The Spechtacle

A site for sharing information, dropping dimes and plotting overthrows...

Author: Greg (page 2 of 14)

Push it on the stack

Medium size metropolitan Saab dealer… 8:00 a. m. 2 waiters on the counter already. Been waiting since 7:30, I thought we opened at 8. First one is an oil change… get the oil draining. Second one has a window that won’t go down, push the oil change on the stack, off with the door panel… motor shorted… price motor. Car already in shop needs to get to bodyshop asap, but needs alignment first. Push window car on the stack. Almost finished with alignment, customer needs to go for a test drive for some noise she hears. Push alignment on the stack.

We don’t hear the noise, but she insists on driving till we hear it. A lot of people are getting antzy back at the dealership. I suggest letting me drive, and she agrees. Big mistake for her, as I drive straight back to the dealership, and tell her we just have to keep the car till we hear the noise. (Later that story has a happy ending, just a bent heat shield.) Pop the alignment off the stack, completed and off to the body shop. The window motor sold, and installed and out the door and popped the oil change off the stack. LIFO. Done.

9:15. Ready for a new round.

The Shuttle and the Solar Impulse

Flying machines are radically different from each other depending on the job they have to do. You would think that flying around in air would make them all pretty much the same, more power than weight, aerodynamic and the rest. Today the next to last shuttle flight took off. Talk about power, the 3 main engines provide 1.2 million pounds of thrust and thats not counting the 2 solid rocket boosters which all push the shuttle from 0 to 17,000 mph in around 6 minutes. I don’t know what that is in horsepower but it’s a lot.

Also in aircraft propulsion news, the Solar Impulse made it’s maiden flight and landed in Brussels this week. It’s the first solar powered aircraft and is an ungainly looking thing. But it is thrifty, and uses no fuel. It’s four 10 horsepower electric engines push it along at a blistering 60 mph, a challenge to land at an international airport when the craft goes so slow. You would think high winds could give it fits, also. But it is pretty cool. Not likely to get us to the moon.

I’m torn by which one I’d rather ride in… I think I’ll take 1.2 million pounds of thrust, please.

Passports, Dinosaurs and RFID

The wife wants to go to Canada next year so off we go to get passports. My last trip overseas was on Uncle Sam, so a passport was a new experience for me. It finally arrived in the mail and looks pretty hi-tech, so I delved into it’s properties.

It has a machine readable code on the data page (the one with your picture on it) so scanners can read your information. This has been a feature since 1981, but I had noticed this small block on the front. This block signifies an inclusion of an rfid chip, which has been in passports since 2007, and this includes certain biometric data about me, and even my picture is encoded.

This chip was originally mandated as a way to speed up the immigration process by making scanning easier and faster. The rfid chip is just a more modern machine readable code, but now the digital world makes it easier than ever to steal your identity. Any rfid reader can read that code, and the more power the reader has, the farther away it can read the data. To deter that problem the cover is supposed to have a radio frequency shield to deter unauthorized scanning of your passport. However all this goes away when you open it.

There are projects afoot that will encrypt the data so that only authorized readers can access it, and being paranoid I think this is great, but I suspect this will only lead to escalation by the bad guys. With every digital hole that is plugged they seem to worm their way into another one.

Tyrannosaurus with infection

Tyrannosaurus with infection.. Illustration by Chris Glen

Digital parasites have evolved alongside our technology. Parasitism is a way of life on this planet, and it bothered the dinosaurs as much as us. This may seem that we are locked into an evolutionary arms race now between white hat and black hat hackers, and maybe if one side or the other wins, we may all be the losers. Maybe we need predator hacker scumbags to make us stronger, much like the constant warring between europeans made them (and us) the dominant power on this planet.

For now, I think I’ll wrap my passport in aluminum foil.

Paper is dead

I hate to say it out loud. I love paper. I used to try and make it out of a bunch of old rags, mixed into a paste and pressed out to dry. The sunday morning paper is a comfortable old friend. The stacks of books on the wall don’t want to leave. There are albums crammed full of pictures, snippets from magazines and articles I can’t do without.

I read a lot, but lately it hasn’t been on a paper background. It started with computer screens that got connected to the internet. There isn’t enough wall space here to stack the number of books you can access on the net. But now, with Ipads and whatnot, you can access all that stuff from anywhere, and you don’t have to wait till you can get to the library or the bookstore or wherever. Your kindle can download anything you could possible want to read. And it all packs into some little thing you can put in your pocket. (Well, everything except the Ipad)
Ebook on Ipad
I’m still keeping the sunday morning paper as long as I can, even though it is changing also. The paper is smaller now, and ad content usually covers three quarters of each page. Still, it is paper, and it will be something our great grandchildren will only see in museums.


Garage alarm project

This simple little device was wired up to test how long an led would run on some old used c cell batteries. The date inscribed on the batteries when it was built was 7-18-07. It quit last night, 4-30-2010.
The device
It sat around at work till I got tired of looking at it. It just kept going and going and going. I put it inside the window of my garage, where it served as a poor man’s alarm system, in which it acquitted itself admirably. But now it’s dead, and I need to find some more used c cell batteries.

It’s not immediately obvious that this alarm thing really worked, however. I haven’t been hit yet, and don’t want to be. Real alarms are dubious anyway, since Police Departments already have enough to do. Maybe I can get a recording of a barking dog or something. I wonder how many c cells that would take?

Graveyard Guns – the 8 inch converted Rodman

Cool guns come your way without even looking hard. There is this graveyard near hear with an old Civil War Columbiad sitting in the middle, presumably still guarding the inhabitants. So far it seems to be doing a good job, however, in case of hostilities, the gun would come up short.

Stonelick cemetery sign

Thomas Rodman was a Lieutenant in the U. S. Army before the Civil War, and had an idea that could possibly save the Columbiads being built at that time. The Columbiad was on it’s way to becoming the north’s big gun, but had a problem. At the larger sizes needed for seacoast defense, the Columbiads would crack when the casting would cool. At the time, the usual process for making a big cast iron gun would be to pour it in a mold, then turn the outside on a huge lathe (this part was just cosmetic) and drill the bore out. However when this giant hunk of cast iron cooled, it would crack.

Along came Rodman with an idea. He though that the cooling process was what was ruining the guns. He came up with a way to cast the gun with a pipe in the middle, just smaller than the bore would be. After it was poured, he would run water through the pipe to cool the gun from the inside out, instead of the usual outside in. They would heap hot coals on the outside for a while as it cooled to make it cool outwards.

Front view Rodman gun
This worked great. The Army didn’t want to foot the bill the experimental part, so Rodman patented the idea and sold it to a private company to get things started. He was a huge success, so much so that all big cast iron guns came to be made that way, and the Columbiads even came to be known as Rodmans.

Later, after the war was over, and the benefits of rifling became painfully obvious even to the U.S.Army, a cheap way to keep these guns in action was sought. Some enterprising soul came up with an idea of drilling out the bores and inserting a rifled wrought iron liner to a smaller size. It was finally tested at Sandy Hook proving grounds and failed miserably. The gun came apart. A new attempt at inserting the liner from the rear was tried and also failed. The puzzling thing is that this happened in 1881, and there are lots of these converted guns around the country with dates on them several years after this. It’s a good thing no one saw fit to land on our shores, or we would be shooting liners at them.

Rodman gun breech end
This gun, in the Stonelick Cemetery in Owensville, Ohio, is one of those converted guns. It started out in life as a 10 inch smoothbore Rodman, capable of sailing a hundred pound shell almost 5000 yards. It weighs over 15,000 pounds. It was converted in 1884 by inserting the liner from the rear, as it has the tell tale plug in the breech end. Now, as an 8 inch rifled gun, it could now shoot the theoretically same weight shell as when it was a 10 inch smoothbore, as the rifles shells could be longer. It was laid to rest in 1913, and they must have used a hell of a truck. Hydraulic cranes were still relatively new then, and they might even have used a steam crane to place it.

Well, the story does have a happy ending. The Army finally realized it couldn’t protect the seacoast of the United States on the cheap, and finally got around to producing newly designed and made guns to do the job.


It’s ghost hunting season…

Ashley and Joey and Caiden moved into an old house last month. Since then they’ve been constantly confronted by a ghost. It makes noises, wakes up their child, opens doors and finally appeared as a disembodied face.

It’s a neat old house, built in the 1830’s in Batavia, Ohio. There has been a zillion generations thru this house, including one very famous tenant, Henry Clark Corbin, once a Major General of the U.S. Army, personal friend of U. S. Grant, and who was also present when President Garfield was shot. Since the ghost had an old fashioned female face, it was immediately thought it was the ghost of his wife, who could have died in this house.

Haunted house

The old house on Market street

The ghost is starting to get on the family’s nerves. Every night Caiden wakes up howling, and when his mother enters the room, he is facing the wall, staring at something. When Ashley goes to do the laundry, the door opens just before she gets there. Once she walked out of one room and ran smack into the apparition, with a face of a woman with her hair up, as was common in days long past. Something needed to be done.

That’s when she found CAPER on the internet. Known as the Cincinnati Area Paranormal Existence Research organization, it is a nonprofit group dedicated to scientific study of paranormal activity, or more clearly, ghost hunting in the Cincinnati area. Their mission seems more geared to living peacefully with ghosts, rather than exorcising them. They have lots of testimonials or their site, seemed to be legitimate, so called them up.
CAPAR's business card

2 women came over, one veteran researcher, and an apprentice who took copious notes. They had some electrical device with them as electrical phenomena and ghosts seem to go hand in hand. They toured the house and found only 2 areas of electrical interest, one area by the fuse box, and one by the front door. The area of high electrical energy by the fuse box was easily explained, however that is where the door to the laundry room is. The veteran said ghosts sometimes use that electrical energy to be able to move things, hence the door opening by itself. Also to test the lock, with the door closed, you can’t push it open. Is it the ghost?

They didn’t think the haunting was bad enough to get serious. They thought just talking to the ghost in a friendly way, and telling them the rules, such as don’t scare the kid, would help so that every one could live in peace with one another. They could escalate the case if necessary, staying the night with a bunch of gear, and even bringing in a psychic if needed, but this activity usually makes hauntings worse, before bringing them to a successful conclusion. So for the time being, peaceful coexistence is the plan.

Recently my sister Peggy spent the night with OOPS, the Ohio Organization of Paranormal Studies, as they staked out Books ‘N’ More looking for ghostly activity. They brought with them lots of current ghost hunting technology, and Peggy got a byline in the Wilmington News Journal documenting the nights activities. The results for the night are to be posted soon on the OOPS website.


Reporters in war zones.. Sean Flynn

With the snow 5 inches deep outside, with another five on the way, of course I started thinking about Vietnam again. It’s 20 degrees here, but could get from 60 to 130 degrees there. I worked nights during the war cooped up in a 5 ton truck, but during the day I was free to roam around the country. So roam I did, and usually in the company of reporters.

They had vehicles, cameras, a nose for news and chased after the war. I was on foot, had a thirst for adventure, and they were glad to drag me along. As a rule they were pretty nice guys, and always had a beer to share. On the other hand, they had a propensity for taking you places that you later realized you didn’t really want to go to, especially when things got hot.

Shell shocked soldier, Hue Vietnam

I caught this story in the Guardian about Don McCullin and some of the photographs he took during the war. A famous one caught my eye, Shell shocked US Marine, Hue Vietnam… since Hue was my base of operations I had to know more. The photo was famous for the haunted look of the marine, staring off past the camera, during a particularly rough battle during Tet of ’68. When I got there in 1970, all the holes were still in the buildings. It must have been a hell of a fight.

Other reporters were mentioned in the article, some famous, like John Steinbeck IV,the son of writer John Steinbeck. Another famous guy was Sean Flynn, the son of actor Errol Flynn. He’s not the Sean Flynn currently known in the movies, since he disappeared there in 1970 during the invasion of Cambodia by US troops.

Don McCullin was more like the reporters I knew, didn’t carry guns and were all business. Sean Flynn was a little more swashbuckling, like his dad and himself in some pirate movies. He carried guns, smoked a lot of dope, was fearless and stuck his neck out. The last time he stuck it out too far. You really couldn’t blame him. He was young, found adventure in an exotic locale, lived through danger and was free to do what he wanted. During the invasion of Cambodia, it was becoming clear he wanted to find out what it was like to be captured by the North Vietnamese. So he got his wish, along with reporter Dana Stone. They were captured in 1970 and never heard from again.

last known picture of Sean and Dana alive

One friend of his, a Tim Page (who was the model for the reporter in Apocalypse Now) has probably done the best investigation of his disappearance, and figures he was killed by the Khymer Rouge a year after his capture. Reporter Tim King, who was a war reporter in Afghanistan, is putting together a documentary on Sean. Whatever happened, he’s dead now or he would have turned up somewhere. It makes you think about his judgment, but young guys in a war zone who smoke a lot of dope probably didn’t have the best judgment anyway. I know I didn’t. I did a few things I regret, but thankfully they didn’t kill me. I still think about roaming around with those reporters, and I’m glad they didn’t want to get captured. Thanks guys.

Update 3-29-10 Flynn’s remains discovered?

According to Fox News, freelance bonehunters may have found Sean Flynn’s remains. They have been turned over to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command for identification. Concerns have been expressed over the discovery, as the pair involved used excavating equipment and not forensic techniques to recover the remains. It seems there are freelance bonehunters looking for remains in Indochina, looking for a fee for their return.


Move over Basil, it’s the new Sherlock Holmes

Your memories of how some character should be are locked in when you’re young. That is where my memories of Sherlock Holmes comes from, watching old movies from the 40’s of Basil Rathbone as the suave all knowing Sherlock and Nigel Bruce as the bumbling but faithful Dr. Watson. The latest movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock and Jude Law as Dr. Watson stresses Sherlocks mastery of martial arts and fondness for certain women, absent from the earlier versions.

The new Sherlock Holmes movie is much grittier and more faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle’s vision of the famous detective, and for Dr. Watson, who’s treatment by Hollywood in the 40’s as the comical sidekick is unflattering. Watson’s past, according to the original stories, has him survive the Battle of Maiwand, no mean feat during one of Britain’s more disastrous battles.

The women come off better now also. During the 1940’s, whenever a murder was uncovered or a body discovered, some woman in the vicinity starts to come apart. The first order of business is sedating the fainting females. Dr. Watson comes in very handy for that job, and always had a handy sedative in his pocket. Women in the latest movie have much more grit, as when Sherlock tries to nail Mary (played by Kelly Reilly), Watson’s intended, to the wall. She pretty much nails Sherlock to the wall, and isn’t about to take any grief from anybody. Also Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), the only person to outwit Sherlock, is not afraid of anything. Don’t try sedating these women.

Enjoyed the bleak portrayal of Industrial Revolutionary Britain, with huge impersonal gray buildings, throngs of unwashed Englishmen, and steam-engined boats. Also, Lord Blackwood’s (Mark Strong) use of an electrically operated remote control device impresses Sherlock, which as in reality was just getting thought about by Nicola Tesla during the 1890’s.

The only thing the modern Sherlock Holmes can’t top is the mood of Basil Rathbone’s black and white versions. Color still can’t beat the old masters of subtle shading and stark contrast.

Griffin Up! New Saab commercial mashup

Swedish David Blumbeg wrote a song and put together a mashup of Saab commercials in support of finding a new buyer for Saab. Other enthusiasts have also responded with the website IwontbuyfromGM, looking to lean on the General. For more Saab news check out Saabs United.


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