Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rudi on Ferrets

I came across this tape today of a radio phone-in show with then-New York mayor Rudi Giuliani losing it on the subject of ferrets.

Now I don't know what precipitated this tirade against one of God's creatures, but I think the US election would have gotten a lot more interesting if he had stayed on.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

I may not be a rocket scientist, but I am certain I would be fired if I designed a satellite that had non-redundant systems or built-in kill switches. Those engineers who design a craft such as the USA 193 shot "down" a couple of nights back should be made to go up into low earth orbit with brooms and dustpans to collect any debris which is lingering too long before begin a fateful descent in our atmosphere.

Launching a satellite into orbit is a very risky proposition, with a myriad of things which could go wrong. Even getting the delivery rocket off the launchpad is no sure bet, as evidenced by the frequent mishaps by the European Space Agency, NASA, and whoever is responsible for the Chinese and Russian space programs these days. But at least launches have someone with a self-destruct button in hand to press if the rocket malfunctions.

Not, apparently, for the satellites themselves. I can understand that oft-times satellites spin out of control, antennae don't deploy, on-board computers freeze (I bet they're not Macs) power systems power down, or whatever. But when you are spending many tens of millions of dollars on these orbiting future debris fields, wouldn't you want to build in a number of ways to work around the problem or at least down the craft if things fuck up beyond redemption?

And the report of the impact "fireball" meant to allay fears of hydrazine being spewed over hill and dale simply translates into my mind as more small pieces of crap forming a fragmentary mine filed around our planet.

I look at my computer system at work - it has a plethora of backups for any of the works of genius I've produced (LOL), and if the power should cut out there is a battery and an UPS (uninterruptible power supply) to maintain some current long enough to save your data or, presumably, fix the problem.

Here is my main concern - the Kessler Syndrome. It posits that the amount of crap encircling our our blue planet will grow to such a degree as to render any incursion into space too risky, even for unmanned craft. The tinking is that space debris multiplies exponentially - a mere 1 cm piece could destroy another satellite creating another couple of thousand pieces of junk with the potential to destroy. And so on . . .

A number of solutions have been proposed here, but wouldn't it be much simpler to design satellite systems which have the built-in capacity to direct a whole satellite towards the earth if a certain set of instructions are not delivered with a requisite amount of time? Or hurtling out outwards beyond the earth's gravity to screw up some space craft from Alpha Centauri in a few thousand years?

But at the root of my consternation is the fear that I will miss the spaceship the next time comet Hale-Bopp comes around. I mean, look at all that crap circling earth right now:

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Canadian Way To Screw

Whenever Canadians get wood, we employ a uniquely Canadian approach to conjoining which minimizes, if not completely eliminates, stripping. And if your other hand is occupied doing something else, you can do it single-handed. Sure, our approach is square, but we always get the job done, and satisfaction is guaranteed.

Invented in the early 20th century, the Robertson square drive screw still remains as one of the single greatest innovations of the industrial age, Indeed, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ranks it number 7 in its list of greatest Canadian inventions, ahead of the Blackberry and the zipper, but strangely behind five-pin bowling. Yet it is rarely found outside our borders. But I digress.

The system employs only five sizes of screwdrivers, each of whose handles have a unique colour: black, red, green, yellow and orange, ranging from largest to smallest. This comes in particularly useful when ordering subordinates (i.e. wives and children) to fetch the appropriate screwdriver - since terms like small and large are relative, and it is nigh on impossible to accurately determine Torx size with the naked eye, this colour coding completely eliminates possible screw-ups.

And, most importantly, you won't strip the head of the screw if you have the proper size of driver. IMHO, the good lord should open up a new level in the bowels of hell for those who invent or perpetuate the use of the Phillips or slotted head screws. I mean, if Wikipedia feels the article on the Phillips screwdriver necessitates having a section on how to choose the appropriate size, something is amiss:

Using too small a screwdriver for a given Phillips head screw is likely to damage the screw head, and may damage the screwdriver as well. The correct size screwdriver is the largest one that fits. If you have a full range of sizes available, start with the size one step larger than you think will fit, and work your way down one size at a time until you get to the first one that fits in the screw head. But also see the section on different national specifications for size and shape.

In these days of free trade agreements and globalization, more and more of our tools are being sourced offshore. Consequently, those all-in-one screwdrivers and screwdriver sets do not include the Robertson drive, much to my consternation. Almost all the cabinetry and other woodwork in this house use the venerable Robertson, but could I find any Robertsons in the numerous screw drive sets I've accrued over the years - NO! Sure, I have slot, Phillips, Torx and hex, but not my sainted Robertsons.

Not that I mind Torx and hex, which don't strip the heads of your fastener and will hold a screw or bolt singlehanded, but you need a multiplicity of them to ensure you have the right size. Torx, for example, comes in 24 sizes, ranging from T1 to T100, while hex (in both metric and SAE flavours) has at least 37.

So, woodworkers of the world - UNITE! Throw off the shackles of cumbersome and inefficient fasteners, and embrace your inner squareness.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Time to Unpack

I've been basically living out of a suitcase most of the last month, but now can look forward to at least three weeks at home before having to fly out again somewhere.

Having my first day off in a long time, I now have the serenity make the following observations:
  1. The caribou stew which I made a few weeks back is still entupperwared in the back of the fridge. I guess the dogs will appreciate it if it hasn't become too moldy.
  2. Utilities and credit card companies still want payment, judging by the stack of mail swaying on top of my dishwasher. Bills now join death and taxes as the only sure things in life.
  3. Dogs are very quick to forgive long absences. Children and wives are not, especially when you are away on birthdays and St. Valentine's Day. Sidebar: candy and flowers are half price on February 15th.
  4. I never ran out of water or sewage once while on the road, but as soon as I got home the warning light came on the sewage tank. I am now resigned to living in a red light district.
  5. There are nearly a dozen unfinished posts on my Blogger dashboard. I should stitch them all together for a mega-posting but it will end up reading a bit like Joyce's Ulysses, not that my completed posts are all that much better.
  6. It only takes about a quarter inch of snow to obliterate months of dog poo, at least until the spring comes a few months from now. I should plan a vacation for spring thaw, and hope that the rains will wash the blanket up dog crap away from our house.
  7. Northern "chic" is not appreciated when traveling in the south. Something about the rubber boots, I think. Or my "Gras agé de la Phoque" cologne.
Anyways, it's good to be back!