Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
  A bad omen for running a business
I find a number of parallels between playing poker and running a business. What's in your hand is not always as important as what your opponents think might be in your hand. Like talking with VCs, you might be the next or the next; but the investment is going to depend on what they think you have; not what you actually have.

So the last two of days we've had some internal tournaments (just for staff), to try out code that isn't quite ready for the public. Its a small group, about 15 or so, so its not like playing against 200 others; but several of the founders and executives are vetrans at this, so there's some competition. I especially watch out for red, since he wrote the book on internet poker, but either he's being nice or not paying attention; cause he hasn't really done that well. I, on the other hand, have won the last two tournaments; the first one by a landslide, and the last one with a pretty strong finish after a few near-death experiences.

Maybe its different when you're playing with real money, the others may not take it as seriously, or I may be taking reckless chances with hopeless hands (like going all in with a 9,10). But as someone said, the odds of you losing are 100% if you don't try.

The frightening lessons (if they apply to business as well), are that bluster and belligerence are more effective than caution and patience. I might have nothing, but all I have to do is push a large stack of chips out there and watch everyone else back off. If there are some other hold-outs, I just have to keep at it and eat their lunch once in a while when I actually have something. Also, by never backing down when others are trying to bluff (or have some good cards), I lose a few chips when I don't have much in my own hand, but I establish that anyone else trying to bluff is going to lose.

And once you gain the upper hand, its a big advantage. Having 3X more chips than anyone else lets me throw my weight around and make others think twice before standing up to me. Now, that's not to say that someone else won't have good cards. But if I can push them out of the hand before they know those cards are good, then the battle is over before its started.

Right now I'm trying to get a startup to the point where it has the upper hand, and there is some sense of urgency for others to get in or get left behind. One the technical side I have the momentum, but its the business side that needs some work, and that's the side I like less. Unfortunately, its time to roll up my sleeves and wade in, pushing on the hesitateors to get them to take some action, or get out of the way. Waiting patiently for something to happen is a sure path to defeat. I just hope I can succeed while avoiding being belligerent.

  I didn't need to know that.

Besides some great jokes, and some bad puns, this short list of one liners contains a wealth of information that I just didn't need to know:
A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.
A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.
A crocodile cannot stick out its tongue.
A shark is the only fish that can blink with both eyes.
Babies are born without kneecaps.
Maine is the only state whose name is just one syllable.
February 1865 is the only month in recorded history not to have a full moon.
Leonardo Da Vinci invented the scissors.
Tigers have striped skin, not just striped fur.
Your stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks, otherwise it will digest itself.
Cats have over one hundred vocal sounds. Dogs only have about 10.

If that's not enough, there's another 2.5 MB of one-liners here.

  What's wrong with this picture
I just got my HTP MIG machine working this week. I've only had the machine for two and half months, and considering all the things that had to be fixed or tweaked on this unit, I'd say I made pretty good time. Made a royal mess starting out because the drive unit didn't really link my 44# spool of wire.

I didn't really like the spool either, because its heavy. I had to take it off multiple times as it was jamming up at first, mostly due to the fact that the sides are cheap plastic, and one face had a couple cracks in it already. A little duct tape and I was back in business sort of. The poor drive motor doesn't really like dragging around 44# of steel and so I'd start welding: BZAT BZAT BZAT ... nothing. Ok, turn up the tension some more. BZAT BZAT stop. Crank it some more. BZAT SPATTER SPOLT BZAT BZAT ... nothing. Dang it.

Ok, after destroying several weld coupons, turning up the tension a dozen times, and trying about same number of power settings; I finally produced a passable coupon. Partially I was thrown off on the power settings because I didn't expect to need that much power on a 1/8" plate, since this machine is supposed to handle 3/8" with ease. Ended up with a setting of 5 (out of 6) just to get it hot enough with CO2, so I'm not too hopeful about doing any work above 1/4".

So I was wandering around various welding sites when I see this picture, and I think to myself: ok, at least there's one person out there more stupid then me. Why? Well, lets look at what he's doing: he's MIG welding (obviously), and it looks like he's using a spool gun so he's probably working with aluminum (which makes a significantly brighter arc than steel, that's what those #13 lenses are for), and he's got bare arms. Now I had a helmet malfunction before that left me with a nasty sun burn on my neck, but that was on accident. This guy is just asking for skin cancer for lack of a jacket. Idiot.

  Not to be used in my car
While reading about the oil system of Gas Turbine Engines, the Google Ads flashed up a link for Mobil Jet Oil.

I use Mobil One synthetic oil in my car (when I remember to check the oil), so in a moment of curiousity, I decided to check the turbine oil. For a minute I thought I was reading the page wrong. It showed a 1 quart can (wow, it still comes in a can, how quaint), but the price seemed more in line with a 50 gallon barrel. Well the real answer was somewhere in the middle: one case (24 cans) of Jet 254 is $230.50 shipping included.

Just to test the power of Froogle, I sent it to work on Jet oil, and found it almost $36 cheaper. Well, ok, it was $36 cheaper until I added shipping: $34.02. Make that $1.85 cheaper.

Good thing I don't need to do an oil change on a turbo-prop any time soon.

  Even bigger
As if the hummer weren't big enough, Daniel Ayers decided to build something bigger.

The Bad Boy Heavy Muscle Truck is a dressed-up military vehicle that can drive through five feet of water, climb a 60-degree grade, tow six tons and keep rolling even with a hole in the tire's sidewall. You can even upgrade it with toys like a satellite phone, infrared cameras, bulletproof glass, and for the completely paranoid: a self-contained air system that pressurizes the cab to keep out radioactive fallout or biological weapons. right

CNW Marketing describes the target customer this way:

"It's exactly what the Humvee was all about — an absolutely useless vehicle for consumers," Spinella said. "It's a statement vehicle. I know people who would buy this — because it makes a statement."

[reference] news story

  Going into space
While the space elevator is probably our best long term plan for getting off of this planet, there's still some material issues to work out.

You have to have a rope several hundred miles long that won't break. That requires a bit more strength that your six ply tow rope from Home Depot. Even if, as the tow rope advertises, it can absorb Towing Jerks.

Our good industrial grade materials currently top out around 20 GPa (giga-pascals, no don't ask me to describe a giga-pascal), but the space elevator needs a bit more. The best guess is 62 GPa. No we can't use three times as much and make up the difference, cause three times as much rope is just three times heavier. Luckily carbon nano-tubes are really strong, like 220 GPa. "So lets get started," you say. Well, not so fast. So far the record length for a carbon nano-tube is about four centimeter. Its not quite long enough. But they're working on it.

In the mean time, its not all snoozes over at the material science lab at NASA. Not at all. As New Scientist reports, even if you have to take a rocket up to low earth orbit, you could take advantage of a slightly shorter tether to whip up into higher altitudes without any additional fuel.

Imagine a satellite (with considerable mass), solar panels drawing power from the sun, and a large loop of wire that sweeps through the earth's magnetic field. The solar panels generate electricity which is used to create a counter magnetic field in the loop (like a large motor), accelerating the satellite forward little by little. Over time this would add up to a tremendous amount of kinetic energy.

Now, at the right time, the satellite drops the loop (or another wire), down into the lower atmosphere, and just as its starting to drag; it picks up a passenger off of a low earth orbit launch vehicle. Could be a capsule with a person even. At that moment the capsule or package starts dragging on the satellite, slowing the satellite down, but speeding up the capsule. The timing is a little tricky, and the satellite has to be large enough that this step doesn't drag it out of the sky, but when everything is in balance, this can be used to put the payload into a higher orbit, or even escape the earth's gravity well altogether.

They've already done some experiments to try this out. It does work. Ok, so on STS-75 the tether broke, but then again the suspended probe was generating 3500V and that can make quite a spark.

This next test is going to use something stronger that doesn't conduct. No, that's not dental floss, its fishing line.

A good review of space tethers.
NASA tether information.
The ITSF weighs in on Tethers with some very cool pictures.

  Get your GMail invite
If you don't have a Gmail invite, and you want one, then you must be hiding under a rock.

Once apon a time they were hard to get, now there are more than 280,000 available at at their Gmail invite spooler. I gave away a few a long time ago when they were still semi-scarce. It's cool to see that they have given away more than 300,000 so far.

Update, 24 March

They now have 591,460 invites available, with 605,389 shared so far. That's like double a month ago. Very impressive.

  Ebb and flow
I like to keep on top of my projects, piles of paper on my desk, and my email. I'm not always good at it, but its a goal to work towards.

Last week was clearly low tide there. For instance, my regular email box had 5 items in it (google had 11 and yahoo had 9). I like to keep them all under ten, so I was right in the ball park.

This week, forget about it. My regular email has 17, google has 16, and yahoo has 34. (This is after I've cleaned out all the junk and non-essentials.) Gah, my life is out of control again.

  Noisy machines

Well my normally serene basement has been turned into the deck of an aircraft carrier audio-wise ... again.

Unpacked my second Colomachine. These things are cheap, but I'm sure glad they're not staying here. All I have to do is get this machine a base OS install, and then take it over to infomagic, let Greg run my setup script (and find the many holes it probably has), and then put it into service.

So far I'm still able to hear about half the songs in my playlist. Shout was audible, but Enya didn't really stand a chance. Oh well, only three more to go after this one.

  Stupid hardware
I had lots of things partially written to post tonight, but when I finally got down to my computer (after running around doing chores), I was off the internet.

At first I thought it was my ISP, who was having service problems last night as well (and of course there's no tech support at 1AM), so I power-smacked the DSL modem and went upstairs to check the fire. However the DSL modem usually only eats itself about once every 2-3 weeks, and since I power-smacked* it last night already, I didn't think this would really help that much.

It didn't help any. So then, noticing that I was getting No Route to Host, I started suspecting that the problem could be local. Turns out I couldn't reach the NAT box (which is on the same local net), so I went and power-smacked that as well. Didn't help much. Stupid Netgear box was off-line or something, this time completely.

Well it turns out I don't really need that box any more since the DSL modem does NAT too, and it was somewhat of a jurry rigged situation (especially with getting inbound ports to work), so it was time to do massive damage. First I checked that the DSL modem was working (since I had only verified that the netgear box was not), with a handy direct link cable, that unfortunately pulled the featherweight DSL modem off of the speaker tower where it currently lives, but as it seems the box is basically empty (based on its weight), it was no worse for its trip to the floor.

So after confirming the DSL was working, I reconfigured it to talk to my local network directly 192.168.67.xx, duplicated the DHCP settings from the other box (have to leave room for the static address'd servers), and restarted it. Unfortunately, its interface is unusually dumb for a stand alone appliance (or they have Microsoft update envy), and it only kept the server address setting, blowing away the port forwarding & DHCP settings. Several sequential resets later, it was configured properly and patched into the main switch (another Netgear -- don't ask).

And so we're alive. At least for the moment.

* PowerSmack - to rip the power adaptor out of wall, or yank the power connector on a device that is supposed to run forever and thus does not have a power switch.

  Losing to learn

I've been playing in internet poker tournaments for part of our beta testing the games grid software (beta testing is open to anyone if you want to try it).

After learning some of the easier lessons myself, I consulted with Red who is not only a founder, but has also written the book on it, for some tips. His basic advise was to use betting as a mechanism to make other players reveal their hands was very useful (ie: never just check or call) and I recenly found myself still with a decent pile of chips as the number of players dropped from 28 to 10.

At this point I figured I should get back to work (and as an employee I wasn't eligible for a prize), so I seriously tried to dump my chips as quickly as possible. However this turned out to be harder than I expected.

Since the other players didn't know what I was trying to do (and probably wouldn't have believed me anyway), they were sometimes intimidated by my moves and would fold their hand (leaving me with more money to get rid of). It was very interesting to see how others reacted to my reckless actions.

In the end, I managed to dump my chips; but by this time there were only four other players left. The interesting thing was that some of the strategies I thought would lose actually turned out to be winners. When one is learning something, answers can turn up in the most interesting places.

  More cool pumps
Since I've got a stuffed head and runny nose passed on from the kids, I've been wandering around in my recent bookmarks trying to cleanup things; and spent some time learning the fundamentals of aircraft gas turbines. The US Army has opened sourced all its learning materials, and a number of web sites have put the material up online. My favorite right now is Free-Ed which is trying out GoogleAds as a way to generate revenue.

While I'm familiar with the basics of how jet engines work, its good to review things like the brayton cycle and I still find Bernoulli's principle counter intuitive in some cases, and am still scratching my head about why when you constrict a flow, the pressure and temperature drop instead of increasting.

Besides the mechanics of the engine itself, the training manual was talking about gerotor pumps for the oil. Now I know about gear pumps, but hadn't heard about gerotors before so I had to go dig up pictures on them. A gerotor is neater than a normal gear pump, because it takes up less space (one gear is inside of the other), and the teeth only mesh with each other at 1/N times the shaft rotation rate, so there's less wear.

There's a couple good pages on how these work (just forget wikipedia as they have no clue), and if you want to design you're own, you can even download a design program that will let you create 10 designs free before having to pay $250 for the program. This would be a great program to get if I had a 3d prototyping machine and could mill these out of brass, or cut roughs out of steel with the CNC plasma table and then machine them down to final tollerances.

Whoever thought up the geometry for the gerotor was thinking outside the box. Maybe they had been staring at the wankel engine too long. All these dynamic geometry inter-meshing engines are remarkable engineering achievements (especially considering most of them were originally designed in the 1800s--long before computer modelling).

Or maybe someone was just tired of making crop circles.

  Burning holes
So I finally got my hands on a cylinder of Argon and that was the last piece I needed to start TIG welding. Table and cables set, torch in hand, I was reading to melt some metal. Well almost. Had to go dig around the garage for the manual to read how to set the amperage (you'd think that would be fairly straight forward -- ha!), then I was in business.

Grabbed the first piece of metal that came to hand, some 24ga galvanized, and let it rip. Bad choice. Should not TIG weld galvanized metal. Besides the zinc oxide being rather poisonous to breath, it makes a mess out of just about everything else. Created this bizarre mothy web of something on the back of the weld, and totally corroded my tungsten. It got so bad that the high frequency kicked into overdrive and started sparking from the collet. That was after it had burnt a nice hole right through the sheet. Cleaned up the tip, turned the power down a bunch, and finished a line, just to remind myself that it was possible, but it wasn't pretty.

Grabbed some 22ga paintlock next and started practicing some lines. Blew big holes on the ends at the beginning, but got more careful as I went along and could end a line at the edge without major melt-through by the time I finished the sixth one. I also tried out the pulser mode on the HTP, but mostly that helped me make more of a mess. Forget the pretty pictures in the books (see above), if it wasn't too slow (and completely solidifying between each blip), it was apparently pointless (making extra crud on the surface of the weld). The bead didn't look any smaller, and the penetration didn't look any better.

At about 12Hz (30%) I was actually doing ok, it was giving me somewhat well defined melting spots, but one thing you don't realize when reading about pulsing in the book, is that the only light source for your work is the TIG arc. If its pulsing, you're essentially working to a strobe light. And trying to do anything with a 12Hz flash in your face going: blat blat blat, is mighty distracting. Supposedly the sound gets really annoying as well when working with thicker work, but since my upper end is 200amps, I'm not likely to be doing any serious ironwork.

There's some instruction on using pulsing for TIG here

Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

January 2004 / February 2004 / March 2004 / April 2004 / May 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / November 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / August 2008 / February 2009 / August 2009 / February 2010 / February 2011 / March 2011 / October 2011 / March 2012 / July 2013 / August 2013 / September 2013 / October 2013 / November 2013 / December 2013 / December 2014 / February 2015 / March 2015 / July 2016 / September 2016 / December 2016 /

Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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