Sunday, March 31, 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cassette tapes to mp3

My wife had been rummaging through the old things in our house and located some old cassette players.  The thought we had was that it would be nice if some of the old tapes could be moved to mp3 files.  This actually proved not too difficult to do.  The recipe I used is as follows:

1. Get an appropriate male-to-male connector and route the output of the cassette play to the mic of the laptop.
2. Download Audacity (  This will need an mp3 output add-on, but the software will walk you through this process.  Audacity is a fairly clean freeware program to my knowledge.
3. Insert cassette tape.
4. Fire up Audacity.
5. Hit the red record button on Audacity just as the Play button is pressed on the recorder.
6. Watch the squiggels go across the screen.  When you get tired of this, go relax and do something else until the cassette reaches the end.
7. Hit the yellow stop button.
8. Go to File->Export-> and follow the instructions for writing the mp3 file (and installing the mp3 file writing functions).

The example I have above is recording in mono mode since this is the format of the tape.  You can chose mono or stereo from Edit->Preferences->Devices->Mono.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Solyndra facility sold to Seagate

The Solyndra saga happened a few miles down the road from my house.  The idea was to set up a solar panel manufacturer in the world's most expensive manufacturing location to compete with China.  To make it work, more than $500 million of US taxpayer funds were committed.  Of course the whole thing unraveled immediately upon spending the last penny of government funds, which should have surprised no one.

The mammoth building is next to the highway and served as a monument to government waste.  As I passed the building yesterday, however, I noticed that it had a new sign up:  Seagate.  Checking the internet, it seems that Seagate decided to buy up the building and use it for a new R&D center, which really is what Silicon Valley is all about now:  Researching new products so that somewhere else in the world - with sensible labor policies - can actually build them.   The quick look indicates that there were no obvious government shenanigans on this.  It actually represents something positive for the local neighborhood.  The deal went through for $90 million for the 30 acre facility.  I suspect that land in Fremont is worth on the order of $3 million per acre, so they probably got the fancy building for the price of the dirt that it sits on.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Hebrew Bootcamp Continued

Today is lesson 57 of 90 with my Pimsleur series of modern Hebrew tapes.  I am a bit surprised at how far it has gone.  My goal is somewhat being realized, in that many of the modern Hebrew words are related to the Bible.  For example, we learn to say, "Excuse me, can you help me?" in Modern Hebrew, but the word for help, azer, is used many times in the Bible as in "Help us, O Lord" or in the name, Eliezer, which means God is my help.  The purpose of this 90 days of Hebrew lessons is to drill myself on vocabulary so that it won't be forgotten and hopefully the grammar of the Biblical Hebrew will be more natural to me.  Yesterday the amount of studying was only an hour and a half, due to too many things happening, but the average has been more than 2 hours per day.

The tapes are teaching phrases like "You are driving much too fast, can you slow down?".  But there are still things missing, like, "You are driving like a $#@%&$# maniac, are you trying to get us all killed?".  That is probably left for the "advanced" series of lessons.  Only 33 more days of this to go.  Then my last semester of Biblical Hebrew will start.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Death at Alcatraz

The story of the death of a man during the recent Escape from Alcatraz triathlon generated some chatter with our open-water swim club.  Having done the swim several times myself, it is a bit of an attention grabber.

The Escape from Alcatraz is normally held in the summer, but was moved to March due to the America's cup being held in the San Francisco Bay this summer.  Yes, the San Francisco Bay is getting crowded with sporting events.  Swimming in March means that the water is a few degrees colder, but really not that bad since it is the same as the lake where I train.  More importantly, triathlon swimmers all use wetsuits, but I swim without one, so they really shouldn't have a problem due to the cold.

Each time I did the Alcatraz swim the wave and wind conditions were different.  The last time was out to the island, around, and then back.  On the western side of Alcatraz facing the Golden Gate, the waves were full ocean sized and rough, whereas the usual conditions are smaller choppy waves in the channel between Alcatraz and San Francisco where the triathlon is held.  This time the conditions must have been quite severe, since 150 swimmers out of 2,000 were pulled from the water.  On my around the island swim, a few of us were pulled and moved, but this was due to the much longer time needed for this out, around and back event together with the changing tides.

Most Alcatraz swims are for those who are focused on swimming for their primary training.  The triathlon brings in a good number of those who really aren't swimmers, but can swim a mile in the pool.  Throwing them into the rough water with minimal open water experience will quickly put them into a panic mode, especially since there is no where to retreat to once you jump off the boat.  Add in the usual pre-race adrenaline rush, and the heart is going to be under a bit of stress.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Commemorating the Month of March

Rather than complaining about some other monthly celebration, I thought it would be more constructive to go through the list of official monthly celebrations to see what might suit me better for the month of March.  For example, there is the "Irish-American Heritage Month".  Given that the name Looney originates in Ireland, this should be appropriate for me.  Perhaps it is one area where I can find a topic of agreement with our president O'Bama.

The "Music in Our Schools Month" is ruled out since I think the music program should A) include music, B) be musical and C), continue for more than a month.  We must also note that America's schools aren't "Our" schools unless you are a member of a teachers union.  "National Brain Injury Awareness Month" is something I won't comment on, but "National Celery Month" is what really gets me excited.  Can you imagine getting to eat only celery for a month?  We really don't need "National Craft Month" since this is to be outsourced and Americans simply have no patience for such frivolities anymore.

Then there is "National Frozen Food Month".  My Asian influence has taught me that it ain't fresh and worthy of being eaten unless it was twitching five minutes earlier.  There is a "National Middle Level Education Month", which - this being America - I presume is a typo for what was intended to be "National Mediocre Education Level Month".  The most overly nutritionized nation in the world is the US, so we quite uselessly have a "National Nutrition Month".  The "National Peanut Month" strikes me as unnecessary also, given that there is no lack of peanuts and one of our peanut farmers famously became a president.  Do we really need to promote more peanuts at the expense of cashews, walnuts, almonds, etc.?  Perhaps if it were "National Dry Roasted Peanuts with Sea Salt Month".  The "Red Cross Month" has expanded to a permanent governance of the western world by Cross Red's, so I am not worried that this topic won't get enough attention either.

The one that really sticks out to me as necessary is "National Professional Social Work Month".  The Biblical story of the Good Samaritan celebrates the social work of an amateur who took on something at the spur of the moment and entirely at his own expense.  He picks up a beaten man and cares for him, eventually transporting him to an Inn Keeper.  The Inn Keeper is then paid a fee to continue taking care of the beaten man and bring him back to health.  In the modernist version of this story, the hero is the Inn Keeper who is a professional doing charity for a fee.  The Good Samaritan is undoubtedly a deranged vigilante who probably made matters worse by his intervention.  Did he have a license to do what he did?  Would it not have been better for him to have paid his taxes and left the business of charity to properly trained and equipped professionals?  Was his mule certified for carrying passengers?  Did he have insurance?  Were his actions in compliance with the regulatory environment?  How do we know that he didn't beat and rob the man in the first place?

Perhaps, "Love your neighbor as yourself" should be left to the professionals.  Let's take a month to celebrate this!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Sequestered Swimming

Today I got back in the lake after a two month break.  The water temperature is in the lower 50's, which is cold but definitely distinct from the hypothermia experience of the upper 40's.  There was the usual burning sensation for a time and the numbness in the hands and feet.  Exiting the water is the hardest part.  If the hypothermia is bad, you stumble about like a totally inebriated drunkard, but the legs had some feeling and there was no problem.  I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do much, but managed 1,600 yards - nearly a mile.  Two more times and I should be able to stay with the group for the full 3,000 yards.

The discussions before we started were with regard to who in the group was to be effected by the budget sequestration.  A few work for the government.  The plan is to force different agencies to either work 9 days per two weeks or 4 days per week, with a comparable reduction in pay.  For those who are dealing with a $400,000 mortgage on a house that is worth $250,000, this is a really bad deal.  For those of us who swim, however, this seems not to be the situation, so the general agreement was that the forced day off would mean one additional day for a long swim.  The one triathlete in the group will get an extra long day of training.  Yes, we are all thankful for the benefits provided by our government.