23 June 2013

Gaining Some Wiggle Room

For some time now, I've wanted an oscilloscope. An O-scope is a stand-alone testing device that allows the user to visualize and make measurements of voltage wave forms (oscillations) in alternating current (AC). A good multimeter can also measure AC voltage, but provides no information about the waveform. When you set a digital multimeter (DMM) to measure AC voltage (Vac), and put the probes into a typical American wall outlet, you should get a reading of 120 volts. But the DMM doesn't tell you that the voltage is an AC wave form that is (typically) oscillating at 60 cycles per second.

Well I've had a real, actual, crappy job for some time now, and I've put most of my compensation into investment accounts. Recently the desire for this kind of test equipment was rekindled in me. Sadly, I can't remember what the recent trigger was. Maybe I decided I wanted to fix something, and then forgot what that something was. Anyway, I watched eBay for a while and did some casual research on the models that I saw there. There are several brands of O-scopes, and each brand comes in a range of bandwidths. "Bandwidth" for oscilloscopes means the range of frequencies that can be *reliably* tested with that specific unit. For example, a 100 MHz O-scope is designed to look at anything from DC (zero frequency) to a signal that is 100 million cycles per second. [There's a big caveat implicit in my statement; the upper bandwidth limit is usually restricted by signal attenuation - that's a fancy engineering term that I'll get to later.]

After some time surveying what was typically available on eBay, I decided that I needed a Tektronics model. I know myself pretty well, and I can say with some certainty that I may have had good reasoning to back it up, but my choice of Tektronics was at least somewhat arbitrary. [I do that. The list of positive qualities helps soothe my ego later when I realize how arbitrary it was.] So I started watching for Tektronics O-scopes. Before long I realized that for the bid prices that I was seeing, it made more sense economically to spend the money for a high-bandwidth unit. The things that I intended to look at were nowhere near 100 MHz, but even the used 20 MHz units were going for around $140, while 100 MHz units were anywhere from $180 on up.

The first few items that I chose to bid on were snapped up by bid-snipers who jumped in at the last minutes of the auction, while I was at work. Karl hates bid-snipers. So, in my frustration, I looked around and decided that the best non-auction value that I saw was a Tektronics 2336 YA model that had a $180 "buy it now" price. The Tek 2336 is a 2-channel, 100 MHz 'scope. What strongly appealed to me is that it is designed to be a portable model made to certain MIL specs; it was built to be somewhat rugged (as far as that can be said about sensitive instruments). I have a history of my nice things getting damaged, vandalized, broken, or stolen, so a rugged 'scope pretty much has my name on it in neon lights.

I should also mention that one should be EXTREMELY cautious about buying an oscilloscope on eBay. Almost everything is sold "as-is", so the buyer should have some technical knowledge, and either some technical ability - or have a very good friend to advise and make any necessary repairs. A DOA scope is a very real possibility, and you should understand that before bidding. I have repaired my own LCD monitors and other appliances, so I had an unreasonable and unrealistic amount of optimism in accordance with my inflated ego. I got lucky, but that's a story for the next entry.

31 March 2012

On Representation

My Representative is a Republican. I, on the other hand, like to be able to discover the truth behind any given issue. 

I'm sure that those two sentences read like the most feral partisan drivel that you've heard today - but that depends on how political your normal media is. [Personally, I like to keep the political spigot switched off. I get quite annoyed when it drips.] I would like to think that I am not given to hyperbole, but I also like to make grand statements when I think that they are justified. [I trust you'll pardon me if I get carried away?]

I have had reasons to become more familiar with the PPACA of late. That's the legislation that some refer to as "Obama Care". [That epithet is interesting for other reasons, but that's a digression for another time.] In my researching, I happened to wander over to the website of my Representative to the U.S. Congress. [I'll not name him just now; I may say some unpleasant things below.] On his website I read this:

"Rather than passing costly government mandates, Congress should work toward commonsense reforms that lower costs, expand access to quality medical care, and protect the sacred doctor-patient relationship.  I believe there is broad support for proposals like allowing individuals to purchase coverage across state lines, expanding Health Savings Accounts, and enacting meaningful tort reform."

Hmmm. Some of that is in the PPACA; namely expanded access. Reforms that cut costs were stripped out because Republicans did not want them. [In fact, Congress recently passed (by a purely partisan vote) legislation that would strike down one of the few remaining portions of the PPACA that would work to reduce costs.] Nobody ever threatened the relationship between doctors and patients, and Republicans have been pursuing tort reform for longer than they have been holding down minimum wage. [Ooops, that might have been hyperbole, but it sounds right to me, and I don't have a good way to look up the earliest attempts to do either. I do happen to know how long they have been working against Universal Health Care; since about 1922!]

When I first read that statement on my Representative's website, I thought it was silly that they wanted to strike down the PPACA and replace it with the PPACA. That would be silly, but I could understand why Republicans would want to do this. On a closer reading, the meaning became clearer, and the intent much narrower than I had first thought. Same old things.

Then I realized something odd. My Congressman's website does not provide any factual information on the PPACA. When I go to my Senator's website, I can find information on what the PPACA law can do for me right now. A laundry list of current benefits from the PPACA law. My Congressman's website does no such thing. Isn't this the 'Information Age'? So where is the information?

Now, if my Congressman is truly my Representative, shouldn't he be reporting back to me about the benefits of the PPACA - even if he is philosophically opposed to it? Strictly speaking, he works for me. I pay his salary, and he claims to represent his constituents. My opinions are not shared by a majority of other constituents, but shouldn't I also benefit from his representation? I'm not aware of all the things in the PPACA, and I'd actually like to know if I should be signing up for Medicaid.

So shouldn't I expect my "Representative" to report back to me on all the fun stuff that he's been doing? I want to hear about the bills. I don't mean the party line, I could get that from Fox anytime. If a bill has become law, is it unreasonable for me to expect him to explain what is in the law? If he were representing my business, he wouldn't last long by skimping on details like this. All that I can find on his website is a link to Library of Congress THOMAS - a website that makes bills and other legislative information available to anyone. THOMAS is nice, but linking to an entirely different site is a cop-out. Or maybe he doesn't know what is in the law? Either way, I'm dissatisfied.

27 February 2012

On Republican Values

The point of his article was that GOP presidential candidates had run out of people to blame contemporary problems on, and were therefore reduced to blaming each other - but Matt Taibbi made me think of something else. Rolling Stone magazine political columnist Matt Taibbi's recent assessment of a GOP debate featured a clip of Ron Paul brutalizing Santorum as a 'fake Conservative.' Apparently it is a cardinal sin for Conservatives to find fault with, or attempt to fix, or (gasp!) repeal significant GOP milestones such as the No Child Left Behind Legislation.

Santorum should be commended for daring to say openly that there are problems with NCLB, even if he did vote for it initially. Ron Paul seems to think that casting aspersions on any significant legislation (or other signature accomplishment) that can be traced to the GOP is a cardinal sin, or at least a good sign of a fake Conservative. I've certainly seen evidence of a lasting trend to keep the faith - even in vary bad ideas. So, the message that I should take away is that the Republican Leadership never make any mistakes? They certainly don't seem to go on record as apologizing for their mistakes.

The previous administration. I really do not need to say anything here. Generally, anytime that media outlets reported a story containing the words "the White House denies", that denial turned out to 'misleading.'

Michelle Bachmann told Hannity on July 12,2011 that President Obama was "trying to scare people" into believing that the debt ceiling crises was real. She repeatedly used that theme throughout July. On August 5, S&P downgraded the US credit rating. I'm reasonably sure that no apology to the public, or to President Obama, is forthcoming for her failure to treat the President - or the subject of economics - with the respect that they deserve.

Naturally, the world of politics gives a lot of opportunity for me to find examples, but what I really wanted to mention was something that happened earlier this month. On February 6, House Speaker John Boehner attempted to retcon his actions during the debt ceiling crisis:

 | JUDY WOODRUFF: Because he says that he thinks you would do more - you would be able to work
 | more with the administration, except you have members who just won't let you.
 | JOHN BOEHNER: When the president and I have been able to come to an agreement, there's been no
 | issue at all in getting -- whatever the agreement was, getting it passed. I think it's an excuse that the White
 | House uses because there're so many areas that we've not been able to come to an agreement on.
 | JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it appeared to the public last summer that you and he were pretty close to a
 | deal on the debt ceiling -- big budget cuts, tax increases -- but that you were, in effect, held back by your
 | own membership. Is that what happened?
 | JOHN BOEHNER: No, no. I was more than willing to put revenues on the table. I thought if we reformed
 | our tax system, we could produce more revenue from it. But I told the president, I'm not going to put more
 | revenue on the table unless you're willing to make real changes to our entitlement programs because in their
 | current form, they're not sustainable.
 | The president would never say yes to any of those changes to the entitlement programs. And even though I
 | had revenue on the table and the president hadn't said yes, he came back and wanted $500 billion more in
 | revenue. There's a way to do this, but it takes courage. And I am more than willing to address this problem
 | at any moment with the president, because the future of our country depends on us coming to an agreement
 | that will begin to solve our debt problem.

Now, I knew when I heard this on the show, that what he said was wrong, but I looked it up to be sure. The New York Times' summary of events states that:

 | By all accounts, the agreement taking shape called for closing corporate tax loopholes. And it was linked to
 | a broad tax overhaul that could have left uncertain the fate of tax breaks for the nation’s affluent, which are
 | due to expire after 2012. That was going to cause serious trouble with Republicans who are wedded to
 | those Bush-era tax cuts and who consider allowing them to expire equivalent to a tax hike.
 | Mr. Boehner and the White House were engaged in delicate talks on the timing of the tax changes and how
 |  to package the plan so that it could be seen as not raising taxes to gain new revenue. The speaker argued
 |  that the tax rewrite would produce new revenues through economic growth and an expansion of the tax
 |  base. And he was pushing a legislative trigger to make certain that the tax changes occurred.

So, the additional revenues weren't just 'on the table', they were a core part of the agreement. The possibility of restructuring entitlements may not have been 'on the table', but that wasn't a sticking point, since an agreement was taking shape without them. The part about the President wanting more revenue is actually a retcon of Eric Cantor, who later killed the deal saying that they should go down to the amount of revenue that Joe Biden asked for in earlier talks. Biden's talks also broke down over revenue.

Judy Woodruff's suggested version of events (and Tea Party pushback) was correct, and John Boehner flatly denied it. He didn't address his Tea Party caucus at all, and simply blamed the it all on Democrat's being unwilling to negotiate. Fortunately for Speaker Boehnor, a majority of his conservative base will believe that, just like all of the other 'information' that he has been providing them.

So don't worry Rick Santorum, if things get heated, just 'clarify' the things that you have done in the past to assert that precisely the opposite is true. The clarification itself is a hallmark of a true conservative leader, and you have nothing to be ashamed about.

And to Matt Taibbi; the Republican Leadership never runs out of enemies. They will simply assert that they had been mislead in the past, and that some other guys are the 'real' enemies. They just were not properly prioritized until now.

And if I was mistaken anywhere in my above meanderings, then I will admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize wherever it is appropriate. I guess I'm just not a True Conservative.

Edit: I suppose fairness requires a bit more on the subject.

To be honest, I understand why JB needs to retcon this. If Judy Woodruff has some idea that he is willing to work a grand deal with Chief Executive Enemy, then so does everyone on Capitol Hill. The rancor that forced JB to reneg on the agreement (or 'reject the offer' or whatever the Republican phrase is for 'backing out of the deal' this week) was manifold. An obstinate need to refuse the President any grand bargains or signature legislation, staying true to the deals they made with Grover Nordquist and the "Cut, Cap, and (something)" pact - neither of which benefits their constituents, and the usual misguided sense of camaraderie (there's definitely a 'them', so the 'us' has to stand together). Eric Cantor knew the Republican caucus wouldn't go for it and with the #2 Republican objecting, there was no deal.

I understand that JB and President Obama get along well together, as Judy Woodruff mentions. This is the key area of importance here. You have to remember the 'us or them' mentality is at work here. That didn't go away after the last administration. By being willing to work with the President, and actually getting to the final stages of a deal with "the Enemy," Speaker Boehner may now have diminished stature in the eyes of his caucus.

I'm saying that I believe John Boehner knows that his days as Speaker are numbered. He has to shore up his True Conservative credentials quickly. If he doesn't do a quick retcon - or if it doesn't catch on and the Republican Party leadership believe that he is still too moderate, he could be demoted to #3 - or less. If the next election sees more Tea Party gains (that is to say, moderate Conservatives replaced by TPs - I do not foresee wholesale Republican gains), then expect a clamor for JB to step down. Eric Cantor doesn't strike me as a guy to stand on propriety if the Republican caucus is insistent, so don't expect JB to be able to claim tenure or priviledge.

The logical conclusion will be congressional gridlock at its worst to date. Future Speakers will refuse to negotiate, lest they be discarded or vilified by the Party. This is precisely the reason why theological discussions were reduced to silly discussions by the 6th century. When the Church held tightly to Catholic dogma, new and contradictory ideas were heretical - even if they were right. "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin" may not lead to progress in exegesis, but nobody gets burnt at the stake either.

Today I heard that Olympia Snowe of Maine will not seek re-election, owing to the prevailing attitude of "My way or the highway." Now that's a shame. Yes its true that Mrs. Snowe occasionally voted with the Enemy, but I can't believe that she would do so unless she thought it was in the best interests of her constituents and her country. I also can't believe that she is the only Republican moderate to feel that way. Imagine how a freshman Republican moderate must feel.

07 November 2011

Nothing to see here

No updates during National Novel Writing Month

Why did I take a database course that consumes so much time in November???

10 September 2011

Do open letters undo closure?

(Alternate) Heart of my Heart clocked in at more than 5000 words. The font looks appallingly tiny on my screen, but I suppose I can deal with it? I can make the font bold or larger type, but that just makes the blog taller with fewer words per line. I need a wider format.

The earlier entry was an exploratory piece that I decided to abandon entirely. It was a story that I intended to be my November is National Novel Writing Month project. It would have been fun to write, but the C-cannon Star Wars Universe is complex, and someone has already written stories about Piett surviving the collision. And the clone of Palpatine. So yeah, I don't have any interest in re-visiting ground that someone else exhausted.

So then I thought that I'd write a prequel to the film 'Escape from New York.' I always thought the film was intriguing - but it really missed... something. I think that John Carpenter had meant for the idea of a walled-in NYC prison to be creepier (like the scene where all those guys emerge from manhole covers). Well, of course, the best monster movies are the ones where you make your own suspense because you don't see the monster for a long time. But when you do see these 'monsters', they're extras wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers. And they mostly run past in the shadows during eerie sound effects. Wooo. So it pretty much missed the horror bus, and all that was left was half of what could have been a decent action movie.

But we never learn much about S.D. Plissken either, and this makes it a little difficult for the audience to connect with the I-don't-give-a-fuck tough guy. Who is 'Snake' Plissken? Why do people think he was dead? There should be plenty off room there for a story. So I did some brain storming and I came up with some really good story ideas, including the origin of the eye-patch. [I had him as a younger man falling out of a tree after trying to put the moves on some girl - resulting in single-eye double vision] Then last week I suddenly realized that it wasn't enough to watch the film to see where a prequel novel should end. If there is a movie, there is probably a book out there, right? Well there is a book. And it starts before the film. And it includes the origin of the eyepatch. And it includes the story of the robbery of the Federal Reserve Depository. So it basically covers all the bases before the film begins.

Well shit. 

Scratch that idea then. It does save me the trouble of how a one-eyed guy could get into Special Forces. A one eyed man flying a plane isn't a big deal though; see Wiley Post. It would have been fun to write though. Dammit. I do have a fallback idea for NaNo, but I'll hang onto that one for now.