Wednesday, September 16 2015
As I surfed my usual websites this morning, I saw the news that a 14 year old boy named Ahmed Mohamed had been arrested for bringing a "hoax bomb" to his school in Irvine, Texas. Ahmed had made a digital clock and brought it to school to show a teacher, and evidently because it looked handmade, authorities had freaked out and assumed that either it was a bomb or it was a hoax device designed to trigger a bomb scare. Ahmed then had been subjected to intense interrogations as authorities demanded that he reveal what other things this device might be. But of course, Ahmed had never intended it to be anything but a clock, and that was all he was willing to say. It's gotten to the point in this country where everyone is expected to passively consume, never opening up their devices or making anything from scratch. Why bother, when you can just buy shit at Walmart? Add to that deep incuriosity and blatant Islamophobia, and it stands to reason that hillbilly school officials and police will take an inclination that should be celebrated and proceed to shit all over it.
Later in the day, pictures of Ahmed's clock appeared, and anyone with any basic knowledge of electronics could see that it was nothing more than a clock. There's a little white package in the lower right corner of the case that I've jokingly described as "explosive charge(?)" in the annotation (below), but there aren't any wires going to it! How does it get to go boom? Sadly, though I support Ahmed and his tinkering, it appears that this clock is just a commercial digital clock that he has installed inside a different case. The circuit board strongly suggests that it was purpose-built for being a clock and doesn't contain, say, a generic microcontroller that Ahmed has reprogrammed.
Still, his choice of case was great and I would love to have one to house my weatherstation client when I finally finish it. Furthermore, for the past few days, I've actually been assembling the things I need to make a clock much like Ahmed's. In the laboratory, I have a large-digit clock radio that serves as my main time reference. But power outages force me to re-enter the time, and perhaps a time reference with seconds might be more useful. So I will eventually be building myself an Arduino-based clock, and I will surely be dedicating it to Ahmed when I'm finished.
In the end, though, it's looking like this incident will end up being a net positive for Ahmed (if not for tinkerers like him in the Incuriosity Belt). He received a huge outpouring of support on social media and was invited not just to places where Martian probes are built, but also to the White House. Barack Obama's support will probably make Ahmed yet another shibboleth in the culture wars.
An annotated picture of Ahmed Mohamed's clock. Click to enlarge.
For comparison, my homemade portable hard drive, which I carried onto two different airplanes in the early 1990s. (The main thing I built for this was the linear power supply, which I soldered together from components.) Click to enlarge.
A meme I made later in the day to celebrate Ahmed, comparing him with Kim Davis, the religious kook demanding to use her elected position to punish gay people in Rowan County, Kentucky. Click to enlarge.
Down in the basement, I continued working on tiling the hallway, a job complicated because of all the doors sprinkled along its length. My work took me into the boiler room occasionally (it at the north end of the basement hall), and at some pint I noticed that the solar controller was continuing to heat the water in the hot water tank even though it was above the maximum temperature that the water should be heated to (by this point it was over 160 degrees). Clearly something was wrong. I'd removed the valves that turn off the hydronic flow through the tank, but once I'd put these in, all circulation stopped. What should have happened instead was that hydronic fluid should have been sent to circulate through the basement slab. After some tests, I discovered the problem: the actuator for one of the ten-year-old Grundfos PowerZone electric valves in the slab loop had failed. This was the third failure of a Grundfos valve (there are two left in service), which doesn't augur well for their longevity (by contrast, most of the original Honeywell ball valves controlling the boiler zones are still in service 20 years after installation). Grundfos no longer makes PowerZone valves; Honeywell appears to have acquired the license to make them and compatible valves now carry Honeywell branding (meaning there are two totally different kinds of Honeywell-branded electric valves in the basement). I have a replacement Honeywell-branded PowerZone actuator ready to replace the failed one, but for now I'll just leave the actuator off, since nothing can flow through the loop when the valve on the loop's other end is closed.
I was looking forward to the second big Republican debate, but it was definitely the sort of thing I'd need to be drinking through. According to my drinking rules, though, there was no excuse for me to be drinking alone tonight. Gretchen would be gone (down in the City to attend a Veg News event and a recording of Larry Wilmore's Nightly Show), but she'd be returning tonight, and thus, according to my personally-crafted rules, I couldn't drink at all. Under my rules, the only way to buy myself a night of drinking would be to create a work of art. I didn't put too much effort into it, but I nevertheless painted a tiny acrylic landscape of a tree set against an ethereal pastel horizon.
The tiny tree-based imaginary landscape I painted today.
Unlike the first debate of this election season, I tuned in for the "kids' table" debate featuring the candidates polling too poorly to get a place in the main debate. It was a sorry little affair featuring the likes of Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, George Pataki (I barely remember him being Governor of this state), and, most amusingly of all, Bobby Jindal, a textbook study of a self-hate. It wasn't necessary to watch this debate, so I listened to it while continuing to lay tile in the basement hallway. I'm no fan of Lindsey Graham, a man who apparently thinks America will eventually find glory if it invades enough countries, but at least he (and Pataki) made sense when talking about Kim Davis, whom Santorum compared to Martin Luther King Jr. As Pataki pointed out, Kim Davis is an elected official sworn to uphold the law. King was a private citizen trying to make the world a better place. There's a huge difference.
Later, as preparations happened for the main debate, Sarah Poiron asked via Facebook private message if she'd already missed it. (I don't know why she didn't just see for herself, but that might have been her way of bringing it up.) I said no, "the shitshow begins at 8." She seemed to like the term "shitshow" as much as I had when Gretchen had used it to describe the state of our garage. We would stay in contact throughout the debate, with the repeated theme being the absurdity of there being a huge airplane as a backdrop there in the Reagan "Library."
But even more absurd was the blizzard of craziness, distortions, and outright lies as the candidates tried to out-Trump one another and shock America into considering them relevant. Trump seemed a little subdued tonight, and the only candidate who really seemed to have any fire was Carly Fiorina, whose agile delivery of lies and steely-eyed wingnuttery seemed superficially impressive. She also got the best of Trump, getting him to disingenuously declare that she is in fact a beautiful woman (though we all know the petty schoolyard taunts he hurled at her a week or so ago).
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