The Spechtacle

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

Category: Fun (page 1 of 4)

Must I explain?

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.

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.

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?

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.

Movie Guns.. big handguns for the big screen

Movies have a way of altering reality to a different perspective, that takes no more work than the imagination. At least on our part. It probably takes a lot of work for the guys in the prop studio, and the cgi guys to make the whole thing believable.

It kind of makes you wish you owned a machine shop of your own to turn fantasy into reality. All that aside, these are my top favorite movie handguns.

Hans Solo’s Blaster..
This thing is a thinly disguised Broomhandle Mauser, which was built from the late 1890’s till about 1930 or so. Broomhandles looked like it was from the future when it first came out, and it still does.

Bladerunner’s bolt operated pistol

A bolt operated pistol that is used for combat and not just target shooting is so contrary to modern design that I like it. It was built from a Steyr bolt action rifle and a Charter Arm’s .44 Bulldog. I found a fan who was hungup on the design and tracked down the original maker and produced one of his own.
Three Kings pistol
The big revolver carried by Spike in the 1999 war film “Three Kings” was a commercially available ‘Thunder 5’, with a huge cylinder meant to shoot .410 shotguns shells. If nothing else, it just looks bad.
Robocop’s Auto-9
Robocops Auto-9 pistol was made from a Beretta 93R, a select fire pistol made in the 70’s for military and police use. In the movie, the gun was supposed to house a 50 round magazine (where did all those bullets hide?), but it really never seemed to run out of ammo. You almost think it was belt fed and it ran up his arm or something.
Hellboy’s Good Samaritan
The best handgun of all time is Hellboy’s Good Samaritan. It’s big, and it’s rounds are so big, it can only hold 4 of them. The cylinders are cut away so you can see the bullets, but in real life this would be a serious safety hazard. But safety doesn’t enter the equation since Hellboy typically hangs out in harm’s way. The bullets are loaded by Hellboy himself, and to kill his unearthly enemies, are loaded with white oak, holy water, garlic, and silver shavings. (That ought to just about take care of anything.) The gun itself is unique in that the grips are made from the True Cross, and the iron parts are forged from Irish church bells, cruxifixes, and blessed silver.


Marcy’s Canna plant spectacular success!

Peggy planted some bulbs in Marcy’s yard about a month ago, and they have now become the centerpiece of the neigborhood. Mom says the 6 homeless bulbs liked to be planted next to each other in a circle. They certainly look at home now. Pretty spectacular! Kind of reminds me of the jungle, adding a tropical flair to an otherwise typical Ohio yard. I had some misgivings during the planting, but that was laid to rest with the emergence of the Fabulous Foliage.

In other news, Mom was about to dig up the tomato plants for the year, till she noticed 2 small tomatos struggling to grow. She felt sorry for them, so they are spared till they get plucked.
That’s all the news for now!


Blogging from the Win98 wall computer..


This is a blast from the past. This is being written from my Celeron wall computer running Win98. You really have to jump into win98 to realize how far we’ve gone in the past few years. If I could get a browser to work with Win3.1 I’d be using that!


Internet Explorer 6 is really funky. I used to love it, but that was before Firefox, extensions, flash and innumerable other things. I don’t really understand why I haven’t been hacked yet. Maybe Win98 isn’t the target anymore. Chasing after XP machines has to be more rewarding for the bad guys.

My wall computer is just a motherboard screwed to the wall with drywall scews. Probably not good for electrical shielding but everything seems to work ok. No problem with overheating either. I’ve got lots of other electronic junk screwed to the wall also, old cameras, hard drives and half a dozen other motherboards. Some, like this celeron, still work good, but I really haven’t thought up any good things for them to do. Maybe later.

I just hate to let anything die. Maybe it’s time to dust off my old Amiga 1000. Don’t think it has a browser either.


Manufacturers dirty war against DIY…

For some time now, all sorts of manufacturers have been conducting a secret dirty war against repairing anything. This is also aided by a jaded public who seems to be averse to even reading owners manuals, let alone try to fix something.


I just took apart our ailing Staples paper shredder. To it’s credit, this thing was built tough. No plastic parts in there. Also, no parts you can afford either. The rollers and plates and bearings that failed add up to more than the cost of a new one, so off to the landfill with the rest of it. It’s a shame too, as there is a certain joy or satisfaction gained from repairing something. Personally (much to the chagrin of my wife) I don’t let anything go till it’s reached it’s absolute bitter end. (She absolutely refused to drive that escort any longer, a shame really, it was a pretty good little car!)

The same thing is happening to cars too. Sure you can replace brake parts, rebuild engines and such, but after a car gets to be 10 years old, the manufacturers want to drop it like a hot rock. They also piddle around making parts available for them so that you are forced to look elsewhere it you want to keep it going. And where you really get into trouble is the cost of the failed subassemblies. Take your air conditioner in your car for example. The big failure rate includes compressors and evaporator assemblies. These things can be hugely expensive, and in the case of evaporators, aren’t built very well to start with. (You won’t get the manufacturers to admit it though.) Also, try and even buy a part for your home HVAC system, you won’t get many places to even sell you the parts.

But maybe this refrigerator mentality isn’t so bad. After all, it is spawning a huge recycling industry. On the other hand, the landfills around here are starting to look like little mountains. On a positive note, I fixed my toilet the other day, the handle wore out, and a replacement was actually available. Of course, the replacement was made out of plastic, and won’t last as long as the brass one I took out, but you take your victory’s when you can.


Trains, buses, and cars, Chicago Style..


We went up to Chicago for a small vacation just before Memorial Day. My wife didn’t want to fly, because getting in those cramped tin cans has been freaking her out lately. Me too. So into the car and off we went with map and Google in hand.

I plotted and planned this trip so not to be caught off guard by a new city. However things don’t always go as planned. (Actually they never do..) Of course, the first problem is road construction. I thought last year was the worst, but with stimulus money floating all around, I fear this year will be the winner. Luckily we didn’t get hung up too bad, and got into Chicago, sailing up Lake Shore Drive, but missed a turn because a bus was sitting in front of the sign, and drove all over Chicago to find my hotel..

Since there is no place to park in Chicago, we used mass transit. The idea is pretty cool.. every bus and every train run about every 10 minutes. So we’re off to a play, and are waiting by the bus stop. Forever. Then I notice this paper tacked to the bottom of the pole. This bus isn’t running today because of construction. But it did suggest another a couple of blocks up.

The next day we thought we would ride the Blue Line train up to Wicker Park. Sorry, the train wasn’t running because of construction today. Where have I heard that before? But luckily they found a bus to haul us up there.

So then it was time to go home. We’re all packed up and headed over to Lake Shore drive for a scenic ride home. Nope. Today they are having a biking event on Lake Shore Drive, with thousands of bicyclists, and the road is closed for the day.

This stuff can be extremely frustrating, but, as with all human plans, oft go awry. However Chicago is one fabulous city, and we’ll be back


Swine Flu.. early warning indicator

The swine flu is the latest pandemic threat facing the human race. What makes it bad is it can be transferred from human to human rather than getting it from some animal. The human to human spread is the killer.

In order to protect myself, I’ve devised an early warning indicator. Catholics.


Catholics have some very bad habits. They are completely hands on. If you go to church and sit through a Catholic mass, one of the first things you have to do is shake everyone’s hand. This is called the sign of peace, and you share it with all your neighbors. Then if you live through that, when communion time comes, a Priest lays a wafer in your mouth, (with his bare hands) and offers you a drink of wine from the communal cup. (Which everyone drinks out of)

Yes, when all the Catholics start dropping dead, I’ll be heading for the mountains. Preferably mountains that don’t have any Catholic Churches in them.


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