December 2014, by PNH

Fun with passwords; also a bit of a peeve...

Let me get my [very brief] peeve about an annoyance out of the way first:

I find, on several sites, a claim that the dielectric constant of water is 80, and the dielectric strength is zero. This is a crock. At low frequencies the dielectric constant of water is maybe 4.3, and the dielectric strength is minimal; but at high frequencies the dielectric constant of [very pure] water is about 79 at room temperature, and the dielectric strength is on the order of 1 gigavolt per meter (!). Water is extensively used in capacitors and transmission lines for pulsed high-voltage applications. Here’s a reference, for anyone who doubts this, or who is intrigued by the idea of using water as an insulator or a dielectric material.

So. On to the main subject of this posting:

Here is my protocol for making up passwords, which I hope will at least amuse, and perhaps even prove useful. After I list the steps, I’ll provide a few examples.

  1. Think of a phrase (or a word, if it’s long enough) that you like, and that you can easily remember. Ommatidium (not long enough by itself, but there are things one can do about that). Hippopotamonstrosesquipedalian (rather too long for most sites, but one can always use part of a long word). Kartoffelpuffer (gesundheit). Shou Wu Chih. “Not with a bang, but a whimper.” “Vaster than Empires, and more slow.” Ambystoma maculatum ...Whatever, just so it works for you.

  2. Think of an easy way to remember it: a mnemonic of some sort. I often come up with a mnemonic first, and have to fit a password to it. (Notice that the quotations above are better suited to being mnemonics than passwords.) Again, this is about whatever works for you.

  3. Write down the mnemonic. At this stage, you can even write down the word/phrase/whatever that is going to become the password, provided you can erase it very thoroughly.

  4. Modify the protopassword until it is suitable for use. (See the Ars Technica article [link, below] before you decide what constitutes a suitable pw!) Do NOT write it down. Anywhere. (I probably don’t have to say that, but better safe than sorry.) If you don’t have a good memory, repeat it and rehearse it, along with the mnemonic, until they both stick firmly in your mind, and they are tied firmly to each other.

  5. Maintain a list of the mnemonics, and review it often enough that you continue to remember the passwords they refer to.

(I will confess that I don’t review my own list quite often enough, and that I have lost a few, some of which I’ve recovered and some of which I haven’t. A bit further down the page I will tell you one of them.)

NOTE: Do NOT (!) use any of the passwords that I have generated as examples for this posting! They are right there, in cleartext, for any cracker to copy and add to a wordlist, and are therefore worse than useless.

Also note: Kathy Forer, in a comment elsewhere, has suggested this article, which is seriously worth reading. (Thanks for the pointer, Kathy!) I begin to suspect that I need to refine the method as I have presented it here, even though it seems to produce slightly better passwords than most of the ones the article mentions.

In any case, on to...

An example:

The General Prolog to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales begins with the words “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote...” The word “prolog” isn’t long enough, but if we fall back to Greek we get prolegomenon, which is a dozen characters, and is similar. (I haven’t checked, but I suspect that it even has essentially the same meaning.)

Just for yucks, let’s start by turning it around backwards: nonemogelorp. That isn’t nearly enough of a change, so I will pretend that the “L” is a capital letter, and reverse it to make “J”. Similarly, the “p” at the end can become a “q”: nonemogejorq. At this point it can’t be cracked by a dictionary search, even with the letters in reverse order, but that’s only a start.

Now we change some letters into numbers or symbols, and capitalize a few things. This results in n0n3M*G3j0rq, which is probably a viable password as it stands, but further tweaking is always possible and occasionally necessary. If a site won’t let you use an asterisk, you can always change it to a hyphen or an underscore or a period, depending. (I have encountered a few sites that insist on alphanumeric-only, in which case it reverts to a zero or an “O”, either lowercase or capitalized.) If you need or want more characters, you can put other things, preferably symbols, around or into it: n0n3%M*G%j0rq, for example.

Notice that the tweaked version looks like the kind of randomoid glop that a password-generation program might give you, but in fact it is nothing of the sort. That’s because humans are greatly nonrandom. Also, you will have come up with it yourself, which should, we hope, help you remember it (or maybe reconstruct it) when you need to. (Ahem. See below for a counterexample.) In any case, please remember that just using a word, or even more than one word, without doing some pretty serious mangling to it/them, is not going to get you anything viable.

Somewhere in here you need to come up with a mnemonic if you haven’t already done so. For this particular pw I probably wouldn’t use anything quite as direct as “Consider the General Prolog to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales” although that’s not actually unreasonable. As it happens, though, I take a certain amount of delight in obfuscating these things by at least one more level, so I might use something on the order of “Get Thee to a Chaucery; to a Chaucery, go!”, or “April may be the cruelest month, but it’s also the softest” [or perhaps the sweetest; I’ve seen soote rendered as “sweet”, though that seems rather odd to me] — the idea is that you need to be able to associate the mnemonic with the password, and you get to do that any way you care to. If you don’t want or need additional obfuscation (if it makes the password harder to remember instead of easier, for example), don’t bother with it. The mnemonic is for you, and you need it to work. Just be sure that nobody else is going to figure it out.

Sometimes I modify the mnemonic to remind myself that I have added extra characters; sometimes I don’t Sometimes I modify the mnemonic even though I haven’t done that. A bit of extra obscuration is entirely appropriate for anything you expect to put where other people will see it. Also, I sometimes include a hint if I think I may have trouble remembering later on: “He will see you now. [think: I was behind the beaded curtain at the time]” With sufficient repetition, however, the need for hints tends to decrease or evaporate, and I restrict most of them to my master list.

[I tend, when presented with one of my mnemonics, to remember some early or intermediate stage in the construction of the actual pw; then I remember where I went with it. That seems reasonable and even expectable, but who is to say whether other people run their heads the same way I run mine?]

Another example:

I was driving one day, and found myself behind a car with a specialized license plate. The car was owned by a fraternity member, and it had the Greek characters Ω Ψ Φ on it. I took one glance and said, “Geez; that would mean the end of science fiction as we know it!”

I would, once again, reverse this, so it becomes ihPisPagemO; and again, I would toy with it. It would end up being something on the order of !Hp1sP8G3m0!, and the mnemonic doesn’t really have to be much more complex than “the end of science fiction as we know it’, though if I were actually planning on using this pw it probably would be.

I mentioned, above, the fact that I occasionally lose one of these, and this is the example I was hinking of. I looked at my list of potential and actual passwords one day, and could not remember what had led me to the end of SF; many months later I found myself stopped in traffic behind the same or another car with that same fraternity name on its license plate, and said the same sentence to myself, followed immediately by something I will approximate as “@#)*$#@$!!”

A third example:

I happen to be a Richard Thompson fan. One evening, a bunch of years back, I saw him perform with Danny Thompson [not related] at the Folklife Festival, in Seattle. At one point during the performance he said words to the effect of “Now I shall perform a medley of my hit, Due Piedi Sinistri.” He then played [no surprise] “Two Left Feet”. This is entirely straightforward; the Italian very easily goes to 1rtz1N!Z!b32q3Ub or some variant thereof, and the obvious mnemonic (a bit too obvious, actually) is “Now I shall perform a medley of my hit.” Not, mind you, that anyone who hasn’t been a member of an appropriate Richard Thompson audience would ever twig to the meaning, and not that they’d be likely to get from there to the actual password; but it pays to be extra-careful about these things, and this one is not quite obscure enough to suit me, which is why I’m willing to reveal it: I am not about to use any of these examples, and I’m not from Crete.

Mnemonics: A Challenge

I defy anyone to figure out my password from any of the following mnemonics. If you can do so I will happily hand you a hundred bucks, which I cannot afford. [No fair if you’ve watched me type it, and memorized the keystrokes. In fact, if you did that you should be ashamed of yourself for watching — the only time you should ever watch anyone type a password is if they have asked you to, or conceivably if they are breaking the law and you will need to do something about it. Also no fair if I’ve told it to you, though I don’t think I’ve done that with any of these.]

  • The NetGrrl takes her little pooch for a walk, around and around and around the block.

  • John Dickson Carr liked well-buttressed suspension bridges with a little extra.

  • My vote for Roger Lee.

  • Frank’s little sister went into the pool with nary a splash.

  • The Enzyme

(I will confess that the last of those is something I came up with very early on, and I would not use it today without performing serious modifications to it. Even so, it isn’t going to be easy to figure out. The password itself, however, would be trivially easy for a good program to crack, at least in its current form.)

I should note, btw, that my source for hippopotamonstrosesquipedalian is a delightful little book called Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary.
December 2014, by PNH

A More or Less Edible Laser

I recently found Stephen Wilk’s article “Edible Lasers: What’s the Next Course?” (which appeared in Optics & Photonics Magazine) and got into email correspondence with him about it, during the course of which I realized that I couldn’t actually recall having lased a dye that was dissolved in glycerol. (I probably did lase Rhodamine B in glycerol a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; but that was then and this is now, and that effort, if it did indeed occur, has long since faded from my memory.)

Accordingly, on Tuesday evening I set up a homebrew cuvette, and lased Rhodamine B in glycerol with longitudinal pumping from a nitrogen laser, something I think I’ve only done once or twice before. Almost nobody ever bothers to pump a dye laser longitudinally with the output of a nitrogen laser. There are several reasons for this, one of which is that half of the output from the dye goes back into the nitrogen laser and is lost unless you take steps to prevent that from happening, which is itself a nontrivial exercise. I didn’t take photos on Tuesday, but what I saw was interesting enough that I returned on Wednesday afternoon and did it again; see below.

I used Rhodamine B because it has an intriguing character: the efficiency of its fluorescence emission is directly proportional to the viscosity of the solvent that it is dissolved in. If you put RhB in methanol, the quantum efficiency is only about 0.43; by the time you get to glycerol it is more like 0.96, which is excellent — that’s comparable to the efficiency of Rhodamine 6G or Fluorescein, both of which are extremely good laser dyes. RhB absorbs very little at the wavelength that the nitrogen laser provides, so the increased efficiency is extremely helpful. I could have added a second dye to absorb the UV and convert it to a wavelength range that RhB absorbs better (I have done this in the past to assist several dyes that don’t absorb much at 337 nm, as have various other folks), but that would involve extra tweaking, and I wanted to do this expeditiously. In addition, most laser dyes are toxic, and that’s not what I’m trying for here.

After the longitudinal pumping test succeeded I added more RhB, and lased the solution with transverse pumping. Here are two photos. The first shows the setup, and the second shows the output on a piece of paper. The solution was probably inadequately mixed; in addition, the glycerol has been heated unevenly by waste energy from previous pumping pulses, and it has almost certainly developed Schlieren, which interfere with the optical path and cause the beam to spread out. (Schlieren are irregularities in refractive index; think about the “wiggles” you see on the pavement when the sun shines down through the exhaust from a bus or truck, or what happens when you mix two liquids that have significantly different refractive indices, for example water and isopropyl alcohol or even isopropyl alcohol and ethanol.)


[There is a PRA LN-1000 TEA Nitrogen laser just outside of the picture, at right. It puts out pulses of ultraviolet light with wavelength of about 337.1 nm; the pulses last a little less than 1 nanosecond. The beam from the nitrogen laser goes through a cylindrical lens (visible at the right edge of the “setup” photo), and then through an ordinary achromat (which fluoresces in the “lasing” photo, clearly indicating that it is absorbing some of the UV from the LN-1000, grump). These two lenses focus the pump beam to a narrow line across the front of the dye solution in the cuvette, which you can’t see because the fluorescence of the dye is so bright. This is the usual way of pumping a dye laser with a nitrogen laser, though people typically use only a single cylindrical lens; I added the second lens to get a more compact setup.]

I like Rhodamine B, and it is less toxic than Rhodamine 6G; but you still wouldn’t want to drink it, so I redid the demonstration with Fluorescein:


I’m sure this solution would taste nasty, but you could certainly drink a small amount of it without hurting yourself, so it qualifies as edible. I didn’t even have to add any dish detergent to it. (The original edible laser was a slight cheat — they were obliged to add a few drops of detergent to their material. In fact, I have heard Ted Hänsch say, concerning that particular issue, “At that point, Art stopped insisting on eating the experimental subjects.” Ahem. ;o)

[T. A. Hänsch, M. Pernier, and A. L. Schawlow, “Laser Action of Dyes in Gelatin”, IEEE Journal of Quantum Electronics, Volume QE-7 (January 1971), page 47. Also see , though this and other texts I find on the Web contain an apparent inaccuracy: AFAIK, they did not put Fluorescein into Jell-O™. They put it into unflavored gelatin and, as I mention above, it did not immediately work; like RhB, Fluorescein does not absorb well at 337 nm, on top of which gelatin is not as transparent as glycerol. They had to put so much dye into the gelatin that they got concentration quenching, which interfered with the fluorescence enough to prevent lasing. The detergent helps prevent this problem.]

Serendipity Strikes Again

As I mention above, I returned this afternoon to see whether I could get a photo of the results with longitudinal pumping. I removed the cylindrical lens, leaving the ordinary lens, and this is what I saw on the paper viewing screen with the cuvette of dye moved to the side:

This is a fine image of the inside of the laser head, showing the electrodes and the discharge. When I put the cuvette back in position, I was surprised to discover that I was getting lasing on both axes at once:

(Lasing on more than one axis at a time is far from unheard-of; but it’s not common, and this is certainly the first time I’ve done it or seen it with nitrogen-pumped dye — I just happen to have chosen a dye concentration that supports it under my conditions, and a lens with appropriate focal length.)

Here are separate photos of the two outputs, for a bit more detail:


What I find particularly spiffy and interesting is the fact that the longitudinal lasing output from the dye cuvette is still an image of the inside of the nitrogen laser head (!). Notice that the L output is yellowish, while the T output is green. My belief is that this is because the L output has to travel through a lot more unexcited dye solution before it gets out of the cuvette, and the dye absorbs the short-wavelength tail of the emission. (This is a well-known and well-understood issue, very common with fluorescent dyes.)

Note: I took these photos with my iPhone. If anyone reading this has a strong need for higher resolution images, please contact me via email.
December 2014, by PNH

Baby-Steps in Welding: My First Actual Project

Every week, Chas. Colburn (3D Metal Parts) runs an open house that he calls “Maker-Tech Tuesday”. Chas. has been doing welding for at least 35 years, and it is something he is happy to teach people. I’ve been wanting to learn to weld for even longer than that, so even though I didn’t have any applications in mind I jumped at the chance. (The fact that he is a superb teacher didn’t hurt.)

I have now had three lessons, and I intend to make my first three sets of baby-steps into a sculpture at some point, but that hasn’t happened yet. What did happen is that I realized that I do have a project: I like to run my potter’s wheel as a standup wheel (to help avoid back trouble), and once I get to the point where I’m at least half-decent at welding I will be able to make a stand for it instead of just putting it up on cinderblocks again.

Something else, however, has taken precedence: the storm door at the house I’m moving to was not in great shape, and after it took additional damage from the wind a few weeks ago I removed it. My landlord, who is a friend and who is as good as they get, was kind enough to give me another storm door, which I managed to put in place by changing out the left edge of the frame and doing a bit of minor surgery so it would fit in the available space. (The tall brown stripe at the left edge of the new door is the frame piece that came attached to it; it was originally about half an inch too tall.)

Unfortunately, when I tried to close the storm door after I attached it, I discovered that there was a problem:

The handle is at just about the same height as the doorknob, and it protrudes far enough out that the storm door can’t close all the way if the house door is shut. (The dent in the doorknob, partly visible behind the handle, is a pre-existing issue.)

I thought about various ways to deal with this problem, and on Monday afternoon I ended up buying a nice matched bottle opener and drink sifter at a thrift store. My initial attempt at attaching the bottle opener to the shaft of the handle mechanism, last night, was unsuccessful, and this afternoon I took the various pieces to Maker-Tech Tuesday, figuring that I would cut some pieces of square steel bar stock and bolt them to the opener so I could attach it securely to the shaft. Chas., however, took one look and suggested that I just turn the opener around and weld the butt end of its handle to the side of the shaft. (The outer handle is held on with a setscrew and is easy to remove, so attaching the inner handle permanently would not prevent me from putting the door back together.) For a few moments I was reluctant, but it was clearly so much easier and less involved than what I’d previously had in mind that I gave in very quickly. Beside, it would constitute an actual Welding Project.

These particular bar implements are made of stainless steel, which generally has a reputation for being difficult to work with, but Chas. has some welding rods that have nickel in them and can be used with stainless, and he thought I’d be able to deal.

The original shaft from the door looked like it might possibly be aluminum, but that didn't really make sense to us, as ordinary aluminum is not all that strong or durable, and is not well suited to this type of application, so we figured it was more likely to be stainless. We were, however, giving too much credit to the manufacturers of the door: it was, indeed, aluminum, and when I attempted to weld the bottle opener to it the results were pretty silly. (I may show a photo here at some point.)

Chas. and I looked for an appropriate piece of steel bar stock so I could make a replacement shaft, but we didn’t find any, so I told him I’d go to the hardware store and try to buy some. He suggested that I try Fasteners, Inc. [4817 Lydell Rd, Hyattsville,  MD  20781], one of his regular suppliers. Sure enough, they had 5/16" steel key stock in 1-foot lengths. I bought two pieces plated with zinc and two plain ones, to be sure that Chas. would have some if anybody needed it for a project. (In general, we are expected to provide our own materials; but extra is always appreciated, the more so because some people may not always be able to bring what they need.)

The butt end of the bottle opener being somewhat funky at this point, I removed the paddle from the drink-sifter, chopped an appropriate length off one of the zinc-plated key stock pieces, and welded the butt end of the sifter to it, angling the handle slightly outward in case it might otherwise be too close to the door for easy operation. Here’s what the assembly looks like, with the outside handle loosely in place:

When I got home this evening I reinstalled it:

It now clears the knob of the front door, though it’s hard to tell from this photo:

(It originally cleared by only a millimeter or so, which is how it was when I took the photo, but my landlord found the rest of the frame that came with the new door, and brought it over yesterday morning. The new door is very slightly narrower than the old one was, and I had to shim the frame about half an inch so the latches would engage, but that was easy — I had appropriate pieces of wood on hand. The new frame seems to hold the storm door slightly farther out than the old frame did, and the new handle now clears the knob of the regular door by about a centimeter. Still not even remotely enough room for the original handle, though.)

The weld isn’t exactly pretty, but it is certainly GEFWIF:

[GEFWIF is something I got from Chas., who is more fiendish than I am: I would use it to mean “Good Enough For What It’s For”; he uses it to mean “Good Enough For Who It’s For”. Maybe not grammatically correct, but clear enough.]
December 2014, by PNH

Tenebrescence... a form of photochromism that occurs in a few minerals; the ones I’m aware of are forms of Sodalite. The piece I show here is Hackmanite, which is probably the best known, and was the first type I learned about.

[[I must note that the first and last photos are identical. I don’t have a photo of the piece in its fully bleached condition because I showed the phenomenon to some friends before it occurred to me to write this, and my “Before” photo from this set (which, in any case, is nearly identical to the photo here) is blurred. Grump.]]


Here’s what a piece of Hackmanite looks like when it is mostly bleached, which is its normal condition:

I illuminated the piece with longwave UV (provided by a 4-Watt BLB fluorescent tube) for about 2 minutes. It doesn’t take that long if I put the bulb right on top of the piece, but I wanted to show you the fluorescence, so I moved the lamp a few cm away.

The fluorescence shifts toward the red during the UV exposure, as the sample darkens. It is actually brighter than it appears here; the camera picked up enough UV to dominate the photo.

Here’s what the piece looks like afterward:

This is a nice deep color change; some samples are not as good, some are even better.

It usually takes a while (days to weeks, IIRC) for the color to fade if you leave the sample in the dark or in sunlight; but it occurred to me that I might be able to speed up the process. Here’s what happens when I shine a rather bright white LED flashlight on the sample for a minute or two:


...And here, again, is what it looks like afterward:

Other tenebrescent minerals can exhibit different colors — Tugtupite, for example, at least in the photos I’ve seen, goes to cherry red.
December 2014, by PNH

Duck and Hubbard; Let's Hear It for Latvian Rye

A while ago I bought a small Hubbard squash. With Hubbards (and various other kinds of winter squash, if I understand that term correctly) “small” is a relative term. This particular critter probably weighed less than 10 lbs, so it really was quite modest, as such things go. [personal profile] lisajulie was kind enough to bake it for me (I didn’t have access to a decent oven at the time) and put it into some zip-closure bags and freeze it.

Last night I found chicken broth at MOM’s that didn’t have any onions or yeast in it (I’m allergic to both). Only one brand & type out of perhaps 8 or 10 that they carry, but one is enough.

It was clearly time to make some duck soup.

Obligatory caveat: As usual, I can’t give you a fully formal recipe with precise amounts. I only ever do that with ceramic glaze recipes, and even then it isn’t viable to follow them precisely: YMWV (not just “May”, Will), and you have to be willing to perform a bunch of testing. With food, it’s even less possible to provide fully predictable results. You may dislike an ingredient I use, or you may not be able to eat it for one reason or another, or whatever; but if you are willing to tweak your way around it, you can probably get to something that satisfies you. The other side of this is that I never measure anything anyway when I’m cooking, so there never is a precise recipe. [Yes, I bake without measuring things. Yes, the results of my baking are highly variable, and occasionally even silly; I live with it. OTOH, I can tell you that The Sam’l Taylor Coleridge Memorial Poppy-Seed Cake (with Optional Blindworm’s Sting) is incredibly forgiving; I have yet to experience a failure with it despite the fact that I don’t use regular [wheat] flour; use substitutes for the milk item[s] it calls for; putz around freely with the amount of oil I put in it; etc., etc.]

Be that as it may, let’s get back to the soup.

Ingredients here are 1 box of broth (I think it’s about a liter); a pound or two of mostly-cooked winter squash (I would actually opt for ‘Marina di Chioggia’ if I could find or grow it, as it is very smooth and creamy; Hubbard is rather more fibrous, and you may want to purée it before you add it); 1 duck breast; a bunch of dried barberries (try a Persian market for these); some summer savory; some ground coriander seed (I know one person who is viciously allergic, and if I were making this for her I would probably substitute a small amount of ground-up dried citrus peel; you can find dried tangerine peel at Chinese markets); a light sprinkle of cinnamon; and whatever other herbs and spices suit your fancy. (I had intended to put some fresh ginger in it, but I forgot. I was also going to marinate the duck before cooking it, with grains of paradise and cinnamon and maybe allspice, but I didn’t have time.)

Method: I put everything except the duck into an appropriate cooking pot, and started it heating. Then I sliced the duck as thin as I could, and pan-fried it; tossed it into the nascent soup, which was at the boil by that point. Done deal. (What, you wanted it to be more difficult? I’m sure we can come up with some Advanced Variations that are sweetly complex. Besides, if you can’t find a Persian market and you aren’t adept at shopping online, you’re going to have to come up with a substitute for dried barberries.)

I tried this soup over rice, and then I tried it plain. The flavors were a lot more evident without the rice, and I think I prefer it that way. (The loss of flavor may seem reasonable to some of you, but it surprised me — I eat lots of things over rice, and I don’t recall losing flavors out of them.) The barberries add little tart accents, which I think is more interesting than the more even tartness that I would have gotten with vinegar or lemon juice, or by puréeing the finished soup. (This is why I suggested smoothing out the squash before you add it.) OTOH, if you want the tartness spread evenly you can easily achieve that.

A few weeks ago I was prowling around at the aforementioned MOM’s (it used to be “My Organic Market”, abbreviated MOM, but the obvious change occurred), and I noticed something new among the breads. There were these restrained-but-fancy labels that said “STORYE” on them. Primarily out of curiosity, but also on the off chance that I might be able to eat the stuff, I looked at the ingredients. They clearly stated that the rye they use is yeast-free, so I decided to give it a whirl.

They happened to be doing a tasting that included my usual brand of fake butter, and I agreed that I was going to buy the bread one way or the other, so I was able to taste the “Classic” version right there in the store. Even with fake butter it was outstanding: tart, nice deep flavor, plenty of caraway. (If you don’t like kimmel, they also have a version with carrots.)

Later, when I read the label more carefully, I discovered that the bread is actually made in Latvia. (Welcome to The Future, in which you can get a truly astonishing profusion of foods from faraway places!)

I will note, in this connection, the fact that I have a strong fundamental disagreement with the people who say we should buy only things that are made or grown locally. We are all in this together; everybody on the planet deserves to have a right to live and eat and get an education and earn a decent living wage if they’re working, and I think it’s horribly shortsighted and counterproductive (not to say vicious) to deliberately withhold that from someone just because they happen to live in some other country. Yes, massive transportation of goods contributes to global pollution; but I’m not convinced that this has to be a show-stopper, particularly in the long term. I think we can (and must) find ways to make transport a lot less polluting. Besides, I have a strong suspicion that there are lots of other, larger contributors to pollution. Refusing to buy cars or television sets or food products [etc.] that are made overseas (or, for that matter, overland) just doesn’t seem likely to ameliorate the larger set of problems.
December 2014, by PNH

More Moving Experience[s]

For those in the general area around Washington, DC who may want to lend a helping hand: it looks like we will be doing another move of technical gear (and possibly supplies) on Saturday. If you are interested, please get in touch with me. Text is good (my phone number is at the foot of many of the pages at my archive of the Joss Research site including the one at the other end of that link), or email (my “work” address is loosely encrypted on the same pages) between now and perhaps Friday evening. (Texts will reach me on Saturday morning, but email may or may not.)

Modest Amusement

I couldn’t very well put up just that one paragraph, so here are some Little Things I did with the Kaleido app on my telephone. There is a certain sameness to them, largely occasioned by the fact that I generally like one of the available modes better than the other three.

I have lots more where those came from, but there is such a thing as excess.
December 2014, by PNH

The Baktun Has Ended; Welcome the New Baktun

There has been a lot of silliness about the Mayan calendar lately. Supposedly it ends today, and some people thought that would (magically) cause the world to end with it. Just like all the other times the world has ended, right?

I have a nifty application on my telephone. It is called MayanTime, and it’s from SwampBits. It tells me that today is, and it explains the units of the calendar. That “13” is the Baktun, each of which lasts 144,000 days.

So much for the end. Welcome to the beginning.
December 2014, by PNH

I Ate Date Palm Flowers for Lunch

There is, in Laurel (Maryland), a stretch of Route 198 that is hard on restaurants. It is one of those dead zones where drivers may see things on either side, but they tend not to stop. Even the 7-11 moved, though I think that may have been to get a larger parking lot and/or a larger building.

Be that as it may, between 8th Street and 7th Street, on the eastbound side (Route 198 is divided at that point), we now find La Muterita #2, which is a Guatemalan restaurant. (711 Gorman Ave.; 301 497 6171; open 8:30 AM to 8 or 9 PM every day except Sunday: they don’t open until 9 AM on Sundays.) I thought it might be interesting to try, as I had never had Guatemalan food. Granted, I didn’t necessarily expect it to be all that different from, say, Salvadoran food, which is abundant in the area.

I was, in a word, wrong.

Guatemalan food is varied (the menu is long and enticing), tropical, and splendid. I ate date palm flowers for lunch (!) —

— (It didn’t occur to me to take the photo until after I had started in on the salad, so one of the tomato slices is missing.) This usually has grated cheese sprinkled over the sauce, and comes with rice and beans rather than rice and salad; but they were happy to accommodate my food allergies, which is obviously a matter of some importance to me. Speaking of which, I was actually able to drink the horchata, because they make theirs without milk.

[personal profile] lisajulie noticed and had to try a slush drink with lime juice and salt and ground-up pumpkinseeds and chile:

It’s probably better in the summer than now, but it was nonetheless amazing. (I would probably want it without the salt, as the lime juice is sour enough for me on its own; but again, in the summer the salt is probably helpful.)

The atol platano, which I tried when we went back with [profile] janetmk, is hot and sweet and expectably splendid.

Bottom line: we are extremely pleased to have found this place, and we are happy to recommend it to anyone who likes mesoamerican food and lives [or happens to be] in the area.
December 2014, by PNH

Setting Up Multiple Static IP Addresses with Verizon FIOS (A Brief How-To)

I am moving. I’ll post about that later; right now I want to do a wee bit of a public service announcement.

As part of getting my new place set up, I ordered a Verizon FIOS line and 5 static IP addresses. (This is, perforce, a business line; they don’t really have a category for “geek with home server”. ;o) I will say, btw, that the sales person I spoke with was knowledgeable, forthright, and very easy to deal with.

There was already a FIOS line to the house, per their records, though it wasn’t active; but when the tech arrived and looked around, he said, “Well, this isn’t going to work any time soon. The line has been cut.”


He was, however, superbly efficient and effective, and within about 90 minutes I was looking at the final activation screen on a Web browser. (Their info claims that a normal install takes 2½ to 3 hours. I am seriously impressed with this guy and with his work, which I observed at close range except when he was up on ladders.)

[[Verizon gets a double thumbs-up on this one. I have heard other stories that were not so happy, but I appear to have dodged that bullet.]]

Once I had completed the activation, I plugged my server into the Verizon router and tried to get it connected to the second IP address in the set (the router, a nice new Actiontec M1424WR, has the first IP) ...and failed. The server box couldn’t see the Net, and the Net couldn’t see it. I tried looking on the Web for information about setting up multiple static IP addresses on this type of line, but that also failed. There were forums where people gave various advice, but some of it was out of date, and some of it didn’t seem to apply. (Thank you so much, Google, for “helping”... grrrrr. In one small corner of my CST I am looking into other search engines. [[CST <—> Copious Spare Time]])

On two forums, the advisors didn’t seem to understand what a static IP address is; they talked about how to set an unchanging nonpublished IP, which is just DHCP with manual addressing. Brank.

I suspect that there actually is a way to get the router to pass along the packets for other static IP addresses (perhaps some sort of bridging thing?), but that’s not the course I chose to take. Instead, I brought a plain old 8-port dumb hub over to the house. I connected the hub to the FIOS box, and then I plugged both the Verizon router and my server into it. My server is now on the Net, and I can put other server boxes on the other IP addresses by plugging them into other ports on the hub. (My desktop Mac is on via DHCP, plugged into the router.) Q. E. D.

Seems to me that this is a lot easier than messing with the configuration of the router, especially for those who are moderately but not outstandingly geeky. (I am not about to claim to be outstandingly geeky myself, at least in terms of understanding all of the magic that goes on inside a smart router.)

Anyway, there it is, in case anybody wants to know.

Cheers —
December 2014, by PNH

Followup to Murphy: some success, some Murphy.

Yesterday I fired several glaze tests, one of which ends up being a mildly silly story: there is a potter in England named John Harlow. He has a Rutile Blue glaze that he calls Opal Blue, and he provides a recipe on his page of glazes. Unfortunately, it calls for “Wood Ash” which would be wildly unspecified even if he said whether he washes it; “China Clay”, which probably means something fairly clean, as for example Grolleg Kaolin, though there’s no way to be sure without asking him, which I haven’t done yet; and Hymod AT Ball Clay, which is probably quite nice but is not easily available in the US, at least as far as I know.

“Well,” sez I, “I can finesse that.”

First, I just copied the recipe. Tony Hansen provides an analysis of Hymod AT at, so although I had to use Insight’s generic Kaolin analysis and one of its wood ash analyses (Applewood Ash), I was able to get moderately close to an analysis of Harlow’s original glaze. It was slightly off, but there’s only 3% ash in the recipe in any case, so the difference probably wouldn’t have been profound. (Besides, the wood ash that I have is mostly oak, and is probably different from both apple and whatever Harlow uses.) Then I rewrote the recipe, using OM-4 Ball Clay and Sapphire Kaolin instead of the English ball clay and who-knows-what kaolin. At this point I should have adjusted the amounts of the various materials to get as close to the original as I could.

I am, however, a tweak.

Not only am I a tweak, I have a porcelain-person’s uneasiness about sodium, so I rarely use Nepheline Syenite, which is the Feldspar-equivalent material in the original recipe. I rewrote the recipe to use G200HP Feldspar, which is my regular Spar these days. That obliged me to rebalance things a bit, and I ended up without any Kaolin at all. I also ended up using Bone Ash (we get synthetic stuff these days, so it is fairly uniform) instead of Wood Ash. At that point I had, almost needless to say, deviated significantly from the analysis of the original, so I wasn’t really sure what I would get, but I was on a roll, so I mixed up a small batch and fired a test tile on Thursday. It came out looking like this:

Although this is not exactly a Rutile Blue, I think it’s a keeper. It is probably too plain to use all by itself, but perhaps with some iron or cobalt brushwork (which I will have to learn to do, but that’s how it goes).

Murphy hit: this afternoon I fired the kiln again. During the firing, a glaze test fell over against an otherwise rather nice Rutile Blue teacup, sticking to it and ruining it. After I knocked the glaze test off the cup I ground down the sharp junk it left behind, and someone at the party here this evening asked for the cup before I could even get a chance to photograph it. (I would not have taken it to Toronto anyway, as I can only bring a few pieces, and I don’t really want too many of them to be examples of badness.)

Meanwhile: on Thursday I had fired another Rutile Blue test in addition to the creamy thing I show above. This one was a followon to one of my own, from a series I was working with a few years ago; I changed two or three of the materials in it, and I expected to get something fairly reasonable, but instead it fired out “Southwest Red’, just as FOB12 did a few weeks ago. (See “...In Which We Learn by Resounding Failure”, posted on September 20th.) I thought about that a bit, added one gram of Rutile, and dipped a second test tile, which I fired this afternoon. Here they are:

(Some of you will notice the fact that I have run out of test tiles, and am using broken pieces of teacup from recent failed bisque firings. Argh.)

The one with extra Rutile appears to be a keeper, and if it does not exhibit any wretched surprise behaviors it will probably replace my recent batch of Rutile Blue, which is better than the mess that preceded it, but has not been quite as well-behaved as I’d like. Speaking of which, I still haven’t managed to get a recipe to fire out like the dark blue mixture of two recipes that I posted a while ago —

— and I am somewhat peeved about that. At this point I’m not even sure I would get this result if I mixed new batches of the two parent glazes and poured them together again; I will have to try that as time and tide permit, but it probably won’t happen for a while.

I am also having some trouble with the copper red glaze, but it is still a deep rich red even though there is only 0.1% copper oxide in the recipe. (I will grant that I am using red copper oxide, which has more copper in it than black copper oxide, but still, 0.1% is not a whole lot.) When it is behaving itself, that glaze looks about like this:

I am still hoping to bring a piece with this glaze (or a close variant) to Toronto, but as I say I’ve been having some bad behavior from various versions that I’ve fired recently; we’ll have to see how it goes.