cover photo

Mike Macgirvin

mike@macgirvin.com

No Nobel Prize today

Mike Macgirvin
  last edited: Tue, 20 Nov 2007 22:07:43 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
I woke up this morning with the solution to the Unified Field Theory. I'm quite serious. It was absurdly simple, not any more complicated than the infamous E=MC2. I thought about it during the drive in to work and it was going to be my first post of the day. Like hey guys (and gals) - here is the answer to one of the most challenging problems of the last century. I mean matter (that which has mass) and energy are intimately intertwined - to the point that they are just different perspectives of each other. To say that there are four kinds of energy which aren't at all related is absurd, because that means there would have to be four kinds of mass which likewise are totally unrelated.  

Then I arrived at work and found the main staff file+mail server was in a catatonic state. Spent the rest of the day rebuilding the operating system and restoring files from backup. By mid afternoon, my brain was total mush from manually editing hundreds of obscure configuration files which had to be syntactically perfect for everything to work correctly. The whole chain of matter and energy calculations completely dissolved.

Sigh, looks like I won't be getting the Nobel Prize today.
Miscellaneous Stuff

Mike Macgirvin
  last edited: Sun, 02 Sep 2007 20:27:19 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
The neighbor backed into my car yesterday. Smashed up both doors on the driver side a bit. (That would be the right side). It's still drivable. Took out her tail light.

It was just outside the front window, which I was sitting in front of, but I didn't hear a thing. My ears were occupied. Finally got the bulk of the studio wiring in place and I was busy adjusting the digital delay units for the virtual drummer - and otherwise going through system tests to make sure all the gear was cooperating after being relocated on the other side of the earth.

This setup had been delayed by a lack of suitable speakers. Speakers here cost a fortune, as does everything else. Professional recording gear has always been one of those maximum gouge industries and it's no different here. The difference is that it's a captive market. To buy this stuff overseas you'll end up with the wrong power supply - or in the case of speakers, a hefty bill for shipping. A pair of Yamaha monitors that I can get on eBay for $100 costs about $800 on this side of the pond.

So I did a lot of comparison shopping and found a pair of Chinese 12" wedge monitors for about $125 each. That's quite affordable so I ordered a pair. The speakers themselves are crap, but it's the boxes I was after. Someday I'll find a used pair of JBL or Eminence drivers I can drop in and bring them up to my standards, but they'll work for now. I can smooth out any shortcomings with the equalizer. It will be a lot cheaper in freight costs to import a couple of better transducers than it is to import a couple of quite hefty wooden boxes. I've been down this road many times before. I know what it takes to get just the equipment I require within a reasonable budget. You can't hang out waiting for the best, or you'll spend your life waiting and not doing. During the dot-com boom I could buy the best (and did). Now my planning is once again like my starving student days, except that I've still got a bit of good gear to work with.  

Anyway, the speakers finally arrived this week and I picked them up yesterday morning (the weekend). The other thing I've been waiting on for the studio setup is furniture. We sold all of it - remember? So off to Bunnings (that's the local equivalent of Orchard Supply Hardware) and I came home with three folding utility tables.  The ones that cost about $30 at Home Depot. I paid about $55 each.

But it was the last piece of the puzzle that I needed to get everything setup and working. So now I can finally get that jumble of cables off the floor of the living room and make Amanda happy (and myself, since I'll be using them for their intended purpose). Glad I didn't leave any of those behind. Each cable runs between $20 and $50 here. And I need a few hundred before all is said and done. 64 RCA cables for patch buses, 16 MIDI cables, 24 XLR's, and 24 1/4 inch cables, 7 or 8 mini (PC sound card) to twin RCA for starters; you do the math. It starts adding up real fast. $40 for a MIDI cable. And that's for a single one meter cable. Ouch. Luckily I've got enough of all this stuff that I don't need to do the math.

I find it amazing that Australian musicians can ever get to the world stage. They would need a lot of capital.  

Oh yeah, Happy Father's Day! (They observe it in September here). Also yesterday was the first day of spring. I don't completely understand, since it has nothing to do with the equinox, but then I never understood how it worked in the states either (for instance they call the equinox the 'first' day of summer, winter, whatever). But the equinox isn't the beginning or end of a weather trend. It's smack dab in the middle. Oh well. I've argued the point 'til I'm blue in the face already. The declaration of seasonal endpoints as occurring during the equinox is logically incorrect but it isn't going to change anything. Just like it doesn't change the fact that Australia celebrates the coming of spring on September 1, which has nothing to do with anything. Happy spring anyway and a toast to the end of an extremely long winter.
The Built-In Compass

Mike Macgirvin
  last edited: Sat, 04 Aug 2007 07:53:02 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
I used to think that I had a built-in compass - that you could put me anywhere on earth and I'd be able to find north. Usually this is the case, but I have found that my sense of direction gets tripped up when you drop me into a place where the ocean is on the 'wrong side'. I'm used to having the (nearest) ocean towards the west. If that isn't the case, it takes me a bit of orientation to 'find the ocean'.

But the curious thing is that once I've found the ocean, I seem to be able to keep its location oriented in my brain, and I don't lose it again, no matter how I get twisted around - as long as I stay on the ground and as long as the ocean stays in the same direction.

It was interesting that when living in Colorado years ago that I still maintained my direction by the orientation of the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles away. Western Mexico, no problem. As a teenager I was at ease finding north in York, England, though this defies my logic completely. Although I do recall flying towards the coastline an hour before landing. But having flown to New York and the Yucatan and most recently to Eastern Australia, my sense of direction was completely destroyed for about 48 hours. The common denominator in these cases is that the location of the sea was apparently on the 'wrong side'.  

Very curious.
Stuck Tape

Mike Macgirvin
  last edited: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 07:29:02 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
Have you ever encountered a 'stuck' video/audio/data tape - one of those where the tape gets swallowed inside the machine in question? I have. More times than I can count. Oh, and the nearest authorized repair facility is halfway around the world (or worse, gone out of business)? I have - more times than I can count.

So what do you do?

You open up the darn thing and figure out how to extract the tape cartridge, that's what you do. I've also done this - more times than I can count. Usually it involves:
  • disassembly of the drive mechanics, which resemble the inside of a Swiss (mechanical) watch - except the gears are plastic
  • destruction of the tape cartridge, to get the pieces out of the way so that the mechanics can be further disassembled
  • all of the above
Faced with this task yet again, I finally came up with a more clever way to accomplish the task. You see, the drive mechanics are operated by motors, which load and unload the cartridges. In order to operate the mechanism in the absence of motor power (which has obviously failed for some as yet unknown reason or you probably wouldn't be reading this), you usually need to take it completely apart. You can't just spin the plastic gears by hand, because they're all intertwingled and won't budge unless you physically remove the motor and then spin the first gear in the chain.

But what if you didn't need to take it completely apart? Taking Swiss watches apart and putting them back together again (without messing them up completely) is no fun. Trust me on this.

So how can we convince the motor to perform the unload task? There are two of them. One spreads the tape around the spinning head assembly. The other drives the actual tape swallower assembly. Both are usually simple DC motors. And therein lies the solution. We just need a little DC. Take a 9V battery and a few inches of speaker wire. Hold or tape the leads on one end of the speaker wire to the battery. Turn the power off on the device in question. We're going to bypass the built in power (and logic circuitry). That's what got us into this mess.

Now touch the other ends to the leads of the spreader motor. Didn't do anything? That's OK, you've got a 50/50 chance here. Swap the leads around the other way. Voila, the tape spreader starts the unload sequence. Keep them connected until the spreader has done its job and it hits the end - at which point it will stop. That's also why we use a 9V battery. It doesn't have enough torque to over spin the thing since the normal limit switches aren't able to limit us from damage. Don't hold the leads very long or you really could damage something.

Now move the leads over to the swallower motor and touch them there. Again, swap the leads if you get it backward the first time and nothing happens. Yippee! Here comes the tape! Right out the drive door and into your hand. Yay!

Can't figure out which motor is the spreader, and which is the swallower? That's OK too. Just start touching motor leads (briefly) and see what moves. You'll find them soon enough.  

Now you've probably still got to figure out why the tape was stuck, but in the meantime you've got your tape back - intact; and the mechanism is unloaded and still in one piece. Chances are pretty high that something about the tape itself or how it was loaded is what made it stuck and things will just start magically working again. If not, oh well. I don't have all the answers. But if you're ever crazy enough or desperate enough to need to do this, you're probably capable of figuring out what to do next.
Cure for Cancer (?)

Mike Macgirvin
  last edited: Fri, 02 Feb 2007 08:00:14 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
Pulled from cashstruck.com who pulled it from elsewhere -  please pass it on.

Scientists may have cured cancer last week.

Yep.

So, why haven’t the media picked up on it? Here’s the deal. Researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada found a cheap and easy to produce drug that kills almost all cancers. The drug is dichloroacetate, and since it is already used to treat metabolic disorders, we know it should be no problem to use it for other purposes. Doesn’t this sound like the kind of news you see on the front page of every paper? The drug also has no patent, which means it could be produced for bargain basement prices in comparison to what drug companies research and develop.

Scientists tested DCA on human cells cultured outside the body where it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but left healthy cells alone. Rats plump with tumors shrank when they were fed water supplemented with DCA. Again, this seems like it should be at the top of the nightly news, right? Cancer cells don’t use the little power stations found in most human cells - the mitochondria. Instead, they use glycolysis, which is less effective and more wasteful.

Doctors have long believed the reason for this is because the mitochondria were damaged somehow. But, it turns out the mitochondria were just dormant, and DCA starts them back up again. The side effect of this is it also reactivates a process called apoptosis. You see, mitochondria contain an all-too-important self-destruct button that can’t be pressed in cancer cells. Without it, tumors grow larger as cells refuse to be extinguished. Fully functioning mitochondria, thanks to DCA, can once again die. With glycolysis turned off, the body produces less lactic acid, so the bad tissue around cancer cells doesn’t break down and seed new tumors.

Here’s the big catch. Pharmaceutical companies probably won’t invest in research into DCA because they won’t profit from it. It’s easy to make, unpatented and could be added to drinking water. Imagine, Gatorade with cancer control. So, the groundwork will have to be done at universities and independently funded laboratories. But, how are they supposed to drum up support if the media aren’t even talking about it? All I can do is write this and hope Google News picks it up. In the meantime, tell everyone you know and do your own research.
When zero equals one

Mike Macgirvin
  last edited: Fri, 08 Dec 2006 06:25:09 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
Dr. James Anderson from the University of Reading has come up with what could possibly be an elegant solution for the problem of division by zero, which has plagued mathematicians for centuries. Basically he invented a name for the result, called 'nullity' which is something like a union of negative and positive infinity.

Here's the traditional explanation...

The refusal to divide by zero boils down to the fact that you can then have strange things happening. One can equal two. Zero can equal one. Therefore it just can't be.  

Folks, this entire problem is a perfect example of mathematics professors not smoking enough pot.

12 / 2 = 6.     Simple. Take a dozen donuts and split them between two people. Each person gets six.  

12 / 1 = 12.    Fair enough. You take twelve things and split them up amongst one person - let's say it's you. You will have twelve things.

12 / 0 = 12.    I'm serious. You take twelve things and don't split them up with anybody and you'll have twelve things. This is absurdly simple.  

The logic goes that as you approach zero, the result tends towards infinity. It also tends towards negative infinity. When in fact, dividing by nothing is a no-op (to use computer terms). If I'm not dividing something, I can't have both infinitely more and less of the thing than I started with.  Therefore, if the expression does nothing, it can be removed from the equation, leaving 12 = 12. In my example, it also proves that zero equals one, since dividing by zero or one both give you the same result. The argument goes that this cannot be allowed to exist, since it makes no logical sense. Folks, a union of positive and negative infinities makes no logical sense either. So to resolve the paradox, divide by zero is forbidden. Instead of inventing new number systems, we should just take it for what it is - a paradox. Paradoxes exist. They are real. Just as this sentence is a lie. So dividing by zero being a no-op is equally valid with forbidding the operation.

Either way, it results in a paradox. Dr. Anderson is on the right track. His claim is that 12 / 0 = nullity. I say it equals 12. The mathematics community says it's logically illegal.

The funny thing is, we're all right.

Further reading...
A ring tone that teachers can't hear

Mike Macgirvin
  from Diary and Other Rantings
This is interesting.... Can you hear it? I can't. Of course I blame Ted Nugent and Ronnie Montrose for that.
Flying Saran Wrap

Mike Macgirvin
  last edited: Tue, 04 Jul 2006 03:18:16 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
From slashdot:

---

Roland Piquepaille writes "Researchers have discovered that ordinary cellulose is a piezoelectric and smart material that can flap when exposed to an electric field. ScienceNOW reports that electricity can give life to cellophane. When you put a very thin layer of gold on each side of cellophane, and that you apply electric current to the gold layers, one positive, one negative, the cellophane curved toward the positive side. If you switch the voltage fast enough, the cellophane starts to act as a wing. So it should be possible to use it to build lightweight flying robots carrying cameras, microphones or sensors for surveillance missions. Read more for additional references and pictures about this electroactive paper (EAPap)."

---

What's interesting about this article is that I worked on a project trying to find an application for electro-deforming cellulose back in 1978. Eventually management decided that it was really interesting, but we couldn't come up with anything practical to do with it. The project was shelved. I guess we were short-sighted. Hey, let's make this stuff fly! Right. My guess is that these researchers are in the same boat we were in. They're gonna' flap a piece of cellophane like a butterfly wing and carry little robot TV cameras. Right. It's desperation time. No commercial uses. Project is about to be shelved. Let's go after some of that DARPA money...