Sunday, February 26, 2006

House Project: Almost Done!

The last .01% of any project seems to take forever. We went up there Saturday (you will see why, in a moment), and the builder had finished replacing the baseboard in the laundry room, bolted the dishwasher and trash compactor into place (they were free to move front to rear--quite disconcerting), and put some wood spacers in to keep the microwave oven from moving in the cabinets. All that is left is to get three of the doors to stop trying to close themselves. I do not want to live in a house occupied by ghosts!

The builder is reluctant to mess with moving the door frames to solve this problem (which were probably caused by settling of the foundation), because it would require substantial repainting. He tried a solution that I found on the Internet--bending the hinge pin, so that it resists closing. He tried roughening the hinges with a file. Neither of these solutions fixed it--and our builder apparently has no other solution, short of moving the door frames. Any other ideas out there?

Anyway, there is so little left to be done on the inside--just the door hinges--that we started to packing up books to move them on Saturday. From now, we will try and move something up there, everytime we visit. We have a very large built-in bookshelf in our current family room, and that's part of why we had an enormous built-in bookshelf added to the office.

You can see it, with all the books removed.

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Unfortunately, we have no big boxes around the house, and no book boxes. So we ended up using plastic shopping bags. You know how libraries in rural areas have bookmobiles in which they take books to outlying areas? This looks like a bookmobile run by morons.

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Not every book gets to go. We are culling a few books that are outdated, unwanted, or that don't justify a second read. (But hey, if you want them, we can work out a deal.)

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Anyway, after moving this small load of books into the office, we started scouring the hillside for building debris (largely cardboard and paper scraps), and mounding up for the builder to haul away. This was a surprisingly demanding task, since we have more than eleven acres, and some of the scraps were astonishingly heavy, considering that the wind moved them where they were. Our feet were too muddy to go back into the carpeted office, so I had to settle for taking a picture through the window, giving this effect that reminds me of Disneyland's "The Haunted Mansion" ride.

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While talking to the builder, we found out that Friday, a co-worker and his wife had come on by. Since our builder had seen me with this co-worker at the site, he gave him a tour. The co-worker is thinking, "This might be a nice place to live." So perhaps I will have someone to carpool to work with in a few more months.

Last house project entry.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

House Project: Lead Filtering

I've mentioned previously
that the lead filters clogged rapidly, so we had to put in additional housings for five micron and one micron filters to grab more of the crud first. So last week, I went up and took water samples, to make sure that we hadn't messed anything up. Remember that before putting in the lead filters, I had tested the water twice for lead, getting 15 parts per billion (the EPA action level) in the first test, and 37 ppb in the second test. That's part of why we put in the lead filters.

Well, interesting results! I had taken a water sample from inside the house (which runs through all the water filters), and a sample from the outside faucet, which runs straight from the water tank. I had the lab test the inside sample for both lead and iron, and the outside sample just for lead.

The inside sample was .26 milligrams/liter for iron--which is below the EPA action level of .30 mg/L. Good.

The inside sample for lead was <.002 mg/L for lead--which means unmeasurable. That's good, and exactly what happened when we first put in the lead filters.

But the outside sample--which has no filtration at all--also shows <.002 mg/L for lead. It appears that whatever was putting lead into our water supply a few months back isn't putting it there now.

Several possibilities:

1. The lead was a contaminant that was introduced into either the well or the water tank during the construction process--and all of this elaborate filtration was unneeded, as the contaminated water has been used.

2. The lead in the well water is dependent on changes in pH, temperature, or underground water flow rates or directions. In that case, the lead may come back.

I think for the moment my plan will be to continue to test the lead content of the water (unfiltered) every month for the next year. It only costs about $10 to have the lead test run. If the lead reaches a measurable level again, I will have to assume that I need these rather expensive lead filters.

If lead never reappears in the unfiltered water, when the lead filters finally clog up, I can just remove them, and allow the system to operate with one less restriction on water flow. Of course, I will still have the water tested every six months for lead, coliform bacteria, and iron.

Last house project entry.
Boring UHMW Polyethylene

I mentioned yesterday the struggle that I was having boring UHMW polyethylene--very slow process. Today I was making parts to put casters under a Synta EQ6 telescope mount--and while the bore is much smaller (only 1.75" diameter), I was using Delrin today--and it was much faster. Delrin is actually a somewhat more rigid and harder plastic, but I'm told that it is a form of polymerized formaldehyde, and during the cutting process, some of it turns back to liquid state, making it a self-lubricating plastic.

The Delrin is about three times as expensive as UHMW polyethylene--but the labor difference alone justifies spending the extra money for the Delrin.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

House Project: Filtration System Complete

I went up to the house Thursday night. As I mentioned, we were putting some finer filtration stuff upstream of the lead filters--which had clogged within a week of installation.

The blue housings contain a five micron and then a one micron filter.

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I then installed some new lead filters, and took water samples, both inside the house, and outside, from a faucet that runs directly from the water tank. I should have results in a week or so.

I notice that the water, which was murky and brownish without any filters at all, is now clear, with just the faintest yellowish tint--probably iron.

I just love the view out the front door of the garage.

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The only major piece of interior work is the baseboards in the laundry room. I need to annoy the builder to finish this up. The baseboards are painted--they just need to be put in place.

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I just love this view from the driveway, headed down the hill.

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Last house project entry.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

What Happened to the WMDs?

What troubles me is how little coverage this is getting. This is one of the major news stories of the year--and the news media are ignoring it. Guess why?
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is studying 12 hours of audio recordings between Saddam Hussein and his top advisers that may provide clues to the whereabouts of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The committee has already confirmed through the intelligence community that the recordings of Saddam's voice are authentic, according to its chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, who would not go into detail about the nature of the conversations or their context. They were provided to his committee by a former federal prosecutor, John Loftus, who says he received them from a former American military intelligence analyst.

Mr. Loftus will make the recordings available to the public on February 17 at the annual meeting of the Intelligence Summit, of which he is president. On the organization's Web site, Mr. Loftus is quoted as promising that the recordings "will be able to provide a few definitive answers to some very important - and controversial - weapons of mass destruction questions." Contacted yesterday by The New York Sun, Mr. Loftus would only say that he delivered a CD of the recordings to a representative of the committee, and the following week the committee announced that it was reopening the investigation into weapons of mass destruction.
You remember that I mentioned that Hussein's vice air marshal (number two in the Iraqi Air Force) says that the WMDs were flown and driven to Syria? Well, the news story mentions him, also:
Mr. Hoekstra has already met with a former Iraqi air force general, Georges Sada, who claims that Saddam used civilian airplanes to ferry chemical weapons to Syria in 2002. Mr. Hoekstra is now talking to Iraqis who Mr. Sada claims took part in the mission, and the congressman said the former air force general "should not just be discounted." Mr. Hoekstra also said he is in touch with other people who have come forward to the committee - Iraqis and Americans - who claim that the weapons inspectors may have overlooked other key sites and evidence. He has also asked the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, to declassify some 35,000 boxes of Iraqi documents obtained in the war that have yet to be translated.

"I still believe there are key individuals who have not been debriefed and there are key sites that have never been investigated. I know there are 35,000 boxes of documents that have never been translated. I am frustrated," Mr. Hoekstra said.
This gets worse. Sada isn't the only one giving information about the WMDs--and it appears that our intelligence agencies are refusing to pursue this:
He added, "Right now, it's not my job to investigate the specific claims. We are doing this a little with Sada. But we still don't fully understand what happened in Iraq three years after the invasion, three years after we control the country. There are enough people coming to the committee, Sada is not the only one, saying, 'you really ought to look under this rock.' This gives me cause to take up the issue again."


The chairman of the House intelligence panel said he is frustrated with the American intelligence community's lack of curiosity on following up these leads, particularly the story from Mr. Sada. "I talked to one person relatively high up in DNI, and I asked him about this and asked are they going to follow up, and he looked at me and said, 'No we don't think so.' At this point, I guess you guys don't get it.

"I am trying to find out if our postwar intelligence was as bad as our pre-war intelligence, " Mr. Hoekstra said.
I can't figure out if the problem with the intelligence agencies is that their political motivations are driving this (remember that CIA has long been a hotbed of liberal intellectuals, which explains why they missed the collapse of the Soviet Union--see Harry T. Rositzke's Managing Moscow for an example of this), or if it is simple incompetence.

The Jawa Report points out that just because these recordings indicate that Iraq had WMDs does not mean that they actually had them. As I pointed out in September of 2003:
Fox News this evening interviewed a Newsweek reporter named Weisskopf who said that it appears that it may not have been that Hussein was misleading the rest of the world, but that the heads of some Iraq's WMD programs were misleading Hussein! Why?

Weisskopf suggested that these officials misled Hussein about the extent and availability of WMDs in order to keep funding going for their programs. This is, when you think about it, not too terribly surprising. Hussein was, to put it mildly, not all that knowledgeable about the sciences. As long as Hussein thought his scientists were building WMDs, they had jobs, and not too much chance of being tortured to death.

There's another reason that I can think of why they might have lied to Hussein. At the end of World War II, Hitler was giving orders to move various German Army units around--units that no longer existed. No one dared tell Hitler that these units no longer existed. If WMD program officials had been accepting money for programs that produced nothing, they would have been understandably very reluctant to have this news get to Hussein. Perhaps the intercepted messages that led the U.S. to believe that Iraq had WMDs available on 45 minute notice were like those phantom German Army units--who wants to tell Hussein that they don't exist?
A Time magazine article of the time (which has, unfortunately, gone into the "premium content" zone) pointed out:
Saddam's underlings appear to have invented weapons programs and fabricated experiments to keep the funding coming. The Mukhabarat captain says the scamming went all the way to the top of the mic to its director, Huweish, who would appease Saddam with every report, never telling him the truth about failures or production levels and meanwhile siphoning money from projects. "He would tell the President he had invented a new missile for Stealth bombers but hadn't. So Saddam would say, 'Make 20 missiles.' He would make one and put the rest in his pocket," says the captain. Colonel Hussan al-Duri, who spent several years in the 1990s as an air-defense inspector, saw similar cons. "Some projects were just stealing money," he says. A scientist or officer would say he needed $10 million to build a special weapon. "They would produce great reports, but there was never anything behind them."

If Saddam may not have known the true nature of his own arsenal, it is no wonder that Western intelligence services were picking up so many clues about so many weapons systems. But it helps answer one logical argument that the Administration has been making ever since the weapons failed to appear after the war ended: why, if Saddam had nothing to hide, did he endure billions of dollars in sanctions and ultimately prompt his own destruction? Perhaps because even he was mistaken about what was really at stake in this fight.