Friday, December 26, 2008

The First Principles of my Career

A post I just read over at Evolving Thoughts got me to thinking about my first First Principles experience that had a real effect on my life. Prior to that, I was accustomed to working examination questions from first principles rather than spending the effort to memorize the curricula - I managed a reliable C+ to B- with that approach and that kept me below the notice horizon. But that really only had the effect on my life of failing to develop good study habits. So I do not recommend it to high school students.

I'll copy my comment to that post here because I think I said nicely what it was:

On the subject of the philosophical 'NOT':

1: George Spencer Brown, "The Laws of Form", specifically on the subject of division.

2: negation seems not to be understood by the 'subconscious'; the concept to be negated is simply asserted and the negation ignored. This has serious implications for those of us with bad habits we need to change. It may also be related to how come it took so long - longer than '0' - to become properly handled.

3: the Schmidt Orthogonality Principle, which asserts that all logical (i.e. Boolean) propositions can be constructed using only expressions of the form ~(A & B). This has considerable consequences in the field of logic design as used in VLSI chips. It is also a good interview subject...


~A ::= ~(A&A)
(A&B) ::= ~(~(A&B)&~(A&B))
(A|B) ::= ~(~(A&A)&~(B&B))
(A^B) ::= ~(~(A&~(A&B))&~(B&~(A&B)))

and in fact this last is how the first computer I ever worked on (Elliott 4100 series) actually implemented XOR functions in the ALU's Adder unit. It is a pretty and symmetrical diamond-shaped image when viewed as a logic schematic.

What really launched me into computers in my late teens (1966) was the visceral realization/apperception of the one-to-one relationship between the formal abstract logic (of the philosophical texts used in the Philosophy department at my University) to the actual physical electronic circuits which implement those logical equations, which in so doing perform useful computations. Without any visible moving parts. And I have to say that was a surprisingly hard association to make. The electronics was pretty easy, very basic Ohms law and simple semi-conductor junction physics; the philosophy and Propositional Calculus was equally straight-forward, something I learned and did well at in 2nd Form (UK equivalent to 6th grade). But there is something very different about the mind-set, or context, or something. I remember it took about a year of struggling to internalize an equivalence between ~(A&B) and the simple circuit of two diodes, a resistor, and a transistor. One of the few Aha! moments I can remember when it struck.

I'll probably revisit this again later. Right now I have to pack for our trip to Phoenix tomorrow.

Monday, December 22, 2008

When backups to backups to backups to backups fail, better have a Plan E

I awaken this morning to a momentary cessation of the usual domestic whirs and whispers, followed by a strident chorus of about 10 UPS's all telling me that our power went out. Quite surrealistic, really, with echoes and all. But, since the last Big Freeze of 1996, We Are Prepared, with our 7 KW generator out back tied in to a transfer switch. Or, we would be, had I kept up the watch on the state of charge of the generator battery.

So, Plan A didn't work out - not enough charge to run the starter. But there was enough to hold the LP valve open, so I embarked upon Plan B - the generator has a pull-cord. Now, a 7KW generator is a twin-cylinder 16Hp little beastie, not at all portable, and I am not the Adonis with all the right bulges of my youth any more. So close to an hour later I give up on that and take a rest.

Aha! Plan C - the cute yellow emergency battery pack! er, well, not quite. Turns out the test button lighting only the green LED is more or less lying. Maybe it will be enough with re-run of Plan B when tied in parallel to the primary battery? Again, not so. In fact, the E-Pack is lower in charge than the primary and pulls everything down further.

Well, maybe Plan D will do better. I have this huge 175 WH deep-cycle RV battery for my astronomy gear. Another sweaty 1/2 hour ensues. By this time I am getting worried about the fridge and freezer contents, and don't even want to think about the pre-pump septic holding tank.

At this point I ran out of prevously imagined backup plans. So I begin to consider how in the H I could get one of our vehicles close enough to the back door of the garage so as to be able to reach the generator with the jumper cables. This is a pretty radical thing to do, it would involve a lot of moving heavy stuff around - vehicles belong in the front of the garage, and Stuff at the back. But while casting around for magic puzzle space to move things into, my eyes pass over and then return to a nondescript trash bag covered lump under the bench. Well, what did I think I used to charge up that big RV battery when out on a week's wilderness Astro party camp-out? My trusty 1KW Honda generator. Coupled with the old RS 12V battery charger. So Plan E comes to fruition, and will probably get promoted to Plan B should this ever happen again. Run the Honda, plug in the charger, hook same up to primary battery, give it about an hour to settle in, then try the starter again. Voila!

The other part of Plan A for power outages worked like a charm. The generator is a tri-fuel type hooked up to a huge 250 gal LP tank, and it was topped up just last Wednesday. So I do not have to hassle with periodic gasoline refills, or with storing the nasty stuff. Why such a large tank? The 1996 outage left us without power for a week. At the time, a tankfull of LP was about $200. A deal for a week of comfort in otherwise trying times, And in less trying times it runs a friendly faux log fireplace in the living room.

Fortunately, the outage today only ran from 9 am to 6 pm. But you never can tell. So better have a Plan E just in case...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice 2008 - with snow

Well, this is unusual. I emerged from my den this morning and what greeted me? Remember, this is Seattle. It doesn't snow here. Much.

I guess tomorrow is going to be another 'Snow Day' at work. Even if it warms up it takes a while for 6" - 12" to melt away. And it is on top of at least an inch of packed ice from the previous storm.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

100 Experiences Meme

Like Lab Boy, my response to grrlscientist' posting of the 100 Experiences Meme is too long for her comments, so here it is:

  1. Started my own blog - and this is it
  2. Slept under the stars -- many many times
  3. Played in a band -- not for money, but in public
  4. Visited Hawaii - not often enough unfortunately
  5. Watched a meteor shower - the Leonids usually happen on my birthday
  6. Given more than I can afford to charity
  7. Been to Disneyland/world -- several times to Disneyland
  8. Climbed a mountain
  9. Held a praying mantis
  10. Sung a solo
  11. Bungee jumped
  12. Visited Paris
  13. Watched lightning at sea
  14. Taught myself an art from scratch
  15. Adopted a child
  16. Had food poisoning
  17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty -- hey, they don't let us do this anymore!
  18. Grown my own vegetables
  19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
  20. Slept on an overnight train - better than flying and hotel combined.
  21. Had a pillow fight
  22. Hitchhiked
  23. Taken a sick day when you're not ill
  24. Built a snow fort
  25. Held a lamb
  26. Gone skinny dipping
  27. Run a Marathon
  28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
  29. Seen a total eclipse
  30. Watched a sunrise or sunset -- several times, especially while working all night or touring
  31. Hit a home run
  32. Been on a cruise
  33. *Seen Niagara Falls in person
  34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors -- UK and Russia
  35. *Seen an Amish community
  36. Taught myself a new language
  37. **Had enough money to be truly satisfied
  38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
  39. Gone rock climbing
  40. Seen Michelangelo's David
  41. Sung karaoke
  42. *Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
  43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
  44. *Visited Africa
  45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
  46. Been transported in an ambulance - not something one really wants either
  47. Had my portrait painted - as a 42nd birthday present, I'll post it later
  48. Gone deep sea fishing
  49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
  50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
  51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling - snorkelled in the Med, totally clear, included sunken plane wrecks from WWII
  52. Kissed in the rain - and that was not all ... oh my mis-spent youth!
  53. Played in the mud - at the very first Glastonbury Concert in the early 1970's, see also 52
  54. Gone to a drive-in theater
  55. Been in a movie - the documentary of 53, at the 1:11 morning sermon, with the drum
  56. *Visited the Great Wall of China
  57. Started a business -- this is a great way to utterly destroy your credit rating as well as your social life (kept your comment, cannot better it)
  58. Taken a martial arts class
  59. Visited Russia
  60. served at a soup kitchen
  61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
  62. Gone whale watching
  63. Got flowers for no reason
  64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma -- they will not accept my blood because of a weird disease I had when I was a kid - also
  65. Gone sky diving - you must be joking!
  66. *Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
  67. Bounced a check - not really my fault, a pay check got mis-routed
  68. Flown in a helicopter - twice, once out of a disaster area, the monster floods of 1979 in LA when amongst other things Topanga Canyon got wiped out
  69. Saved a favorite childhood toy -- for some reason, my gyroscope
  70. *Visited the Lincoln Memorial
  71. Eaten caviar - yech
  72. Pieced a quilt
  73. Stood in Times Square
  74. *Toured the Everglades
  75. Been fired from a job - and is that depressing
  76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London - I cheat, used to live there
  77. Broken a bone -- fortunately only a metacarpel and a thumb joint, both motorcycle accidents
  78. Been on a speeding motorcycle - actually was driving, and boy that BMW K100RT is smooth!
  79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
  80. *Published a book
  81. *Visited the Vatican
  82. Bought a brand new car - my youth was all used bikes, first car I was already old enough to afford new
  83. Walked in Jerusalem - in 1963, we knew the current Chief of Police so got back-street tours
  84. Had my picture in the newspaper
  85. Read the entire Bible -- school, UK, required since there was no separation there
  86. *Visited the White House
  87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating - and I hope I never have to
  88. Had chickenpox - and mumps and measles
  89. Saved someone's life
  90. Sat on a jury - not quite, somehow they always reject me. wonder why?
  91. Met someone famous -- used to work in the music biz, sold them studio gear I designed
  92. Joined a book club
  93. Lost a loved one
  94. Had a baby - I'm a guy, but anyway past it now
  95. *Seen the Alamo in person
  96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
  97. Been involved in a law suit
  98. Owned a cell phone -- seems a bit pedestrian for this era but OK.
  99. Been stung by a bee - I kicked it accidentally. Otherwise no insect bothers me even when all around are swearing and hopping.
  100. Ridden an elephant - at the London Zoo