Friday, July 5, 2013

Time-Lapse Photography (playlist)

I've started to shoot some time-lapse videos and posting them on YouTube in this playlist. Enjoy!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sixty Years in Southern California 1853-1913

If you were born and raised in Los Angeles and/or are interested in the history of the Southland (Southern California), there is a wonderful book for you.  "Sixty Years in Southern California 1853-1913" by Harris Newmark is a great book about the history of Los Angeles and the Southland from 1853 to 1913, written by a person who lived it.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and '60s I was fascinated to learn the origin of some of the street names like Sepulveda, Pico, and Olvera. Sepulveda is named after the Sepulveda family, owners of tens of thousands of acres now occupied by Palos Verdes. Pico Blvd. is named after Don Pio Pico. When I was five years old, my uncle's house was near Winslow Drive and Micheltorena, and I thought Micheltorena was such a strange word. I had not yet learned to speak Spanish, nor did I know that Micheltorena was a well known person in 19th century Los Angeles.

As time went on I learned more but I'd never before found a book like this one--jam packed with information. Written by a businessman who immigrated from Germany to Los Angeles in 1853, the author personally knew everyone of any importance in the Southland over a period of 60 years. He writes the story of LA as it grew from a few adobe buildings and dirt streets, complete with gold miners and gunslingers, to a modern metropolis.

Here's a short list of names in the book that should sound familiar to any Angeleno: Juan Temple, owner of the 27,000 acre Los Cerritos Rancho, after whom is named Temple Street; Don Abel Stearns, owners of tens of thousands of acres between San Pedro and San Bernardino including Los Coyotes Rancho, La Habra Rancho, San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana Rancho, and the Los Alamitos Rancho upon which now sits the City of Long Beach; John G. Downey; Bernard Yorba, owner of the land upon which now stand the City of Anaheim, Orange, Santa Ana, Westminster, Garden Grove, and other parts of Orange County, which was then part of Los Angeles County; Willliam Workman and John Rowland, owners of the 49,000 acre La Puente Rancho; Don Luis Vignes, owner of the land now occupied by East LA; The Dominguez Family, owners of a 48,000 acre land grant from the King of Spain; Dr. del Amo; Henry Dalton, owners of the Azusa Ranch and Duarte; Manuel Garfias, owner of the 14,000 acre San Pasqual Ranch upon which were built Pasadena and South Pasadena; Don Ygnacio Machado, owner of La Ballona; Colonel Jonathan Trumbull Warner, owner of the Warner Ranch upon which part of Orange County now sits; Benjamin Davis Wilson, owner of most of San Gabriel, after whom Mt. Wilson is named; Colonel Julian Isaac Williams, owner of the Cucamonga and Chino ranches; Don Pio Pico, owner of a 22,000 acre rancho and after whom Pico Blvd. is named; William Wolfskill, owner of Rancho Santa Anita and Rancho San Francisquito upon which Newhall now stands; Don Jose Ygnacio Lugo, owner of the land upon which Santa Barbara now stands; Louis Robidoux, owner of the Jurupa Rancho upon which now sits the City of Riverside and after whom Mt. Robidoux is named; Juan Forster, owner of the Santa Margarita Rancho and Las Flores Rancho; and the Verdugo Family, owners of a 36,000 acre land grant from the King of Spain dating from 1784 and upon which now sits the City of Glendale.

Interested? The above really is a short list. The author knew all of these people personally and many more. The book contains vast amounts of first hand information.

"Sixty Years in Southern California 1853-1913" is available for free download from The Gutenberg Project:

The epub version includes all the photo plates from the book. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

This is What Disagreement Looks Like

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bridge Collapse Sign of Things to Come?

A bridge collapsed this morning in the West Deptford area of New Jersey sending a train loaded with toxic chemicals into a creek.  It was reported on CNN here:

CNN Photo:

The American Society of Civil Engineers publishes an annual evaluation of the infrastructure of the United States.  There are tens of thousands of bridges in the U.S., most of them built long ago and ill maintained.  The ASCE says that a quarter of the nation's bridges are "structurally deficient or functionally obsolete."  Water systems, dams, and other infrastructure is also old and in need of repair.

But politicians are reluctant to sponsor remediation projects because they lack appeal and pizazz.  It's much more exciting and attractive to voters to grandstand about a new project.  There's no interest in spending money on existing structures and systems.

The ASCE estimates that $2.2 trillion needs to be spent repairing existing infrastructure.  Imagine how many jobs that would create.  But remediation projects are boring so we'll have to wait until serious failures become common and people die before something is done about this problem.

The American Society of Civil Engineers publishes the results of their evaluation here:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mayan Calendar Doesn't End on December 20, 2012

August 11, 3114 BC marks the beginning of the current calendric cycle of the Mayan Long Count calendar.  The Mayan calendar is comprised of repeating periods that result from the Mayan base-20 positional number system.

The Mayans were the first humans to invent a positional number system like our decimal system—a system based on powers of a number base plus the idea of a numeral that represents zero.  A positional number system must have some way to represent the value zero.  In contrast to our base-10 system, the Mayans chose base-20.  So instead of decimal places Mayan numbers have vigesimal places.  Instead of the decimal system of nine numerals plus zero, Mayan numbers are composed of 19 numerals, plus zero.  In the decimal system, each digit represents a power of ten.  In the Mayan system, each digit represents a power of 20.  A positional number system is a necessity for doing serious mathematics.  Imagine doing even simple addition with a non-positional system like Roman numerals.

Our Gregorian calendar uses decimal numbers for years and a messy system based on the arbitrary values 7, 28, 29, 30, and 31 for weeks and months.  We call the periods of our calendar days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and millennia.

The Mayan Long Count system is much cleaner.  The periods correspond to vigesimal places of a Long Count date and are named k'in, uinal, tun, k'atun, baktun, piktun, etc., each representing a power of 20 except the the second place, the uinal, which is base-18.  (This results in the 20x18 = 360 day count in the lowest two places to represent the 360 day Mayan year.)  From the third place on up, the count is purely vigesimal.

Mayan Calendar

The Mayans actually used three calendars side-by-side.  The Tzolkin and the Ha'ab calendars are designed to keep track of holidays and astronomical / planting cycles.  Those calendars restart every 52 years and don't concern us here.  The third calendar, the Maya Long Count calendar, counts an unlimited number of days from a specified starting point using a modified base-20 system that accommodates the 360 day Mayan year.  Because this calendar is unlimited, Long Count dates are inscribed in monuments intended to last for a long time.

Now let's connect some of the Mayan Long Count periods with real numbers.  The first vigesimal place, the kin, counts 20 day cycles.  The second place, the uinal, counts base-18.  Together, the first and second places roll over every 360 days, which is the length of the Mayan year, and the count carries into the third digit.  The third digit, tun, counts 20 Mayan years.  The fourth digit, k'atun, counts 20 tuns, or 400 Mayan years, which is 394.25 years on our Gregorian calendar.  It is this 394 year cycle that is going to roll over in December 20, 2012, and the next vigesimal place, the baktun, will increase from 12 to 13.  We are now in the 13th baktun since the start of the Long Count calendar (like saying we're in the 21st century in our calendar).  The next baktun begins on December 21, 2012.

A baktun is a period of 144,000 days or 394.25 Gregorian years. The Classic Period of Mayan history occurred during the 8th and 9th baktuns.  The last day of the 13th baktun occurs on Dec 20, 2012 in the Gregorian calendar, which is on the Mayan Long Count calendar. The 14th baktun begins on (Long Count) or Dec 21, 2010 (Gregorian).

When 20 baktuns are completed (7,885 years from the starting point in 3114 BCE) a new piktun begins and the baktun starts counting again from zero.  The pictun isn't normally written on Long Count dates because it's assumed.  Just like we don't write leading zeros on Gregorian years.  We don't write 000002012, just 2012.  When 20 pictuns are completed, or 157,700 years, a new kalabtun begins. In fact there are two more digits defined beyond these in the Mayan Long Count Calendar, the k'inchiltun and the alautun.  The Mayan Long Count calendar has places already define and named that carry it another 1.2 billion years.  In our calendar we're only named periods out to millennia.  The Mayans had a much longer view of time.  And even after 1.2 billion years have elapsed and the named periods of the Mayan calendar are filled, the calendar still doesn't end.  You just keep adding more digits to the year, the same as we will do when our year passes 9999.

In light of this, the idea that the Mayan calendar ends is especially ridiculous.  The Long Count calendar is defined, with named periods, 1.2 billion years out into the future.  It would make more sense to say that our calendar ends in 9999, since we haven't named any periods beyond the millennium.  But the hoopla about the new baktun (similar to a century on our calendar) makes for lots of book and movie sales.

For a timeline of Guatemalan history, from 15,000 BC to the present, see Guatemala History Timeline.

The Maya Paradise home page displays today's date in all three Mayan calendars: Tzolkin, Ha'ab, and Long Count.  Maya Paradise

Friday, August 10, 2012

Here Comes 3-D Printing

Engineering, software, and the Internet have made it easy for people to share documents, music, photographs, and videos on a worldwide basis. It's obvious to anyone skilled in the art that, short of shutting down the Internet entirely, sharing cannot be controlled by governments or by anyone else. There are a lot of smart people in the world and any attempt to block sharing will be quickly circumvented. No matter how clever a blocking scheme you come up with, there's always another guy on the other side of the world smarter than you who will break it. Recent history has shown over and over that this is true. Blocking and security schemes are usually broken before they are even introduced. So we're not going to be able to control the sharing of music, videos, etc. Get over it.

Now imagine a world where the sharing of physical objects and mechanical devices becomes just as easy as sharing music or videos. That world is nearly upon us. 3-D printer technology is available and when people discover how useful it is, the technology will quickly mature. Today, consumer 3-D printers work mainly with plastics but 3-D printing with metals has existed for many years in industry and home printers will soon be able to work with a wide variety of materials including high-strength steels. Want a 9mm pistol? Just download the print file for the particular brand and model you want and send it to your 3-D printer. When the parts are done, assemble them and go shooting.

This technology has all sorts of implications. Intellectual property problems will not be limited to businesses producing music, photos, and videos. These problems will become real for manufacturers of all products that could be fabricated by a 3-D printer. A pistol is just one example.

And if that's not exciting enough, work is already underway to develop bio-printers and chem-printers. These are devices that are miniature chemistry labs that will be able to generate a wide variety of chemical substances, including drugs. Need an antibiotic for an infection? No problem. Just download the chem file and generate it on your desktop. We'll have this technology on our desktops in a few years. Imagine the implications this will have for pharma companies.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Mystery of the Non-Waterproof Hot Glue Solved

Six years ago I had a bad experience with hot glue.  I expected it to be waterproof and it wasn't.  I did an immersion test and within 3 days the glue turned into a whitish gelatin and fell off.  That's barely water resistant and certainly not waterproof.

For waterproofing I usually lean towards silicone (RTV, silastic, aquarium cement).  It works well in every application I've ever used it on.  But hot glue is so convenient and sets so fast that I kept thinking about it and wishing I could use it.  A few weeks ago I decided to learn more about hot glue.

There are many different kinds of hot glues used in industry and most of them are available in standard 11mm sticks, but I would much prefer to use the common household clear bluish or yellowish stuff if possible.  The standard home-use glue is made from EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) plus various additives to adjust its characteristics.  Nearly every article I read says that "hobby" hot glue is waterproof, and indeed, EVA is a waterproof thermoplastic.  This disagreement with my experience really got me studying.  Something is not adding up here.  I learned about all kinds of hot glues and their characteristics and just as I was getting ready to compose emails with specific questions to hot glue manufacturers, I ran across the answer.

What happened to me six years ago was a "materials compatibility problem".  Six years ago, what I had done was to waterproof some electronics by building it inside of sealed PVC pipe.  The plan was to bring a couple of small insulated wires out through a small hole in the pipe and then seal it up by pumping hot glue into it.  This is the application that failed the immersion test.  Naturally I assumed it was the water that caused the failure, but it was not the water.  It was the PVC pipe material and especially the PVC insulation of the wires.  Actually, it was not the PVC itself but the pthallate plasticizer that's mixed with the PVC to make it flexible and not brittle.  PVC wire insulation has an especially high amount of pthallate.  Pthallate attacks EVA and causes it to decompose, and that's why my test failed.

Recently I've done more experiments with EVA hot glue.  Yes the material is waterproof.  I've had a glob of hot glue immersed in water for weeks and it's  unaffected.  I did another experiment where I used EVA to hot glue polyurethane to painted ABS.  It sticks like a weld.  You have to destroy the pieces to get them apart and it's unaffected by water.  So it all depends on materials compatibility.  I just wish I had known this sooner.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The IEC Power Cord Mystery

The ubiquitous IEC power cord has been a part of everyone's life for almost 30 years.  Nearly every device capable of running on different mains voltages and frequencies has one so the manufacturer can ship to different countries by simply changing the power cord to match the plug type used in that country.  Great idea.

Every device that needs an IEC cord comes with one from the manufacturer.  When a device is no longer wanted and we dispose of it, we always keep the cord "because it might come in handy".  Thus, there should be an ever-increasing number of IEC power cords in the world.  There should be billions of them in existence.  After 30 years of this, even the most non-technical person should have at least 20 cords stashed in their closet.  Yet this is not the case.  When you need one, there's none to be found.  Search the entire premises and there's not one unused IEC cord.

How can this be?  I've never thrown one away in my life.  Do unused cords simply vanish?  Do they automatically return to the manufacturer to be shipped to someone else?  Do little gnomes steal them at night?  Where are all my cords?