Saturday, January 28, 2012

What is work?

I've been thinking about what it is to be lazy lately. The Republican nominees keep it in the news (laziness). People that don't have jobs MUST be lazy. What other possible explanation could there be? I saw a clip of Rick Santorum claiming his grandfather taught him that the key to a good life was hard work. "He worked in a coal mine until he was 70," Santorum said, standing relaxed on a stage in slick- soled shoes. I bet he shakes hands with hundreds of people a day. Has anybody felt a callous on any of his finger joints? I don't think standing around talking was what his coal-mining relations meant when they said that about working hard.

Now I can't speak for other unemployed people, but I'm pretty sure I'm not lazy. I wore through the finger of a pair of goat skin gloves last week. In the first four weeks of The Small Year I have shoveled a couple tons of silty sand, arranged a ton of large granite rip-rap, sawed down and hauled around multiple trees, dug roots, and pulled briars. I supervised a backhoe for three days. I've had fun with a sledge hammer breaking chunks of bricks and moving them in a wheel barrow. I moved 600 board feet of lumber, 30 sheets of corrugated steel, a big pile of fiber cement shingles and porcelain tile. I replaced the skylight in a roof and pressure washed 1500 square feet of concrete. And I bought and arranged the delivery of two 60 year old aircraft aluminum mobile homes to reuse and restore. (More about those another day.)

I also read all the job openings that are emailed to me from the automated searches I have set up. I'm not correctly qualified for any of them. I apply for the ones that I'm overqualified for, but I never hear back.

There's a trend now to romanticize the kind of life I'm living. I make all my own bread and jelly and I built my own tiny house. I'm ahead of the hipster curve. But I have to bake my bread on the front porch in a $45 toaster oven that I have to keep in a plastic bin under my front steps because there is no room for it in my house. I don't have a $2000 Thermador convection oven like I had in my house in Atlanta. I'm not avoiding store bought bread to mitigate my successful life that has removed me from the roots of survival. I'm doing it because I failed and now I'm reduced to this -- dividing the recipes on King Arthur Flour's website by 2/3 because if the loaf rises above the sides of the pan it will hit the electric elements in the top of my tiny oven.

I calculated how much it costs me to make my own bread. It's almost $2 a loaf. My dad makes money off investments and then uses it to buy bread direct at the Flowers Bakery that he drives by every day and gets it for $1.60 a loaf. I can't argue that my way is better. If I went to town to buy a loaf of bread it would cost me more like $5 a loaf because of the transportation cost, so it's still a good deal for me to make it, but if I had any kind of job making at least $10 an hour it would no longer be a cost savings to do stuff like bake and make jelly. A batch of mayhaw jelly represents over 20 hours of work. And you only get about 8 jars of jelly. And the jars and sugar come to $1.60 per jar. You have to do it because your time is really worthless and you have no other source of condiments or because it's your hobby. Both fine options. But let's be honest about which is which. I've done both the six-figure a year high tech job and the scraping by with my own muscles and sweat. Both are legitimate activities. But when somebody all educated and rich decides they want to do what the poor and uneducated have been doing forever because they think it's charming? Well, it's a bit insulting isn't it? You assume you can do their job? It's as bad as my old boss thinking I could do a secretary's job because, "It's not rocket science!" What an insult to secretaries! I AM a rocket scientist! It's not just because I'm GREAT at rocket science. (I'm not) It's because I'm NO GOOD at repetitive tasks with no big goals. You wouldn't ask a secretary to go out in the field to inspect sea walls and make a big spreadsheet to analyze them, why would you think I can keep track of other people's calendars and make their travel reservations? It's a completely different skill set!

I've actually seen people with a shovel that didn't know how to use it. "You know you can jump on it with both feet, right?" I've said. They're just poking at the dirt like they're serving ice cream or something. You gotta really put some force into it! Pine tree roots aren't going to move aside like the pralines in the ice cream. I approve of people learning these skills, I'm just not sure they know what they don't know. If I'm wrong about this then I'm just a giant baby, which is entirely possible. Maybe I thought building a house was really hard work because I'm a princess. Maybe to other people who also aren't conditioned to it it's not a daily struggle with dehydration, exhaustion, pain, and the nagging feeling that you aren't exactly sure how to do the next step.

This week there was an article on Slate titled Farmer Groupies and Chicken Coddlers The author uses the term "unsettled DIYers" to describe people who try to live like me yet hold onto their modern views of animals as pets. You'll notice in my description of all my work there was no livestock involved. You know why? Because I'm not a naive romantic. I know how hard it is to kill a chicken. I'm not into it. My aunt raises chickens to eat. One year the day after Thanksgiving it was my job to keep my young niece in the house while my mama and aunt when out in the garden before dawn and slaughtered all the chickens. (It's easier to catch them when they're asleep) I felt like I had wasted my time trying to protect my niece by occupying her with pancakes when her beloved relatives came sauntering into the kitchen with their flannel nightgowns splattered in blood.

If I want to eat a rabbit I'll shoot a wild one. I haven't done it yet, but I also haven't bought any meat since that 12 pound turkey I got for $0.69/lb in December. (I still have some of it in my freezer) Unlike these modern-day farmer wannabes I'm not just playing at it. I'm poor. There is no way in hell I'm taking a sick chicken to the veterinarian. I can't even afford to go to the doctor myself. I don't have a garden either because the return on investment on a fence is so great. I did the math. It's cheaper to watch the sale ads online and buy groceries when they're marked down than to have a garden. Better to shoot animals that eat wild produce than fight with them over domesticated stuff.

One of the problems with working hard by yourself and trying to convey to others what it's like is that it's inconvenient to take your own picture. It breaks the flow of the job. I end up with a ton of pictures whenever I have to hire somebody to come do something and none of me doing the stuff I'm the most proud of. I have started editing video of the backhoe work done in January because I love watching heavy equipment work and maybe other people would like to see that too. I'll finish it if we ever get some bad weather to give me a break from working outside. Meanwhile here's something I did entirely on my phone while I was out in the yard, including upload. You'd think the iPhone would work with YouTube to deal with vertical videos better. I was just trying the automated options to put it on YouTube. Vimeo is still better, but it's a lot more steps to get the videos on there.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Northern Lights over Norwegian Lapland

Get ready for the weird Guardian UK sound effect at the beginning of this video. Then it's silent and beautiful.

Demographics by Personality

Google is consolidating their privacy policy and people are getting testy. I read a commentary on it that had a link to go see what Google thinks they know about you. This is the ad preferences they use to determine what ads you see. I don't know why this bothers people. I would much rather see ads relevant to my interests than 10 steps to a flat stomach.

I was reading through the list thinking Google's doing a pretty good job of targeting my ads, then I got to the demographic section and the scales fell from my eyes.
And people wonder why I'm such a misogynist. Well, I just don't have anything IN COMMON with women! Google knows!

For the record I do not care about Google's privacy policy. I find it convenient that all their stuff is well integrated and free. I know I don't get something for nothing. Also I am who I am and I'm not hiding it from Google or anybody else. It helps that I'm a recluse in the middle of nowhere. If I had to worry about real life people stalking me in a city I might do things differently.

The Defiant Marshmallow pointed out on Twitter that with this demographic setting I will always be up to date on the latest cures for erectile dysfunction. So I've got that going for me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Space Weather and Slingshots

Today has been an interesting day to be a physicist because of the solar storm. I've been following links on Twitter all day to information about the coronal mass ejection and induced ground current and the promise of spectacular aurora tonight. If you live up North go look! Nothing to see here in the Deep South.

Dr. Ian O'Neill posted a story this afternoon about airlines diverting their polar routes. I asked him on Twitter if he found it interesting that the airline says the change is to reduce the risk they'll lose radio contact with the plane and don't mention the increased radiation to the passengers and crew. I sort of remember learning that it was the bad kind of radiation back in college, but they could have changed their mind since then. He sent me back this link to a great NOAA chart. Here's the relevant excerpt.

The first number column is Flux level of greater than or equal to 10 MeV particles (ions)*, the second is Number of events when flux level was met (number of storm days**) The *** note says *** High energy particle measurements (greater than 100 MeV) are a better indicator of radiation risk to passenger and crews. Pregnant women are particularly susceptible.

These units are confusing. Basically it's saying this measurement isn't really that good for judging harm to humans. They're measuring the less energetic particles or slower moving protons. Flux is just a complicated way of counting them. Dr. O'Neill confirmed my hunch that basically it's the protons that get you. The faster ones are worse and they aren't calculating a flux level for those, so it's hard to say how bad it really would be to fly in a plane over the North Pole right now. The radio interference is an easy call though. Go the long way.

A solar storm has many parts. It starts with a solar flare. The magnetic field lines in the corona of the sun sometimes get too close together and they have to rearrange themselves. (Like in Ghostbusters, when it comes to magnetism you can't cross the streams). This sudden rearrangement is a solar flare. First it shoots out x-rays at the speed of light. This is the stuff that interferes with the radio transmissions. If the spot on the sun is aimed at the earth those x-rays get here in about 8 minutes. (Remember not all the stuff the happens on the sun is headed our way. Most of it misses.) Next there is a blast of subatomic particles (protons, electrons, and heavy nuclei - sets of protons and neutrons with no electrons, typically it's the middle out of a Helium atom, also called an alpha particle) which get here later. That speed is not a constant, it can vary by the intensity of the solar flare. That's why this NOAA chart has the different ratings. It's like Joerg Sprave on the Slingshot Channel shooting different marbles into ballistic gel to see how deep they penetrate. It's the penetrating power of a particle that is a health concern. Think of a proton like a marble and an alpha particle (that heavy nuclei) like the rock. The marble goes deeper into the gel.

After the actual solar flare there can be another phenomenon, a coronal mass ejection. The corona is a plasma -- all the particles are free, not bound up in atoms with a set of protons, neutrons, and electrons. It's electrically neutral, so there are an even number to make atoms, but they aren't all arranged as hydrogen, helium, and so on. So when the magnetism of the corona rearranges itself (a solar flare) and kicks out a portion of the corona, it sends more subatomic particles flying. In the case of the coronal mass ejection yesterday they were going about 5 million miles per hour. That's slower than the second part of the solar flare, but still darn fast. It hit the atmosphere at 10 am my time.

So why is being bombarded by high energy protons especially bad for pregnant women? My understanding is that if a proton collides with the the exact right spot it could could cause a mutation in DNA. In a fetus the cells are rapidly replicating themselves, so it can magnify the damage. The faster the proton is going the more energy it has to do damage when it collides with something. (Subatomic particles are tiny. They can go right through you and come out the other side cleanly, like shooting a pellet gun through a chain link fence. Neutrons are notorious for doing this. Protons aren't quite as good at it. They have to be going pretty fast to get through your skin. Those heavy nuclei, they can't get through a piece of paper going their normal speed.) Of course the odds are extremely remote that a proton shot out of the sun would skitter along the magnetic field of the Earth to the hole at the North Pole, go through the outer layers of an airplane, through a woman's skin and tissue to collide precisely with an atom in her fetus and break the DNA. And then there is the remoteness that the resulting break would turn into a nasty tumor one day. But if you increase the number of particles and their speed (more intense radiation) then it's pretty obvious that the risk is increased. The same thing could happen in an adult and could cause them to get cancer, but fetuses are creating new cells much faster and could duplicate the damage rapidly. In 2006 scientists at Brookhaven National Labs announced that proton radiation is more dangerous than previously thought. I read this article after I wrote this paragraph, but it looks like I got it right. If you want to know more about the biological damage from protons and how they measured it, click that link. Here's another good one from 2009 describing an experiment to expose a faux astronaut to a beam of accelerated protons to simulate a solar flare.

I often have a hard time understanding the language of risk in medicine, but this one I get. I agree with O'Neill that a plane ride to view the aurora would be wonderful. I would totally do that. I don't care if I get irradiated. But if I was a pregnant woman? No way. Send me a link to the YouTube video after you land.

This post needs multimedia. Here's the slingshot video I mentioned.

Update: Here's a new article by O'Neill that gives great detail about aurora and the coronal mass ejection factors that affect it.

This article in IEEE Spectrum is really good too. Explains induced current in pipelines and other conductors and discusses some historical solar events.

Earthquakes Induced by Fluid Injection, FAQ

Last August I wrote about the earthquake in Virginia and wondered if it had anything to do with crustal rebound or aquifer drawdown. That led me to learn about fracturing and deep well liquid injection related to the oil and gas industry. I'm still kind of weirded out by the idea that one commercial enterprise is allowed to do something in one spot that can affect entire regions. What's the point of having a government again?

The USGS just put a new Frequently Asked Question page on their website compiling all the fluid injection answers in one place. That will be handy for bloggers next time there's a weird earthquake. The answer to this question interested me particularly. They've had evidence since 1966 that that injecting wastewater into a deep well can cause an earthquake. My whole life they've known about this. They have evidence of all kinds of nasty things that can happen from drilling for oil and gas, like contaminating aquifers. But nobody thought maybe they should stop poking giant holes in the earth like some kind of voodoo doll?

The whole concept gives me a strange uneasy feeling. What are they doing about it?
USGS supports both internal and external (university-based) research on the causes of induced earthquakes. This research has a focus on injection-induced earthquakes, both from wastewater disposal and from enhanced geothermal technologies. USGS and its university partners have also deployed seismometers at sites of known or possible injection-induced earthquakes in Arkansas, southern Colorado, Oklahoma and Ohio. The USGS is also providing advice to the Environmental Protection Agency about how to assess the earthquake hazard associated with wastewater injection activities at Class II disposal wells.
That's it? They're assessing the hazard? Did it occur to anybody to just make them stop doing things that have vast unpleasant side effects? If the US had said, "Hold it right there!" in 1966 and invested in alternative energy research instead of letting the oil lobby run everything, imagine where we'd be now. They didn't even say "Figure out some other way to process the contaminated water." It was surface water right? Shoving it down into the crust of the earth kind of takes it out of the water cycle, no? Is that really a good idea? I mean, I am not delusional enough to think quantities like that are significant compared to the ocean, but it's just a nasty trend. I don't think it's ok for corporations to transfer geological resources like that. It seems wrong. We want this, we don't want that. Let's put this fossil fuel into the climate and take that water out. Who the hell do they think they are?!

I know some people get really worked up when a Democratic campaign manager in Arkansas comes home with his children to find his cat on the porch with his head bashed in and "LIBERAL" written in his fur with a marker. That's just one family and one cat. (And he wasn't even that liberal. They were just about the head to church.) With this injection business we're talking about something that could affect more than one STATE. It seems like more people would be mad at the oil companies about it. Even though I don't understand it I can recognize that the bulk of people only care about furry warm blooded things, and others not even those (the cat basher, for example). Apparently seeing the big picture and having an emotional connection to things like rocks and water makes me a genuine mutant. A worried mutant.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ready, Aim, Snake!

These are the cast iron and copper parts of the wall-hung toilets from the burned-down house in my yard.
After sawing it off and putting it down on its side my friend Ronnie declared it looked like a cannon.
I moved it to the old porch and aimed it down the walkway to improve the perception of my defenses.
Yesterday an oak snake found the thermodynamic properties of metal suitable for his cold-blooded needs.

These anole lizards are also really common here. You don't usually see them in such an
adorable arrangement though.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Opposing Smart Meters? Sounds pretty stupid to me.

I am on the side of my skeptic friends as they rail against the anti-vaxers, but I don't really have a very strong emotional connection to it. Maybe because it's closely connected with the health of people and I don't really identify with people that much. But today when I saw this headline in my Fine Homebuilding email newsletter I had to click it. Attacking technology makes me furious.

• Smart meters opposed for privacy and health concerns

"What? That's idiotic!" I thought. I have a smart meter. Well, I guess that's what it is. Apparently this term means different things to different people. In it's most advanced form individual appliances would have computer controlled relays on them so when the power company restores power after an outage they can make sure every single air conditioner on the system doesn't kick on simultaneously. It's just good engineering to stagger them over a few minutes, it's not an invasion of privacy. In my case it's not that advanced. My meter reports when it has power and so when it doesn't they can analyze power outages. My power went out twice in the last two weeks, but it's no big deal. I don't have to call the power company. I just switch off my computers and the beeping battery backup units and wait. They know which line has a tree on it because they can see which meters are down. They send a crew to fix it. It usually comes back on within an hour or so.

The other thing it does is report the kilowatt hours used. I live 15 miles from town, out in the woods down a 1/2 mile dirt driveway with a locked gate. I was delighted that my power co-op installed an electronic meter when I first built my house. It's been there since 2005 when I got temporary power to build my house. How else are they going to know how much to charge me? Send a man out here in person once a month? That seems like the personnel cost alone would practically double my $40 a month bill!

There are a lot of different kinds of digital meters with enhanced features, some that transmit their data over the power line, some over the air. The over-the-air ones used to be a short range deal where a reader drove around the neighborhood and pinged each meter from a truck. I used to know about these things back in the 1990s because Schlumberger had an office near my house in Atlanta. I had an interview with them once. I haven't caught up my knowledge entirely, so please don't think I'm claiming expertise. This is just me expressing my gut reaction. My quick research didn't tell me the details of the operation of my meter nor could I confirm any of the ridiculous sounding claims the opponents are making.

They smart-meter opponents say on this tea party website say the radio transmitter is going to give them cancer and that the power company can tell what TV show they're watching and turn it off if they want to.
When I first reported the installation of smart meters in Georgia in the February 4, 2011 issue of Georgia Insight, the project had been under way since 2008, under the radar. In places smart meters were installed, most occupants had no idea their meter had been replaced or that the new one is a two-way radio frequency communication device. They didn’t/don’t know it emits radiation 24 hours a day around the clock, deposits electrical “noise” and high-frequency spikes throughout the wiring and is remotely read every 15 minutes (96 times each 24 hours).
After running errands April 20, 2010, we accidentally learned that our analog meter was gone. The clue: our digital clocks were blinking. Georgia Power had shut off the electricity to install a smart meter on the outside wall, 14 feet from the location of our bed on the same wall inside.

In September 2010, my husband Robert was diagnosed with skin cancer for the first time in his life. He had surgery. At his first three-month check-up, the plastic surgeon found two more spots of skin cancer, which were, subsequently removed, as well. His six-month check-up will be in September. Also, both of us experience continual ringing in our ears.
I need to work on my skeptic response to this topic. The first thing I think of is to tell them to shut up about the radio frequency transmission because they can just walk under the transmission line with a compass if they want to see electromagnetic effects. The radio in the meter seems trivial to me compared to the actual electrical power coursing through the wires. That's probably not a good argument. And as for the stuff about skin cancer? Well that just tells me this person is an idiot and probably can't be educated. Also, I've had my automatic meter since 2005. This is not a new conspiracy. This is just good management.

I clicked the link in the Fine Homebuilding article to the Stop Smart Meters website. There is no sentence in there that doesn't make me mad. This paragraph is particularly good.
Do you care about wildlife and cutting carbon emissions? Smart meters do not result in energy savings, according to Reuters. They may even increase energy consumption. There is also emerging evidence that wireless, non-ionizing radiation (from cell phones, wifi, and ‘smart’ meters) harms wildlife and damages trees.
What the hell are they TALKING about? The power company clears giant swaths of the forest and has a Bush Hog mower on a 30 foot articulating arm to mangle trees that encroach on the right of way and these delusional people think the RADIATION is damaging trees? This is the sacrifice we have to be prepared to make if we want food kept cold in refrigerators, lights at night, fresh water pumped out of the ground to drink, and all the other wonderful things we do with electricity.

Look, if the tea partiers are proud to be Americans why don't they want a technologically advanced power system that shows our engineers are the best in the world?

If you want the freedom to watch Fox News in your house you have to have electricity and radio frequency radiation. What the hell do you think TV is?! Those big towers BROADCAST it right out into the air all day every day.

I think it's wonderful that I can get electricity and a phone line for DSL at my house without paying the actual up-front cost for the poles and conductor and the man with the equipment to put it in. It does make me proud to be an American. And when people tell me that I should have solar panels and go off the grid I get defensive. That would cost more than my whole house! That is no kind of way for this country to get ahead. We have to invest in our power system and increase efficiency for the whole grid. Each individual spending $30,000 on solar panels is not fair to those of us who are trying to live 4 years on $30,000. It would be much better if the utility company could do something on a large scale and sell me just a little bit of it every month.

My electric utility has 3292 miles of line and 18,623 meters. That's less than 6 meters per mile of line. America is HUGE and not all of it is in the city. Technology is actually even more important in the rural areas than in the city when it comes to power distribution. I hope nobody scares my neighbors about smart meters. They are already prone to believe insane shit like planets are coming to smash into the earth. I'm expect somebody telling them smart meters make their ears ring would give them suggestive tinnitus on the spot.

I am just not worried that my utility is invading my privacy by knowing how much power I use. This is a company that still has a website that says "This web site best viewed with a screen resolution of 1024x768." There is just no way they have the inclination or technology to save and analyze constant energy usage information. They need all the support they can get, not attacks by paranoid and ignorant people.

* Update 1/22/2012: New article on IEEE Spectrum site says the smart grid will be seen as a failure if all it does is reduce meter reading costs. I wonder if people even grok the reliability improvement? If their power still goes out frequently, even though it's shorter times, probably not. It is a dilemma. All they respond to is lower cost. When it gets abnormally cold for a month they get a huge bill and claim it's a mistake. People really have no clue. I think what will make 2012 a good year for the smart grid is very mild weather.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hobbit House is a Mouse's Dream

Do they not have termites in Wales? This article about a man building his own house for around £3000 disturbs me. I see a lot of stuff about small homes where people say how easy it is, you can do it too. If that's what they think after building their own house then they didn't do it right. Maybe I only think it's hard because I built mine when I was 37 year old, 120 pound woman and they're all strapping young men.

Maybe I only think building a house is hard because I took all those engineering classes and I know the risks and dangers of doing a bad job and they are artists who didn't take statics. I took it twice. I had to drop it the first time because I was failing. Statics is really hard. For those of you who don't know what statics is, here's the summary from the Georgia Tech course catalog: Forces and moments; equilibrium in two and three dimensions; multi-force members; equilibrium, centroids and friction. Hmm, that's still not layman's language is it? Well, take it from me, it's important shit. It's the study of what it takes to hold up the built environment. It will give you a healthy appreciation for what you don't know. I think this is what scares me about people that make it sound trivial to build a house. They don't know what they don't know, and that's dangerous. Statics is about things that aren't moving. You can add a live load, like wind or traffic or people dancing and that's still statics. Dynamics is when you add degrees of freedom and introduce momentum and inertia. I changed my major so I could take Classical Mechanics in the Physics department instead of Dynamics in the Mechanical Engineering Department because my brother told me flat out I would never pass that class. The Physics professors were just better teachers than the Mechanical Engineering professors. They were just really old and had figured it out, not a slight to the ME department. It was enough of an advantage for me to manage in Physics. My brother took Dynamics though, and he assures me that if a tornado lifts my house out of the ground it will just roll along intact like a tumbleweed and I can get a crane and just put it back in place. Once he knows the wind speed it took to pull it up he can calculate the countermeasures I need in the foundation to keep it from doing it again. I designed it to hold the house up and straight and forgot the possibility there would be forces LIFTING the house. And this is me, trained in engineering. What did the artist forget when he built his house?

This artist with the hobbit house claims he built it with nothing but a chainsaw, a chisel, and a hammer. I am not impressed, I'm worried. I spent more on tools to build my house than he spent on his whole house. I already had them, though, bought to work on other projects, so it was a good use of my resources to build a house. The most important tool I had was my dad's college copy of Ramsey and Sleeper's Architectural Graphic Standards. It has tables where they've worked out all the statics ahead of time and tell you how big your beams have to be to span the space you want. It tells you how many nails you have to nail in a pair of 2x8s to achieve the required strength as a beam and a myriad of other important information. Besides reference material, here's the top 50 tools I used to build my house: (In order of importance.)

  1. Multiple pairs of safety glasses, shooters earmuffs, and mechanics gloves
  2. 12" Compound power miter saw with electric brake
  3. 16' and 25' measuring tapes
  4. Battery powered impact driver
  5. Sand filled dead blow mallet
  6. High quality utility knife
  7. Mechanical pencils
  8. 4' level
  9. Speed Square
  10. 4 Quickgrip clamps
  11. Extension cords
  12. Vice grip pliers
  13. Corded drill
  14. Plastic folding saw horses
  15. Air compressor
  16. Air powered framing nailer
  17. Snapper shear Hardiboard cutting tool
  18. 16' extension ladder
  19. Carpenter's Square
  20. Air powered palm nailer
  21. Jigsaw with wood and metal blades
  22. 10" circular saw with wood blade and Hardiboard blade
  23. Reciprocating saw
  24. Chisels
  25. Purdy paint brushes
  26. Air powered trim nailer
  27. Air powered stapler
  28. Caulk gun
  29. Palm sander
  30. Belt sander
  31. Post hole diggers
  32. 8' step ladder
  33. Water level
  34. Chalk line
  35. Plumb bob
  36. Bevel gauge
  37. 20' extension ladder
  38. PEX tubing crimp tool
  39. Large assortment of drill bits
  40. Ratchet and sockets for lag bolts
  41. Bench mounted belt and disc sander
  42. Drill press
  43. Power planer
  44. 10' step ladder
  45. Shovel and hoe
  46. Tile cutter
  47. Thinset trowels and grout floats
  48. Lineman's pliers
  49. Needle nosed pliers
  50. Hammer

I read farther into the website about this house. They don't even own it. They were just asked to build it and allowed to live there for free while they did. Well that makes all the difference! If you don't have to maintain it for the rest of your life who gives a shit?! I built my house with a lot of attention to making sure it wouldn't be a burden on my nieces 50 years from now. I made it low maintenance and capable of being shut down for long periods of time. If you're just building a house for an art project, pssshhh. Don't even put that on the internet. That's not fair. You're spreading false information! All the people saying they would just love to live in something so warm and adorable just didn't notice there's no hot water in there. People assume "house" includes some basic criteria. Nobody shows photos of the water heater in Architectural Digest, you just assume there is one. Not so here. Saying it's really inexpensive and only took 4 months to build, yet it doesn't have the basic amenities like water under pressure and bathing facilities isn't really fair.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Common Sense vs Least Common Denominator Sense

I just listened to Phil Plait and David Morrison on WHYY debunking doomsday scenarios. The radio host used the term "common sense." It struck me suddenly that it's not actually common anymore. What we mean when we say common sense is actually logic. Which a lot of people don't have apparently. How do we determine the distribution? Has the scale tipped? Is common sense now rare sense and that's why America is turning against the science, technology, and innovation that made this country a superpower in the first place? Is least common denominator sense the majority now? I suppose we could take a simple poll and see how many people know what least common denominator means. If they don't know, they are it.

"If you sound like you really believe this stuff people will buy it. And that's the problem," says Phil Plait. But HE sounds like he really DOESN'T believe it. Why don't people believe him?

David Morrison attributed the phenomenon of believing doomsday scenarios to cosmophobia. Instead of being excited about the discovery of new planets people turn it into something to be afraid of. Children become sensitized to this. They believe the universe is their enemy.

Phil made the analogy with the ghosthunters shows where they go to an old house with a video camera and spend the night. (I've never seen one but there was an episode of Castle that used a Ghosthunters show as a plot point. They explained all the ghosty stuff with logical explanations by the end of the show.) In a ghosthunter show every sound becomes a ghost instead of what it really is -- rats in the attic, wind blowing tree limbs against the siding, thermal contraction. If you're scared of some upcoming event then everything points to that.

They should have psychologists on this show to explain this bizarre human tendency to the astronomers. None of this makes any sense to me, and by extension I assume most trained scientists are confused by why people look for evidence to confirm what they already believe. Isn't the point of public education to teach people to think critically? If I have some hypochondriacal theory that I have attention deficit disorder and should be on stimulant drugs I go online and find out that I would never be able to secure that diagnosis based on the fact I already admitted on my blog that I've never lost a pair of sunglasses.

The first caller on the show was Steve from Georgia. He said he remembered Duck and Cover. He said he's been through hurricanes so he knows what it's like to be without electricity. OK. So what? I was surprised that Phil didn't point out that Duck and Cover was really stupid. It wouldn't do a thing to protect you from nuclear fallout. Instead Phil said it's important to be prepared for disasters. It's a smart thing to do. Keep an emergency kit. But you should be prepared for what might realistically happen. Yes, in Georgia we lose power a lot. We have a lot of trees and elevated power lines and lightning. I am prepared by having uninterruptible power supplies for all my computers and my network equipment. My power went on and off three times last night, then stayed off for an hour. For no apparent reason. It was cold and windy is all. But I shut down my computers and network in a controlled fashion, turned on my flashlight, heated my supper on my butane hotplate instead of in the microwave and used my phone to keep talking to my friend on instant messenger.

There's a difference in being prepared and being paranoid. I guess the difference is instead of just making adjustments to changing conditions, the paranoid person freaks out. Instead of trusting that the power will come back on when the crew resets a blown breaker or reconnects a broken line the paranoid person assumes it's personal? Something is out to get them? David says he doesn't know how pervasive this attitude is. Is it 1% or 5% of the population? Either way that's a lot of people.

The next caller said her brother bought into this bunk, joined a cult and killed himself. Way to really bum out the scientists. As a person that leans towards engineer even more than scientist I want to think of a solution to this problem. I can't think of anything though. Educate everybody? That seems increasingly impractical. Reassure them? Discourage people from scaring them in the first place? Why can't you say fuck on TV but you can spread patently false information designed to make people paranoid? David said he gets email from children who are so terrified of the end of the world they are contemplating suicide. That is shocking! Ask an Astrobiologist is now a suicide hotline? That is really not fair. The whole reason you go into a field like astrobiology is because you prefer to think about extraterrestrial bacteria instead of the disturbed minds of other humans. This made sad for him.

David said that he is a still a working astrobiologist. He works on interesting projects on Mars and other planets. He took on this small side task to answer question on the Ask an Astrobiologist website and now 80% of the questions he gets are about 2012 doomsday nonsense. The radio host said, "I sense the frustration in your voice." David said, "Yep."

Before I listened to this I didn't know people thought this planet Nibiru was coming to crash into the earth. I didn't know they were attributing normal geological, weather and climate events to Nibiru. And apparently any random inconvenience. It explains an experience I had the other day at the gas station. I pulled up to get gas for my lawn mower and the attendant said over the loudspeaker, "No cards, only cash!" So I checked that I had paper money in my wallet and started to pump my gas. The attendant came out to talk to me. He said the network connection for the credit and debit card transaction processing equipment was down. "I heard it was because of a planet," he said. I did a double take and asked him to repeat it. "You think your phone is out because of a PLANET?" I assured him that was not the case. "First of all, a PLANET? Not even a star? A planet doesn't emit electromagnetic energy. Second of all, all our telecommunications are on fiber optic cables now, which is very resistant to radio frequency interference, even if there was something to generate this interference in the first place. And third, I have Windstream internet service the same as you and it just goes out all the time. Their server is in Arkansas. It's not exactly Silicon Valley. They do what they can. It will come back on as soon as they get the possum out of the plenum."

2012 Doomsday Scenarios and the people that believe them: Yet another reason I am delighted with my decision to be a hermit.

Update: From @astroengine, a good article where the author seems to have listened to this same radio show. Shepherd: Can the Doomsday scenarios -- at least for 2012
Like Father Christmas, apocalypses and other "last things", Armageddon and the afterlife heaven and hell, death and judgment, serve as a rudimentary behaviour control. Do what we say and you'll get brightly wrapped angels, virgins, and bliss on a stick, in heaven or paradise. Disobey and it's burning for eternity, or reincarnation as a cane toad.
"Bliss on a stick" is my new catch phrase.

Monday, January 2, 2012

iPhone Mapmaking

Mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map! I'm glad I don't know any more of the lyrics to that song because they probably wouldn't make any sense as I thread my way through the woods, clearing my way with my Felco pruners. On New Years Eve I went for a walk with my aunt to look for the roads I mapped back in 2009, my last small year. Her perception of the area between the roads on the map I printed for her didn't match what I showed. She allowed that I was right after all, but thought the map would be easier for her to understand if it showed the creeks as well. Since it's primarily a tool to control fire, a creek would be a good thing to have on there. If they have water in them they count as a fire break. But they don't have water in them now, so all the better to map them walking right inside the creek bed.

Back in 2009 I borrowed a Garmin GPS with a USB port from a friend. I recorded tracks with it while I rode around on my mountain bike. Then I plugged it into the iMac and imported the tracks directly into Google Earth. But now that I have an iPhone with accurate GPS and the Google Earth app I should be able to add the creeks with my own hardware.

After a tedious and frustrating search on the App Store I settled on a free app with zero reviews, Logger from Skiroute 16. I think the developer is in the UK. They seem to be the most enigmatic company I've ever seen on the internet. They have none of the obnoxious marketing hyperbole that is so offputting to me. Near as I can tell it's a rock climber who decided to write related software. I love rock climbers. Sold. I wish I could pay something and not have ads, but it's not a big deal.

Sunday was too hot to pull briars out of trees, almost 80°F, so I set out to map a creek. I was a bit nervous I would encounter a cottonmouth moccasin on such a warm day. Even though the creek was dry where were they gonna go? Instead I saw one of these.
Brown water snake basking on New Year's Day

You can tell he's not a moccasin because he has just two nostrils, no pits. (Moccasin's are pit vipers)
Also by his round pupils and civilized behavior. He keeps his mouth shut. Cottonmouth moccasins always
open their mouth at you. And I don't get this close to them. This is taken with my iPhone 4s, no zoom.
I'm going to explain the process of making your own trail on Google Earth now because I had to figure it out all over again since I didn't write it down in 2009. Also I'm going to review the related iPhone Apps. I can think of two people who might care. The beautiful thing about the internet is you can stop reading at any time.

Here's the Logger App home screen. Very straightforward.

Click on Logs and you can see I've created three already. Two I used to automatically store tracks and the third one I started to keep up with locations of Japanese Climbing Fern around our place so we can go there in the spring and spray it with Roundup. I'm just doing one waypoint for each location.

When you select just one of the logs you see Active, which is how you set which one you add Fixes to when you go from off to logging. (Fixes are like waypoints, the lite version.) This is not the active log. Touch Active and it gets a check mark by it. You can change the units to Imperial but I'm using metric because President Carter deserves a lot more respect than he gets.

If you touch that icon at the bottom that is very obviously a folded map to me (good job icon designer) it shows you the logged points in Google Maps. Brilliant.

The other icon at the bottom, the down arrow, is the four Export options. You can Export or Email GPX and KML files. (More about that in a bit.)

You can adjust the parameters for how often to save a point. I set it to wider spacing when I did this kind of straight creek. I reduced it for the more meandering one I did next, just to see which I like better.

Now to get the track out of the Logger App and into Google Earth you can use iTunes. Under the Apps tab when you have your iPhone selected there's a File Sharing section. When you Export KML from the Logger app it shows up right away in iTunes. Highlight it and Save to... your hard drive. Easy!
Then how to get it in Google Earth? Well under the Tools menu there's a GPS Import option. This showed me grayed out files. No good. Google Earth turns out to be the weak link in this process, not Logger.

The work around is simple though. From the finder, drag and drop the .kml file onto the Google Earth icon on the dock. It will have the same icon as Google Earth so it's kind of a no brainer. 
What you'll get is a series of numbered pins on the aerial photo. In the left hand menu you'll see them organized in folders in Temporary Places.

Drag this folder from Temporary Places to My Places. Rename it to something logical. (Right click or two finger tap or command click or use the menu at the top to get the Rename option.) Now if you want a nice path instead of these infuriating pins with the labels that are impossible to associate with the right one then you have to do a bit of manual work. I cannot find any better way to do this and it pretty severely pisses me off. Probably why I haven't messed with Google Earth much since 2009. Anyway, here's what you have to do.

Right click on the folder with all the Fixes in it. Add a Path. Name it and then open Get Info (right click again). For some insane reason this is how you make this stuff editable. Line the crosshairs up with the pins and click on them. It doesn't have to be perfect, it defaults to snapping to the point. Do them all in order and you get a line connecting them. This is now a path, which has a Measure tab, which is handy because it will tell you how far it is from beginning to end. Click OK in the Get Info window to stop editing the path. If you don't close the editor the next time you do anything you'll create a giant string of points. I hit Delete repeatedly to get rid of them. I forget to click OK often.

Now there are several ways to get rid of the pins. You can uncheck the box next to their name in the left hand menu. That hides them but you can go back and look at the date and time you saved them and stuff like that. I don't need that info here so I just select them from the menu and delete them. I did this screen shot then realized you have to start with Fix 0 so it automatically goes to the next one so you can do them rapidly with delete/enter/delete/enter/delete/enter. (I had 142 on the other creek so it was pertinent.) I can find no way to uncheck them all at once. Alternatively you can move that path up a level or two and delete or uncheck that whole folder. I did that, only later after I'd already done it manually. So that was inefficient.

When you're done deleting you have a nice new path.

Now go to the File Menu and save My Places. This saves it to your computer so it's there next time you open it. Next you get to mess around with Save Place As to export a .kmz file that you can get back on your phone. I had to fool around with this a while to get it to do all the stuff in that particular folder of My Places. I had to move the paths up a level and delete the extra folders. I did finally get a file that looked right when I imported it into My Maps on Google Maps.

In iTunes you can apparently share files with the Google Earth iPhone app. I put the .kmz file in there but there was no way in the app to access it. I tried it again later and got an error that the required disk cannot be found. It works fine in Skiroute16 Logger. So fail on Google I guess.

Here's the workaround for THAT. You have a My Maps set up in Google Maps, right? Well go to Google Maps on your browser and go to My Maps and Create Map. Select the import file option. Browse to the .kmz file you saved from Google Earth on your computer. Create that map! I set mine to private so nobody can see it. Watch out though because the default is public.

Now go to the Google Earth app on your phone and touch the little i in the bottom right corner. There's a section where you can log into your Google Maps account. Just use your general Google user information. Then you can select the map you just created by name. In the field you could use it interactively with your location displayed in real time. I'm not sure why your personal My Maps aren't available in the Maps app on the iPhone, but here's how you can get to them.

And that's all there is to it! It will make you cuss, though, I'm warning you. Google earth is a twitchy, irritating program and you have to use your arrow keys to pan because the touch pad seems to just make it tilt and zoom way more than you want it to. Stop TILTING! What do you think's going to happen, I'll be able to see under the trees? It's like when I was a little girl and we were allowed to watch TV on Sunday night after supper. But all that was on TV in the '70s was HeeHaw and The Wonderful World of Disney. When the cloggers in short skirts did their dance number on HeeHaw my brother would go right up to the TV and look up at it from below.

Say, with 3D televisions imagine the crushing disillusionment for all the little perverts in well-to-do households who try that.... So sad.

Reduce, Reuse, Recluse

Steve designed my new banner today. I like it.

My motto for this year is Reduce, Reuse, Recluse. I plan to explain my technique for breaking the pattern of conspicuous consumption that plagues so many people. Ultimately the lesson will probably be the same as City Slickers. I am pretty certain that my goatskin-gloved index finger is in the extreme minority -- I expect nobody to want to live like me. I'm going to talk about it anyway, though. Maybe my ship wreck of a life will make a fun scuba diving site.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Small Year Starts Now

Did anybody see The Big Year? I did. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be but not as good as it could have been either. This movie is the Steve Martin reference to think of in terms of my small year, not the 1977 album "Let's Get Small." That was about drugs. I remember that from when I was just a kid. My dad had the genuine vinyl. "One time I got so small I was sucked up in the vacuum. Then the pill wore off. I was in the shape of a vacuum for A WEEK!" That's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the opposite of the movie — a year with no adventure, no competition, no bonding with new friends, no travel. I'm going to try to spend the least amount of money possible while maintaining a high level of personal happiness. I plan to accomplish this by doing whatever I want whenever I want. I also want to encourage other people to do that, which is why my new banner isn't ready yet. My friend Steve has had other things he'd rather do the last few weeks than work on my banner. I think it sets the proper tone. Who says I have to make the blog look just right on the first day? I do what I want. Tomorrow is fine, the next day. I don't care. I do what I want. Deadlines are for people with jobs. As long as none of my skills are worth money the only thing that makes demands on my schedule is the weather.