Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Windows 8,1

I had to do it.  Antique Laptop died for good.  Screen went dark and stayed dark.  So, Ho, a new  laptop.  HP Pavilion cursed with Windows 8.1   Due to a 2 Ghz Intel Mode whatever CPU 64 bit, it is nearly as fast as XP.  Not quite, but nearly.  Managed to get onto the wireless router and download Firefox.  Upon which I am posting this. 
   Step 2 was to establish an account for me.  The XP "Settings" and "Account Manager" was hidden, along with the "run" block on the start menu,  for that matter, they hid the start menu  Now you just type "user"  on the black screen.  Shades of DOS.  And now the cheese gets binding.  8.1 wants an email address to use as your account name.  I don't want to do that.  I do my email from Trusty Desktop, and I don't want tricky laptop downloading my email and loosing it.  So, it appears to run somehow without an account. 
   It also has a keyboard hiccup.  Every so often it stops typing and flips up the time and date.  Or jumps the cursor at random.   PITA.  There is probably something to fix that in software, but I don't have clue.   Might be the touch pad is active, and I don't know how to shut it off. 
   Anyhow, a giant leap backward for computerkind. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why do adults read Young Adult (YA) novels?

Slate has a long essay deploring the practice.  The New York Times declares the end of adulthood in America.  Oohh.  that sounds really bad.  Even I surely remember riding the MBTA home from work with every one in the car reading the latest Harry Potter. 
  Why do adults read YA novels?  Simple, the last decent main stream writer was Ernest Hemingway, and he died 50 years ago.  The main stream writers of today are so boring hardly anyone can stand to read them.  Main stream novels don't have heroes, they have wimpy anti heroes with neuroses, the other characters are unpleasant, nasty, and ineffectual.  They are set in unpleasant locations and the characters do little other than feel bad about things or make others feel bad.  Who wants to read that?
  The YA books, Harry Potter, Tolkien, the Rick Riordan Olympian stores, the Hunger Games books and others have heroes that overcome difficulties and save the world.  At least Harry Potter defeats Voldemort Frodo Baggins destroys the Ring and the Dark Lord along with it, Percy Jackson destroys Kronos, and Kartniss Everdeen saves her village, if not quite the whole world yet.  The characters are likeable, the kind of people you would like to have a friends.  The settings are glamourous,  the scenery is dramatic.  They are fun to read, and come to a satisfaction conclusion. 

Assault rifle or deer rifle?

Here in the US the anti gun folks have been beating the drums to outlaw "assault rifles".  The phrase "assault rifle" sounds so terrible that they have had some luck in getting laws passed against them.  In actual fact, assault rifles, like are issued to soldiers, have been illegal in the US since the 1930's.  Back in the heyday of Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, and all the rest of the infamous American gangsters, who got Hollywood movies made of their exploits, and made the FBI famous,  Congress passed a law that made machine guns illegal.  The 1930 law required registration and payment of a $200 tax (humungous in 1930) for each machine gun owned.  A later law tightened that up more and now machine guns are just plain illegal to own.  By machine gun, we mean any weapon that keeps firing, round after round, as long as the trigger is depressed. 
   In the years after WWII armies issued their soldiers machine guns,  reasonably light (7-9 pound) shoulder weapons with detachable magazines holding 20-30 rounds, chambered for low power cartridges to keep the recoil down in full automatic fire.  The Russian AK-47 and the US M16 (AR-15 when sold to civilians) are typical examples.  The troops loved them, thinking that spraying bullets like a garden hose would make up for poor marksmanship.  The Army leadership worried about ammunition supply.  One good long pull on a trigger and brap,. 20 rounds expended.  If the troops set off with 200 rounds, which is a lot, and they get heavy fast,  then do brap ten times and you are out of ammunition.  Every Army officer from corporal on up worries about this problem.  In fact, the US Army modified their M16 rifle so it only does three rounds in "automatic".  Each pull of the trigger gives a mere three round burst, rather than a magazine emptying brap.  Conserved ammunition.
    Anyhow, veterans who carried assault rifles in the service, and liked them, will buy legal versions of the Army rifle for deer hunting after discharge from the service.  Legal means no automatic fire.  Pull the trigger and fire a single shot.  You gotta pull the trigger once for each shot.  Semi automatic is the buzz word, another is self loader.
   And, the legal weapon is no different from any other deer rifle.  The objective things, caliber, power of cartridge, range, accuracy, weight, barrel length, are all the same as a deer rifle.  In fact the "assault weapon" rounds are less powerful than the old 30-30 round for my 1950 Marlin lever action rifle.
   Which left the anti assault weapons lawmakers with a problem.  How to describe an assault rifle?  In California the law listed illegal assault rifles by model number.  The industry assigned new model numbers, and presto, chango, their product became legal again.  Other states  listed cosmetic features such as bayonet lugs, flash hiders, and bipods as making a gun into an illegal "assault rifle". The industry quickly removed those cosmetic features. 
   After all this sound and fury, one needs to remember that crimes are mostly done with handguns, not shoulder weapons.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Negative Political Ads are here

Now that the primary is over, and the opponents know who they have to slam, let the slamming begin.  Sunday morning WMUR (good old channel 9, the voice of NH) was just wall to wall with very aggressive and very negative ads, mostly by Democrats slamming Republicans.  It was solid. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rush hour in Martian Orbit

We have two Mars orbiters arriving at Mars later this month (21 and 23 September) .  NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (Maven for short) and India's Mangalaan Orbital Mission (MOM for short.  NASA spent $671 million on Maven.  India's MOM is famous in technical circles for getting to Mars for about one tenth that.  Both orbiters still have one heavy duty maneuver before they can be considered to have "arrived"  That is the Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI)  a 34 minute burn of the rocket engines to slow the orbiter to Mars orbit velocity.  That's a long burn, especially for an engine that has been floating in vacuum, unused, for nearly a year.   To make the MOI dicier, the maneuver must be executed by the onboard microprocessor, since radio signals from Earth take 20 minutes to reach Mars.  15 years ago a gross software fault caused a Mars Orbiter to crash on Mars from a failure of the MOI maneuver. 
   Maven carries instruments to verify a Mars creation theory.  Now that we have good evidence of free surface water in the distant Martian past, the theory suggests that the water vapor escaped into interplanetary space due to Mar's weak gravity.  Maven's instruments will measure the flow of gases and ions in the upper Martian atmosphere, hoping to show that water is still escaping and measure the rate, as a way of figuring how long surface water lasted on Mars, before it escaped into space.
  To add to the fun, Siding Spring, a comet, will swing by Mars on 19 October.  It is believed that Siding Spring is a new comet, on it's first trip into the inner solar system.   It is thought that new comets are chunks of ice and gravel that have been floating in interstellar space ("the Ort Cloud") since the beginning of the solar system, and Siding Spring represents matter from the dawn of time, or at least the birth of the solar system which is a long time ago.  Scientists are eager for any information the Mars orbiters can gather from Siding Spring. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Anti Terrorist Operations

John Kerry spent some TV airtime explaining that what we are doing in Iraq and Syria are "anti-terrorist operations" NOT a war on ISIS.   Sounds like Kerry just wants to do some fireworks displays and go home.  "Operations" are something you can just declare to be over.  If he were to call it a war, then the country would expect victory, which he has no desire to produce. 

Lone Ranger

Another Netflix.  Didn't bother to see it in the theaters.  Good thing too.  It was terrible.  Nobody did anything heroic or romantic or even very interesting.  Nobody was very funny.  Johnny Depp, who can be very funny, didn't get any decent lines.  Armie Hammer, who played the Lone Ranger, did such a super nerd act that it was painful to watch rather than funny.  It went on and on, for ever.  Nobody ever said "Hiyo Silver", no William Tell overture.  I'm not a real Lone Ranger fan, but I do remember the comic books, the TV show, and the black & white movies.  This flick didn't touch any of those bases for nostalgia or for laughs. 
   I didn't bother to watch it to the end, I switched it off and watched Obama's great Tuesday night speech.  Not sure if that was such a great idea.  IMDB estimates Disney spent $215 million to make this disaster and it only grossed $89 million.  I thought Disney was smarter than this.  They must have got the John Carter crew to do 'em another turkey.