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    Tuesday, May 4th, 2010
    11:56 pm
    Nuclear weapons in Palo Alto
    Well, I'm out of shape. Ride just over seventeen miles, and I'm tuckered out. My legs are sore, and I'm not sure tomorrow that I'll be completely cool with my relatively modest need to ride nine miles. However, I no longer think of the South Bay as pure suburban hell. It's also a pretty nice place to bicycle, I rode six miles on El Camino Real and it worked wonderfully. I don't like it as much at rush hour though.

    Burning my legs was worth it though: I rode through the salt ponds in Mountain View and Palo Alto along the bay, a beautiful view of hills on both sides. And out to the Stanford campus, and a great talk on nuclear deterrence with an old friend from Canada. A question came up that concerned me though: the speaker suggested that the comprehensive test ban treaty is fundamentally in US interests because it codified certain advantages in weapon design (specifically, sharp angled conical packages with high stability ratios, i.e. forward centres of gravity compared to farther back centres of pressure).

    I wonder if China, India, Pakistan or Iran are going to be interested in signing a multilateral instrument that codifies a superior US deterrence (specifically: this technology, which the speaker claimed required testing allows cheaper and lighter nuclear weapons to be more destructive to designated targets). Is it rational if they're only interested in the threat from each other and not the USA? I guess that's the hope.

    The doctor also said that the discussion of this advantage is political because it helps encourage Republican support for the test ban. This part I believe; but I worry that the Chinese delegation might well accept the same argument and not sign such an instrument. If we hope for a nuclear free world, it's almost certainly necessary to ban tests. Since that means a permanent US advantage in nuclear deterrence, America must be a less significant threat than all other parties to the instrument, to every signatory to the instrument. A tall order that makes me fear for our hopes for a nuclear free world.
    Friday, February 5th, 2010
    7:02 pm
    Free Idea for a Clever Hacking Project
    Write a driver to encode hi-def video on your home coax to all the TVs in your house!

    A few years ago, a clever guy named Fabrice Bellard figured noticed that video card output signals and VHF TV are close in frequency. He did this.

    Pretty sharp, eh? The trick is in those grayscale images. They contain a DVB-T encoded image, DVB-T is a television broadcast standard used in places where beer is sold in half liters. The idea of using a video card as a transmitter is pretty much entirely explained in that page.

    If only I had a free modulator for ATSC, the television standard used in North America and South Korea. Oh wait, GNURadio has one.

    Your project: plug these two ideas into each other. In particular, you might need to manipulate your MPEG-TS so you're not putting data in your blanking intervals. For various technical reasons revolving around video cards being intended to be connected to monitors, you need to blank intervals for every "row" of your image, and an additional blank interval for every "frame." In Mr. Bellard's example for DVB-T, he had 0.2μs every 47.8μs, and an extended 96μs blanking period every 62,736μs. You can fiddle with how often these blankings occur, but not the fact of them. So better put something unimportant in your MPEG-TS there! Fabrice's video mode updated at just under 16Hz, so at least you have a little time to write your signal down.

    Let me know how it goes. You'll be a star!

    For bonus points, encode three signals at once. All on channel 5 of course. We'll make a special VGA cable with two heterodyne tuners, sell it with our software, and the two of us, we'll be rich!

    I advise using the Linux kernel framebuffer interface, not an X server.
    Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010
    4:12 pm
    A Consumer Story with an Happy Ending
    I'm very happy to share a consumer rights story today with an happy ending!

    On Sunday, a parking garage overcharged me. I parked at South Station for 27 minutes, they charged me for 32 minutes, and so they demanded $7 instead of the $2 owed. As I left the garage, I politely explained to the attendant the problem, and he'd have none of it. He pointed at the table of prices, and said it wasn't his fault their clocks were wrong. I asked if he could just charge me the $2, perhaps after we both went to look at the entrance clock, just a hundred yards away. Nope. There was obviously no way to continue this conversation politely.

    So, I paid by credit card and got a receipt. Do this whenever you're anxious about a transaction, or paying in duress like I was; it creates as many records as possible and gives you additional recourse. Of course it took seven minutes to pay and leave that way. I don't think the attendant liked me much.

    Sunday evening, I considered my options. From the top of my head, they were:

    1. Contact the parking company directly to speak about it.

    2. Contact the owner of the land the parking lot was in (the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority).

    3. Contact my credit card company for a chargeback.

    4. Contact the weights and measures department of the city of Boston.

    5. Send a 93A demand letter, which entitles me to treble damages, plus attorneys fees plus filing fees if they don't respond properly, should we end up in court

    6. Tell the world how crappy the Central Parking System administration is of the South Station Garage.


    Ultimately, I decided that #4 is the best thing to do first. It results in the best disincentives to stop the behaviour for everyone, they get fined, and I get awesome evidence of the problem. So on Monday morning, I phoned the director of the city's weights and measures department. After a short phone call, he assured me he'd send investigators to the site today (Tuesday) to look at it. He was dubious at first, suggesting that most garages use computer coordinated clocks. I assured him that I'd accurately noted entry and exit times against the same clock in my car, so he took me at my word.

    Man, did I get a funny phone call today. The director called me back, and he was furious. The garage wouldn't cooperate with the inspectors when they arrived. The director then went in person, and did an inspection himself. He found a worse discrepancy than I had found: he found six minutes, I'd found five. When he tried to phone the management company, noone answered his calls, noone would respond to him at all.

    So, he sent a detail to close the entrance to the garage.

    Half an hour later, it was fixed and everyone was happy.

    And, best of all, weights & measures has passed along my contact information, and suggested to Central Parking that they give me my $5 back. I'm looking forward to cashing the check! I'm glad about everything that went right here, and I'm happy about how I addressed it. Weights and measures was obviously the right lever to pull, and I can't imagine anyone else could have served me as well.

    Thanks, City of Boston! Imagine: Three hundred and eighty nine years of keeping us safe from unscrupulous parking operators.
    Tuesday, January 19th, 2010
    9:36 pm
    I wrote that exam!
    When I told a friend of mine I wrote the SAT, he was genuinely confused. To a speaker of American English, this sounds like you're claiming to have written the questions on the exam. So don't use "to write" this way in America. I thought, like a lot of my english that Americans don't understand, it was British. It isn't! It's not exactly Canadian, but it isn't British either.

    A quick googlefight across the anglosphere shows this usage is unique to the commonwealth, and most common in South Africa. Canada trails, with "take an exam" actually being more common than "write an exam."
    Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
    10:46 am
    They Cancelled M*A*S*H!
    For the last few months, ION television has been showing two episodes of M*A*S*H daily. Effective yesterday, they cancelled it. I was sad to see it; I use an antenna so unlike in a cable world, I probably won't have M*A*S*H on TV for some time.

    But the cancellation also got me thinking: do you remember watching the final episode, "Goodbye & Farewell?" I re-watched it five years ago; I didn't remember the content episode at all, but somehow I remembered sitting with my family to see it (I was six!), and how sad my older sister was about it all.

    (Worse yet, I'd invested some effort writing a script to archive the M*A*S*H episodes; now that's wasted! The broadcaster was sending a half hour episode of M*A*S*H as about 3.5 gigabytes of data, I found quality didn't suffer significantly if I transcoded & interlaced it down to about 200 megabytes)
    Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
    8:04 am
    Leavin' Portland

    Summer 09 010
    Originally uploaded by The Cambridge Peters
    The second time's a charm for leaving Portland. The first time we tried to leave, it was too windy, too rainy, and the waves were too big for us to really want to continue on. The second time though was the gorgeous day you see pictured here. Nick enjoyed hanging out in the cockpit with me for the whole sail; the problem, if any, was keeping him from trying to steer or adjust sheets.

    We were going upwind out of Portland Harbour to the open part of casco bay (the southern half near the mouth). We then got on a reach, and had our spinnaker up for most of the way to Sebasco Harbor Resort, near Cape Small.

    By the end of the trip I was getting pretty good at singlehanded spinnaker handling; I tried rigging it for outside gybes, and that was the trick. I was setting it, dousing it, bagging it, and gybing it all on my own sweet own. Our boat doesn't go downwind very well without a spinnaker, so I rate this a useful skill for covering distance in lighter air.
    8:00 am
    Seguin Island

    Summer 09 044
    Originally uploaded by The Cambridge Peters
    Here I am, just off of the south coast of Seguin Island. The whole shore of this island is as rocky as this looks, and there's also some really gnarly reefs to the NE and the N of it.

    We went by on Monday of our third week of sailing; I think that evening we tied up at Cook's Lobster house.... Yum.

    Apparently, the lighthouse has a small museum that you can visit. I can't imagine landing at that island though; talk about a scramble to get up to the coast safely?
    Monday, June 1st, 2009
    11:09 am
    On Montreal
    In the car on Saturday, en-route to Montreal:

    Me: We're going to Montreal!

    Nicholas: (upset) But I don't WANT to go in a TREE!
    Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
    8:59 am
    Doored!
    I was feeling pretty proud of myself today. I was riding into work, listening to my stereo. I replaced the speakers last night and this morning in both doors on the car, and for the first time in a while the sound was really good.

    ...

    then I parked, and tried to get out. I didn't reattach the openning latch on the driver's door properly.

    DOH! Before I put all the screws in the new door, I remembered to test all the electrical connections, but I guess I forgot the mechanical interlocks.l

    I guess I have a job for tommmorow morning now.

    - Gavin
    Saturday, May 9th, 2009
    8:50 am
    Cottage Park Yacht Club
    So, last year, while I was out for a race, I got somewhat drunk at an after-race banquet, and ended up buying a year's membership in a third yacht club; the Cottage Park Yacht Club. It's in Winthrop, MA, and the clubhouse is if anything, a shorter drive from my home than my current club.

    Last night, I took my family there for dinner. What a nice place! There's lots of young families, and the club has a kitchen & restaurant on site, as well a fitness club, sauna, bowling alley and lots of family events.

    The only drawback? The club is a little bit close to the airport. Like, the clubhouse is about 150 yards from the end of a runway. To leave the lagoon, you have to motor maybe 120' from the end of a runway, with sometimes large jets landing directly over your sailboat.

    A friend there has a spare mooring. I'll go there as often as I can this year with Kim & the boys, and talk about where we keep the boat at the end of this year. I really like SYC, where I am now, but the CPYC has more active racers, more serious sailors, and more boating conversation that I enjoy.

    Also, bowling!

    - Gavin

    Current Mood: happy
    Sunday, April 26th, 2009
    5:38 pm
    launch list...
    This post is probably quite boring. I'm just using it mostly to keep track of the things I need to do in preparation for launching the boat.

    Essential for Launch



    Prepare bottom
    Annual stuff. I use 1 1/2 gal of VC offshore, and this is an even year, so I have to buy two gallons. Ugh, at $210/gal or so, I don't like the even years. The usual prep should be fine; dry sand the old bottom down to the barrier coat (or just above it, I usually stop when I see my great lakes bottom paint), and then two-three coats of VC offshore, with possibly four coats on the leading edge of foils. Wet sand, wet burnish, then a second wet burnishing until the whole bottom is copper coloured. Each coat of paint is 3hrs, sanding/burnishing is another 4hrs (but is a good crew activity).

    Polyglo
    New annual stuff, starting this year. I switched away from wax last year to this stuff; it's nice, but it wears out with abrasion such as at the water line. I'll apply a few more coats after cleaning the hull well. I have about a pint left, but it spent the winter aboard. Can this lacquer like material survive repeated refreezing?

    Refit bilge pump
    DONE. Ugh. Bilge pump exploded on me a week ago.

    Fix engine
    Cohasset Diesel will do this for me. They are experts at Atomic 4, according to the grape vine.

    Dress up sails
    I'm done sewing my sails for this year, but they need a bit of final dressing. I have to add the leech/footline cleats (which oddly involves running a power drill through my sail, followed by rivetting), and also hand sew on leather at the clew, and tighten in the sun cover at the tack.

    Fix deck
    Hopefully not that bad, the deck is delaminated in one section. I'll sound it out, and hopefully it's dry and I can just reattach it with epoxy and some weight, per Don Casey.

    Rebed chainplates and chainplate dressing cover
    The chainplates are leaking water belowdecks, it's gross. Fix that.


    Not Required for Launch, but desirable


    Inspect plumbing
    I've had too many water line/tank leaks the last few years, it'd be good to go over everything once again

    Wire internal stereo speakers
    I have nice bose speakers, they are mounted in the boat, what I don't have is wires between my nice stereo and them.

    Wire fog horn
    Probably essential for my cruise to maine this year, I have a new electronic foghorn.

    Clean inside of boat thoroughly
    I want to clean up the bilge, empty all lockers of nonessential gear, etc, in prep for our trip in July for a nice boat.

    Install new solar vent
    I have a day/night solar vent that is ready to install; I just need to put it in the head.


    Friday, March 13th, 2009
    10:27 am
    Can I feed Monte?
    Nick's adapting fairly well to having his new brother!
    Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
    10:14 pm
    Wonderful news!


    This morning, at 8:22am, the new Baby Peters was born. He is 7lb 5oz, and 20" long. Both mother and son are doing very well. I'm really glad we made it to the hospital at 8:01am, and not, say, 8:23am.

    We haven't got a name yet. Do you have a suggestion?
    Monday, February 2nd, 2009
    11:04 pm
    How the Peters' play scrabble...
    Scrabble is fun. You should learn it.

    But, you need to get some preconceived notions out of your head. For instance, you might think having a good vocabulary will help you at scrabble. That's wrong.

    Scrabble is about being able to rearrange letters in your head, and it's about memorizing good combinations of letters. I am good at the latter, Kim's good at the former. She's better at scrabble. I have every two letter word memorized now, and most of the three letter words. I've also memorized lists of words that are handy to bingo.

    We both started playing a bit under a week ago, trying to learn how to play well.

    Here's our most recent game, I think it went well:



    Kim won, 438 points to my 326.

    There were two bingoes in the game. Kim played LOVELIER for 74 points, and I played ETAMINS for 79 points. She played TOASTER (a nice double-double), QUEUED and FONDER. I challenged FONDERS off of the board, she tried to play that phony.

    Fun! Come play Scrabble!

    - Gavin
    Wednesday, January 14th, 2009
    2:04 pm
    Harper gets one right
    I have so rarely found myself happy with the Harper & Bush governments, I thought I'd make a PSA about one of their successes.

    The new fifth protocol to the US/Canada Tax Treaty took effect of as 1 January, 2008, so you can take advantage of it when you do your 2008 taxes.

    The biggest change for individuals is the inclusion of Roth IRAs and TFSAs into the treaty. Before the 2008 tax year, if you had a Roth IRA, and lived in Canada, you had to pay tax on all the gains each year in Canada, just as if you had a taxable investment account. That sucked, and so if you lived in the USA, but thought maybe you'd move to Canada later in your life, then the standard advice was to not get a Roth IRA. That's a shame, since the Roth IRA has advantages over regular IRAs, so people were paying more tax just because they were worried they might move to Canada before they were 60.

    Not true anymore! The new protocol covers Roth IRAs and TFSAs. Go ahead, open a Roth IRA. If you move to Canada, you won't pay tax on gains in it, and you won't pay tax on distributions from it. So chalk that one up as solved.

    I'm not sure, a good accountant specializing in Canada/US issues like Gary Gauvin would know better than me, but I think you can even transfer money from a Roth IRA into a TFSA without penalty if you do the right gymnastics.

    And now a digression, but useful to know if you might move to Canada:

    If you live in Canada, you'd almost always want to do this. IRAs, Roth IRAs and 401(k) accounts have a lot more limits on withdrawals than RRSPs and TFSAs do. You can generally withdraw from an RRSP or TFSA at any time with no penalty at all, except that you'd have to pay tax on the RRSP withdrawl (no big deal, you didn't pay tax when you earned it, so it's generally a wash unless rates have changed). Not so with their American cousins. So if you find yourself living in Canada, even temporarily, you should probably talk to a good accountant and arrange a transfer of your retirement savings into RRSPs and TFSAs.

    Even if you move to America later, you're still better off. The money still grows tax free, and now you can withdraw at any time without penalty. Go figure.
    Tuesday, January 13th, 2009
    9:26 am
    them's the brakes
    I'm annoyed. My car's brake fluid is now low. That usually happens when the pads are wearing out, since the calipers have more travel and the fluid resevoir gets a bit depleted.

    It's winter. It's cold. The streets are narrower, so working in front of my house is more dangerous. I have to shovel the snowbank beside the sidewalk, so I can pull a wheel off onto the sidewalk on the side of the car facing there. Jacking the car up is more of a pain in the ass in the winter, and there's more likelihood of it taking a fall, which is less than ideal.

    Thankfully, my friend Greg has a garage with a lift. And he has air tools. He's graciously offered to let me use his lift. To save frustration and trips, I've ordered a complete set of pads and rotors from tirerack.com, so I'm ready for any replacements that happen. They're all wear parts anyway, so if I don't use them, I guess they'll just go on a shelf until I do.

    But still annoying. So: remember to double check your brake pads and rotors each fall. I am careful about doing an oil change in October, and of course in early December I switch on the winter tires, so I won't need a rotation until April or so when the tires come off. So this is a lesson to me: double check the brakes and rotors in the fall, since swapping them in the winter is such a pain.
    Saturday, January 3rd, 2009
    10:12 am
    WOW I slid far!
    Slides are a lot more fun in the winter than the summer, I think....

    Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
    10:48 am
    music notation
    I've been reading up on musical notation; my family's new piano isn't set up at home for a little over a week, but I have spent some time reading music, visualizing my fingers on the keys and such.

    But what's getting me is how absolutely crazy the notation is... I hadn't realised how strange it all was.

    There's twelve pitches to the octave. By convention, in most music, we pick seven of those twelve notes (by either the minor or major mode). We then use a five stave bar to draw the notes, which has nine or eleven or perhaps thirteen places to draw notes, depending on how you decide to count.

    Of course, not everyone picks seven notes, or uses the major/minor modes even if they do. One major school of music is the chinese, and they use a five note scale. Play a song using only the black keys, and it's all chinese sounding! In fact, for any conventional major/minor key, the five keys you're not playing will make a fine pentatonic scale suitable for use in Chinese music.

    It kind of freaks me out that these two cultures independantly decided on a twelve pitch scale (why is that done? to maximise the potential for harmonious and not-harmonious notes? I notice a perfect fifth for instance can occur in a twelve pitch scale, and that's useful). The kicker is that after making this interesting twelve pitch decision, both cultures then made distinct, but completely complementary, decisions about which notes of the twelve they'll actually use in a song.

    Weird. I'd like to know more about how that happened.

    Then there's the issue of tuning! I think my piano is even tempered, but I'm not sure. I'll find out I suppose. In the end it doesn't matter; if I ever want to play with tunings, I can just turn off the piano's synthesizer and use a computer to do it with any tuning regime I could want...

    All kind of interesting. Just sharing my musings. Please correct me or expand on what I'm saying if you know more or better!

    Current Mood: geeky
    Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
    6:29 pm
    reupholstering a piano bench
    I don't really know how to sew, only sails and upholstery.

    But this past week I had a great chance to use what little I do know how to do. I have heard, through the grapevine, that Santa is giving our family a very nice Casio electronic piano for Christmas. It's 88 key, and on a stand that puts it at the same height as a normal grand or upright (although it's lower than an older upright).

    I finally managed to get this bench for a grand total of around $60, including tools purchased for the job.

    How did you do that?Collapse )

    Current Mood: satisfied
    Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
    3:07 pm
    The Good Times
    Last night, amid much toddler-fun, Nicholas wrote his first letter to Santa. He wrote to the Canada Post Santa, since he replies!!!

    It was so much fun. Christmas is a wonderful time of year; it's when the parents join with the children in playing make-believe. It was also wonderful for Nick to see me writing, and learn how letters work. Next year I'll make sure he puts the stamp on and mails it too.

    I hope everyone enjoys their Christmas!
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