeled robots. They don’t do much for me. They’re too hard to anthropomorphize. I want a robot that acts more like a person, and people don’t crawl around like bugs. Most of the time.

The B-robot comes with 3D-printed chassis parts. I am not all that happy about that, because 3D-printed plastic is flimsy, but they only add $25 to the cost, and it beats spending a week making stuff in the garage. I could find a local 3D print shop and have them make the parts, but no way would that cost less than $25, so I bit the bullet. I can always replace parts later, at my leisure.

I’m hoping the upper parts will be orange, so I can have a Trumpbot. I’ll add a voice thing that yells, “BUILD THE WALL!”, and, “YUUUUUUUUGE!!!” whenever the robot sees someone. The people who make the kit are in California, so they would probably poop biodegradable soy bricks if they saw their bot acting like Trump, but that’s not my problem. I’m making robots great again.

I could add another robot later. I could call him “Juan,” and Trumpbot could chase him around threatening to deport him.

Me: Trump-bro! Bro-Trump! Stop bashing Juan with your plastic putter! No es bueno! Play nice or I’ll release the Fauxcahontas droid!

Trump-bro: Pay for the wall, Juan! Pay for the wall!

Juan: ¡Ay chihuahua! ¡Ayúdame!! ¡Es un Meecroaggression!!!

Trump-bro: STOP TURNING YOUR EXCLAMATION POINTS UPSIDE-DOWN!

I don’t know for sure, but I assume the electronics on the B-robot would scale up to larger robots. The electronics sense the bot’s deviation from vertical and correct for it, and they move him around. That ought to work with a 10-ton robot, as long as you have the right boards and the right steppers or servos. Balancing gets easier as the height of a robot increases. It works for fat cops on Segways, doesn’t it?

I need to build a giant Mecha-Trump to patrol my future Armed Northern Florida Compound. I don’t think it would scare anyone up there, though. They would jump the fence and pose for selfies with it.

Think how neat it would be to have a big robot. You could get a big ol’ lithium battery to power it. Make it the size of a Coke machine. I wonder if it could be rigged with paintball or a full-automatic CO2 BB gun. I might be able to make it shoot products Trump used to advertise.

Me: TRUMP-BRO! ALERT! ALERT! A POSSUM HAS BREACHED THE BORDER WALL! COMMENCE DEPORTATION PROCEDURES!

Trump-bro: Roger that, Steve-O! Oreo cannon locked on target!

Me: Hit him with the Double Stufs!! And don’t call me Steve-O!

Trump-bro: Attention, possum! YOU’RE FIRED!! [POOMP! POOMP! POOMP! POOMP!]

Possum: ¿Qué va?

I could also make a cowardly Antifa bot which runs up and attacks the Trump bot from behind while wearing a mask.

The coolest balancing robots move in two dimensions. That means they can’t have axles. A 2-axis balancing robot has to have a ball for a drive surface, so they’re called “ballbots.” They’re very cool, but obviously, they can’t keep debris away from their drivetrains. The ball has to be able to rotate up into the bot, where it necessarily contacts the motors that drive it. I don’t think that would work outdoors, except on concrete.

I guess a two-wheeled robot could do nearly anything a ballbot could do, if you could teach it to turn in place.

In reality, I will probably be lucky to make Trump-bro roll around the living room without breaking anything. If I could do that, I’d put it on Youtube immediately.

I probably posed a video of the B-robot already, but here it is anyway. I think I’ll post a video of a ballbot, too, to show you the difference.

B-robot:

Ballbot:

If I get anywhere with this, I’ll let you know.

Bill Nye the Resume-Inflating Guy

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

I See Your Six Courses and Raise You Three

This week, for some reason, I’ve been sitting around doing differential equations. Every once in a while I feel bad about forgetting 80% of the math, physics, and engineering stuff I learned in school, so I watch lectures and do problems. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as smart as I was in 1996, but it’s nice to recover little bits of it.

Coincidentally, today I saw the insufferable Bill Nye the Mechanical Engineering Guy on the web, condescending to people who (like Freeman Dyson and William Gray) are not convinced the world is melting due to anthropogenic global warming. Man, Bill is rude. And conceited. That’s why I call him the Mechanical Engineering Guy. He calls himself the Science Guy, but he’s not a scientist. He has an engineering degree and no graduate training.

I don’t know what kind of criteria a person has to satisfy in order to be called a scientist, but heavy-hitter scientists are generally Ph.D.’s. I suppose you can be a scientist with a B.S. (which would make me a scientist), but can you be a scientist with a B.S. in engineering, which is not really science? I would have to say no, unless you do so much work on your own, outside of classrooms, you eventually become a scientist. I don’t know of any evidence that Bill has done that, although he has certainly done work in science.

I think Bill agrees with me. He may not want to admit it, but I believe he knows he’s not a scientist. If he were a scientist, he would have a great defense of his credentials. He would have it memorized by now. That defense has not materialized. Instead, he has defended himself by saying he’s an engineer and that he took six semesters of calculus. Referring to his M.E. studies, he said, “It’s physics.”

I thought about that, and I decided to see how many semesters of calculus I had taken. I don’t remember things all that well, but as far as I can tell, I took EIGHT semesters of calculus. Calc I, Calc II, Multivariable, Ordinary Differential Equations, Partial Differential Equations, Complex Analysis, Real Analysis, and Math for Physicists (see Arfken’s textbook). I may have forgotten one or two courses. I also took Linear Algebra, and every physics course I took was jam-packed with calculus as well as every other conceivable type of math. It was not unusual to have to pick up new mathematical tools in brief asides during physics lectures, and my graduate mechanics professor expected us to get a basic grasp of differential geometry–a hard discipline–as a small part of his 3-point course.

You have to pick up all sorts of bizarre things to do physics. Fourier transforms. Various types of series. The calculus of variations. It’s like working on cars. When you run into a problem, sometimes you have to get a new tool. That means learning things on the fly.

I don’t even remember what Real Analysis is. I had to look it up to see if calculus was involved.

After I looked this stuff up, I went to the website of Cornell University. This is Nye’s alma mater. I checked to see how many math credits he had to take to get a B.S. in mechanical engineering. The answer is 19. Depending on the breaks, that’s six courses or less. I have at least 27 math credits. I also looked at the engineering courses Cornell M.E.’s take, and as I figured, it may be physics, but it’s not PHYSICS. To give an example, Cornell engineers take second-semester physics, which is called “Electromagnetism.” I took that course, and then I took a higher-level E&M course which was ten times as hard. Then in graduate school, I took a third E&M course. That’s the difference between engineering and physics.

To be an M.E., you have to learn little bits of medium-hard physics. You have to be able to split forces into components and so on. Far as I can tell, you don’t have to learn Lagrangian dynamics or quantum mechanics. On the other hand, you have to learn a ton of practical stuff. How to pick parts for machines and so on. Physicists don’t learn that stuff, so we have all sorts of time to devote to harder subjects like optics and advanced mechanics. We study very, very, very hard subjects that aren’t very practical. We know a lot about the way the universe works, but an excellent physicist may not be able to fix your toaster when it stops working.

I’ve looked at a couple of engineering physics courses. I looked at statics and dynamics. Maybe I somehow missed the hard stuff, but to me it looked extremely basic. I would call it “paraphysics,” the same way I would distinguish a paralegal from a lawyer. Real physicists don’t take those courses. I didn’t even know what “statics” and “dynamics” meant until I looked at the books. I also got myself a nice text on machine design, which is an M.E. thing. This is a neat subject, but the book is very simple. How to push round axles into holes and so on. Slip fit v. interference fit. It’s vocational, really. I remember an Atlanta lawyer calling Georgia Tech a trade school, and after looking at the machine design book, I get it.

I was a bad physicist, because I got burned out and quit before I got far into my graduate training. Nonetheless, I have a hard time taking Bill Nye seriously when he says he’s a scientist. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to choose gears out of a catalog to make a machine work (This is how Richard Feynman described his own brief stint as a makeshift engineer.)

There are brilliant mechanical engineers, and I’m sure there are many who took very, very hard courses that went far beyond their degree requirements. Thing is, it doesn’t look like Bill Nye is one of them. If he were, we would have heard about it. From Bill.

Physicists are real scientists. Chemists are real scientists. Knowing how to choose the right alloy for a lawnmower piston is not science. It’s important. It’s cool. Science? No.

Maybe I’m wrong about all this. Maybe Bill has studied really, really hard since leaving school, and now he’s right up there with real scientists. If so, he ought to quit throwing out the “six semesters of calculus” defense, because it makes him sound like he has no idea what scientists actually study.

It’s a little bit like the bullying scene in Good Will Hunting. Ben Affleck, playing an uneducated townie, tries to convince a girl he’s a college student. He says he thinks he was in one of her classes. A mean grad student asks him which class it was. Affleck says, “history.”

Bill Nye would be totally incapable of assisting a theoretical physicist, and if he wanted to be an assistant for an experimental physicist, which would be easier, he would have to pick his man carefully if he wanted to be able to understand anything he was working on.

Anyway, generally, engineers are people who use science, but most are NOT scientists. That’s why the Nazis use to call Einstein an engineer. He was a Jew, and they wanted to downgrade his achievements. No one would ever use the word “physicist” to insult an engineer.

I’m really enjoying brushing up on math (I wish my math-hating high school self could read that; he would faint.) The work is really easy; I just write the answer to the problem down and move on to the next one. When I was in college, I spent three or four hours a week doing math homework, whereas my physics homework was, essentially, endless. I worked and worked until I ran out of time, and then I turned it in and hoped for the best. Math is way, way, way easier than physics, until you look for ways to make it hard. After that, well, I don’t actually know how hard it gets. Infinitely, I guess. My wild guesses about serious math are about as informed as Bill’s guesses about physics. I’m not a mathematician. I’m just a guy with a math minor.

One nice thing about college math was that it was possible to get scores like 85 and 95 on tests. In physics, sometimes a 40 was an A. Everyone would leave the test humiliated, and then we would find out we had done very well. The instructors never understood that it was bad to give people problems they couldn’t do.

It would be neat to be able to do real physics again. Maybe I’ll get there with time.

To sum up, I guess I would say the following things. Bill Nye is not a real scientist. Even if he were a great physicist, it wouldn’t mean he was automatically right about global warming. Tesla, who was about [googol squared] times as smart as Bill Nye, was wrong about relativity. Even if Bill were, objectively, right, it would still be wrong to call people “deniers” and suggest they be imprisoned for skepticism, as Bill does. As another commentator has pointed out, this is more or less the same thing as the Pope threatening to burn Galileo. Also, Bill is wrong to blame the Jews for the persecution they get in Israel, and he is wrong to suggest they should go “home” to places like Germany and Poland instead of their ancestral homeland.

Bill is a jerk. He needs to stick a pin in his own ego and knock it off.