Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Importance of Real Science Classes

For all the screeching from some circles about not allowing "pseudo-science" (by which they mean Intelligent Design critiques of evolutionary theory), you would think this sort of political indoctrination in a science class would generate a bit more controversy:
So my son in junior high got the following choices for a school project:

You are a belligerent group of environmental activists from an organization called "Save the Rainforest." Design a campaign to raise money to protect the rainforest. Audience: General Public

As a group of concerned citizens your team will write a letter to our State Senators about the US policies regarding the destruction of the world's rainforest.

You are a team of naturalists reporting to the world about the fragile ecosystems in the rainforest. Tell about what was, what is and what will be if we keep up our current rainforest activities. Include pictures with captions. Naturalists are non-political; they simply study the natural world. Audience: General Public

Other choices included; Building a save-the-rainforest website, create a save-the-rainforest presentation to business leaders, a travel agency promotion to convince tourists to see the rainforest "NOW, before it is too late," information for rainforest products that will only be available for a limited time -- "due to ecosystem changes" -- and a press conference at the UN reporting the discovery of 2 new species that should "provide convincing information about why world leaders should work to protect the rainforest."

Guess what class this is for? Give up?

It's his science class.
This isn't even "pseudo-science." It's political indoctrination in place of science. Hey, a serious discussion of the irreducible complexity problem of the flagellum would at least teach the kids something about the complexity of cell mechanisms.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Just Not My Month For Domain Names...

I registered the domain name last year as a subdomain of Apparently it expired, and this time, I was not informed by the registering company about it, so for the moment, goes to somewhere generic. Groan.

Anyway, it should be back in a day or two. I'm still getting orders, in spite of this.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

House Project: Moving Bigger Furniture

We rented a U-Haul Saturday afternoon to move some of the bigger furniture up to the new house, since the tile guy had come through and repaired all the tiles and grout that cracked because of settling.

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I hate driving trucks this big. This one had more than 158,000 miles on it--and it felt it. Unfortunately, I didn't notice until I was returning it to the U-Haul place that the electric overdrive had been on the entire time, explaining its gutlessness, even with the light load of bookshelves, a bed, and several boxes of books.

At least there's a place to sleep if I stay up there observing and I decide it is too late to drive back!

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Bookshelves and books are now invading every room!

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There are still a few issues. The pressurization pump in the garage is dripping water, so the well pump people need to come back and figure out why.

We are still trying to figure out a solution to the pretty serious crack in the back driveway. It is a bit expensive to tear up this much concrete, and then repour it. The builder is thinking that putting in another drain at that part of the driveway might be a way to both disguise it, and make sure that water doesn't pool there.

No mailbox yet--so the first two bills from the phone company ended up going...who knows? They didn't bounce back to the phone company.

Still waiting on consistently warm enough weather for the builder to finish the exterior trim paint, and grade the rest of the platform and road.

The good news is that two different wireless internet providers are now offering me service, the cheaper of which will charge me $200 installation and $70 per month for 800 Kbps upstream and downstream. Citizens Communications, who could not give me DSL when I asked for phone service several months ago, now says that they will be installing more remote terminals in my area "soon" and will be able to offer DSL. If they can do so before I commit to installing a wireless antenna, that would be very nice, but phone companies move glacially.

Last house project entry.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

This Isn't Really About Machining, In Spite of the Pictures

It is about how the things you learn as a child stick with you. When I was a child, my father was a tinkerer. He fixed cars, appliances--you name it. When my sister's TR6 needed a transmission rebuild to make it saleable--no problem. It was a major project, but he dropped the transmission, took it apart, and replaced the damaged gears.

It was memorable. One gear was missing 40% of its teeth--it became a candlestick holder in our house for many years. The experience of replacing these parts was a learning experience about British automobiles. At one point, he found out that the concept of "interchangeable parts" had apparently not taken hold very well in the British automobile industry. When he took back a transmission part that didn't fit, the auto parts store explained that he had received the right part--but even in the same year, there was considerable variation in parts, and they gladly exchanged it for another supposedly identical part--and this one fit.

I never liked being involved in these projects. My father would have me help him, but I always resented it, because I wanted to be reading. Getting your hands dirty making stuff just didn't do anything for me, except bore me silly.

Somehow or another, I ended up learning a lot from watching him, especially when he was doing something that mattered to me. For example, by junior high, I needed a bookshelf--a big bookshelf. We built one--and he taught me that you use screws, not nails, for anything you might ever have to repair. You can remove and replace screws without damaging the wood--unlike nails. I still have that bookshelf today--very solid, and in no danger of getting creaky.

When I wanted a big telescope, my father knew exactly where to go to find parts intended for that purpose--and parts not intended for that purpose! We built a serviceable mount from plumbing parts and a rolling tripod that we found in a junkyard.

Finder scopes too expensive for our limited budget? He found a right angle telescope originally intended for some military application. There were no cross lines on the reticle--only horizontal lines. So we disassembled it, used a glass cutter to scribe a vertical line, and then put it back together again. No illuminated reticle? He drilled a small hole in the side of the tube, and by holding up a very small red light bulb, we achieved the desired result. It looked very retro, but it worked well.

I learned a lot from my father about tools and making things (usually against my will), and in recent years, I have been using some of that knowledge. For example, the ScopeRoller manufacturing operation requires me to turn cylinders of plastic to a particular diameter. You can't just put the cylinder in a three-jaw chuck, and then move the cutting tool down the entire length of the cylinder. Where the cylinder sits in the chuck, the jaws get in the way of the cutting tool. You can't turn the cylinder most of its length, and then turn it around, and complete the process--the cylinder doesn't end up in quite the same position, and you get a discontinuity where the turning operation ends.

So here's the solution that I made, starting with a round rod of aluminum.

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The female end is 3/4"-16 threaded to screw onto the headstock of the lathe. The male end is 3/8"-16 threaded. I face the two ends of the plastic cylinder, and then drill a small hole in the exact center of each end. then I drill and tap a 3/8"-16 hole in one end of the cylinder. This threads onto the 3/8"-16 male end of the adapter. Then I use a live center in the tailstock to suspend the cylinder, and now I can turn the entire length of the cylinder to a precise diameter in one smooth operation.

The art of making this adapter was relatively simple.

1. Face the two ends of a piece of aluminum rod so that they are exactly square.

2. Drill a hole in one end with a 1/2" drill bit.

3. Use a boring bit to enlarge the hole to .673" diameter (the size that the 3/4"-16 tap requires).

4. Use a 3/4"-16 tap to thread the hole.

5. Mount this on the headstock, so that it can now be turned exactly on axis.

6. Because tapping a hole often ends up slightly off exactly perpendicular (and this needs to be a very precise part), I then refaced the end of the aluminum, put the part back in the 3-jaw chuck, and refaced the end with the 3/4"-16 hole.

7. Remount the workpiece on the headstock's 3/4"-16 threads.

8. Cut away the unmounted end of the cylinder until you have a .39" diameter by .5" long stem.

9. Use a 3/8"-16 die to thread the stem.

10. Drill three holes perpendicular to the sides of the workpiece, so that if it gets stuck on the headstock threads (which it did, at one point), I can stick metal rods into them to get more leverage for loosening it.

11. Polish everything up nicely.

Whenever you start to wonder if the things that you are teaching your children--and not just useful skills, like use of tools, but the important things, like right and wrong, compassion, and justice, think back to the things you learned from your parents--and see how often you are putting those ideas to work today.

Monday, March 20, 2006

My Domain Expired A Few Days Ago

I never received a renewal notice, so I now scrambling to get it renewed. If you can read this today (March 20), I'm surprised.

UPDATE: Actually, I may have received notification from Network Solutions, but when I checked my account, I noticed that the contact information (email, SnailMail, and phone number) were all unchanged from when I first registered the domain, when I still lived in California. I never updated them--and not surprisingly, they had a hard time informing of imminent expiration of my domain. (Consider this a word to the wise.)

Oddly enough, when I blogged the first part of this entry, I could not get access to anything associated with the domain Blogger managed to get the entry put in the right place, probably because it was using either the actual IP address (you know, the four numbers separated by periods that are what domain names end up resolving to), or more likely, Blogger's DNS (Domain Name Service) tables had not been updated yet to make disappear.

It may still be a few hours before everyone in the world can see my web page--and my email is still down--but that's one of the consequences of the distributed nature of DNS. It can take hours to days for all of the DNS servers to get updates with the correct IP address again for

Monday, March 13, 2006

House Project: No Longer The Moron Bookmobile

Getting the last little steps done on the house is taking forever. The builder is going to make one more try at the "bend the hinge pins" trick to solve the doors closing themselves, and then I will work on my approach, which is more elegant, but requires me to spend some time with the lathe (which is currently behaving like it has become a meth addict--more about this later today). The tile guy is supposed to run up this week and replace the cracked tiles and grout. The builder claims that he is going to get the mailbox installed as well--although since there is a thick layer of snow here on the valley floor, I'm a bit skeptical this will happen soon.

In any case, we made another run up there a few days ago with more books, but at least we now have an adequate supply of book boxes to do it in, so it is no longer books flopping loosely in the back of my wife's Equinox.

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And in case you are wondering: that oddly misshappen globe is my son's third or fourth grade history project--a globe made by applying paper-machie to a balloon. And yes, that is about Sir Francis Drake's voyages.

Last house project entry.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

The Dunblane Massacre, Ten Years Later

Do you remember Dunblane? Ten years ago, a very evil person--one who had been warned by police that he was far too interested in little boys--went on a rampage, murdering 16 children with handguns. In response, something called the Snowdrop Campaign persuaded the British Parliament to ban all handguns. Now, remember, that handguns in Britain were very restrictively licensed in 1996. It was easier to get a permit to possess a handgun in New York City than in Britain. Yet this guy, who the police were already concerned about, had a license to own a handgun.

There have been allegations floating around for some time that Hamilton had a cozy relationship with the local police, and was allowed to keep his handgun license, in spite of reasons to think that he was a pedophile. Apparently, quite a number of documents related to the official inquiry into what happened were put under a 100 year seal, supposedly to protect the privacy of children that Hamilton had molested. But this report indicates that there were many documents sealed that do not fit into this explanation:
LETTERS between Labour and Tory ministers and correspondence relating to Thomas Hamilton's alleged involvement with Freemasonry are part of a batch of more than 100 documents about the Dunblane mass murder which have been sealed from public sight for 100 years.

The documents include a letter connected to Hamilton, which was sent by George Robertson, currently head of Nato, to Michael Forsyth, who was then Secretary of State for Scotland.

Until now it was thought that a 100-year public secrecy order had only been placed on one police report into Hamilton which allegedly named high-profile politicians and legal figures. However, a Sunday Herald investigation has uncovered that 106 documents, which were submitted to the Dunblane inquiry in 1996, were also placed under the 100-year rule.

The Scottish Executive has claimed the 100-year secrecy order was placed on the Central Police report, which was drafted in 1991 five years before the murders, to protect the identities of children named in the report. Hamilton had allegedly abused a number of children prior to his 1996 gun attack on Dunblane primary school in which 16 primary one children and a teacher died before Hamilton turned his gun on himself.

However, only a handful of the documents, which the Sunday Herald has discovered to be also subject to the 100-year rule, relate to children or name alleged abuse victims.

The most intriguing document is listed as: 'Copy of letter from Thomas Hamilton to Dunblane parents regarding boys' club, and flyer advertising Dunblane Boys' Sports Club. Both sent to Rt Hon Michael Forsyth, MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, by George Robertson MP.' Also closed under the 100-year rule is a 'submission to Lord James Douglas Hamilton, MP, Minister of State at the Scottish Office, concerning government evidence to the Inquiry'.

Another document relates to correspondence between the clerk of the Dunblane inquiry, which was presided over by Lord Cullen, and a member of the public regarding 'possible affiliations of Thomas Hamilton with Freemasonry ... and copy letters from Thomas Hamilton'.

SNP deputy justice minister, Michael Matheson, said: 'The explanation to date about the 100 -year rule was that it was put in place to protect the interests of children named in the Central Police report. How can that explanation stand when children aren't named? The 100-year rule needs to be re-examined with respect to all documents.'

Matheson has written to the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, asking why the 100-year rule applies and how it can be revoked. He has so far had no response. He also asked First Minister Jack McConnell to explain the reasons for the 100-year order but received 'no substantial answer'. Matheson is to write to Colin Boyd a second time, in the light of the discovery that more than 100 other documents are also sealed, asking him to account for the decision.
The Guardian, which is definitely on the left end of the newspaper spectrum in Britain, also raised questions about this:
There have been allegations that the lengthy closure order was placed on the report after it linked Hamilton to figures in the Scottish establishment, including two senior politicians and a lawyer.

But the crown office says the decision to impose the ban - by Lord Cullen, who chaired the inquiry - was made to protect the identity of children who may have been abused by Hamilton, and their families.

Following Wednesday's Scottish cabinet meeting, it was announced that the lord advocate, Colin Boyd QC, would look at the feasibility of publishing the report with the children's names deleted.

But Michael Matheson, the Scottish National party's shadow deputy justice minister, questioned whether the lord advocate's review would go far enough.

He said: "There are more documents covered by the 100-year rule than this police report. Some of them have nothing whatsoever to do with children. We need to look at why such a lengthy ban has been imposed on them.

"I have been contacted by a number of families affected by the tragedy who are anxious to ensure this information becomes public. And so far we have no guarantee that it will. We only have a review."

The report banned under the 100-year rule was com piled by Paul Hughes, then a detective sergeant with Central Scotland police, and concerns Thomas Hamilton's activities at a summer camp in Loch Lomond in 1991, five years before the shootings.

Selected extracts published during the Cullen inquiry revealed it recommended that Hamilton should be prosecuted for his activities at the summer camp and that he should have his gun licence revoked.

The report, however, was ignored. Although Lord Cullen referred to it in his inquiry, it does not feature in the index or appendices to his final report.
Now, at least some of these documents were apparently released last year, and Dr. Mick North, father of one of the children who was murdered, had some harsh words:
Dr Mick North, whose daughter Sophie died, said the authorities missed several opportunities to take action against Thomas Hamilton before he killed 16 children and their teacher.

He was speaking after reviewing hundreds of documents that were to have been "closed" for 100 years, but which will be made available for the first time today.

The files reveal that several complaints were made about Hamilton's behaviour towards children before the shootings at Dunblane Primary School in 1996.

Dr North said: "The documents I viewed confirmed what I believed I knew about the role of the police and the involvement of the procurator fiscal service. There was incompetence.

"Hamilton's behaviour in the years before the massacre caused great concern and the documents prove a lack of joined-up thinking among police and prosecutors."
There are allegations which appeared in a Daily Telegraph article (now beyond the archive wall) that Hamilton was allowed to keep his handgun license--in spite of clearly not being a "suitable" person to have one--because he was a supplier of child pornography to important people within the police force and government:
"I believe that Hamilton was a major provider of pornographic photographs and videos to a ring of men prominent in Central Scotland, including police officers who protected him from numerous allegations of physical abuse at boys' camps and clubs he ran. They protected themselves after the massacre which conveniently ended in his suicide."

Last year Ms Uttley's former partner, Mick North, whose five-year-old daughter Sophie was killed, said he was "convinced" of a cover-up.
Of course, bizarre conspiracy theories are always more interesting than simple police incompetence. But you have examples such as the "Lords of Bakersfield," where a small circle of sexual misfits in important positions seem to have used their influence to cover up little matters such as the sexual abuse of teenagers and murder.

I don't know what the truth of the matter is with respect to Dunblane. I do know that police corruption in the issuance of gun licenses in those parts of the United States where police have discretion has been a problem for many decades; I would be startled to see this not be a problem elsewhere.

I suppose if restrictive licensing actually worked as claimed--that it keeps guns away from people that are dangerous, or who can't be trusted with guns--there might be some argument for it. I still think the argument is not persuasive, but the fact is that people like Hamilton got a handgun license in Britain tells me that restrictive licensing does not even do a good job within the "We're from the government, and we know better" model.

The partner of the father of one of the victims has written a very controversial book:
The book, Dunblane Unburied, has been written by Sandra Uttley, the former partner of Dr Mick North, an anti-gun campaigner whose five-year-old daughter, Sophie, was killed in the massacre.


The book includes allegations of a cover-up involving senior police officers and legal figures about their links with Thomas Hamilton, the gunman who shot dead 16 pupils and a teacher before killing himself on March 13, 1996, at Dunblane primary school.

It claims Lord Cullen, who conducted the inquiry into the massacre, was deliberately denied access to more than the 1,000 witness statements and concludes that the handgun ban was unnecessary.

Uttley, who lived in Dunblane for 20 years, said the aim of her book was to set the record straight about the protection she believes Hamilton received from official sources. “The parents wouldn’t help, so I went to the next biggest aggrieved group — shooters,” she said.

“It has always been my aim to get the truth. The handgun ban was to be the great legacy of this horrendous mass murder and, as a former Dunblane resident, I supported the Snowdrop petition to do away with guns.

“However, the more involved I became in the background surrounding the massacre, the more I realised that the gun ban was beside the point. Hamilton could have been stopped. The legislation in 1996 was strong enough. It was corruption that gave him guns.["]
I suppose that I should get a copy of it.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

House Project: Front Drain In

Okay, so we drove up there Friday night, and the rain and snow had been pouring all day. We get there, and the drain in the drainage channel at the front door of the garage is in place.

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But there was a snowdrift in front of the garage door--and inside, while not anywhere near as bad as before ("A River Runs Through It"), there was still a bit of water accumulated.

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I'm not sure what is left to do, without extending the roofline several feet--and because the snow was blowing horizontal on the garage door at the time, I am not sure that this would make much of a difference.

Anyway, we were able to get quite a few more books on the shelves in the office.

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But we are also starting to move my wife's literature books, and since those are going on bookshelves not yet moved (or even completely emptied), they are sitting in little forlorn piles in the corner.

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On the way back out, we experienced what is probably the reason this area hasn't developed a bit faster--horizontal snow. I am really wondering if putting a wind generator on our hill wouldn't quickly pay for itself in electricity generated. The snow was flying into us at about twenty degrees below parallel to the ground, and once we started driving, it seemed to be going completely horizontal.

My wife and I, both be California kids, have no experience with snowstorms this intense. The combination of the huge amount of it falling, that it is coming straight at the windshield, and in the dark, meant that we were beginning to have serious second thoughts about driving back down to Boise--perhaps camping out for the night in the new house. It was just on the edge of scary.

We went back up Saturday with more books, and then did a careful inspection of the tile. The tile guy is supposed to come back this coming week to replace some cracked tiles--probably caused by settling over the last several months, as well as temperature changes. We went through very carefully, marking every cracked tile or cracked grout.

The builder still doesn't have a solution for the three doors that close themselves. A common trick of bending the hinge pin to increase friction doesn't seem to be doing it. I think that I may have come up with a very clever solution--perhaps clever enough to be patentable--and it doesn't require removing or altering the hinges. I'll keep my mouth shut for a few days, until I get a chance to fiddle with this idea in my machine shop.

Last house project entry.