No, no, no…

Artist’s impression of black hole event horizon.

It was marvellous to see real science dominate the headlines last week, if only briefly. I must admit the image of the black hole was a bit disappointing to me, being so fuzzy (the image, not me), but I’m sure we’ll see better images as techniques improve in the future.

However, there’s something about the images we use to visualise black holes or gravity wells that’s never mentioned and I don’t think people appreciate.

Virtually all explanations of the distortion of space-time around massive objects use the metaphor of a sheet of rubber stretched tight, with the massive object (planet, star or whatever) sitting on this rubber sheet and pushing it down to form a well, known as a gravity well.

Beautiful image, but it’s not accurate (IMHO).

But a rubber sheet is two dimensional (length and width) while space is three dimensional (having x, y and z axes) and crucially, there is no preferred direction. There is no north or south or west or east in space, no up or down. There are no two dimensional flat planes.

So although the rubber sheet is a very useful analogy in allowing us to visualise space, it doesn’t show the true picture. To do that, we have to think of the rubber sheet as being drawn in every possible plane within a 3-d world. So the gravity well is actually a ‘ball’ with a ‘dip’ in its centre.

This is a bit hard for our minds to visualise, just as we find it hard to visualise anything above three dimensions.

So getting back to the opening image of the event horizon of a black hole, this is a beautiful drawing but space is not flat until it reaches the edge like that. It should be drawn as a three dimensional sphere with a hole (well) at its centre. In my opinion. That’s hard to draw.

I could write all day about this but that’ll do.

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Over the years I’ve accumulated an alarming number of hard drives of the spinning platter type. I’ve probably got nearly two dozen of various sizes from 500MB to 2TB lying around, as well as about five in regular powered up use.

Of course, when solid state drives (SSDs) became available years ago, they were the holy grail – an order of magnitude faster, completely silent, with no moving parts and a fraction of the size and weight of the old ‘heavy metal’. They were a multiple of the cost, unfortunately, but I bought my first one to go into my Sony VAIO laptop around 2011 or so. It’s still in there, working marvellously.

Then I built this PC in 2013, using an OCZ (the brand) SSD of 128MB as the boot drive. That went well until the final week before our school reunion in October 2014 when, after months of work on the reunion magazine, it chose then to fail. I subsequently learnt that OCZ had, shall we say, a reputation.

Anyway, I bought a 256GB Samsung SSD to replace it and was on the go again. But over the past couple of years this has filled and filled and I’ve been getting warning messages that it’s running out of space.

OK, I bought a 500GB Samsung to replace it, but it sat there for about a year while I decided on the best time to do the swap, and the best way.

I decided the best way would be to have another drive of 256GB and copy the whole of the existing C drive across, do the physical swap and then copy it back again. Cloning or imaging? A clone is where you copy every sector from one drive to another in one operation. Imaging is where you make a sector-for-sector, byte for byte copy to another drive and copy it back later in a two stage operation. Both do the same thing.

I ended up buying a 256GB microSD card, putting it into an SD adapter, then the SD card into a USB 3.0 reader/writer. Then with that plugged into a USB 3.0 slot, I did the image copying. Why this way? Because the microSD card is a fast one very suitable for video recording in my cameras so it won’t just sit on the shelf afterwards.

To avoid spending money on software I’d only use once in a blue moon. I used the free software Macrium Reflect 7 (https://www.macrium.com/) to make an image of my C drive to the 256GB microSD card. It took about an hour and because it uses a bit of compression, it nowhere near filled the card. This means I have a backup of my C drive at the time in case I need it in the future, although a $110 SD card is an expensive backup medium.

Anyway, a few days ago I powered down, slipped the SATA connectors off the 256GB C drive, removed it and popped the 500GB drive into its place.

Note that at this stage, I did not have a bootable C drive. So before I did the swap, I used the Macrium Reflect Free to make a bootable USB drive, using a spare 32GB thumb drive. That took about 15 mins and would be a handy tool for any future failures, although again, it’s a little expensive when a CD or DVD version would work as well.

NB, I tested booting from this USB thumb drive before I did any disk swapping to make sure I knew how to copy the image back to the new drive.

OK, I powered on again, booting from the thumb drive (and getting fed up with the clunky way my Gigabyte motherboard uses to choose the boot device). Eventually it worked and I was now running off the thumb drive in one USB port with the image on the SD card in the next USB port. I started the image copy process from the SD card back to the new 500GB SSD drive and an hour later, it was done and verified.

I rebooted from the new SSD drive and bingo, it was all done. But with one problem. I’d started with a nearly full 256GB partition on the old drive, and now I still had a nearly full 256GB partition on the new 500GB drive. Where was all my new free space?

Of course, the image had included the old partition table, so my new drive didn’t know it had this new space.

No problem, free software to the rescue again, this time Paragon Hard Disk Manager free edition (https://www.paragon-software.com/free/pm-express/#resources). This showed the new drive having a partition half way along the line, and allowed me to click on this divider and simply drag it to the right as far as it would go. Bingo, after choosing Apply Changes, it thought for a bit, then said OK, and that was it.

So my point in writing this is to marvel at the generosity of these firms. Sure, they do it to try to get you to pay for the full unrestricted products, but as I said, I only need this software once in a blue moon. This did all I needed and I’m very happy to recommend them.

Now, as well as a pile of “hard” hard drives, I’m now building a pile of spare SSDs as well. I obtained a replacement for the OCZ drive (which although free under warranty, actually cost me 456 in postage to Taiwan) and now I have the old Samsung 256GB SSD ‘spare’.

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I finally found a new radio antenna specifically to fight Maggie, the Magna and I fitted it yesterday. It’s not identical to the original, which has a cast alloy and stainless steel fitting where it goes through the car body. this new one just has two thick rubber circular halves which compress together under the chrome nut and it doesn’t quite fill the original cutout in the body. Water could get in, in other words. $20 runout item from Repco.

I’m undecided. The car is 18 years old and will probably be scrapped in a few years. I don’t think rust will be a problem in that short time. Or I could just squeeze some gasket-goo around the hole. That’ll hold it.

Meanwhile, I’m getting good FM and AM radio reception for the first time in a few years (the old one was badly bent and nearly broken for some time). The radio in the car is actually capable of DAB+ as well but the antenna for it is a windscreen type requiring gluing it to the windscreen, removal of the A-pillar covering and routing of the thin coax behind the glovebox and dash. It’s always looked so complicated that I never got around to installing it. How about that, I spend the dollars to buy a DAB+ radio, then get scared off and never install it properly. Huh, what am I?

Anyway, I think it’s time I put a For Sale sign on the car. I’m taking it for a service tomorrow morning and will give it a good wash and vacuum, put the sign up when it’s parked in my laneway and see if there are any bites. If not, I’ll put it on Facebook Marketplace and see what happens there. “Suit student or backpacker”. True. I’ll substitute an old Sony CD radio that I already have first, of course.

It’s still in use nearly every day and runs like a dream. In my entire ownership since 2003, the only things I’ve had to spend money on are tyres, batteries and exhausts. And a brakes job early in its life. And services. It’s never let me down except for a battery failure. Great car and still with less than 156,000kms.

Having the three cars at the moment, I’ve been worried about the fuel costs but it’s occurred to me that I can only drive one at a time (my partner uses one but pays for fuel when she’s here). So the running costs are not huge. I’m not actually ‘running’ all three. The cost of the licences is horrendous, but that’s only once a year and if I can sell Maggie, that will reduce.

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It rained this morning! Not for long, but definitely enough to water the lawns and garden. Warm, damp weather with virtually no wind, great!

My neighbours (on the right in the photo above) had solar power installed during the week so we’re “in the club”. I’ve noticed there is a period in the morning when the sun reflects from their panels right into my living area. I’m not sure whether that will be a problem, or maybe it will be a blessing in the winter, I’ll just have to wait and see. My panels can’t reflect into their house because their living areas face away from me.

Although my solar power was installed in January, I can’t judge my bills as yet because I’ve only had one bill since. That was distorted by being for a fraction of a billing period and having the charge for the new bi-directional meter. I should get the next bill very soon, then I’ll be able to see how much I’m saving.

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Gonna

And the ninth is how blunders like this get past the editorial process at the West.

The morning after the 55th year reunion: yes, it’s 55 years since we finished our final year at Northam Senior High School and after one for the whole school held in Northam in 1979 to coincide with WA’s 150th, we started our cohort’s reunions. There were almost no computers or printers and no email back then, so a small group, (not including me in those days) sent out paper letters by snail mail. There was a pretty good turn out, including several teachers but sadly several have passed on since.

1979 Reunion at Ascot Inn

We now have a database of 207 former students (i.e. anyone who attended NSHS in the 1960-1964 wave) and these days, we meet every year as the names in red ink as deceased grow in number. One of our very well liked and admired colleagues died just a few days before I sent out this year’s first email notice.

Our total yesterday was 37, although there might have been a couple of extras and a few didn’t show. We still meet in the same location as the old Ascot Inn, now rebuilt and renamed the International on the Water Hotel.

As usual, although I took my “proper” camera with me, and had my phone camera and my Android tablet, I took not a single photo! What’s wrong with me? One reason was that we stayed inside in a dining area and the chairs were packed so tightly that it was hard to move around. Oh well, next year. One of the other guys took a lot of shots with his camera so I hope to be able to show his soon.

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I had the pleasure of providing the transport for one of our best and most remembered teachers, our maths guru Dr Norm Hoffman. He’s 87 now and I can assure you he’s as sharp as ever. It made for good conversation. I was happy to tell him that reading books on maths is one of my main interests these days and there has been a small explosion in the numbers of books of popular maths. I don’t claim any expertise, and I well remember my own aphorism, “The only reason we do maths is to do more maths.” Well, I take that back. There is a lot of maths in electronics and I came to need the understanding in my work.

I’ve just finished a biography of Sir Isaac Newton, one of the inventors of calculus (also claimed by Leibnitz), and what an interesting man he was. All we seem to remember him for is gravity and a falling apple, but he was much more than that.

It turned out yesterday that Newton and Norm Hoffman share a distinction, that of both being born on Christmas Day. Just a few centuries apart, that’s all.

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I drove the Honda MDX and damn, it’s going to be hard to part with that car. My new door switch and handle assembly works and looks fine and the car polishes up very well. I’m slowly fixing all the little bits of damage and cleaning off the signs of neglect by the previous owner(s). It’s obvious that someone had a large can of white paint on the back seat at some stage, as there’s a fine white ring left, with some on the carpets as well.

Today’s assignment will be to replace the door locking motor mechanism on the right rear passenger door. I have the part, $15 including postage from China. I also have a set of chromed plastic letters, M-D-X to replace the missing logo from the tailgate, and another packet of 10 LED lamps arrived for the interior and exterior wedge base lights.

One thing you have to realise with these LED lamps is that they’re polarised, i.e. plus and minus, so they have to go in the right way. Incandescent lamps could go either way but not these. However, once in, they should never need replacing again.

Aaah, marvellous internet and eBay. How did we exist without it?

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Before I gave up my idea last year of buying a prestige Mercedes and buying the Verada and Honda instead, one of the cars I fell for was this one:

CL500
That’s real woodgrain, not plastic.

As you can see it’s in Sydney and it’s at least 5 months since I last looked at it, but it’s still up on the car sales web site! The price has dropped a few thousand too.

Phew, the hots are still there. I yearn to go to Sydney, buy it and drive it slowly back to Perth. However, the cost of insurance alone is almost prohibitive (around $1400 pa last time I enquired) and it obviously doesn’t sell easily, so quite apart from any mechanical issues, it would be a financial sink-hole. Even so … what a pleasure that would be.

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Someone asked me yesterday what I do about travel insurance. I said, these days I take the small risk and do without when I go to Bali. I got a preliminary quote on-line a few weeks ago and it came to $370 for four weeks. And on thinking about it, in all the 40 years or more that I’ve been travelling overseas, and spending thousands of dollars on insurance, I can’t recall a single occasion when I’ve been able to make a claim.

Even a few years ago when I had to go to the BIMC for leg ulceration, that fell under the clause of pre-existing. I couldn’t make a claim even though it cost me nearly US$500 for the series of visits.

I’m careful. The only thing I worry about is being hit by the motorbike or vehicle that I don’t hear or see coming.

If I were doing a complex trip such as to UK/Europe, that would be different. I’m afraid a trip to the USA is out of bounds now with my existing conditions, so that question doesn’t arise any more. I don’t want to go there now anyway.

Are

Mine looks nearly as good. My driver’s seat leather is in poor condition. I wonder what it would cost to have it re-covered in leather?

Eventually, you have a win. I wrote about being unable to find a driver’s side door switch and opener mechanism for Honda-san. Well, persistence paid off.

Blurry photo from eBay of an American unit.

First, an ad appeared on Monday on Gum Tree for an MDX being wrecked down in Rockingham. Great, I thought, I’ll drive down there, but luckily I checked first. No, the car’s been there for about three years and my part was gone. However he suggested a couple of Sydney wreckers. Long story, but now I have the part I wanted, in fine condition, delivered this morning from a wrecker in Melbourne. It cost $90 including $15 postage, but it’s worth it to me. Thank goodness for the internet.

Later: I fitted the new switch assembly this afternoon – easy – didn’t even have to take the door lining off. One screw and some jiggling and it was done. Wish everything was that easy.

These items seem to break easily – there are hordes of them advertised on eBay etc (in the USA). This one had been well and truly broken in the past. Someone must have applied a lot of force.

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Coincidences! First one: a couple of years ago I was introduced to the term pinata (pronounced pin-yahta), a Spanish word meaning a papier mache fish full of small gifts which is suspended from a low branch and kids smash in a game to get their toys. Never heard it before or since.

Then a few days ago I was browsing one of my USA cousins’ Facebook page and there was the word again. I forget the context, but …

Next, this Saturday we have our high school reunion. One of the guys in our class of ’64 was called Zdzislaw, pronounced Dishak (but we called him “Snagger”). I’ve just been to see my GP and the car I was parked next to had the number plate ZDZIS.

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I just went to the doc to get a prescription for an antibiotic to take with me to Bali in a few weeks. It’s “just in case”, because I always seem to develop some small ulceration or infection and I’ve found this antibiotic works. Better to be safe.

While I was there he checked my blood pressure – 135/60. Pretty good!

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Speaking of pressure, I never got the hang of tyre pressures in metric. I knew 32psi, and here we are 40 years later and I still think that way. But having bought the Aldi Li-Ion jump starter with air pump, it only reads out in Bars. Oddly, there’s no provision to change to psi or kPa.

So I was forced to look it up. Easy – 32psi = 2.2Bars or 220kPa. It’s in my head now.

Likewise, I’ve never been able to get acres/sq. m/hectares/ares. My Trigg house was on 728sq.m. or nearly 1/4 acre. [NB: no it’s not. 728sqm = 0.1798acre] This house is 180m2 on a 360m2 block.

In Bali they use ares where, afaik, 1are = 100m x 100m or 10,000m2. So this block is 360/10000 = 0.036are. Klaar?

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Next job: replacing the radio antenna on Maggie. I bought what I thought was a drop-in replacement, but it’s not as easy as that. I’ve got the broken one out, complete with its drainage tube and floor plug, but how to get the broken inner part out? It’s not clear. Luckily I have plenty of time.

Similarly Vera, the Verada, has a motorised antenna but that’s busted as well. Again, I have a new inner extending portion, but how to fit it is not clear.

Finally Honda-san has a screw-on short rod antenna over the rear lift back, but the radio reception is terrible, barely listenable and highly variable. I’ll have to work on that next. I hope I’ll be able to buy a better quality rod antenna and just screw it on. Or maybe I’ll find a bad connection (he says hopefully).

Three cars, three faulty or busted radio antennae. Great.

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I forgot to mention, I tried very hard to take advantage of the Qantas offer of 30% reduction for FF Points trips last month. I spent hours crafting an itinerary from Perth to Paris, with two or three stopovers to break the journey. I could have gone Perth-Bangkok-Colombo-Dubai-Paris for 77,000 points and I have 117,000 available.

But every time I tried to take the final step and book, “Database error 45678. Please try again later” or similar. And I’d have to go through it all again, with the same result.

I tried more than a dozen times, right up to the cutoff time, but gave up in frustration. Qantas speak with forked tongue in my opinion. Maybe the website was overloaded, and I kept trying thinking I might crack it, but no luck. I tried phoning their help line, but it’s 7am to 7pm AEST, so no help there. Phutttt.

But I’m not sure I have the stamina for that level of trip these days. I could still go on FF points, just at a higher cost. Maybe.