Where’s the beef?

This story has a little history. Here is some:

Various industrial (includes agricultural) concerns produce perishable food products. The company acquires a product, invests money in processing it, and then sells it for a profit. Only, if it takes a long time to sell the product becomes unsellable, and the company does not make any profit. In fact, it will likely lose money.

Now if, while a company has a perishable product on hand, information gets around that the product is somehow suspect, then the market for the product may shrink or even evaporate. Companies in the perishable food product business will profit more if adverse information does not get around.

In 1995 the Texas Legislature enacted the False Disparagement of Perishable Food Products Act of 1995. Here is a related section of the Texas Code:

§ 96.001. Definition
In this chapter, “perishable food product” means a food product of agriculture or aquaculture that is sold or distributed in a form that will perish or decay beyond marketability within a limited period of time.
§ 96.002. Liability
(a) A person is liable as provided by Subsection (b) if:
(1) the person disseminates in any manner information relating to a perishable food product to the public;
(2) the person knows the information is false; and
(3) the information states or implies that the perishable food product is not safe for consumption by the public.
(b) A person who is liable under Subsection (a) is liable to the producer of the perishable food product for damages and any other appropriate relief arising from the person’s dissemination of the information.
§ 96.003. Proof
In determining if information is false, the trier of fact shall consider whether the information was based on reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts, or data.
§ 96.004. Certain Marketing or Labeling Excluded
A person is not liable under this chapter for marketing or labeling any agricultural product in a manner that indicates that the product:
(1) was grown or produced by using or not using a chemical or drug;
(2) was organically grown; or
(3) was grown without the use of any synthetic additive.

I am not going to interpret the Code. I will leave that up to the reader.

Anyhow, the following year Howard Lyman was on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and there was some discussion about beef in relation to mad cow disease. Winfrey and Lyman both agreed that eating beef was not a good idea. The results were immediate and catastrophic.

Under the Texas food disparagement law under which Winfrey and Lyman were sued, the plaintiffs — in this case, beef feedlot operator Paul Engler and the company Cactus Feeders — had to convince the jury that Lyman’s statements on Winfrey’s show were not “based on reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts, or data.” As a basis for the damages sought in the lawsuit, the plaintiffs noted that cattle futures dropped 10 percent the day after the episode, and that beef prices fell from 62 cents to 55 cents per pound. Engler’s attorneys argued that the rancher lost $6.7 million, and the plaintiffs sought to recoup total losses of more than $12 million. [Emphasis added]

I watched the case as an interested observer. The idea that a person can get sued for voicing opinion is close to my heart, because I express my opinion a lot, and I feel this need to avoid getting sued. Anyhow, as the case proceeded in 1998 I was deciding what language I would use to describe the outcome, which seemed headed to favor Oprah and her guest. Then it came, and I penned a cute letter to the editor and submitted it to The Dallas Morning News. They printed it, and Jim Frisinger, the letters editor, sent me this nice mug:

The image changes from night to day when you put hot liquid in the cup.

I have kept the cup all these years, and I use it to store packets of sugar-free sweetener. That’s because I don’t actually drink coffee.

Anyhow, the thought that came to my mind as the case neared a decision was that these cattlemen were completely out of their league, both in their attempt to stifle criticism and in going up against the Queen of Gab. I ended my letter with wording something like this:

For those cattlemen I suggest a new menu item. Crow, it’s what’s for dinner.

And they had to eat it.

Powerful food and agricultural interests have not, however, lost their appetite for suppressing criticism. With the power to purchase legislation, they have obtained the enactment of favorable legislation that makes it harder for critics to speak out and also harder for them to defend their cases when they are sued.

These laws vary significantly from state to state, but food libel laws typically allow a food manufacturer or processor to sue a person or group who makes disparaging comments about their food products. In some states these laws also establish different standards of proof than are used in traditional American libel lawsuits, including the practice of placing the burden of proof on the party being sued.

More recently legislation of this ilk has come to surface in a Utah criminal case.

First “Ag-Gag” Prosecution: This Utah Woman Filmed a Slaughterhouse from the Public Street

Amy Meyer saw some disturbing occurrences and made a video.

When the slaughterhouse manager came outside and told her to stop, she replied that she was on the public easement and had the right to film. When police arrived, she said told them the same thing. According to the police report, the manager said she was trespassing and crossed over the barbed-wire fence, but the officer noted “there was no damage to the fence in my observation.”
Meyer was allowed to leave. She later found out she was being prosecuted under the state’s new “ag-gag” law.
This is the first prosecution in the country under one of these laws, which are designed to silence undercover investigators who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms. The legislation is a direct response to a series of shocking investigations by groups like the Humane Society, Mercy for Animals, and Compassion Over Killing that have led to plant closures, public outrage, and criminal charges against workers.

To me the pertinent fact is that Meyer did not trespass. She photographed what she could see from a public venue, and she is being prosecuted for violating a law passed by a state legislature for doing just that. This hits home to me, because I am sometimes in the same position. See The Photo That Got Me Arrested.

I’m not an extremist on this position, but I believe I have the right to photograph with my camera anything I can see with my eyes in a public place. Having that right, I make sure not to abuse it. I don’t go out of my way to photograph people who do not want to be photographed. For example, during a photo trip to Morocco there were women in some of my photos who, although they did not cover their faces in public, still did not want me to take their photo. No problem.

But back to the issue at hand.

Laws similar to the one in Utah are on the books or in the works. In particular, a bill in Tennessee has been sent to the governor for ratification, and it and its sponsors may be typical. Representative Andy Holt is one of the bill’s sponsors, and an e-mail exchange between Holt and Kayci McLeod of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is telling. The following is an excerpt from Holt’s mail to McLeod:

I am extremely pleased that we were able to pass HB 1191 today to help protect livestock in Tennessee from suffering months of needless investigation that propagandist groups of radical animal activists, like your fraudulent and reprehensibly disgusting organization of maligned animal abuse profiteering corporatists, who are intent on using animals the same way human-traffickers use 17 year old women. You work for a pathetic excuse for an organization and a pathetic group of sensationalists who seek to profit from animal abuse. I am glad, as an aside, that we have limited your preferred fund-raising methods here in the state of Tennessee; a method that I refer to as “tape and rape.” Best wishes for the failure of your organization and it’s true intent.

While acknowledging there is animosity against HSUS on the part of Holt, some of his remarks seem to be completely over the top. He wants to “protect livestock in Tennessee from suffering months of needless investigation?” Really? HSUS is a “pathetic excuse for an organization?” Really? HSUS uses “animals the same way human-traffickers use 17 year old women?” Really? How much more can Representative Holt say to dig himself into a deeper hole? If he had a good public relations advisor I am sure that advisor would give Representative Holt some advice like this: “Mr. Holt, instead of all that invective, why don’t you just respond and tell HSUS they did not contribute to your re-election, but certain industrial concerns did, and you need to properly represent the people who pay the bills. Just tell them that’s the way democracy works.”

Meanwhile, back in Utah, Representative John Mathis likens animal rights activists to terrorists:

SALT LAKE CITY — Veterinarian and part-time farmer Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, wants to put a stop to what he called “animal-rights terrorists” who take videos or photos on farmers’ property without permission to create propaganda aimed at destroying the agriculture industry.
“There are groups with the stated purpose to do away with animal agriculture, and that’s egregious — that’s egregious to me,” Mathis told legislators this week. “The animal welfare movement has become an animal rights movement, and that’s wrong.[“]
Mathis’ bill, HB187, would make “agricultural operation interference” a crime, a class A misdemeanor on the first offense, a third-degree felony on the second.

Terrorists? Really?

Enough said for a while. In the mean time we can only hope that the Al-Qaeda will quickly adopt the same terrorist tactics of HSUS and similar groups and quit murdering people.

Lest readers think I come up with interesting topics like this entirely on my own, allow me to reassure you I get lots of help, without which I would be mostly clueless. This post was inspired by a posting from Steve Breed, one of my Facebook “friends.” To protect his privacy I have not used Steve’s real name.


Wherever you go, there you are.

I was around when the Navy started putting up it’s Navstar satellites, and that looked like a great idea. The Navy can always use some good navigation. I was not clued onto GPS until much later, possibly 1984. My cube mate at a defense company decided to leave our group and go to work on the company’s GPS project. Since then GPS has become an increasingly large part of our lives.

Ordnance handlers assemble Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs in the forward mess decks. (from Wikipedia)

This post is inspired by some apparent and serious misunderstandings about GPS, how it works, and what are it’s limitations. For example I was working out in Tucson, and I was explaining my GPS unit to a co-worker. We went out into the parking lot so I could show him how it worked. I turned it on and let it acquire satellites, then we walked around the parking lot, and I showed him that it was recording the track of our walk. The question that stunned me was, “How does it know where we are?”

OK, that was a signal there was some great disconnect, and if my friend, a tech-savvy software engineer,  had missed a fine point, then a lot of pedestrian folks out there were having some problems, as well. As I explained to my friend, “It does not know where you are. Only you know where you are.” Here’s the explanation.

Somewhat over 20 years ago the U.S. started launching a “galaxy” of satellites to support GPS. At any one time there will be 32 of these satellites active and possibly several more just orbiting around in reserve. Here’s what they do.

Each satellite knows where it is—all the time and with an accuracy in the order of an inch or so. Each satellite also knows what time it is—all the time and with an accuracy in the order of a nanosecond. Each satellite is powered by the sun, and each active satellite broadcasts all the time toward the earth. The critical information each satellite transmits is: “This is where I am, and this is what time it is.” Additional information is transmitted to aid the GPS receivers in doing their task.

The signal the satellites send is specified in an open document called ICD-GOS-200. You can get a copy by clicking on the link. Updates to the specification are made periodically, and this one is not the most recent. Anyhow, what the specification (Interface Control Document) says is this:

Each satellite is assigned a channel, of which there are 32. All channels broadcast on the same frequencies, and the channels are defined by CDM (code division multiplexing). Data transmission rate is 50 bits per second. As explained in the document, data transmission comprises 5 frames of 1500 bits each, and each frame comprises 5 subframes. Some subframes are subcommutated in that their content varies from one frame to the next. The critical information (I am here, the time is this) is transmitted every frame. Some frames vary the subframe content in a pattern that repeats every 25 frames. A little math shows you that it takes twelve and one half minutes for a receiver to obtain all available information.

One bit of information needed by the GPS receiver is the atmospheric delay parameter set. Time is critical for computing location with GPS. Your receiver is getting data from four or more satellites at once. It now knows where each satellite was and at what time it transmitted that piece of information. The GPS unit can now compute its own location by determining its distance from each of the four known points in space. It can only do this if the transmission delay—time required for the signal to travel from the satellite to the receiver—is known. The problem is the speed of propagation of the signal is not constant.

Electron density in the upper atmosphere slows down the propagation of the signal. It can make a difference of 30 meters or so, depending on the electron density. If you can receive two frequencies, each frequency will have a different propagation delay, and you can compare the two to determine the actual (as opposed to measured) distance to each satellite. However, home receivers cannot receive the second frequency. You need a secret decoding device to get this signal. So, what you need is the electron density. Klobuchar to the rescue.

The Klobuchar atmospheric model is a cubic polynomial that describes (approximately) the atmospheric electron density for most of the globe. The model is described in the document, and the four polynomial coefficients are transmitted in one subframe of one frame—once every 12-1/2 minutes. Once your GPS unit has obtained these four parameters it will apply the model and compensate the measure delay. So, when you first turn on your unit, you will be working with an inaccurate atmospheric model for the first few minutes. You can expect your computed location to be off several meters during that time.

The atmosphere changes from day to day, and the model parameters are recomputed based on world-wide atmospheric measurements. A new upload to all satellites is performed every few days (in the order of a week). However, the model is never as good as the real thing. If you want to put a GPS-guided bomb through Osama’s upstairs window, you are going to need the second channel.

There’s a lot more to know about GPS operation, and you can get all of it by digging through the document. Except, there are some aspects of modern navigators that are not covered by the document. Keep this in mind:

The GPS satellite transmission format is fixed and cannot be radically changed without launching new satellites. Improvements and changes are implemented in blocks. We are now into Block III. In particular, GPS does not support traffic and map information of any kind.

I have a 4-year-old unit, and earlier this year we were driving toward Fort Myers, Florida. Actually, I was driving, and Barbara Jean was knitting. Oops. She was unable to locate a knitting needle she needed. GPS to the rescue. Our Garmin unit map base includes information about all businesses in the country. It may be that businesses have to pay to be included in the database. Anyhow, she punched into the unit a search for knit shops nearby. We were approaching one on the outskirts of Fort Myers, and the phone number was available from the database. She phoned the store, and we stopped off the Interstate so Barbara Jean could get some knitting needles. Suffice it to say that GPS satellites are completely clueless regarding this kind of information.

Sometimes traffic warning information comes up on my GPS unit. This is often accompanied by an annoying voice warning from the unit, telling me to get off the freeway and take an alternate route. I have not investigated this, but I am dead sure this is accomplished by local transmissions received by the unit. There’s a big traffic tie-up, and the authorities crank up some special transmitters and send the information to all GPS units that are close enough to receive. The satellites do not get involved.

Anyhow, if you don’t currently have a GPS navigator you might seriously consider catching up with the times. It’s only going to get better. I obtained my first unit before heading down to Argentina over ten years ago. It was a life saver when driving across the Pampas, where the cut-off to the airport was an unmarked road. When I was out in Los Angeles a few years back I obtained a street navigator and was impressed by the level of street detail available. No way could I have made it around L.A.’s maze of freeways and side streets without some assistance.

It’s apparent that GPS navigators obtain their maps from something like Google maps. That’s good, and that’s bad. The level of detail is wonderful, and periodic updates keep the unit informed when new roads are built and when old roads go out of service. It’s bad news, because the GPS map base is only as good as as the maps obtained from various sources. If an error gets into the map source it’s going to trickle down to your navigator, and you may someday find yourself looking for a non-existent route. GPS users need to always take their heads with them when they go traveling.

Bad Movie of the Week

This review should have been titled “Bite the Bullet,” but I need to remain consistent so readers looking for the bad-movie review won’t have to track it down. Anyhow, the movie is A Bullet for Joey, and seeing it you can get the idea they came up with the title and then wrote the plot to fit the title. This is a bad movie in spite of enjoying the star power of Edward G. Robinson and George Raft. The story line is just unrealistic. It’s unbelievable, besides.

The film is from 1955, and of course it’s in black and white.

Poster image from IMDB.com

It starts out this way. An atomic scientist is working in Montreal (that’s in Canada), and the Soviets want to kidnap him, although this does not become apparent until after several people are dead. Anyhow, there are a number of ways to kidnap an atomic scientist, and the Soviets pick the most convoluted and riskiest approach. Else there would not be very much to the plot.

Anyhow, their plan (this comes out later) is to photograph the scientist, take the photos to an expatriate American (not Canadian) gangster and show him the photos and hire him to go to Canada (not the United States) and kidnap the scientist. They offer the gangster $20,000 in advance and promise $80,000 on completion of the job. Plus travel and expenses plus fake papers. Who can pass up such a deal? The gangster is Joe Victor (Joey) played by George Raft.

Now here is a fun fact. George Raft got to play a lot of gangster parts in the movies, and he played a great gangster. That could be partly because before becoming a movie star he was a gangster.

A boyhood friend of gangster Owney Madden (and later a “wheel man” for the mob), Raft admitted narrowly avoiding a life of crime. Raft spoke German fluently, having learned the language from his parents.

Anyhow, on with the plot.

The movie opens with a spy, disguised as an organ grinder with a monkey, taking the photos of the scientist. He gets the photos and also the the attention of a local constable (looks like an RCMP). Anyhow, the cop decides to cite the organ grinder for cruelty to the monkey for having the poor animal out on such a cold morning.  He spots the camera hidden inside the grinder’s hurdy-gurdy, and gives chase when the man runs off. When the two eventual clash the spy kills the cop with a blow to the head.

A problem arises when the spy reports to his boss with the photos and lets slip he has killed a cop. The boss is not amused, and we see him giving the grinder a shove. The shove must have been fatal, because later Inspector Raoul Leduc (Edward G. Robinson) is investigating the discovery of a nude body. When a monkey hair is found on the body Leduc connects the dead man with the organ grinder that the scientist reported seeing just before the cop was killed.

By now everybody, I included, is asking why the spies didn’t just have somebody sidle up to the scientist and say something like, “Yes, I am glad to see you, and yes, this is a gun in my pocket. Come quietly.” Then there would not have been much of a plot.

Instead, Joey needs to get all his old gangster pals involved, plus his ex girl friend, who is blackmailed to leave her business in Havana and come to Canada. This is where things really begin to fall apart.

Joey figures he needs sex to attract the scientist so they can catch him off guard. He sends in his sexy ex-girl friend to cozy up to the scientist. In the mean time he has one of his pals cozy up to the scientist’s secretary, who is a somewhat pretty, but shy and demure, young thing. The pal (from Los Angeles) puts the move on the girl, but when he gets information from her that he needs his motives become immediately obvious to her, and she bolts from his car on a lonely country road, only to get a bullet in the back.

So, there’s another murder for Leduc to connect to the scientist, and the cops go looking for the man from L.A. In the mean time the man from L.A. has gone back to L.A. and back to playing cards with his friends. Joey learns of the secretary’s murder and dispatches somebody to dispatch the man from L.A., who takes a sniper’s bullet in the back through a window while playing cards with his friends.

Anyhow, Joey’s ex-girl friend romances the scientist and arranges for him to take her to the airport. When the scientist arrives at the woman’s apartment, the spies are there, and they slip the scientist a knockout drink and hustle him to a waiting ship. See what I mean? They could have done this in the first act.

Meanwhile, Joey’s pals are participating in a plan to heist a truck load of atomic bomb parts. Leduc sets up a phony shipment, and he and another cop drive the truck. The spies hijack the truck and load it onto the waiting ship, with the two cops locked in the back. Leduc’s fellow officer is killed (with a bullet) while the two are attempting to alert the police to their location on the ship. Here’s what’s phony about this part of the cop’s plan. There was no guarantee the crooks would not just murder the two cops before taking the truck, and the police seemed not to have considered this possibility. Is anybody thinking? Certainly not the writers, James Benson Nablo, Geoffry Homes and A.I. Bezzerides.

Now the remaining crooks and spies are on the ship, and it sets off down the St. Lawrence River. Leduc converses with Joey, and things get philosophical. Freedom and democracy against communism and tyranny. Joey decides to pitch in with the cops, and a gun battle aboard the ship ensues. One of the crooks is killed, but Leduc manages to shoot off a distress flare, which brings all the harbor rescue craft to the escaping ship. Joey hunts down the master spy and pumps two slugs into him, but when he goes over to check out the body he receives a bullet in the gut. Thus the movie title becomes self-fulfilling. The end.

Bad Joke of the Week

OK, this on is bad.

Back in the early days of television they had this show with a title like, “Can You Stump This?” Or maybe it was “Can You Top This?”

Anyhow the show featured a panel of professional comedians, and they would have guests on the show. Each guest was prompted to present a joke, and the panelists would try to top the joke with a better one. If the panel could not top the guest’s joke, the guest won some money.

Anyhow, I think this was the show this was on, and here’s the joke.

Three salesmen went to a convention, and they shared a suite in a hotel on the 30th floor. One day of the convention they all went out on the town, and when they got back there was a sign on the elevator: “Elevator Out Of Order. Please Use Stairs.”

This looked bleak, but the salesmen figured out what they would do. For the first ten flights of stairs one of the party would sing. For the next ten flights another in the party would tell jokes and funny stories. For the last ten flight the remaining salesman would tell sad stories.

So they started off. The first man sang “Vita Bela” and other popular airs. That was for the first ten flights. Then the second man told funny jokes, and everybody laughed. Then it came time for the last man to tell the sad stories. He said “My sad story is we forgot to get the room key from the desk.”

Kirby gone

So, it’s a quiet day, and I was up in my computer room processing some photos. Barbara Jean was taking a nap, and when she got up she asked me, “What’s been happening?”

I had exciting news. “A solicitor came to our door.” I told Barbara Jean about what I do when a solicitor comes to the door. I grab my camera and take a photo. Here’s the photo. She didn’t want to have her photo taken and turned away.

No show number 1

This isn’t the first time this has happened. A few weeks back two “witnesses” of some sort showed up, and I took photos of them, but I did not post the photos. I have hardened some since.

So I told Barbara Jean all about the photo I didn’t get, and I went back to processing photos on my computer. The doorbell rang again. WTF, I thought. Camera in hand I went to the door. The woman asked me if I was acquainted with Kirby. I know Kirby is the name of a high end vacuum cleaner brand that’s sold door to door. Problem is, in our neighborhood that is not allowed. We have a sign at the entrance to the neighborhood stating that solicitation is not permitted, and it is my understanding this makes what the woman was doing illegal. Here’s the photo.

Smile, please

The woman did not appreciate being photographed, and she left immediately and headed down the street. I put on my shoes and followed. I wanted a photo of the car license plate. As I followed the woman down the street I noticed another woman coming the same way behind me. I asked her if she was with the Kirby company, and she said yes. Here’s the photo.

Kirby number 2

Still no photo of the car. I kept walking. There must  be a car that does not belong in the neighborhood. I noticed a car coming up behind me, and I did not recognize it. Here’s the photo.

The car

OK, if this is really a neighbor’s car I’m going to remove this image from the post. In the meantime, if none of my neighbors recognize this car, I’m going to leave it up.

By now the two women were looking desperate. They were talking, and they were headed in the same direction as the car. The car went around the corner and out of sight, and the women followed. When I got to the corner the women were actually running toward the exit from the neighborhood, and the car was exiting, too. The car headed west on Prue Road, and when I last saw the women they were hoofing it west on Prue Road, as well. Maybe they will not come back.

Long gone up the hill on Prue Road

I do not apologize for being such a hard ass, because there have been a number of instances of break-ins in our small neighborhood, and we have put up a sign that tells people driving in that video surveillance is in operation. I previously pointed this out to somebody else who objected to having his photograph taken. What the sign does not mention is that the surveillance also includes my Canon SLR.

Y’all come back, y’hear.

Government Insurance

I just love it when people post these things on Facebook. Here’s the photo of a famous person, and there’s been a caption added that’s supposed to make a point.

Of course I’ve been to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). I’m still trying to determine what this has to do with government involvement in health insurance.

I get that the point trying to be made here is that you are not going to like having the government involved in your health insurance. Guess again.

The government has been involved in my health insurance for the past eight years, and I am doing just fine. Previously when I was on active military service, the government provided all of my health care. I received eye surgery that would have cost me plenty as a civilian.

This the testimony of somebody who has had a long and satisfactory experience with government and health care. So, what’s the point?

Letters Patent

Here’s a topic that’s had my attention since I was just a young squirt. More recently I came to realize there is some widespread misunderstanding about the concept, so I figured it was time for some clarification. If you already know about patents, then you can skip this. Ghandi is showing on Turner Classic Movies today. Go watch it.

I see this on TV a lot: “It’s patented.” Somebody is selling a product or device, and they want you to know it’s covered by a Unites State government patent. That means the government thinks it’s good, right?

No, not only does it mean the government not think it’s good, the government does not even think it’s OK. Purchase it at your own risk. So, what does a government patent really mean?

“Patent” is derived from the term “letter patent.” Letters patent were issued long ago by the English government. These letters patent simply stated that production of the item was prohibited without the permission of the person referenced in the letter patent. Never at any time has a government endorsement been implied.

Article One of the United States Constitution contains the following language:

The Congress shall have power…To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

The United States patent office, now known as The United States Patent and Trademark Office, was set up to review inventions seeking patent protection and to issue patents and to enforce them. Eli Whitney’s cotton gin was awarded patent 72X. There is still more you should know.

Not every idea can be patented (receive a patent). Supposedly, inventions that have no practical use will not be granted a patent, but I have seen some patents that make me doubt that rule is being enforced. Additionally, to receive a patent, the invention must be novel. You can’t take an idea that’s been around for a while and then file for a patent on it. Also, the patent has to be the applicant’s own invention. You cannot obtain a patent for something somebody else invented, even if the idea is novel (new). There’s more.

All inventors must be named on the patent application. If you leave an inventor off the application, then the patent can later be challenged and voided. Likewise, if the application lists an as an inventor somebody who was not party to the invention, the patent can be voided.

Finally, patents become void after a specified time. The whole idea is to give the inventors a period of time to reap the rewards of their intellectual effort without competition. After that the invention becomes public domain, and everybody can make a profit from it. The day the patent is granted the contents of the patent are made public, and people can begin studying the invention and working on their own implementation. Others can make their own copies of the device (if it is a device that has been patented), and they can do a lot of things with the device, but they cannot employ the device in their business. For example, if the invention is a machine to form ammunition casings, then another company can build their own copy of the machine, and they can even make some sample ammunition casings. However, they cannot sell the casings made during the time the patent was in effect.

All of this is made possible because a patent application is required to provide enough information for a person with the proper skills to duplicate the invention. The aim of patent law is two parts: Reward the inventor (period of use without competition), and rapidly funnel the new technology into American industry.

Here’s an interesting consideration regarding patents. You have a great idea. You can’t afford to patent it. It costs $10,000 and up to obtain a patent, and you do not have the means to use your invention once the patent is granted (don’t have a ready market, can’t afford to build a factory). You know some huge capitalistic enterprise is bound to hit upon the idea soon, and it burns you sorely that somebody else is going to get unfettered use of your idea, and you are going to get nothing. Here’s what you do. Publish your idea. That’s it. Once you have made the invention public nobody else can obtain a patent on it. If later on some large concern patents the invention and starts to market it, all you need to do is to report the prior publication out to the patent office, and the patent will be voided.

I grew up in a small town, and my brother mentioned a few years back that one of his classmates in high school had invented something for cash registers, but NCR had taken the idea without compensating him. As I understand, the guy successfully sued NCR. So, that’s a good story.

Once I started working as an engineer I had the opportunity to invent stuff, but at first there weren’t any opportunities for patents. I worked for the University of Texas and was paid through a government grant, so there was no motivation to patent anything, because the government would own the patent. Later I worked for a small engineering company, and we developed a machine to unscramble 20mm ammunition. Once again, it was a government contract, and we had no motivation to obtain any patents.

Later I worked for a private company that made large document processing systems, and we invented a lot of stuff and obtained patents for the inventors. My first patent was related to a machine that put a strap around a bundle of 100 dollar (or 5-dollar or 20-dollar) bills. Three of us worked on the idea, and my contribution was the part that clamped the stack of bills and wrapped the strap. The company gave us money. That’s good.

But you see, the company has to give you money. It works this way: You sign up to work for a company, and in the employment agreement you acknowledge the patents will become the property of the company. However, patents are always issued in the names of the inventors, but there is a place on the patent to list the assignee. That’s the company. For the transfer of ownership to take place some money needs to change hands. Conventional law is that the amount should be at least a dollar, but my first company divided $1000 among the three inventors.

Much later I worked for a telecommunications company, and they wanted us to obtain lots of patents. What we subsequently found out is that the company would not necessarily (almost never) use our inventions. They would obtain the patents to keep competitors from using them to compete against our company. Often our company would bargain with other companies. You let us use your patent, and we will let you use ours.

And they paid a lot more than my first company. As I approached the age of Medicare my company said they weren’t going to do the kind of stuff I was working on, and they fired me. I went to work for other companies after that, and once while I was out in Tucson drawing money from a defense contractor I went out to lunch with some friends. Lunch was interrupted by a phone call from home back in Dallas. Barbara Jean told me I had received another check for a patent award (these things sometimes take a few years) for $7000. Something like that makes the rest of the dinner go much better.

Anyhow, inventing and obtaining patents was one of the interesting and satisfying aspects of my working life.  Usually developing an invention was a group effort and multiple names appear on the patents. My contribution to the inventions was often minor, but I still shared the recognition and reward with the rest of the team. For some of the inventions I was the principal contributor, however, and for one I am the sole inventor listed. Here is how it came about.

We were working in collaboration with some other companies to develop technology related to video over DSL. I recalled another occasion when I was sitting in a meeting with one of our suppliers. They were the Columbia Carbon and Ribbon Company, and they made typewriter ribbons and carbon paper. We wanted them to produce a ribbon to allow a printing head to print fluorescent bar codes. The problem was, once you printed the bar code on the paper, reading the coded line was problematic, because the excitation energy passed through the ink and was absorbed by the paper underneath. The solution was obvious to me, and I blurted out, “Why don’t you put on an extra layer of aluminum powder so the aluminum lies between the ink and the paper, and the excitation energy won’t be absorbed.” That was stupid. I just gave away a patentable idea to another company by disclosing it in an open meeting. I determined not to make that mistake again.

So, many years later I sat in a meeting with representatives from our partner companies, and we were discussing ways to predict the traffic of an incoming stream of video packets. This time I kept my mouth shut. I saw a way to encode information about future traffic in the video packets. I did not even tell my boss about it. I filled out a patent disclosure form and took it to the company patent attorney. And here is the patent, or at least a statement of claim number 1:

1. A method of encoding packet interdependency in a packet data stream, comprising: generating, via a plurality of data sources, a packet data stream through a video packet data transmitter, wherein the packet data stream comprises a plurality of data packets, each data packet carrying video data as payload; for each packet in said packet data stream, providing a relative displacement pointer (RDP) field associated therewith, said RDP field including a first direction dependency subfield and a second direction dependency subfield; representing dependency of a particular packet of said packet data stream by a first binary code in said first direction dependency subfield and a second binary code in said second direction dependency subfield, said first binary code for describing said particular packet’s dependency on a packet disposed in one direction of said packet data stream and said second binary code for describing said particular packet’s dependency on a packet disposed in an opposite direction of said packet data stream; and receiving said packet data stream by binary code for describing said particular packet’s dependency on a packet disposed in one direction of said packet data stream and said second binary code for describing said particular packet’s dependency on a packet disposed in an opposite direction of said packet data stream in a packet data receiver communicably coupled to the video packet data transmitter.

It’s patent number 7,801,126, and you can look it up on the USTPO Web site. If you can figure out how this works or how it might be used, please inform me. As far as I know nobody has ever implemented this bit of technology and never will. Such is the value of a letter patent.

Sufficient, but not necessary

Here’s what caught my attention earlier today:

Nor was there hardly any mention on any station or other press entity of even the possibility that Muslim terror was involved in the huge explosion that occurred in West, Texas, where a fertilizer plant blew up Wednesday, just days after the Boston Marathon bombing. Typically, here is how the New York Times described the explosion:
“The blast was so powerful that the United States Geological Survey registered it as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake. It reduced an apartment complex to a charred skeleton, leveled homes in a five-block radius and burned with such intensity that railroad tracks were fused. It killed up to 15 people and injured up to 180. Volunteer firefighters were missing. Residents of a nursing home were pulled from debris and rushed to hospitals. …
“By Thursday evening, one day after a fertilizer plant here caught fire and then exploded, no one among the hundreds of local state and federal officials and first responders who converged on this town north of Waco was certain about the cause. They only knew its effect.” [“Blast at Plant Tears at Heart Of Texas Town” by Manny Fernandez and John Schwartz]

That was posted by Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman. When there is a huge ammonium nitrate blast, we should look for a Muslim connection? Really? A Muslim connection? Apparently Klayman is not up on his recent Texas history. More likely we should be looking for a French connection. It seems as though this were only 66 years ago. Actually, it was. Nearly to the day. It was 16 April 1947:

The Texas City disaster of April 16, 1947 is the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history, and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions. Originating with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp (docked in the Port of Texas City), its cargo of approximately 2,300 tons (approximately 2,100 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate detonated, with the initial blast and subsequent chain-reaction of further fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities killing at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department. The disaster triggered the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government, under the then-recently enacted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), on behalf of 8,485 victims.

As I grow older I rely more and more on the well-considered maxim: “Do not attribute to avarice what can be completely explained by stupidity.” Klayman could take advantage of that kind of knowledge, but only if he were so inclined, which he is not. Klayman is one of those people who like to ignore (or else they pretend to ignore) the truth whenever the truth is inconvenient. We need people like Klayman to remind us that a loud voice is not always a reliable voice. Thanks, Larry, for the refresher course.

But, back to the other issue at hand. In both instances somebody stored large quantities of highly-explosive ammonium nitrate in one place. That was the first mistake. The second mistake in these cases is usually to allow a fire to get started. The third, and fatal, mistake is to hang around the location once the fire has started. Rather than Muslims, we should look to the stupidity of grown men playing fast and loose with dangerous substances.

On an aside, I am familiar with a similar case. This happened in Dallas slightly more than forty years ago. I know about it because I worked with some people who investigated the accident. The company was just off Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas, and they made a product for bakers. I believe the product contained a mixture of potassium dichromate and wheat flour, and the plant’s process involved moving the mixture through a screw conveyor. The large metal screw rotated within a pipe, moving the product to the next processing stage.

Of course the mixture is explosive, and one day the action of the screw against the metal pipe ignited the mixture within the conveyor, and it went off like a bomb. The accident report told of one woman whose shoulder was severed from her torso. She had to be identified by the panties that she was wearing.

Firemen arrived to perform rescue operations, and another explosion hurled one fireman through a front window. In all something like eight people died.

Numerous governmental safety regulations were in violation. It’s possible there will be a similar finding from the accident in West. One thing that comes immediately to mind is the proximity of such an operation so close to inhabited structures. It often turns out that somebody has to die before the people we hire to protect us decide it’s time to start doing their job.

Somebody posted this on Facebook, and I thought it was kind of cute, so I stole a copy.



Three years on

What difference three years can make.

20 April 2010, nothing but hope and an empty lot.

20 April 2010, nothing but a bunch of weeds and a pile of dirt.

We signed the contract on 20 April 2010 and drove back to Dallas.

21 April 2013, wonder of wonders, it's been three years already.

In the mean time we planted the sage and finally had to trim it back. I think we have finally settled in.

Bad Movie of the Week

It’s bad movie time again, and it’s still Sunday.

I like it when the title tells me just about all I need to know about the movie. Terror in a Texas Town fills that bill nicely. Wikipedia has the plot. It’s right out of a Saturday matinée. Evil people trying to run honest farmers off their land. I will just fill in some comments.

Poster image from IMDB.com

This film is in black and white, and it’s from 1958. It’s one of those few I did not see when it first came out. It stars Sterling Hayden

The movie opens with George Hansen (Hayden) walking down the dirt street in a small Texas frontier town. He totes a whaler’s harpoon on his shoulder. You can tell he’s a good guy, because he’s square-jawed and plainly dressed. He walks with purpose.

From out of the saloon and into the street to face Hansen steps Johnny Crale (Nedrick Young). You can tell he’s a bad guy, because he wears a black hat and black clothing and has a black horse. He has come to duel Hansen, pistol against harpoon. This is going to be exciting.

Crale urges Hansen to come a little closer. He’s too far away for a harpoon throw. Hansen sizes up the situation. It’s too far for a harpoon throw. He turns away.

The movie is a flash back. An evil capitalist is taking over the valley, and running the homesteaders out. Those that don’t want to sell out are burned out. The farmers are cowed. They can’t stick together to oppose the injustice. Hansen’s father is one who stands against the terror, and Crale rides out to his farm to kill him. The father discovers there’s oil in the ground, and that’s the reason the capitalist is trying to scoop up all the land. It’s too late. Crale kills him before he can spread the word. And there are two witnesses, but they keep quiet out of fear.

About the next day George Hansen arrives on the train. He has come from the sea, where he has been working as a whale harpooner. He sees the terror that grips the town and stands against it. The bad guys beat him up and put him on the train out of town.

Hansen escapes from the train and walks back to the town. On the way he meets the witness to his father’s murder and learns of the oil. He takes his father’s harpoon and walks to town.

Crale rides out and murders the witness to the previous murder and is startled when the man dies bravely. He will not kneel, instead standing to take the bullet on his feet. This unnerves Crale, who has not witnessed much bravery in his past.

Back in town things have gotten too hot and the capitalist is packing up to leave town. Crale kills the capitalist, and he is still unnerved when he goes out to meet Hansen in the street. End of flash back.

Hansen turns away from the gunman, then swings back to make a full-armed thrown with the harpoon. The point catches Crale dead center, but Hansen is wounded by Crale’s last bullet. We know he will recover.

The photography is just great. Directing is excellent. The plot is awfully thin, and character development is almost non-existent. The screen play was written by Dalton Trumbo, who was at the time on the infamous Hollywood blacklist and did not receive on-screen credits. Probably a good thing.

On a clear Thursday afternoon

If I had waited three more years I could have done this post on the 180th anniversary of the event. Come back in 2016 to catch a repost, maybe with some elaboration. Here is the story:

After a ten-year war of independence, Mexico obtained its independence from Spain. That was in 1821. The new government of Mexico, apparently seeking to effectively populate the new country (its northern border extended up to what is now Wyoming), invited settlement from the United States. Prior to that time adventurers from the United States had attempted to settle illegally in Mexico, and had generally been captured and executed by authorities.

Now los Norte Americanos began to stream into the new Estados Unidos Mexicanos, as the republic was called. Their joy was short lived. After a power struggle within the government, involving a number of coups d’etat, López de Santa Anna was elected president. He then assumed additional powers and repudiated the 1924 constitution of the new republic.

Particularly, the area into which the Norte Americanos had settled recoiled at the new, draconian laws (slavery was abolished), and the settlers, along with a good part of the original inhabitants, declared their independence from Mexico. This was in 1835, and the rebellious area is what is now known as Texas (originally part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas).

Initially the rebels drove Mexican authority out of Texas, but in 1836 Santa Anna returned with a vengeance and with an army. Santa Anna imagined himself the Napoleon of the West, and he personally led this army. His forces made short work of a detachment of rebels in San Antonio, and they executed the rebels that survived the battle. A detachment of Santa Anna’s army neutralized and captured a group of over 300 rebels near Goliad, and they were also executed. However, 20 of the prisoners escaped, and those making it back to the rebel commander informed the rebels of the atrocity.

Leader of the rebel army was Sam Houston, originally from Virginia. With only a small band of rebels remaining at his disposal and with knowledge of Santa Anna’s brutality, Houston marched his men through South Texas for weeks, always keeping just ahead of the Mexican Army. Santa Anna knew he had the superior force, and when he figured he had the rebel force cornered near the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou, he relaxed his vigilance. That was all Houston needed.

On the afternoon of 21 April, while the Mexican Army was relaxing in camp, Houston’s men attacked, Sergeant Manuel Flores was the lightning rod for the attack, urging his comrades to continue their charge after they had fired the first volley from their single-shot rifles.

The battle lasted 18 minutes, but the rebels continued the slaughter of Mexican soldiers until they had killed 700. The rebels battle cry was “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad.” It turned out that what was good for the goose was also good for the gander. The rebels lost nine killed. Sam Houston was wounded and lost two horses in the charge. Santa Anna was wounded and captured.

On May 14, 1836, Santa Anna signed the Treaties of Velasco, in which he agreed to withdraw his troops from Texan soil and, in exchange for safe conduct back to Mexico, lobby there for recognition of the new republic.

The Mexican government repudiated Santa Anna’s peace treaties, but Texas was from that point on independent of Mexico as the Republic of Texas. The lack of finality of the situation was ultimately settled by a war after Texas was annexed by the United States. The original Republic of Texas included that part of Mexico extending north to Wyoming, but the state of Texas had to cede that and much of what had been Republic land.

Santa Anna variously languished in the United States, then back to Mexico and into politics and the war with the French. He embarked on various business ventures, one of which involved the introduction of chewing gum into the U.S.  He died in Mexico City in 1876.

Sam Houston became the first president of the new Republic of Texas and was later the governor of the new state of Texas. He died in July 1863. The fourth largest city in the Unites States is named after him, and “Houston” was the first word spoken by a human on the Moon.

Bad Joke of the Week

Not really a joke this week, but just some military humor. Some of these may be humorous in a macabre sort of way.

If it moves, salute it. If it does not move, paint it.

The only thing more accurate than enemy fire is friendly fire.

Never share a foxhole with somebody braver than you are.

Forget that foolishness about the five-second grenade fuse. The actual delay time is 2.8 seconds. Source: Steve (Two-fingers) O’Malley

Forget that stuff about no atheists in foxholes. It’s a bunch of crap. Team up with somebody who spends Sunday mornings on the target range.

One last one:

The sergeant asked the marine private, “Where’s your rifle, Shithead?”

The reply was, “I lost it, Sergeant.”

“Then you’re going to have to pay for it.”

“Gulp. If I checked out a Jeep and it got blown up by a mortar shell?”

“It would come out of your pay.”

“Wow! Now I know why the captain always goes down with the ship.”

Cheers to the police

As I count, within the past 24 hours, one policeman dead, several wounded, a full press effort to capture the killers.

Four days ago, two killers stalk the streets

It came to a successful conclusion. One killer was beat out in an exchange of fire with police. Explosives on his body were set off, and his brother ran over the body in his effort to elude capture. Eight p.m. tonight (CDT) police in Watertown, MA, finally took him down. Next chance you get, thank a policeman.

Lightning from a clear sky

OK, it’s the 70th anniversary, and this is about the death of a man. He was a warrior, and he died a warrior’s death. He was an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and it’s a sad commentary that he was one of the most honorable of the Japanese forces that opposed us, because by his participation and leadership, he also condoned and facilitated some of the most heinous war crimes of World War II. This is an indication that there was not much real honor left lying around after Japan started on the path of regional aggression into China in the 1930s. From Wikipedia:

Isoroku Yamamoto, (4 April 1884 – 18 April 1943) was a Japanese Marshal Admiral and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II, a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy.

Photo from Wikipedia

He was also the architect of the military operation that the Japanese Empire brought against the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, bringing this country into the war. He previously studied in the United States, and he knew the American character. He warned his superiors that the United States would not sue for peace, but instead would track Japanese forces to the ends of the Earth to exact retribution. He was aware of America’s vast industrial capacity, something that could never be matched by Japan. He was sure the counter strike would come, but he did not figure, nobody in the Japanese military did, that the strike would come so soon.

One hundred days after the Pearl Harbor attack American Army bombers struck at the Japanese homeland, inflicting minor material damage and losing all their aircraft. The damage to the Japanese psyche, however, was enormous and fateful. Japan had never considered the possibility of war in their own country, and they committed grievous errors of judgment in an attempt to broaden their defensive perimeter. In June of 1942 the Japanese attempt to invade Midway Island in the Pacific resulted in the loss of all four Japanese carriers (these had been involved in the Pearl Harbor attack) and a general retreat. American code breakers had penetrated the Japanese naval code and had correctly anticipated the attack on Midway. Yamamoto’s time was growing short.

By the end of 1942 American forces had stopped the Japanese advance into the Solomon Islands, and by early 1943 they were steadily driving west in their process of evicting all Japanese forces from the Solomons. Yamamoto was extremely popular with the Japanese soldiers and sailors, and to boost the morale of the dispirited forces in the region he planned a visit to the remaining Japanese positions in the western Solomons. His trip schedule was transmitted using the Japanese naval code.

President Franklyn Roosevelt made the call. Kill Yamamoto if possible. An Army squadron of P-38 Lightnings was selected to do the job. They knew Yamamoto would be flying into a field on an island near Bougainville on 18 April. It was the first anniversary of the American raid on Japan.

Sixteen fighters took off from Guadalcanal and skimmed the water toward Bougainville to avoid detection. Over Bougainville they pulled up to altitude and pounced on Yamamoto’s flight, which included two transport plus fighter cover. “First Lieutenant Rex T. Barber engaged the first of the two Japanese transports which turned out to be Yamamoto’s plane. He targeted the aircraft with gunfire until it began to spew smoke from its left engine. Barber turned away to attack the other transport as Yamamoto’s plane crashed into the jungle.”

Two .50 caliber rounds from a P-38 had struck Yamamoto, one of them being a fatal head wound. One American fighter failed to return from the mission. The death of Yamamoto was a severe blow to the morale of the Japanese troops and sailors and to the Japanese military command.

There’s a lot of talk these days about targeted killings of enemy forces. This country is at war with a group of landless militants, and when we can identify key individuals we go after them. Sometimes it’s face to face, often times it’s less direct—long range missile strikes or even pilotless drones. Some people seem to think these actions are of dubious morality or even reprehensible. Since when?

In the American War of Revolution the British were aghast at the colonialist practice of picking off commanding officers with rifle fire. The impression at the time was war was a gentleman’s game, and the key players needed to stay aloof from the fray.  You should not be targeted unless you had dirt on your boots. I hope those silly notions are long past. The people who make the war are also accountable, and that includes an enemy bullet if the occasion arises.

And the winner is…

The event was tragic, but like another incident 18 years ago, it has produced a sure fire winner for the Pulitzer Prize in journalistic photography.

Photo from Yahoo

This picture has it all. The runner in the foreground has fallen and is trying to get up. Framed behind him in the photo are three Boston cops in action poses that form a pattern from left to right. The one on the left is frozen in a dynamic stance, looking straight ahead, gun drawn. The smoke has not cleared. It’s only seconds after the first blast. In the background, through the smoke, we see the crowd reacting.

Does anybody want to bet me that this photo will not get the Pulitzer?

This is also the cover photo for this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated.

A Personal Assessment

One thing is that I never hesitate to add my opinion to issues in which I have no expertise. It’s never stopped me yet.

Yesterday when I switched on the TV they were showing video of the Boston Marathon bombings. I saw the first one go off, and my impression was “What a puny attempt.” What was not apparent to me was the deadly intent of the perpetrator, and I had no idea of the havoc wreaked. Only now is the grisly determination of this person or group of people becoming apparent.

However, my first impression still stands. I did not see a huge flash and pressure wave. I did see a lot of smoke. This said to me “home made bomb.” How do I know? Because I used to make home made bombs.

OK, hear me out before you reach for the phone and punch in 1-800-ATF-GETM. This was over 50 years ago, before Eric Rudolph, before Ted Kaczynski, before Timothy McVeigh, and before the Mad Bomber was brought to justice. Besides, my buddies and I were not intending to build home made bombs. We were trying to make home made rockets. It just turned out that some of our home made rockets turned out to be home made bombs in disguise.

What made it all home made is we made our own fuel. Factory made rockets used Cordite or even a rubberized propellant made by Morton Thiokol. We couldn’t make any of that stuff. A lot of it involved sophisticated chemical and industrial process beyond our wildest dreams. What we could do, however, was to read old books on explosives and also to study some basic chemistry. We may have started with gun powder, and even that was hard to make.

Gun powder was developed by the Chinese way before I was born, and it comprises a mixture of ground up charcoal, sulfur and potassium nitrate. The charcoal and the sulfur are combustible in oxygen, and when heated, the potassium nitrate decomposes, yielding oxygen as a byproduct. Ignite the mixture, and it will burn inside the barrel of a gun. The hot expanding gases expelled the shot from the gun barrel, and the military cannon and the firearm were invented.

It’s old technology, it’s not used much by the military, and gunpowder is the most hazardous explosive used aboard Navy ships. We had some on the Kitty Hawk, and it was used in a one-inch saluting gun for ceremonial occasions. The gun supposedly made a loud bang and put out a lot of white smoke when you fired it. But gunpowder is easy to set afire, and it was kept apart from other munitions.

Anyhow, we searched our chemistry books and looked at combinations of oxidizers and substances that burned in oxygen. We also studied other substances that participated in oxidation-reduction reactions but did not involve the oxygen atom. We also studied heats of formation. Write out the chemical reaction equation for the oxidation process and subtract the heats of formation on the right hand side from the heats of formation on the left hand side, and you get the amount of energy released per molecule of the reaction. The more energy released, the more powerful the rocket fuel.

And we made rockets. One went into the clouds and was never seen again. And one was a test of a partial load of gunpowder. It did not launch. It just went with a loud band. I have the home movies.

About the time we had our minor success and major failures, it was high school graduation time, and we had grown considerably wiser. We quit playing with eternity, and I went off to my active duty tour with the Navy Reserve. The Navy had the real stuff.

So, I’ve seen both. I’ve seen military explosives, and I’ve seen the home made. The military does not mess around. What I saw in the Boston video yesterday was home made. Here’s a short description of the difference.

Black power (gunpowder) and even Cordite are in a class of non-violent explosives, if it’s OK to use that term. Put some gunpowder in a pile on the sidewalk and touch it off. It will flash. No bang. Put an amount of nitroglycerin in a bottle out on the sidewalk and arrange for something to strike the bottle. There’s a bang and a lot of potential damage. The property being displayed is called brisance—shattering ability. The Boston video did not demonstrate that.

However, if you want to get a bang out of gunpowder, confine it in a container and touch it off. Two things happen. First, the products of combustion are retained and do not spew out from the explosion as the combustion proceeds. Second, in the confined space, the heat and pressure build up, and the rate of combustion accelerates tremendously. The result is a significant explosive impulse and a blast wave that can do a lot of damage.

I reviewed a video of a pipe bomb exploding. It was shot at extreme slow motion so that the fraction of a second of the explosion to complete was spread out over a minute or so. The first frames show the pipe. The explosive inside is ignited. Presently a bulge develops in the mid section of the pipe. The bulge grows to about twice the diameter of the pipe. Seams appear in the pipe wall, and presently the seams open up as the explosion runs to completion. It’s a silent movie, but I can imagine there was a big bang and a lot of destructive power.

Now, a day after the Boston bombing, we are told that at least one of the bombs was placed inside a pressure cooker. That makes sense for a low-order, home made explosive. The metal pressure cooker becomes a large pipe bomb, confining the initial state of the explosion and accelerating the combustion rate of the powder, whatever it was.

What I have said goes against what was told by a specialist being interviewed on TV. His contention was that confining the explosive inside a pressure cooker would tamp the explosion, reducing the blast. For reasons just stated, I disagree. That would be the case if, for example, dynamite were used. If the terrorist(s) had used dynamite, all they needed to do was to set it off inside a backpack filled with shrapnel. To me the pressure cooker is a give away to a home made explosive, or else a low-order explosive, such as gunpowder, which can be legally obtained in sufficient amounts to make a bomb.

The second thing speculated on TV was that the bombs were triggered by signals to cell phones. Of course, that does not make sense if you are going to put the cell phone inside the metal pressure cooker. The radio waves would not penetrate the walls of the cooker, and the whole thing would not work. Now they are thinking a timer was used to set off the explosions.

That might make some sense if there is only one person involved. For example, he has a timer that counts down, say, 30 minutes. Enough to make a getaway. Now you have two of them. You start one and put on the lid and put the whole thing in a back pack. Then you start the second timer going and repeat the previous process. The timers get started about ten seconds apart. About ten seconds separated the two explosions.

So, let’s consider this was an amateur. That was one gutsy amateur. Others who have attempted to build home made bombs are no longer with us. In 1970 the premature explosion of a home made bomb killed three members of the Weather Underground in a Greenwich Village townhouse. I seem to recall a similar incident involving the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland. Military bombs are fabricated using reliable manufacturing processes, and millions of these have been prepared with a scant loss of life.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

No, not the movie yet. I still promise a review later this year.

This is about those awful times when people get back to me with, “Oh, you were so right. Why didn’t I listen to you the first time around?”

Image from Wikimedia.org

OK, I don’t get many of those. Maybe someday.

Anyhow, a few weeks back I posted on gold fever. In the movie the old prospector explained why gold was so valuable. It was because it was so hard to find, and once found, it was so hard to extract from the earth. In the same post I chided people for investing in gold, whose main value seem to rely on people’s belief that it was valuable.

So, this was bound to happen:

A dizzying price plunge took the shine off gold as a perceived safe haven investment and could even lead to more gains for stocks as investors seek alternatives. This morning gold futures rose $30 an ounce after yesterday’s loss $140 an ounce loss. The 9.4 percent decline was the worst day for gold in 30 years.

Yes, folks. Reality sometimes does set in. Gold will attain true value when industrial requirement for the stuff begins to exert a stronger pull on the available supply.

Web News

Web News is an occasional item pulled directly from on-line news outlets. The aim is to exploit Web News to highlight the absurdities of creationism and other forms of pseudo science. Some political oddities may be featured from time to time.

This is from the Texas Freedom Network blog:

Creationists Target Texas Colleges and Universities Again

By Dan  | Published April 15, 2013

Once again creationists are trying to undermine science education in Texas. On Wednesday the Texas House Higher Education Committee will consider legislation that would bar the state’s colleges and universities from discriminating against or penalizing “in any manner” faculty members or students who engage in research on “intelligent design” — the name creationists have given to their pseudo-scientific attacks on evolution.

Now Rep. Zedler is back with his academic fraud protection legislation, House Bill 285. This year he’ll get his committee hearing. We have a briefing paper on HB 285 here, but the key points are the same as in 2011.

Here is the essential text of Zedler’s bill:

Sec. 51.979.  PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATION BASED ON RESEARCH RELATED TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN.  An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member’s or student’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.

A free reading of this indicates shoddy or fraudulent research must get a free ride so long as it supports or even mentions Intelligent Design. That’s all well and very convenient for creationists. The need for such legislation has manifested itself in recent history.

Guillermo Gonzalez was on the road to success as an astronomy researcher. He did post doctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin before going on to a position as assistant professor at Iowa State University. His wanderings into support for Intelligent Design led his co-workers to question his commitment to science. In any event, Gonzalez was denied tenure and promotion. The Wikipedia entry for Gonzalez includes the following.

Two years later, an article in the local newspaper The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported Gonzalez’ appeal against his denial of tenure and claimed he was “the unnamed target” of the ISU petition. The article noted that “Gonzalez won’t discuss the reasons for the tenure denial” but that he “noted, however, that he has frequently been criticized by people who don’t consider intelligent design as a legitimate science.” Comments from John West, the associate director of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture – with whom Gonzalez was a senior fellow – blamed the failure to secure tenure directly upon Gonzalez’ belief in intelligent design and compared it to a “doctrinal litmus test” typical of his native Cuba.

The Gonzalez case is featured in the 2008 “documentary” Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

Gonzalez claims that, prior to his tenure review, he was the subject of a campaign on campus to “poison the atmosphere” against him, and that he would almost certainly have been granted tenure had he not been an advocate for intelligent design. The film interviewed a member of the Iowa State University faculty who stated that Gonzalez was denied tenure because the university feared that if they granted Gonzalez tenure the university would become associated with the Intelligent Design movement.

ISU reports a different scenario:

Gonzalez’s failure to obtain research funding has been cited as a factor in the decision. “Essentially, he had no research funding,” said Eli Rosenberg, chairman of Gonzalez’s department. “That’s one of the issues.” According to the Des Moines Register, “Iowa State has sponsored $22,661 in outside grant money for Gonzalez since July 2001, records show. In that same time period, Gonzalez’s peers in physics and astronomy secured an average of $1.3 million by the time they were granted tenure.”On February 7, 2008, his appeal to the Board of Regents was denied.

Expelled also features researcher Richard Sternberg.

Expelled features excerpts from an interview Stein conducted with Richard Sternberg, described as an evolutionary biologist (he has two PhDs in evolutionary biology) and a former editor for a scientific journal associated with the Smithsonian Institution. The film says his life was “nearly ruined” after he published an article by intelligent design proponent Stephen C. Meyer in 2004, allegedly causing him to lose his office, to be pressured to resign, and to become the subject of an investigation into his political and religious views.

A coarse examination of the case reveals that Sternberg’s life was not ruined, and he had, in fact, acted with gross impropriety in publication of the Meyer article. Without consulting other members of the editorial board he arranged for publication of the article and left his unpaid position as editor prior to publication of the issue. He was harshly criticized for his actions, and if there was any damage done to his career or to his reputation it was of his own doing.

Carolyn Crocker is another worthy featured in Expelled. She had temporary status as lecturer at colleges in Virginia, but was subsequently not renewed. Some of her students complained about her promotion of Intelligent Design, and Crocker blames that for her lack of success.

It is apparent Representative Zedler’s Act has the intent of protecting people of varying degrees of competence, provided they are supportive of Intelligent Design. From all appearances this is not a bill to protect academic freedom. It is government support for Intelligent Design at its face and government support for religion by extension. Dan’s post also notes that Zedler submitted the same bill two years ago, and it never obtained a committee vote. A vote is expected this time around, but it’s possible that sanity will again prevail. We can only hope.

Bad Movie of the Week

This could have been a good movie, except. Except the plot is deafeningly unrealistic, and there is absolutely no character development. It’s a patriotic film, made during our first year in World War II with the usual ad for war bonds at the end, so I am sure it got some attention back in 1942, when it came out.

Image from Turner Classic Movies

The title Pacific Rendezvous relates to the hero’s plan to make his way into the war in the Pacific. Only, he’s in Washington, DC. He’s going to have trouble getting to the Pacific.

Bill Gordon is a newspaper correspondent who is quitting the business with an aim to fulfill his patriotic duty. Standing in his way are some odd characters introduced in the opening scenes. One is an old acquaintance of his, Andre Leemuth, who turns out to be something else besides an old acquaintance. The other is good looking, but definitely daffy, Elaine Carter.

Gordon gets off to a bad start with Elaine by pranking that he is somebody else, but then he makes a play for her, and things begin to get steamy. Not steamy enough. Tomorrow Bill Gordon will become Lieutenant Gordon of the United States Navy, and he will be off by train to the West Coast with his unit. Tonight there’s no time for hanky, much less panky.

However, he lets slip that besides being a journalist, he is the author of a highly successful book on codes and code breaking. Elaine drops this information in the right place, and the next day Gordon gets pulled off the train. The government has been looking for the author of this book, and Gordon is kindly (that’s the way the Navy does it, kindly) ordered to report to the code breaking section. Here is where things begin to break down.

The code breaking section is completely unrealistic. There are no multiple levels of security getting into the code room or out. Various people seem to come and go, particularly Elaine, who has no valid reason for being there and certainly no security clearance. At one point a foreign agent penetrates the code section, murders the chief chemist, and steals material under investigation. Also, when Gordon arrives he finds the code breakers working at absurdly low levels of sophistication. They are working as though the suspect message is a substitution cypher until Gordon straightens them out and sets them on the course of simulating a crude version of the German Enigma machine. Of course, the script writers at the time had no idea of Enigma—the details did not come out until after the war. Anyhow, gloss over that.

There is also the issue with a high-ranking officer, who also has a girlfriend who is a German agent. What’s more, he carries code books and such around in his briefcase. This kind of activity is unheard of. Then I am sure, as now, the movement of classified material outside a controlled area is executed with strict procedures to avoid compromise. Anyhow, if you can get past all of this, it’s a nice spy plot.

Andre turns out to be a German agent, the spies capture Gordon and Elaine and use threats against Elaine to get Gordon to compose a coded message. He does this, but the message is a fake. It alerts military authorities to the location of the spies and their captives. There’s a shoot-out, and the spies are killed or captured.

Gordon (my work is finished here) sets off on the train to join his unit on the West Coast, only to discover Elaine has joined the service and will be going with him on the train. It is never made clear whether Gordon is able to get off the train and join the Army.

Bad Joke of the Week

This is for all you Catholic fans.

Two young nuns volunteered for a renovation project at a church in a nearby town. They showed up for work early in the morning, and the sister in charge of the project assigned them to paint a meeting room in one wing of the church.

The two went into the room and looked around. It was going to be a big project, and they were concerned they would get paint on their habits. One of them suggested they just lock the door and strip down. So they got to work.

Presently there was a knock on the door and one of them cautiously stepped close to the door and inquired, “Who’s there?”

“Blind man,” was the reply.

The two nodded. No problem letting a blind man in, so the sister opened the door, and the man stepped inside.

He looked around and said, “Is that the window that needs the blinds?”