Finally! A start date!

After almost exactly 3 months on the dole and almost a month since I signed on the dotted line, I finally have a start date. The agency is nothing if not inefficient and cumbersome! They canceled my badge because I wasn’t using it every day, then took nearly two weeks to schedule a new one after the two weeks to approve my clearance transfer. It sure helps that there is a 40% premium for working at the agency, though I was really close to giving that up to avoid dealing with this nonsense. I will be writing a system to test a high-speed network processing system much like the one I worked on before, but with different hardware (an OCTEON II CPU instead of the Tilera). The job I almost took with the 40% less pay would have had me in a dream position of optimizing a new distributed, yet ACID complaint database, but that reduction in pay would have forced us to sell one of our houses. My wife actually suggested we sell our Maryland house and make the insane 4 hour-a-day commute from our place in Shenandoah. It was not a simple choice, but the money we would save from not having to pay the mortgages for our MD house was almost exactly the premium for leaving the IC, so the decision boiled down to the commute and we just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for that.

We have been making some nice progress on our construction, at least insofar as the pavilion/kitchen is concerned. We have the floor down, the kitchen island in place, the propane hooked up, and last weekend installed the three exhaust fans. Small wrinkle with the exhaust fans: somehow after spending an _entire_ day ‘dry fitting’ everything to calculate the height of the structure to hold the fans, we were a foot too high. We lost a day building little boxes to hang the fans a foot lower, though I believe it looks reasonably good so few will likely notice. We tested all the stoves and the griddle at the same time, the gas pressure is just a wee bit low with everything going at once. It turns out that I had a large gap in my knowledge about gas: I had thought that the lines carried 2 PSI to the appliance, it is instead a quarter PSI and the lines were not sized correctly for that. Fortunately it is extremely unlikely that _everything_ will be running full-blast at once, so we will probably never run into this situation in practice, though the flames were only diminished a bit. Hopefully now we can finally get our carpenters back for a couple of weeks and get some help getting ready for our big party on July 4th.

I did some sensitivity analysis regarding my aquaponics (the joys of having a spreadsheet) and with 80% less output from the plants and half the output from the fish we can still turn a (calculated) profit high enough to justify going commercial. Also, I have been pleasantly surprised to see greenhouse grown produce in Costco (where I do a lot of comparison shopping) that has price/lb at or above my target, so I am now quite optimistic. I still totally lack anything but a wild assed guess on the labor to process, hopefully I will have that by next summer and we can finally decide if we want to take this to the next level. I did some calculations and I believe we can afford to build the first commercial greenhouse (12,500 square feet, presuming we are able to get the zoning variance we will need) without going to lenders (or rather, by relying on our credit cards, once paid off from refinancing our current construction), which should simplify the next steps. It is hard to get my wife/business partner to seriously think about these steps, she has a hard time thinking about things so far off in the future. In my mind we are already done with our 100K sqft (8 total houses) and are moving towards our ‘big box store’ sized greenhouses. I am already working on plans for going nation-wide and thence global, thinking about when to have an IPO, how to phrase the marketing literature, which key skills I need to recruit, etc. Just the way my mind works, I guess.

Just as I was finally starting to see some belly shrinkage I badly sprained my ankle on a jog a couple of weeks ago. I have done a few long (4 mile) walks so far, but haven’t started any jogging yet, it is still a bit sore and very painful if I twist it just so. Really dumb, I was going down a hill and had to go out into the street because some asshole had parked blocking the sidewalk and as I was angling back toward the sidewalk I was telling myself I should slow down so I wouldn’t sprain my ankle and Bamm! on my ass badly scratching up my leg and arm on the other side. Then, I had to walk a quarter mile to get home, man was I in agony that day! If I could only act on that good advice I give myself!

I have had two people try to convince me to consider growing pot in my greenhouse since it seems clear that it will become legal in Virginia soon. I have tried to explain that since I am way behind the learning curve in that aspect and there are people who have been doing it for decades who already have distribution pathways in place I would have a very tough time making a dent. Besides, the big companies (apparently the company behind Marlboro has already started selling joints in Colorado) are going to push all but the elite of niche marketers right out of business in a few years and I suspect only those niche marketers with a 30 year track record are going to be able to keep their margins high enough to justify being in business (or at least the sort of business I consider worth while).

I am actually very glad to be getting back to work. I believe I would’t have any trouble with not having a regular job as long as we don’t bleed money so profusely; if I had a few bucks to experiment with I am sure I would be really busy, but we are on a financial starvation diet so I have been a bit bored. Interestingly (frustratingly) I have been finding this period of unemployment has me in some sort of wedge state mentally, I haven’t been able to do a lick of programming on any of my projects. Quite sad, I could have made a lot of progress in 3 months if I had just got my head out of my ass.

This was a strange winter this year. It has been colder in the past, but when that happened before there was snow on the ground. This time it was almost as cold but with no insulating cover and I had quite a few plants die back to the roots (and a couple that haven’t shown any signs of life yet so probably died). Most have made a comeback, though, but it might be a couple of years before they have recovered enough to flower and/or set fruit. Speaking of fruit, the apple orchard next to our property just got bulldozed, the trees are only about a decade old which seems rather young, but a couple of locals have heard the trees were diseased somehow so that may explain it. Things sure look different without those trees there! My orchard was almost completely without flowers this spring, my research indicates that it may have been because I fertilized two falls ago. It seems that trees make the decision to flower the year before and they were so busy growing last year they didn’t bother with flowers. I am getting quite frustrated with the lack, I have put in a lot of time and energy so far and have almost nothing to show for it as yet.

I hope all my reader(s) are doing well!

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Oh yes, lets use Helium!

Meet the BAT, an airborne wind turbine

At first the idea of a lighter-than-air product to reach the higher energy winds at higher altitude makes a great deal of sense, but the use of helium makes it a really dumb idea. There is a helium shortage made increasingly worse by our dysfunctional government decisions (sometimes it is hard to accept that there are any ‘functional’ government decisions). Though helium is the second most abundant element in the universe (about 24% by mass, with hydrogen making a bit less than 74%; yes that is right, all the other matter in the universe makes up just a wee bit more than 2% by weight), because it is so light it tends to float to the top of our atmosphere and then gets picked off by solar radiation making it among the rarest of elements on our planet. Hydrogen, in addition to be plentiful (water is made of hydrogen and oxygen, doanchano) is ‘larger’ in its normal state (being a dimer of two hydrogen atoms) and thus leaks a lot less (helium is notorious for leaking through even the most air-tight containers). Yes, hydrogen has an unfortunate tendency to explode (see Hindenburg), but only if mixed with oxygen (air be 23% oxygen by mass of course) is it a problem. The simplest solution (though naturally one Americans would fight tooth and nail with their NIMBY fixation) would be to use hydrogen even though it is a bit less efficient and reserve our helium reserves for things that can’t do without it (such as MRIs).

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A step towards synthetic life

Augmenting the Genetic Alphabet
For the first time, synthetic DNA base pairs are replicated within living bacteria.

Scary? Perhaps, but going down this path opens up a revolution in biotech that makes what has come before look like the difference between the stone age and the industrial revolution. It was thinking about stuff like this that got me interested in biochemistry in the first place (how I wound up a programmer is something I often wonder about). It is a short article, give it a read…

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But a company can’t to go jail!

Feds wrestle with ‘too big to jail’

I talk about “too big to jail” here from time to time. The core of the problem remains this idiotic notion of a corporate entity being ‘human’. You can’t put a company in jail, it has no physical form. Besides, since the company doesn’t have a brain, it can’t make decisions that lead to illegal activity. So, in our ‘great’ society, humans (that are rich enough) can break laws willy nilly and the stock holders of the companies get fucked in the wallet while those humans get even fatter bonuses. Ain’t America great?!

Anyway, so now our (in)justice system is considering the idea of formally charging this piece of paper with a crime thinking that somehow that will serve as a deterrent to all these other pieces of paper that are ‘committing’ these various crimes. And yet the sheeple just shrug their shoulders and turn to the sports page…

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A nice explanation for how high frequency trading makes its outsized gains:

Trading in Milliseconds: When Correlations Break Down

In the comments (most of the comments on his blog are intelligent) is another nice analogy:

It would be like someone standing between you and the cashier. Anytime they see that the price tag on your can of beans is higher than what the cash register expects (the stock boy hadn’t gotten that far with new price tags) they step in the middle and take the difference. They pay the cashier the 95cents the store is now charging and then take your 98cents. Except not just anyone can set themselves up to stand between customers and cashiers. It takes having many billions of dollars of capital to back up those brief moments of holding the product. So only people who are already extremely fat and happy can get into this no-lose skimming position.

This week I am promised feedback on two positions I have interviewed for, one back in Columbia, MD another in Vienna, VA. Both unclassified, I haven’t had the slightest nibble for an IC job. The push-back on the IC pay rates has been very aggressive: I am looking at a $30K per year cut on most of the positions I have looked at, yet on the outside I might only need to take additional $5-10K cut. I suspect I am not the only one deciding now is the perfect time to get out from the ‘golden handcuffs’ and the intelligence community is going to have a very substantial brain drain over the next year or so.

Because of the rather draconian pay cut I am looking at when (increasingly ‘if’) I get a job, we have been forced into some rather depressing calculations. We are increasingly unlikely to be able to continue to afford our two houses (that we never intended to have). About a week ago my beautiful wife came up with a rather astounding idea: rather than sell our house in Virginia, where we have invested so much sweat, tears and blood (mostly mine), not to mention lots and lots of money, lets sell our house in MD and she can make the insane 4 hours a day commute from Shenandoah. If I shift my job search to Virginia, she can drop me off and pick me up on her too-ing and fro-ing, so I don’t have to drive at all (except those odd days when she is sick or whatever). Since I married her because I want to be with her, sitting in a car 4 hours a day, as long as it is with her, is a reasonable alternative to selling the house we have worked so hard on.

Yesterday my beautiful genius came up with an even more intriquing alternative: sell our place here in MD and then rent a basement appt. That eliminates the commute and she insists she has seen places for well under a grand. I figure it costs us around $3,300 a month to keep this place (I estimate at least $50K in pre-tax dollars), so saving 2/3 of that is a substantial amount of money. If I take a pay cut _less_ than that amount, it is as if I got a net pay _increase_, thus making the search for unclass jobs so much easier to contemplate. Of course, I might get lucky now that I have shifted my job search to the NOVA area and find an IC job that pays a nice premium over unclass, but it won’t matter so much.

Of course, if I don’t get an offer from either company this week (one has me very hopful, the other not so much) then I would shift my focus to prepping our MD house for sale (not that it will really eat in to my job search efforts, last week was nearly a total zero based on the job ads) and hope we can have it sold by the end of summer. My wife would start that insane commute, but then I would have each day to work on the greenhouse construction, so there is still a reasonable chance we could be doing aquaponics by this fall. Lots of options by moving to Shen (and making that insane commute, why we haven’t considered it to this point), according to my budget spreadsheet, we could be ‘bleeding’ around $2K a month (as opposed to bleeding by about $6,500 a month at the moment; knocking that extra grand off would be by giving up such things as satellite TV) so it wouldn’t take much for me to make up that shortfall. Indeed, if our house sells for what Zillow thinks it is worth, we could net around $40K out of the deal which would easily pay for me to be out of a regular job for a couple of years, more than enough time to get something going.

My DNA efforts are surprisingly going quite well. I have a company that has expressed genuine interest in paying for the test chip fabrication (not a working prototype, but a test for the element most critical to overall success), though they want me to pony up for the testing. I got quotes from my fab guy and testing guy at the end of last week (just as I was suffering from some sort of virus that had me on the toilet 20+ times a day), now I have to put everything together and send it to the interested parties and see if they will indeed cut a check. I would be a lot more excited about this if I had a job, right now it is a bit difficult to get enthusiastic.

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Microbiome being hacked away by antibiotics

The antibiotics that could kill you

I talk about the dangers associated with antibiotics from time to time, this is an opinion piece that sort of wraps things up, but in a more personal nature. I am now pretty much against taking antibiotics except in serious life threatening situations; first I have read a number of studies that indicates that in some of cases where they are prescribed there is no measureable benefit (e.g., ear or sinus infections). Second, I have personally have had long-term discomfort after taking antibiotics (I had the runs for over 6 months once) and according to my math, another day or so of discomfort with the infection is well worth the sacrafice to avoid all those hours sitting on the toilet.

As the article discusses, we are ripe for a global pandemic that has the potential to wipe out huge chunks of our population (though not enough, I am quite certain, to change, even slightly, our environmental destroying trajectory). Given the abuse we have been putting on antibiotics (and the few antivirals) when we need them they will be of no value. Sadly, I am sure, the coming pandemic will take out people largely equally (though the wealthy will, of course, get preferential treatments, I doubt they will have any better luck buying their way out of antibiotic resistance than the poor), which means the geniuses as well as the morons.

Of course, much like solar flares or impacts from comets, there is no way to predict when it will happen with any usefulness, so it is just sit around and either cower in fear, continue as usual or potentially waste a huge amount of resources (a la ‘preppers’) for something that might not even happen in your lifetime.

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Tamiflu is a billion-dollar boondoggle

Updated Review: Tamiflu Is a Bust
After finally getting their hands on full clinical study reports, independent reviewers say the antiviral drug is ineffective.–Tamiflu-is-a-Bust/

I mentioned Tamiflu and its uselessness when I complained about the uselessness of the flu vaccine, it seems like further study has only confirmed this:

An international team found that while Tamiflu might reduce the duration of flu symptoms by half a day, there’s no evidence that it reduces hospital admissions or complications of an infection. On top of that, the antiviral’s side effects include nausea and vomiting. “There is no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic,” …

Predictably, Roche (the developer) had this to say:

Roche stands by the utility of Tamiflu. “We fundamentally disagree with the overall conclusions” of the review, the company told MedPage Today. And others have said that the results don’t necessitate an end to stockpiling the drug. Sabrina Spinosa of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which approved the use of Tamiflu in 2002, told Nature that the agency had reviewed the same clinical trial reports. “The review does not raise any new concerns,” she said, adding that the EMA maintains its position on the risks and benefits of Tamiflu.

Move over military industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industrial complex is now the boss!

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How America is rigged for the rich

This is kind of a ‘retweet’. I think this is important for the health and welfare of our nation, though I figure the rich have such a lock on things their hold is unbreakable. I would love to be wrong (I would love to be rich also), but I don’t have a lot of faith in my fellow sheeple. A couple of key paragraphs to encourage my regular reader(s) to take a look:

Contrary to myth, most of today’s plutocrats are not the kind of Steve Jobsian visionary risk-taking entrepreneurs or superstar celebrities. The .01%, for instance, tend overwhelmingly to be high-end corporate managers and executives, particularly on Wall Street, operating in interlocking networks that inflate the standard of what an executive is “worth.” Or they are the heirs of the great entrepreneurs (4 of the 10 richest Americans are children of Sam Walton), inheritors of fortunes of which it can truly be said, “someone else built that.”

Today, as it was during the last Gilded Age, the concentration of wealth gives the rich the political clout to further concentrate their wealth. (And now, as then, the Supreme Court greases the skids in the name of “liberty”). This clout is wielded in plain sight now, without any pretense of civic equality. And it calls to mind the warning attributed to Justice Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

This isn’t to suggest that all super-wealthy people are “welfare kings” (they’re not) or to imply that they have a monopoly on selfishness or sociopathic attitudes (they don’t). Yet if it’s unfair to paint everyone in the 1% with the same unflattering brush of “dysfunctional culture,” isn’t it far worse to do the same to the poorest 20%?

If you have noticed a problem with my blog recently, let me apologize. It seems somehow people (or bots) were using my defunct forum ( to send spam and that was triggering some zombie processes which sucked up the available processes (my web servers are on a shared resource) which lead to defective presentations. I killed the zombies and disabled any ability to mail from the forum (at least I hope so), so ideally this won’t be an issue going forward.

Regarding my job search, it continues… I have some positive leads (I had a good interview yesterday at a company that promises an ACID compliant cloud database) and have another one tomorrow for an IC job. A couple of other things percolating: a wee bit of part-time work that might look good on my resume (one is for helping a guy with his stock trading platform and another to provide some expert opinions regarding computer architecture and performance) and a couple of promising contacts from recruiters. I have been working on my blubber reduction by going for walk/jogs most days (did 7 miles on Tuesday, didn’t even stop the whole time (which just shows how out of shape I have been in)), but still haven’t got my ass programming the game. Though I really have been busy with the job search, it generally is taking me anywhere from 2-6 hours a day (highly variable) and I have a couple of hours dedicated to too-ing and fro-ing the boy to school.

On my walk the other day I actually failed to notice most of the unfolding nature because I was deep in my noggin doing feasibility calculations for some osmotic energy ideas I have been thinking about the last couple of years. I think it might be possible to get a decent (20%+) return on capital building such a system, at least I am sure enough I believe I will start up a spreadsheet and start doing some in-depth economic research to get better information.

We primed the walls/ceiling of the pavilion last weekend, but it was so cool (around 50 F) that it didn’t dry fast enough for us to put the paint on. That is our goal for this Sat, then lay the floor, then things will really start to take shape when we put the cabinets in. It is finally getting exciting to go out each weekend, though sometimes a bit depressing when we only get half the stuff done we were hoping to. At least I can see the end…

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Updated construction website

I finally got off my butt and updated our construction web site. Last weekend we were hoping to prime/paint the pavilion, but, once again it took longer than expected to put the finish coats of spackle and sand, so it will be next weekend. Anyway, the main site is here:

The specific new page is here:

I still have a few leads on the job search, but most positions are awaiting feedback which can sometimes take quite a while. My poor wife is all stressed out, but I am having a great time. I had a small nibble on my DNA work, hopefully I will know in the next week or so if it will lead to something. I am going to try to turn my focus on to the game and take advantage of this time off to get the thing playable. Even though I have been off for three weeks (as of today), I have had an amazing number of things keeping me from working on the game. I believe I have all the distractions (except for job search) behind me now…

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On the job hunt once again

A week ago I was told that my services were no longer needed, don’t let the door hit my ass on the way out. The glorious life of a contractor! It wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t so diligent about spending every penny we make and had a pile of cash in savings, but instead we decided to ‘invest’ in real estate. At least we have something to show for all our expense:

Google imagery from fall of 2013

It looks like the image was taken late summer / early fall of ’13. There are still some leaves on the trees but they are falling fast. The inside of the greenhouse/pool is still largely incomplete, but the exterior walls are done (the exterior walls still need siding) as is the roof, as you can see. The damn thing is monstrous! Note that the house has 6 ft overhangs on each long side, so the house proper is actually 12 ft narrower. The pavilion (really, another kitchen) is the part that sticks out toward the North. There we are making much better progress, the interior walls are almost done (we are spackling now and hope to prime and paint in a couple of weeks), then it will be lay the floor and put in the cabinets (the island is 16 ft long, 5 ft wide and has two stoves and a 36 inch griddle, not to mention 3 exhaust fans). A half bath and a full bath when all is said and done. It makes me tired just typing this!

I will be so happy when we finally get done with the construction and can just go out there and relax!

How about this winter snow, eh? I believe the news said yesterday that Dulles Airport got nearly 60 inches (5 feet!) of snow this year. None in huge piles, though, fortunately. The Snowmageddon we got back in ’10 was less overall (I believe), but more at once and the pile of snow next to the driveway was over 6 ft when all was said and done (the boy was sledding down the pile!). I nearly threw out my back heaving the snow over the pile, man I was tired of snow that year! This season the individual snow amounts were quite manageable, I was OK digging out. Hopefully our wet winter won’t be followed by a dry summer, some of my plants are still in need of a few more years of clement weather before they are established enough to handle yet another drought.

If any of my dear reader(s) know of someone looking for a performance oriented C/C++ programmer, here is my resume:

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