Bruce Momjian

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yTechnology Wireless Antenna Separation

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I already mentioned that I replaced my 802.11g wireless access point with a Cisco device. Turns out the Cisco device is not as powerful as my firmware-modified Linksys device, so I was not getting good reception in all parts of the house. I was already using two flat-panel direction antennas, so I used a 50-foot antenna extension cable and moved one of the antennas to a poorly-served part of the house. This seems to have fixed my reception problems. I was not sure how two directional antennas would work when separated by a large distance, but they seem to work just fine. This article talks about the advantages of antenna selection.

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History Downfall

Monday, December 5, 2011

I just watched the German film Downfall. The film is available for viewing online (turn off annotations), but I watched it via Netflix streaming.

The movie is chilling in its depiction of the desperation of the final days of World War II in the Führerbunker. It is also ground-breaking in its depiction of Hitler as a three-dimensional character, rather than as a monster:

Knowing what I did of the bunker story, I found it hard to imagine that anyone (other than the usual neo-Nazi fringe) could possibly find Hitler a sympathetic figure during his bizarre last days. And to presume that it might be somehow dangerous to see him as a human being — well, what does that thought imply about the self-confidence of a stable, liberal democracy? Hitler was, after all, a human being, even if an especially obnoxious, detestable specimen. We well know that he could be kind and considerate to his secretaries, and with the next breath show cold ruthlessness, dispassionate brutality, in determining the deaths of millions.

This relates to my previous posting about the private life of Hitler.

This movie also is the subject of many parodies, particularly the scene where Hitler realizes there is no hope of victory (original, parody, parody of parodies, parody of parody censorship).

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Arts Ken Burns's Jazz Documentary

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I just finished watching the 19-hour Ken Burns's Jazz Documentary. Originally released in 2001, I had been meaning to preview it for a while but the time never came until this year. Jazz seemed like such an unusual topic for a documentary, and its length seemed daunting.

Of course, it took me several months to find time to watch all 19 hours, but it was immediately engaging. Starting with New Orleans jazz, then ragtime, it goes through the many jazz styles in chronological order: Chicago jazz, swing, big band, bebop, avant-garde jazz, free jazz, bossa nova, and jazz fusion. While covering the big names like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, it profiles many people that I have only heard or listened to, but never understood their place in jazz history: Lester Young, Chick Webb, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk. Jazz has a more complex history than I realized, and I now listen to jazz music differently.

Matt Glaser provided some of the most interesting commentary:

You know, being a musician is an interesting thing because music is one of the few things that involves your body, your emotions, your mind and your spirit, all operating simultaneously. It's hard to think of other things. You're playing, your body is involved. You're feeling emotions, you want to express something emotionally. Your mind is active, it's constructing structures over the chord changes of this particular tune. And your spirit, it's a, if your, it's a prayerful kind of thing, so in that sense it's a very rare gift to be a musician, to be able to spontaneously as a jazz musician have conversations with other 5 people in which all of the parts of themselves are embodied and happening at the same time. It, it's pretty amazing.

I highly recommend this series. (video introduction, example, producer interview)

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Arts The Role of Artists

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This interesting article (photos/videos) about a missionary helping morale among Japan's disaster survivors has this perceptive quote about the role of artists in the world:

In a world that is so obviously not as it ought to be, it is the calling of artists to be agents of a new world, a redeemed world. Whenever we start to believe that nothing can ever be different, that our homes, relationships, careers are basically stuck in a groove and can never change and never will change . . . whenever we start to believe that the horrors of the world just have to be, the emaciated child compelled to beg at a road side, or the prostitute forced to the streets to feed her drug addiction. Whenever we start to believe that there can never be anything new under the sun, it's the artist's calling to make us believe things can be different, that life can be new, that a new world is possible, a world that ought to be.

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Technology The Real Job Threat

Monday, October 31, 2011

This article examines the sometimes uneven balance between computer automation and job growth. One article comment reminds us that the same argument was made for farm automation, while another states that their might be an increasing imbalance. A third comment questions the real meaning of work itself.

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Technology Future Tense: Apple Sauce

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This interesting article highlights how Apple has become the Orwellian corporation that Apple warned about its 1984 advertisement.

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Technology Ordered New Server

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I just ordered a new home server to replace an eight-year-old computer. Changes include:

                      old            new
---------------------------------------------------
CPU Cores             2              8
Memory (GB)           1              24
Storage               magnetic disk  Solid-State Drive (SSD)
Operating System      BSD/OS         Debian Linux

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History My Father's Collecting

Monday, September 19, 2011

This 1998 video is about my father's antique collecting.

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Technology Age Bias in IT

Saturday, September 3, 2011

This article explores possible age bias against older Information Technology (IT) workers. Rather than actual bias, it is probably higher salaries and lack of current skills that cause employment problems for older IT workers.

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Technology Curing Concrete

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I just had some major concrete repairs done to my driveway and was surprised to learn how few people understand the importance of proper concrete curing. If you have ever seen concrete that is chipping or has developed surface cracks, it is probably caused by improper curing.

Concrete takes 28 days to cure, and problems develop if the concrete cures too quickly by not being in contact with enough moisture. Some people spray water on the the concrete to keep it moist but that does not provide continuous moisture. A better method is to cover the concrete with clear plastic sheeting to create a constantly moist environment above the concrete, which allows for proper curing.

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Technology Replacing Electronics

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Electronics certainly improve at a rapid pace, often before the device stops functioning, so it is often unclear when to replace electronic devices with newer models. I do not like changing electronics for a marginal improvement so I usually wait until there is dramatic improvement. That time came last week when I replaced:

  • A 36-inch tube television with a 52-inch LED-backlit LCD television
  • A GPS with a newer model that has a larger screen, updated maps, live traffic information, and Bluetooth phone support

Both new devices are a big improvement. My eight-year-old computer server is the next target.

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Flight How Travel Makes You Smarter, Sexier and More Productive

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

This interesting article has some useful observations about traveling that I can confirm:

  • Time passes more slowly when traveling: I agree with the three-times-slower estimate.
  • It is important to be open to new experiences while traveling: I see many people travel to conferences only to spend most of the time staring at their laptops — they miss a lot.
  • You are sexier?: I am not buying that one, but I will accept more interesting.
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Community Whites' Net Worth Is 20 Times that of Blacks

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

This article explains:

In 2009, the median net worth of white households was $113,149, compared with $6,325 for Hispanics and $5,677 for blacks. That gap is about twice as large as the 1 to 10 white-to-minority wealth ratio that prevailed during the two decades before the recession.

I am not sure about all the causes of that gap, but it is certainly a problem. This article discusses the problems of high black male unemployment.

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History Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I blogged about the author of Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man two years ago, and just finished reading the author-published book. The author does an amazing job of research, interviews, and detective work to create the definitive guide to the inner workings of the first atomic bombs. This review summarizes it well:

Quite simply, there is NO better source of information on the technical details of the world's first two nuclear weapons. In the first 88 pages, after touching on the history of the Manhattan Project and the "Silverplate" Boeing B-29 "Superfortress" bombers that were specially modified to carry the weapons, Coster-Mullen describes the design, configuration, materials and assembly procedures of "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" to an unprecedented level of detail. But wait, there's more! The bulk of "Atom Bombs" is made up of appendices containing hundreds of pages of photos, drawings, sketches, patent applications and declassified source documents that reveal nearly every detail about the design, development, construction and testing of "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" that you could ever want to know. This is really "nuts and bolts" stuff, literally. Finally, there are over 30 pages of endnotes, which themselves constitute a unique and valuable resource. You'll know more when you finish reading "Atom Bombs" than you can learn from all of the other books on the subject combined. It gets my highest possible recommendation.

I learned several interesting things from this book:

  • The "Little Boy" (used at Hiroshima) and "Fat Man" (used at Trinity and Nagasaki) not only used different radioactive elements (uranium-235 vs. plutonium-239), but also different designs (gun-type vs. implosion) (details). A gun-type plutonium-239 bomb, "Thin Man", was originally considered but research was abandoned when the risk of accidental detonation was found to be too high.
  • Uranium-235 was difficult to produce, which is why bombs based on plutonium-239 were also created.
  • Little Boy was never tested before combat use. Fat Man was considered more complex and therefore tested at Trinity before its use at Nagasaki.
  • The military realized more than one bomb would be needed to force Japan's surrender.
  • For air-drop bomb detonation, the bomb fusing system required:
    • the bomb to be disconnected from the bomb bay for fifteen seconds
    • barometric sensors indicated the proper detonation hight
    • radar reflection measurements also indicated the proper height
  • Because the fusing system consisted of several parts, each of which could fail, additional sets of identical devices were configured in parallel to allow for detonation even if some sensors failed (details). Such fusing configurations are called series-parallel.
  • While the Hiroshima aircraft mission was flawless, the Nagasaki flight was plagued with problems, like low fuel and cloud cover over the target.

Update: This book explains the development of the hydrogen bomb (pdf), though its focus is more on scientific analysis, rather than bomb mechanics (additional source material). 2015-04-05

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Technology The Game-Changer Smartphone

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

There has been increased adoption of smartphones, but their cost has reduced wide-spread adoption. It was only a matter of time until smartphone costs approached those of generic phones, and that time seems to have arrived with the Huawei Comet. The Comet is a fully functional Android phone, and it is free with a T-Mobile contract, and $125 without one.

I have been using the Comet for the past two months and have found it very usable. It is much smaller and faster than my older G1. With the low cost of this phone and T-Mobile's USD $10/month charge for 200MB of data, there should be a great increase in the number of smartphones in the future. Smartphones have a lot of usefulness, but it is hard to convince people of this unless they can try them inexpensively.

Update: Smart phone sales now outpace traditional cell phones. 2011-07-06

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Thoughts More on Osama bin Laden

Monday, May 9, 2011

This is a good interview of President Obama a few days after the bin Laden operation. This wikileaked Guantanamo interrogation report includes details about Osama bin Laden's (UBL) courier in Abbottabad, Pakistan. This article explains the high and perhaps unwise cost of responding to terrorist attacks since 9/11.

Update: Another article about the impact of bin Laden on American society. 2011-05-13

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Community More Muslim Reaction to the Bin Laden Killing

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This report of limited Arab reaction to bin Laden' death, and has a good quote:

"[Al Qaedas] narrative was that violence was the way to redeem Arab and honor and dignity," he said in a conference call with reporters Monday. "But Osama bin Laden and his violence didn't succeed in unseating anybody."

This article also has many quotes from Arabs, and this article has a citizen poll. This article covers the positive reaction by U.S Muslims.

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Thoughts Osama bin Laden Found in a City

Monday, May 2, 2011

Instead of Osama bin Laden hiding in caves, he was killed in a three-story building in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Details include:

  • map of the U.S. helicopters and the bin Laden compound
  • aerial photos of the compound and buildings
  • ground-level photos of the compound
  • video of the inside of the building, including blood-stained floors
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Thoughts Bin Laden Killing Prompts Arab Anger, Relief

Monday, May 2, 2011

This article covers the Islamic reaction to the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy Seals. While there is some sympathy for bin Laden, the general reaction appears to be that bin Laden brought many negative effects to the Islamic world, and with the imminent overthrow of many authoritarian regimes, there is little interest in bin Laden's terrorist approach.

I blogged in 2008 about the larger Muslim community's work to prevent terrorism.

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History The Good Old Days

Friday, April 29, 2011

This article compares the experience I had growing up in the 1960's and 1970's to today's childhood experience, and the causes of the differences.

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Technology Done Learning Javascript

Monday, April 25, 2011

Javascript, also known as ECMAScript, has been around since the early days of web development, and has a checkered history including annoying visual effect, inconsistent behavior, and general confusion for language programmers.

Many of these unfortunate Javascript issues have improved or been resolved in the past several years and there is increasing reliance on Javascript. To learn this important technology, I read three Javascript books, starting eighteen months ago:

This was a good set of books because they were progressively more detailed. My big take-away from this is that web sites should be designed in layers:

  • content (HTML)
  • code reuse (Apache SSI)
  • appearance (CSS)
  • behavior (Javascript)
  • interactive content (AJAX)

When layers are used, web site development can be orderly and web sites easy to maintain. You might have noticed small improvements in my web site as I learned more about Javascript; the Javascript code I use for my web site is online.

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Thoughts Glue Kids

Thursday, April 21, 2011

This sobering article tells the tragic story of Kenyan street children.

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Technology If Search Is Google's Castle, Android Is the Moat

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This blog posting explains how Google is creating free cooperative technologies to protect their search revenues.

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Technology Carry on as Before?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This technology blog explains the social problems in addressing long-term energy challenges by stating:

A confluence of developments has meant that a sane conversation on energy issues appears difficult to impossible for our society to manage. Lack of reasonable discussion leads to avoidance of the topic by politicians and the general public, which then means that powerful interests make these decisions almost by fiat -- and this often translates into "carry on as before."

The scaled radiation chart linked to in the blog is also illustrative.

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Technology Technology Is Not the Answer

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This blog has a sobering view of technology's ability to improve lives:

In project after project, the lesson was the same: information technology amplified the intent and capacity of human and institutional stakeholders, but it didn't substitute for their deficiencies. If we collaborated with a self-confident community or a competent non-profit, things went well. But, if we worked with a corrupt organization or an indifferent group, no amount of well-designed technology was helpful.

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Technology This Is Your Captain Screaming

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This is an amazing story an airline pilot being partially sucked out of a plane in 1990.

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Community ObamaCare, One Year In

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This blog considers the status of ObamaCare one year after its passage; the year has not been kind.

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Technology Antarctica, 1961: A Soviet Surgeon Has to Remove His Own Appendix

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This interesting article shows it is possible for a doctor to perform surgery on himself, if necessary.

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Community Japan Earthquake: Before and After

Sunday, March 13, 2011

These before/after images (use pointer to scroll before/after images) clearly shows the tsunami devastation. It also shows why the Fukushima power plant (image #6) had rector cooling problems — even with many backup systems, they did not anticipate so much site destruction.

Update: This article explains many of the challenges ahead for the reactor sites. 2011-03-15

Update: This article summarizes the rector cooling problems. 2011-04-19

Update: This video shows the effect on Fukushima. 2011-04-20

Update: Detailed report of what happened 2011-11-08

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Community The President as Micromanager

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This article likens the US President to the CEO of a failing company. It portrays the recent "State of the Union" address as an earnings call where the CEO dances around the real problems the company faces.

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Thoughts Best Career Tip: Flip Mental Switch and Find 'The Zone'

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This interesting article explains the importance of being focused on work tasks. Christine calls it the "time warp" when I lose track of time when working.

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Technology Secrets to a Successful Blog: Aesthetics

Friday, January 14, 2011

This article explains how to improve your blog site. The best quote was:

Your post titles and headlines should be huge and bold. They should scream READ ME - there is no captive audience on the web, it's not like you're writing a Victorian-era newspaper that gentlemen will be reading cover to cover on a steam locomotive.

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Technology Completed Second Stalker Game

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I completed the second Stalker game, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, that I began in 2009. It was not as good as the previous one, but I hear the next one, Call of Pripyat, is good so I will start on that shortly.

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Community 'Popularity Is Nothing ... Principles Are Forever'

Thursday, January 13, 2011

This interesting video interview of former President George W. Bush illuminates the experience of being the president.

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Thoughts Five Rules for Coping with Tragedy

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This video warns against over-reacting to violent tragedies by passing unwise legislation.

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ThoughtsWhen Smart People are Bad Employees

Thursday, January 6, 2011

This thought-provoking article (summary) talks about how to manage talented but difficult employees. It is a topic that is rarely discussed.

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