Tuesday, November 27, 2012

That's funny, I don't feel tardy

Nerds are getting a lot of mixed messages these days about showing our age. We're encouraged to use cultural references from the '70s and '80s, but we're expected to cover gray hair and hide wrinkles to get jobs.

I have this shirt.

I have this movie.
"Silicon Valley's dirty secret: Age bias" in the San Jose Mercury News gives examples of people not getting jobs because they looked out of touch with fashion. I'm not sure it even matters. People just don't want me in high tech even though most of my friends are in their 20s, my wardrobe comes from ThinkGeek, I sold my watches years ago, and I am like a factory outlet of Apple products. It doesn't even matter that my latest college degree is only 4 years old. Managers want what they want and are not willing to look at a resumé any longer than what they expect.

Today I'm just getting back to my usual freedom after a couple of tough weeks outside my comfort zone. I took advantage of being unemployed to take my mother to the good hospital 160 miles away to have a radical hysterectomy on my 45th birthday. In the 6 days at the hospital interacting with the various nurses I was called her sister 4 times, her twin once, and her actual self twice when she left the room and I was in there by myself. Nobody ever guessed I was her daughter. That 25 year age difference has been erased from her face with prescription RetinA, $150/50ml serums applied 5 times daily, and packing tape on her forehead. She spends more time on personal maintenance than I do on home maintenance, which is a lot. If that's what it takes to look like 45 at 69 I can forget it.

My multiple chemical sensitivities made me puffy and wrinkled and overall very bad looking. My borderline autistic reaction to alarm sounds made me very jumpy and crabby the whole time. My acoustics professor called me on my birthday and reassured me that I'm just a trained critical listener, not autistic, but it was overwhelming and irritating to be in a hospital where everything beeps and nobody listens. I found the "silence" button on every piece of equipment in the room very quickly.

Also my mother's extreme stamina despite Stage III cancer has thrown me into a bout of un-funded hypochondria. I can't keep up with her. I must be at death's door, or next door to it.

I definitely do not have the energy to pretend to be young enough to get a job in high tech or the money to achieve the necessary face for it. There has to be an internet solution for us old people. Do I have to start a company called Telecommuting Dinosaurs? The logo designs itself.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Insult Handling Skills

I get most of my news links from Twitter. I can go there any time and pick up an interesting story to read about a new scientific story or interesting natural occurrence. This is thanks to the many scientists and science writers I follow who share these things online. I encourage people to participate in this forum because I enjoy it and I see the benefits.

But I also totally understand the reticence to put yourself out there. I do not have a thick skin. I will dwell on the negative remarks and dismiss the positive if I don't make a conscious effort not to. I am terrified by stories of female bloggers threatened with rape and violence. I have been grateful lo these many years that almost all my blog comments are positive and contribute to the discussion.

At the same time I think the bad comments are good for me. It helps me understand that people aren't that good at reading. I got a comment today on an old movie review. "Barbara Fuck You! Dont Make Bad Review On Rajini Movie " What is he talking about? I'm not going to bother to go check, but I'm pretty sure that was a favorable review of Endhiran: The Robot. But the point is I have learned not to even go back and look at what they're commenting on and it didn't even occur to me to respond to it.

Wednesday I got this one I'm quite proud of. "Haters goona hate and you know nothing about tattoos you ugly dyke" I think I got sentence whiplash. That was a self-fulfilling prophecy right there, what? Again I didn't bother to go back to the original post or even consider a reply.

So these are good reasons for a woman to not want to be online. But this is the world. I have to get used to this stuff and learn the proper reaction if I have to write for a living. I'm still trying hard to find something anonymous to work on instead, some dull reports to proofread or anything without my name on it. But if I can't work that out I might have to put myself out there and try to sell something I write. I need insult handling skills.

This story today asking scientists to join the social media trend seems to be skirting the issue of personal insults. I am not sure I see how the internet is "reducing the opportunities for prejudice." I see that the internet increases my ability to find more people that share my interests, and that's great. But at the same time it makes it easy for people prejudiced against my interests to find me and insult me.

SpotOn London 2012: A call for women to get online or lose out
Tweet or Perish 
Some scientists may find it cringe-worthy to advertise their research on twitter and Facebook, while others might shy away from it out of concerns over the time commitment it requires, but no Scientist can afford not to be online. Tweeting and blogging about your work will improve the visibility of your research and deliver your findings to a far broader audience than a conference or a peer-reviewed article could ever hope to achieve13. It isn’t a time-consuming activity and learning to communicate concisely to a general audience is a skill no scientist should undervalue. Not to mention that, as the participation of scientists increases online, its value as a resource increases, with more links to more research being shared between scientists and with the public, a more rapid dissemination of information and fairer access to science. The Internet may not be completely anonymous, but it is certainly reducing the opportunities for prejudice and increasing flexibility for male and female scientists alike. Whether this can provide the push to achieve greater equality in science remains to be seen.
I don't delete bad blog comments. Only ones that are blatant plugs for something. I sort of think the nasty ones boost my blogger cred. I liked it when only people that agreed with me read my posts and made positive comments. But a sign of reaching a broader audience is getting in front of people that don't agree and also don't even bother to read, just skip to the end and call you names. Maybe I don't want to reach a broader audience, I'm not sure. But thanks to a few blog posts ranking high in Google I know how to do it if I want to. And I know that decision comes with a lot of trolls and hateful comments. It's a weighty decision.

*update 11/14/2012
The Oatmeal pointed out something I forgot. You don't have to enable comments on everything you create on the Internet.

Friday, November 9, 2012

3829 Write-in Votes for Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin got almost 4000 write in votes on Georgia ballots Tuesday, estimated to be almost 16%. This was thanks to UGA plant biologist Jim Leebens-Mack who wanted to send a message to Paul Broun, the guy who stood in front of a herd of taxidermied deer heads and said evolution is lies straight from the pit of hell.) (story from Inside Higher Ed.)

I kid UGA a lot, but I'm prepared to totally give them expertise on plants. (Just last night I was looking at one of their publications about figs. Georgia figs don't require cross pollination so we don't have fig wasps, which is disappointing.) The professor's success in getting the public to pay attention using social media is also excellent. This facebook page helped get these nearly 4000 people to go to the trouble to write in a vote, and this is on a touch screen mind you, so you can't just scribble it in, you have to pull up a touch keyboard or something I think. I've never tried it. I didn't even vote in uncontested races, I left them blank. Apparently 23,592 people did the same thing to this jerk. But 6,773 people stod at the voting machine looking at Paul Broun uncontested on their screens and took the time to read the instructions to write in a candidate and go through all the steps. That's wonderful.

From flagpole.com:
Overall, 6,773 people cast write-in votes in the 10th Congressional District race, including about 3,829 votes for Darwin. Another 23,592 people skipped over the race entirely. Only 42 percent of Athenians who voted pressed the button for Broun.
This website has the entire write in list for their district as a PDF, 371 pages. Mars Curiosity got votes. So dead scientists and robots on other planets are more desirable than the actual candidates running for office. Welcome to the future.

I can't hear words, only sounds

It seems AT&T has announced they want to stop supporting their analog switched network and go with a full internet protocol communications system. I'm looking at a story on GigaOm that starts with a photo of copper refrigeration tubing. This does not give me a lot of confidence in the story. When they call the old landline systems "copper pipes" it's just a euphemism. It's really small gauge wire arranged in twisted pairs for reasons explained in core curriculum physics classes in any engineering school.

But skipping right ahead past my criticism of journalistic misses, what about the audio?

The old analog system was designed to limit the transmission of audio to a range of 300 Hz to 3400 Hz and it was full duplex. You could both talk simultaneously and hear each other. It made conversations natural, even if you couldn't tell an S from an F because sibilance is above 3400 Hz. We had a phonetic alphabet and we worked around it.

Back in the '90s when I worked on equipment for the coaxial cable network we had high hopes we would be able to use the higher bandwidth capacity to IMPROVE voice quality on phone calls. AT&T built fiber networks that actually included some circuits that eliminated that 300 Hz to 3400 Hz notch filter effect. When you got put on hold on one of those circuits the recorded message and on-hold music sounded pretty good and I would beam with pride that we were making strides forward in audio quality. Ahh the '90s.

Then cell phones came. We had an expression in my ham radio club, "A cell phone is just a radio!" Well on the radio you usually have a Push to Talk button and you say "Over!" when it's the other person's turn to talk. When somebody was bad at this we'd tease them that the button is called "Release to Listen." So one main cell phone problem is that it is not full duplex. You can't both start talking at the same time and then one of you stop naturally like a real conversation. You have fits and starts where you realize you're doubling with the other person and you have to say "No, you first." It infuriates my aunt who still uses a land line 98% of the time. She asked me why that happens. People don't understand what they're giving up with cell phones and I'm afraid it's going to happen again if they are forced all to use internet protocol for a phone. My aunt can't remember what the home button is for on her iPad, which is fine because it stopped working after this humid summer with no air conditioning. She can't be made to use voice over internet. Any equipment made for that isn't robust enough to survive her house, let alone her luddite mindset.

In the late '90s the digital cell phones arrived. And they sounded terrible. I rationalized that they use codecs that were developed for ham radio and are notoriously tuned for the deep male voice. Codecs are the chips that convert analog to digital and compress the data to the smallest number of bits that can be converted back and remotely resemble the original. Coder/decoders = codec like modulator/demodulator = modem. Back then nobody could understand a woman on a digital ham radio. (I stopped messing with that stuff so I don't know about now.) Anyway, I figured the coding for female voices would quickly improve because the market would demand it. The digital signal processing people were smart. They could figure it out. There were all kinds of ways to fix this, even if they had to sell different phone models for people with high voices. The pen thing is sexist, but a phone, that's just physics. Make me one, now. Surely the money for research would be quick to appear.

Well they never did figure it out. The CODECs got worse and worse. When the iPhone first came out people complained that the voice quality on phone calls was terrible. But the computer part was so good people bought it anyway. I think that's why texting took off the way it did. You can't understand a word anybody says on those things. If you are hard of hearing but are too vain to get a hearing aid like my mother you wind up with conversations where she says things like, "I can't hear words, only sounds. I can't understand anything you are saying." "Can you speak in a lower pitch? I can't understand?" Well dammit! What the hell?! I went to school in the '80s with a passion for making clear, understandable audio. I studied acoustics in the Physics department and Psychoacoustics in the Psychology department to understand all the nuances of communication with sound. And then in 1990 they stopped teaching Psychoacoustics because the professor retired. Then my Physics professor retired. And I feel like the whole field has died. It's like the whole marketplace has turned it's back on sound quality. (Even though Dr. Patronis still updates his textbook.) I sure was never able to get a job working on it.

I want the FCC to demand that whatever changes happen going forward we get an improvement in audio quality. Technology has advanced and processors are so fast, bandwidth is so large, we should be able to cancel out audio feedback from microphones and speakers with small physical separation and get back to full duplex. I don't care if you have to put two separate radios in the phone that drain the battery twice as fast, somebody try it. Maybe it only works with other people with the same kind of phone. Call it the Can and String phone and you buy them in pairs and share them with your loved ones. Just try SOMETHING. If my phone is not a form of communication I have to go all the way to my mother's house to fix her heat pump controller instead of suggesting she just turn it off and turn it back on.

I want a phone that trains itself up on my actual voice and tunes the codec to make me sound awesome. When I have to speak on a video I use Garage Band to slow my voice down so it doesn't sound so high. Why can't my phone do that? Put my voice in the range the person I'm talking to can hear after the ravages of old age have taken away their high frequency range? Phone designers are going to all this trouble to make it so I can watch streaming TV shows on the damn thing, and that's great, but why not invest in the research to make it actually work as a PHONE?! I never talk to anybody anymore if I can help it. It's just too upsetting.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Foam Day

I finished riveting things to the skin of my Spartan, got all the wiring and plumbing done, and decided to go ahead and get the Icynene insulation done while I wait for my new front windows and vent parts to be delivered. It only costs $1.25/sq ft for 3" thick. Styrofoam costs $1.78/sq ft if you stack it up to 3" worth. So I decided to cover the bottom of the floor of my house. I didn't do it when I did the rest of my house because I wasn't sure how my floor was going to perform. Would termites get in it? After 8 years I have had no problem with bugs, but it is damn cold in the winter. Since I seem to be staying here winter after winter I thought I'd go ahead and foam it while the truck was here.
Here's the before picture of the floor. It's an old gymnasium floor that was held down with clips. That's the rusty marks on the bottom. It's 1 1/2" thick tongue and groove rock maple, so I only needed joists every 4'. I used a plank and beam design in my Architectural Graphic Standards book to find out I needed doubled 2x8s for the beams. The planks are all cut to end on the beams with staggered joints; 12' pieces, 8' pieces, and 4' pieces. This stuff had the tongue and groove on the ends as well so I tried to plan cuts to fall under the walls so the ends joined up.

Foaming the underside of my floor 

While one guy was working under my house the other guy was getting the Spartan ready. They masked everything with duct tape and visqueen.
One guy sprayed the foam while the other guy cut of the excess.
Apparently the respirator is just for protecting his face from overspray and
not really to keep him breathing the fumes. The other guy wasn't wearing
a respirator and he didn't mind. I thought it was stinky. I couldn't go in there
for very long at a time.
This is the air compressor that sends fresh air to the respirator.
It started to overheat so he took it apart to see what was going on inside.
It looked fine so he turned it back on and just let it be hot.
This is the saw they use to trim the foam.
It's flexible like a band saw blade.
After they finished the inside he sprayed underneath the Spartan.
He covered the respirator visor with cling film, just wrapped it around his
whole head. When it got stuff all over it he pulled it down and
wrapped a fresh piece. It's all built up around his neck.
This is the waste. That seems like a lot.
They shoved it in the truck when they were done.
They don't recycle it, just put it in the dumpster at the shop.
It mashes down a lot, like angel food cake.
When the trucks run over it at the
landfill it will only take up a fraction of that room.
But it will take it up forever. Since my brother designs
landfills, I guess I'm a job creator.
Before Panorama: Front
After Panorama: Front
Before Panorama: Back
After Panorama: Back

Of course I made a video of the actual liquid-to-foam conversion. This stuff goes on at 140°F. The smoke coming off it is steam. The formula is Isocyanate MDI + Proprietary Resin + Water = polyicynene foam

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mule Day Cavalcade

I got up early this morning and went to the end of my grandmother's driveway to see this private parade. 150 years ago people got everywhere like this. Only I guess the road wouldn't have been paved. Georgia has 159 counties, the most in the country after Texas. They planned them so anybody could get to the county seat, conduct their business, and get home that night, all on horseback.

These people are on their way to Mule Day in Calvary, GA to celebrate the importance of the mule in agriculture. See if you can pick out the mules from the horses. I can tell the mules because they bob their big ears as they walk.

I suppose I'm a farmer just like these people, but my crop plants itself and takes 150 years to mature. No mules necessary. Just a saw mill.