Friday, December 21, 2012

Today's Great Idea!

Coal colored rawhide bones for people to put in 'bad dog' stockings for Christmas....

I'm a little confused...

If today is the last day on the Mayan calendar  and the world will end, then logically, that will not happen until tomorrow sometime, right? So, technically, we won't know that it's all BS until  12/23/12 gets here.... Me? I'm going to be just as careful about the future tomorrow as I was today - which is to say not at all... Cheers!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lucky Update

I have noted here and here that my dog Lucky, a Great Pyrenees mix, had a chronic limp issue.  I guess since I don’t do facey-book anymore, this seems like the place to note his status. We have gone back and forth with the vet and an orthopedic surgeon, and they were unable to diagnose the issue, which got progressively worse. We tested for everything from bone & muscular cancer, to Lymes. Fortunately, nothing scary came back positive. We treated him for Lymes, but it really did not seem to help.
Finally, we took him to a dog orthopedic place (VOSM). The doctor there evaluated him and was able to diagnose CCL (or, if he were a human, ACL damage). Diagnosis is actually straightforward, as there are a couple of manipulations that they do assess if the noted ligaments are damaged. In Lucky’s case, it took a while for things to loosen up to the point where the manipulations gave the right indications indicating ligament damage. In fact, everyone involved noted that his diagnosis was unusually difficult. Anyway, this was actually good news, as now we knew what the problem was and the only question was what type of repair needed to be done and who would do the cutting. We settled on this guy to do the surgery, and went with his recommended TTA (described here) repair.
Lucky came through the surgery in good shape. He was good about not licking the wound, so he didn’t need a ‘cone’. After two weeks he went back and got the stitches out and there was no sign of infection. Since the surgery he has been pinned up in the living room to try to keep him as calm as possible so the leg will have a chance to heal. He will have to be confined there for two months. We have started doing short 5 minute walks and every day he is relying more and more on leg. We will expand the walks soon, going to longer and longer walks to build up the muscles that have atrophied.
In summary, I am deeply grateful to the doctors who have worked with us to bring him back, and I am overjoyed to see him healing so well. I think he is going to make a good recovery. Yes, it was not cheap, and I am glad I could afford to have it done, and the doctors have assured me they would have worked with me to set up a payment plan if I could not have afforded it. He is recovering well, and his prognosis is good. I will update this post & bump it with any new developments.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tales of a Cold Warrior - Meet the Sergeant

(To get the full story, you may want to go back and start from the beginning)

When I was growing up, the preacher in the church that I went to had various sermons which we all came to be familiar with, his most famous being his ‘Mustard Seed’ sermon, which I think I heard every year from about 6 until I left home at 18. That being said, there isn’t much that I can remember about that sermon, other than mustard seeds were really small, but make big trees. No, the one thing that I remember Dr. Hayes, a WWII veteran, talking about was his entry into basic training, and more specifically, something to this effect:

“You may forget the names of the kids you grew up with. You may forget the name of the preacher that baptized you. You may forget birthdays and anniversaries, but you will never, ever, forget the name of your drill sergeant”

My drill sergeant’s name was Sgt Martell. He was a large, imposing man with flaming red hair, and more than a touch of an Irish brawler. His assistant drill, whose name I actually don’t recall but will refer to as Sgt F, was the exact opposite: think of a Barney Fife and you will get the right impression. That is not to say that Sgt F was not a very important part of my basic training, it’s just that most of the direction, discipline, and guidance came from Sgt Martell.

In fact, upon arriving at the barracks of D-4-3, my training company, the sergeant to greet us was Sgt F. We arrived a couple of days early, so there was much time spent getting settled in and the environment was just a bit looser than it would be in just a couple of days. Sgt F got us settled in, and immediately begin working us on marching and drilling. Once he ascertained that I knew how to call a cadence and issue marching commands, I got stuck with drilling the rest of the recruits.

After a day or so, our company had grown to full strength, and Sgt Martell made his introductions. As I recall it was a fall out for morning exercises, and he showed up and introduced himself by talking us on a short run, which as I recall resulted in most of the platoon puking on the side of the road. From there, the first day was a haze of pushups, running, marching, yelling, resting, and eating. The first day ended with a particularly poignant speech by the company’s first sergeant.

It seems that in order to accommodate ‘integrated’ basic training, where women and men companies trained side by side, the Army had avoided building co-located barracks, and instead had merely split the existing barracks in half via a thin wall of sheetrock. Since this necessarily created a one exit floor in violation of accepted fire codes, the contractor had sidestepped the issue by painting that section of the wall with a prominent sign that noted, “IN CASE OF FIRE, BREAK THROUGH WALL”. This wall was the subject the first sergeant’s speech (made only to the male recruits), which went something like this:

“Gentleman, you may have noted that at the end of some of your barracks halls there is a firewall. Some of the more intelligent among you may have noted that on the other side of that wall are the female barracks. Now over time, some industrious individuals have managed to poke some holes through those walls. Now rumor has it those females will sit on the other side of that wall, and tell you all sorts of things to mess with your mind. But I tell you- the first recruit to go through that wall will spend the rest of their enlistment breaking large rocks into small ones. Do you understand?”
The next most memorable point in my basic training came in the following week when I was issued my M-16. I had been around guns all my life and had always been utilitarian objects. I hunted with them, I carried a rifle or shotgun on my grandfather’s farm while wondering the hills, both for protection from rattlesnakes and the opportunity for game, and I had spent many, many dark motionless hours on the range, honing my marksmanship skills. But until that point I had never held in my hands a rifle whose sole purpose was to kill.
It may have been that it was mostly made of plastic, but it had a very cold, deadly, and unreal feel to it. I should note here that I had never used a pistol, which in most cases, are only for death dealing. That experience was unique for me, and I only felt it again when I was issued a .45, and later when I went through the FBI’s weapon familiarization course at Quantico. An interesting tidbit about the M16’s of that era. Many of the ones issued had been in the inventory since Viet Nam. Thus, some of them were war manufactured by that well known defense and toy manufacturer Mattel. I can’t recall if mine was, but I do distinctly remember noting that several of my squad’s were proudly stamped “Made by Mattel” - but they were no toys...

Next: Hat Apology, Long Walks Down Dirt Roads and Grenades

Stange Goings on @ Redskins Park

What you see here is the Redskins practice bubble at Redskins Park that I can see from my window at work. Yeah - me, the Shannihans, and RGIII all work in the same neighborhood, and no I have never seen any of them in person, though there is a certian Starbucks nearby that I am sure is where the cheerleaders hang out.. but that's another story (and no I will not reveal where that is)...

Anywho, the arrow points to a crane that has been operating on the other side of the practice bubble all day. This is a little worrisome... do they know something they are not telling? Are they beginning renovations there early, assuming there will be no post season needs for the facilties? Or does it take a crane to move RGIII out and Cousins in? There is nothing about this on their website, so I assume they are keping it on the down low - so don't tell anyone ok? It may be they are just burying the giant spaceship that Dan Synder has been hiding in the practice bubble, now that he has finished extracting the aliens DNA to slip into the player's gatorade... (drug test that!)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Big Dumb Science - Or How I Spent the Summer of '91 (Part 3)

Ft Huachuca

If you didn’t catch the first part of this, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

When we arrived at Ft. Huachuca, it was like old home week. While I was in the Army, I had spent probably about a year there, in bits and pieces for training. There was of course no one left there from when I was in training (at least no one I would have known after all that time), but it was still fun to drive around and nostalgically see all the old buildings and places I remembered from 'back in the day'.

That being out of the way, we began the laborious task of installing our system in the trailer parked on the steel mesh that surrounded the wooden crane. My initial think on seeing this set up was a bit conflicted. We were going to attempt to coax a million volts of wild electricity away from the adjacent wooden tower, down our laser beam, and safely grounded out in the steel mesh upon which the trailer containing us and our equipment was resting? This is where ‘science’ comes into play. The trailer was insulated from the mesh by its rubber tires and, where necessary rubber mats. The fiber wire would optically isolate the laser from the lightning which in theory would follow the metal into the ground and not follow the laser back into our trailer for a spectacular explosion. Thus assured by ‘science’, I set about the work of powering my equipment and performing the initial system checks.

I managed to get the laser working in pretty short order. I didn’t actually fire it as Edwards would not arrive until later with the last minute ordered cheapest available optical couplings that would carry the laser outside the trailer to its mount. Additionally, we did not have clearance to fire the laser until the following day, as an aircraft warning the range had issues for planes flying around the area would not go into effect until then. It seems that a multi-watt non-visible laser pointed up in the air was viewed as some sort of flight hazard. That being done, our range escort noted a storm was coming and offered to show us what it looked like from up close at the range.

We piled into his pickup, and rolled into the main part of the field. We came to a stop several hundred feet from the tower, in a (metal) pickup truck, situated in the middle of a field coated with metal mesh, with a lightning storm fast approaching. Again, ‘science’ was on our side, and any nearby strike would not reach us through the rubber wheels of the pickup. In the unlikely event that the pickup was hit, our leather seats would insulate us from a smoking electric death. Our guide helpfully noted that a nearby strike would be preceded by ionization which would be detectable by hair reactions in our neither regions. He was a ‘good ole boy’ so I leave it to the reader’s imagination exactly how that was worded.

After we waited for an hour or so, the storm moved off and failed to approach our field, so we missed seeing any real fireworks. Returning to our trailer, I was inspired by talk of ionization, and decided to see how the charge buildup detection portion of the system was faring with an actual storm nearby. I looked at the measurements and became immediately horrified. What I was seeing was lightning effects, but not for a single cloud. Instead I was seeing a jostling of the stored charge as various charged clouds gained dominance, discharged with lightning, and then was replaced by other to be discharged clouds. Edwards cloud model was thus incomplete… a great description of a cloud with lightning, yet undetectable when masked by a storm front of hundreds such clouds. The code for the detector would need dramatic revision if this system were to work properly.

I spent the night and the next day in and around that trailer, revising the code to use the relative magnitude of the measured ground charge, along with frequency of polarity shifts as a secondary indicator. To say I was a little strung out after such an effort would be an understatement. On the other hand, I was much younger then and had a higher tolerance for such things. In the middle of this, Edwards arrived with the last pieces of the system. I continued to concentrate on my task as he and Olga worked on setting up the optics. I noticed there was something wrong between the two of them, but I did not pause in my task. Later that night, when I was taking a break I asked Olga what was wrong? She informed me that the cheaper, last minute optics that Edwards had brought were not the right specification and instead of ionizing a column of air a thousand feet in the air, at best we would be to ionize a column a couple of feet off the ground, and at worst, the optics would melt and explode. Thus the main event for the next day, the firing of the laser, would not occur.

Needless to say, when the government representative were told the next day that we had their laser protection, but would not be able to demonstrate it due to a last minute ‘mechanical failure’, they were bemused. I had been able to complete my part and stood ready to demonstrate it. Edwards began his presentation, which consisted of informing the government personnel how he had designed and coded the control system. Not his team, not at his direction, no himself had done it, and quite brilliantly. It was at that point I walked out of the room. Olga had a much calmer approach and noticed my exit. She followed me out and talked me into returning to perform my part of the demo, which mainly consisted of stimulating the system to just short of firing the laser, a task that Edwards had no idea how to perform.
It goes without saying the we did not get the follow on contract, and my resignation from that company and movement to another job almost preceded my arrival back home. I still occasionally hear Edwards on the local conservative talk station, as he is wont to call in and express his opinion of things. I really don’t have anything against him, as I have come to understand that his behavior is typical of PhDs. In retrospect, I believe he was doing his best, and deserves credit for the idea of the system, as well as the science associated with it. He did later visit me after I had left his company admit that his behavior was deplorable, and apologized.  I can see how, with the optics failure, he was looking for anything to make himself look better in front of his customer. That being said, I did learn a great deal that summer – much of it had nothing to do with science or programming.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It Resumes

I am trying to resume posting. As you can see if you are reading this, I changed the name of the blog, based off of a favorite poem of mine that seems particularly appropriate. I have ditched the political comment for now, although I can't promise that it won't creep back in. The site will remain mainly an outlet for my writing and foolishness. I have comments turned off, mainly because I don't wish to deal with moderating them. If you have something that you gotta say to me, there is a 'contact me' link to the right. Otherwise, read & enjoy. If you like what you read, by all means, drop me a note & let me know...