Thursday, October 27, 2016

@*($&%#! Computers! - Part 2 - Windows Update Problems

Any of you folks Windoze 7 users?  Judging by the comments on using the GWX app to block Windoze 10, I'm guessing more than a few. 

There appears to be somewhat of an epidemic of Windows Update not working.  Almost two weeks ago, Mrs. Graybeard noticed that her Win 7 PC (an HP Pavilion) was not applying updates.  That prompted looking a little closer only to find out it hadn't updated itself in a couple of months.  That, in turn, led to almost two weeks now of chasing down fixes from every Knowledge Base article on Microsoft, every Tech Blogger and every other self-proclaimed Guru that a search engine can turn up and it still isn't working.  We even tracked down a rumor in a comment on McThag's blog.  A lot of folks are reporting problems with this. 

Being a little suspicious and cynical, I thought maybe it's because Microsoft is anxious to kill off Win7 and isn't really assigning, shall we say, the sharpest knives in the drawer to work on 7 and those folks screwed it up.  The problem is that this seems to affect all Windows versions.  They screwed up something fundamentally ans it's affecting all of their OSes.  

My regular desktop (this computer) updates normally, and an older computer in the other room does as well, so 1 out of 3 has the issue.  Perhaps 2 of 4; there's another of our dedicated computers I haven't verified, yet.  The new refurb was acting strangely, but the "official Microsoft fix" found here has apparently fixed both Mrs. Graybeard's HP and the refurb.  Hers has installed something like 15 updates, and the refurb is currently installing 153 updates.  That's OK.  I figured it would need about 90 million. 

@*($&%#! Computers!

I think I've mentioned here that I have some computer issues to go with the CNC upgrade process I'm going through, but let me explain.  The existing shop computer which runs my Sherline/A2ZCNC system and lathe is a 12 year old Pentium 4 computer running XP.  Because it's XP, I keep it off the network.  Firewalled.  Nothing goes to it except by sneaker net.  It has an odd intermittent failure.  Every few weeks to months, moving the mouse will make it suddenly hang up.  The computer accepts no input, not even reboot, and has to have a hard power down.  It would be A Bad Thing if this were to happen during a CNC operation - if the computer continued to drive the parallel port during this time.

While it has never happened, it makes me less than completely comfortable with that computer.   

The reason I'm using this computer is that it replaced another old computer that had a different weird problem.  Sometimes when I go to turn it on, it won't power on and takes 2 to 5 attempts at turning it on before it actually will.  I replaced the power supply, since it seemed the 5V supply wasn't on (I have an optical mouse with a red LED, and you can see the LED was off when the computer wouldn't boot).  That didn't fix it.  It's the computer I put LinuxCNC on.  I eventually put it aside.  The one I'm using doesn't fail as often as the one with the funny turn on sequence does. 

As a result of having two flaky computers, I've been keeping my eye out for another computer.  The problem is that it needs to have a parallel port and those are hard to find lately - this desktop I'm using is 5 years old and it doesn't have one.  This weekend, I found one.  NewEgg had a deal on a refurbished computer: a Dell T3500 workstation.  It's a 2010 computer, but was fairly high end back then.  I had one of those on my desk at Major Avionics Corporation for several years and it was a good, fast computer.  After a lot of debate, I decided to buy it, and it got here yesterday. 

It's my fault I didn't read the ad closely enough, but the computer wouldn't boot because I had to install Windows first.  The only problem was that it wouldn't install - Windows kept giving me an error message.  Had to call tech support - about two minutes after they were done for the day.  The tech said in his experience I need a new DVD reader and he'd ship me one today along with another one of the backup CDs.  Great.  Now my migration to the computer is off until Saturday or Monday (I hope!).  Then my brain said, "it's a Dell, my computer is a Dell running the same OS I'm trying to install.  Why not put another Dell bootable disk in the CD and see if it can read that?"  It's not like I could make it worse.  I thought.

It worked.  I found a CD-R that I had written at some time while installing software where I had scrawled a label on it saying  "Win 7 64 Repair Disk".  It booted and was able to install Windows 7 last night.  The computer behaved completely normally once it had the OS.  Until this morning.  Today, Windows asked to connect to the mother ship to be authorized and told me the Product Key I entered is no good.  No explanation of why.  So I'm trying to get to the bottom of that, which is taking my attention away from everything else.  

I'm not posting links to the computer or the company or saying they're the problem because I don't know enough, yet.  The company that sold me this computer isn't NewEgg, it's one of their affiliated companies.  They were very helpful and nice on the phone, despite it being after their working hours.  On the other hand, if they're really nice but don't make it right, they're a problem.  
(I see I've used this cartoon a few times)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I Predict More UFO Sightings

Courtesy of Digital Photography Review, the site I watch for digital camera news, comes a video from a guy who put a 1000 W LED Light Bar on a drone and photographed the results from various perspectives: the ground, the drone itself and another drone above this one.

Worth watching in full screen. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Test Box Works First Time

Well, a wire pulled loose while I was moving it from the work bench to where I tested it, but once I put that back it worked perfectly as designed.  Time to celebrate another little milestone. 

Here's a quick shot of it on the bench where I've been building it, followed by a look inside.
A better look inside.
The sharp eyed will find the loose controller cable for the to-be-added fourth axis, and a connector on the back panel for it.  Here's the obligatory video of the motors moving.  Left to right: X, Y, Z. 

The very end of the video shows me pushing the Big Red Stop Right F***in' Now button, then showing the motors not moving then doing a clumsy camera pan over to the computer to show Mach3 responding with "Hey, you told me to stop".

The box and cables are a little ragged looking and I should clean that up a little.  Mrs. Graybeard suggested a plexiglass top so we can look in and "watschen das blinkenlights".  I haven't made that, but it's lower priority.  After a few little cleanups, it's on to taking the mill apart and rebuilding it as a CNC mill!

Monday, October 24, 2016

On Thorium Reactors for Power Generation

Early this month, I got a link to a discussion of the difference between Thorium and Uranium nuclear reactors.  Whenever the topic of nuclear fission reactors comes up, Thorium reactors are talked about as being a safer technology.  While I'm an advocate of nuclear power, I was familiar with the concept, but not the details.  This article provides a really good overview. 

While reading about them, I did some web searches and found a really good article, by the Slow Facts guy, Rob Morse.  While that previous article is in an engineering magazine and written for folks with that background, the Slow Facts article is more like something you'd present to a friend who is adamantly against nuclear power.  Thorium is two elements below (to the left of) Uranium in the periodic table, but is much more common; about as common as tin.  It's estimated we have about a thousand year supply of Thorium in the US alone.  All current nuclear reactors in this country, at least, are Uranium fission-based reactors.  Comparatively, Thorium reactors:
  • Are safer
  • Produce less radioactive waste, and waste that is easier to provision for
  • Are easier to install, and easier to find a site for
  • Can be smaller and less expensive
  • Are more secure: Thorium can't be used to make a bomb
Unlike conventional light water reactors, cooled by regular water as the name implies, they're cooled by molten fluoride salts (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors - LFTRs).  Molten salt baths are exotic to most folks, but are used in heat treating metals so there's over a century of industrial experience with using them safely.  They are low pressure systems and since there's no steam (no water) a steam explosion is impossible.  As a class, these liquid fluoride reactors are passively safe, which means the system can respond without human intervention.  They can even respond to some things without intervention of any kind at all.  The plant will respond properly even without an active control system.  How?  For example, the molten salt is cooled to keep its temperature at the desired operating point.  As it heats up, the nuclear reactions slow down.  That means an accident caused by loss of cooling is essentially impossible.
Only one reactor has ever been built that could qualify as a reactor representative of the third phase of the plan, and that was the final core of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania. The experiment was called the Light Water Breeder Reactor and involved using thorium/U-233 fuel in a repurposed pressurized water reactor. The experiment was a success and showed that just as much U-233 could be produced as was consumed. 
This experiment was in the early 1960s.  1960s!  So why can't we build one now?  The usual: regulations.  Regulations have changed and no developer is going to bet the money required (a billion?  hundreds of millions?) that a politician's promise is any good.  Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, developing Thorium energy is a major goal in India.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Trump Almost Uses My Platform

A month ago, I rolled out what I think the most important thing we need to hear from a candidate is: deregulate.  I even put the graphic at the top of the right sidebar in an attempt to get people spreading it around.  I want to start a movement to deregulate; to both add sunset provisions to all new laws and get rid of old ones.  Either one is a good first step.

This morning, I heard Trump said something in his “Gettysburg Address” that was almost as good.  Instead of saying, “form committees to go through the CFR throwing out regulations”, he called for, “Eliminating two federal regulations for every one passed.”.  This would be a good start.  I'd rather see elimination of three or four old for every new one - if nothing else, it's good busy work to keep the roaches in DC busy, and not passing more new laws.  That's not happening without a strong national movement, or strong leadership.

If you haven't seen it, The Federalist Papers Project has a good summary of the talk.  It actually sounds pretty good to me.
  • Push a constitutional amendment for term limits for members of Congress.
  • A hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition, exempting military public safety and public health.
  • A permanent Ban on members of the Executive administration from ever becoming political lobbyists.
  • Eliminating two federal regulations for every one passed.
  • Repeal the “Obamacare Disaster” and provide relief to American families.
  • Impose tough tariffs on foreign imports to keep American companies from moving overseas.
  • Immediately open up energy production to jumpstart our economy.
  • Appoint judges who will strictly uphold the Constitution.
  • Immediately begin renegotiating NAFTA to make it a better deal.
Trump also said he would cancel “every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by Barack Obama, cancel funding for sanctuary cities, remove all of the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country. “These are our drug dealers, gang heads, gang members, killers, and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.”
I don't like the idea of “tough tariffs”, because tariffs attract negative attention.  There's more than one way to discourage companies from moving overseas.   Aside from that, I have to say I like that agenda.

Mrs. Graybeard and I were saying to each other that we really seem to take a different view of this process than the vibe we pick up from the nevertrump crowd.  We were watching Dr. Krauthammer, whom I generally respect, talk about how he can't vote for Trump in good conscience so he's going to write in someone.  Both of us look at this as if we're hiring someone to do a job for us not some mystical grand leader on a white horse who's going to rescue us and make everything wonderful.  To use the small business analogy, our little radio shop has gotten too busy for us to manage by ourselves and we've got to hire help.  We've interviewed two applicants for the position.  Neither applicant is ideal in any sense and we really don't like either one, but one is clearly better than the other.  We'd rather have someone better but we only have these two, and we need somebody because we don't have enough hands to do everything ourselves.  All we can do is hire the best one we can and hope they're better than they seem.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Today marked two things.  First, was the rescheduled annual Melbourne Hamfest.  It was originally scheduled for October 7th and 8th, but the 7th was the day Hurricane Matthew came to town.  They were able to reschedule for yesterday and today on remarkably short notice.  The second thing that today marked was that the first cool front of the season came through and the "turn to fall" switch was flipped on.  It was 62 at daybreak this morning, as opposed to 76 on Thursday morning.  The highest temperature I heard today was 76, vs 86 yesterday.  Tomorrow morning is forecast to be 57 with a high of 78.  The skies have been beautiful.

The hamfest was a bit of a disappointment.  I'm sure some or all of that was due to the sudden reschedule.  I wouldn't be surprised at all if the commercial sellers on the flea market circuit already had someplace else set for this weekend and couldn't reschedule.  This is a small town get together, although this year it was the site of the ARRL Florida State Convention.  There was lots of old junk vintage radio gear for sale, but we just doesn't need any more of that.  I found an old wrench and hammer I could use from someone's junk sale.  As long as I don't count the cost of the ticket in the price, it wasn't bad.

The weather sure was nice, though.  The weather made the tailgate area the most pleasant to wander through it has ever been. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Being Impoverished by Too Much Money

It sounds crazy, doesn't it, being made poor by too much money?  But that's exactly what's happening in all of the Western world and Japan; the money being created by the central banks is ruining their economies.

Raúl Ilargi Meijer, a regular contributor to David Stockman’s Contra Corner newsletter, explains that the “entire model our societies have been based on for at least as long as we ourselves have lived is over!”
There is no growth. There hasn’t been any real growth for years. All there is left are empty, hollow, sunshiny S&P 500 stock market numbers propped up with ultra-cheap debt and buybacks, and employment figures that hide untold millions hiding from the labor force. And most of all, there’s debt, public as well as private, that has served to keep an illusion of growth alive and now increasingly no longer can.

These false growth numbers have one purpose only: for the public to keep the incumbent powers-that-be in their plush seats. But they could always ever only pull the curtain of [The Wizard of] Oz over people’s eyes for so long, and it’s no longer so long.

That’s what the ascent of Trump means, and Brexit, Le Pen, and all the others. It’s over. What has driven us for all our lives has lost both its direction and its energy.
The feds provided the economy with an almost unlimited quantity of credit-based funny money through those Quantitative Easing programs (QE, QE2, QE3, Operation Twist and everything else).  The money was phony, but it bought real resources.  Since borrowing didn't cost anything, that led borrowers to not think carefully about how the capital was put to use, and they wasted it - or wasted more of it than normal.  Now, indicators show we're either heading into recession or we're already there.  Corporate defaults are running at their fastest pace since 2009, nine out of 10 households have lost income, and tax receipts for the last quarter fell year over year from 2015.  Adjusted for inflation, real growth in the U.S. economy – as measured by actual tax collections rather than the feds’ phony statistics – is falling.

And it's not just us.  The whole world is slowing.  Lambert Strether of the blog Corrente Wire explains:
I started following shipping… partly because it’s fun but more because shipping is about stuff, and tracking stuff seemed like a far more attractive way of getting a handle on “the economy” than economics statistics, let alone whatever books the Wall Streeters were talking on any given day.

So, what I noticed was decline, and not downward blips followed by rebounds, but decline for months and then a year. Decline in rail, even when you back out coal and grain, and decline in demand for freight cars. Decline in trucking, and decline in the demand for trucks. Air freight wobbly. No Christmas bounce at the Pacific ports.

And now we have the Hanjin [shipping company] debacle – all that capital tied up in stranded ships, though granted only $12 billion or so – and the universal admission that somehow “we” invested w-a-a-a-a-a-y too much money in big ships and boats, implying (I suppose) that we need to ship a lot less stuff than we thought, at least across the oceans.
China is in trouble because if the rest of the world isn't buying what they produce, their income drops.  If you're not exporting stuff, you don't need those ships to move it around.

With the world economies slowing because of the creation of too much cheap money, what are the central banks doing?  Do you really need to ask?  They're creating more cheap money.  Bloomberg reports the biggest central banks are bulking up their balance sheets at the fastest pace since 2011’s European debt crisis.  They're trying to boost the worldwide lackluster economies with asset purchases that are supporting stock and bond prices.

How's this supposed to work?

We had a problem that surfaced about 10 years ago.  The world had too much debt and too much capacity.  It needed the "creative destruction" of the marketplace.  In response, the central banks funded more debt and more capacity.  Remember Joe Biden saying the only way to keep from going bankrupt was to spend more money?   So the feds created fake money to give the economy fake credit… which was used to buy real resources… which were squandered.  Now we have too much debt against declining future output.

That's going to work out just swell.

Look: economies aren't based on greed, they're based on justice.  As Bill Bonner puts it:
An economy is a moral system, after all. It is not a get-rich system. You get what you deserve, not what you want or what you expect.

Over the long run, the economy punishes waste, error, foolishness, impetuousness, laziness, arrogance, and indiscipline.

Americans now are being punished. Gently, so far.

The lash will sting much more later.
A five year plot of the Baltic Dry Index, $BDI, probably the most often quoted indicator of international shipping.  Since the spike at the end of 2014, the market has made lower highs and lower lows.  That's the definition of a market in decline. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Let Me Introduce One of the Scumbags

Allow me to introduce just one scumbag out of the dozen or more in the videos put out by James O'Keefe's Project Veritas.  You've seen the videos elsewhere - or you should.  They are "must see" videos.  Meet Robert Creamer.
I instantly knew the name when I heard it and searched around here for what I wrote about him.  I was unable to find anything, but that doesn't mean I haven't written anything!  I've had difficulty with the search engine tool; I mean there are things I know I've written and can't find them easily.  I'm actually not sure if it's Creamer or Cramer; I've seen it written and heard it pronounced both ways, so I searched it both ways.  This article says that Wikipedia uses Creamer, and I think the preponderance of things I've seen since this story broke uses that spelling.

Getting back to the scumbag at hand, as that article says, he was a visitor at the White House so often he was practically renting a room.  The reason I recognized the name is that he's one of the handful of people "credited" with writing Obamacare long before Obama came to office; even before he started running.  In Creamer's case, he had lots of time on his hands while he was in Federal Prison during 2006 on bank fraud and tax evasion charges.  While on mandated leave from the sort of thuggery in these videos, he thought long and hard about how to destroy our health care system and make us more like Cuba or Venezuela.  In that time, he wrote a book called,  Stand Up Straight! How Progressives Can Win.   It's no secret that his goal was to make everyone dependent on the state; he says it in black letter text.  Stand Up Straight! advanced the notion that the Democratic Party could win a permanent majority in Congress by doing the following:
  • passing a national health care bill, thereby turning more people into wards of an ever-expanding government, and of the party that works to grow government; and
  • giving amnesty to all illegal immigrants, thereby creating, virtually  overnight, a large new constituency of Democratic voters.
Just a raw lust for power over others, camouflaged as concern for SJW causes like "economic justice" and building "a consensus that healthcare is a right".   In reality, he says, “To win, we must not just generate understanding, but emotion — fear, revulsion, anger, disgust.”  If your cause is really just and not just your lust for power, why do you want to leave people in states of fear, revulsion, anger and disgust? 
Many left-wingers say that Creamer’s book has inspired them in their progressive fight to turn America into socialist Europe. Creamer’s work has received support and garnered an endorsement from a surprising source. Or, maybe it is not so surprising after all. Former White House Senior Adviser, David Axelrod, described Creamer’s book as a “blueprint” for future progressive victories. Creamer has stated that in order to impose socialist healthcare on an unwilling nation, it is necessary to deceive the people.
More recently (a year ago) he was linked to helping to sell the Iranian Nuclear deal, and other pieces of leftist doctrine.  Creamer is married to Illinois Democrat (Marxist) congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, so maybe Federal Prison was a way to avoid spending too much time confined with her. 

Officially, Creamer resigned his post (audio autostart warning) after the videos broke, saying “I am unwilling to become a distraction...”.  Of course this is ruling class country, and I'm sure if he's not already picked up by another left-wing group, he will be soon.  A real scumbag. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Rocket Engine Nobody Understands Getting Verified

It's called an EM Drive, where EM is short for electromagnetic.  It's a spacecraft thruster developed by a single inventor, Roger Shawyer, and it's looking poised to revolutionize some aspects of space travel.  Think of 10 weeks travel time to Mars, instead of around 8 months.  Originally, scientists refused to acknowledge it could work because of two glaring, incredible, differences between the EM Engine and conventional engines.

It requires no chemical or nuclear fuel; no propellant at all.  It doesn't use exhaust in an action/reaction system like conventional engines. 

Let me point out it does require fuel in the sense of an electric supply.  It is not a "something for nothing" situation that would immediately be dismissed as a "perpetual motion" machine, violating the laws of thermodynamics.  But electrical power isn't something that's terribly hard to design into spacecraft; designers can use solar cell arrays, or even radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs).   The electrical power is used to run a microwave power source - the same frequency as microwave ovens, 2450 MHz - and the microwave power is dumped into a sealed cavity that's wider at one end than the other.  This generates thrust outside the cavity by some seldom-utilized properties of physics.
The EM drive engine, photo from the UK company, SPR Limited, that appears to be at the center of it all.  It looks like a conventional engine except for two things: there are no obvious fuel pipes on the left, and what would be the exhaust bell on the right is sealed. 

The fact that engine produces thrust is relatively easy to verify, and has been verified by labs that have studied it.  Among the groups studying it, the Chinese Academy of Sciences built a model and verified that at an input power of 2.5kW, their EmDrive thruster provides 720mN of thrust.  (720 milliNewtons isn't much thrust, but in the vacuum of space and running continuously, it can be a small, steady acceleration that can have a big effect).  NASA's paper is set to be released soon.  A paper in the journal Advances in Physics concludes it produces thrust in the same way as any other engine, using the electromagnetic energy in the cavity (referring to the energy as particles, photons, and not waves) . 
We consider the possibility that the exhaust is in a form that has so far escaped both experimental detection and theoretical attention. In the thruster’s cavity microwaves interfere with each other and invariably some photons will also end up co-propagating with opposite phases. At the destructive interference electromagnetic fields cancel. However, the photons themselves do not vanish for nothing but continue in propagation. These photon pairs without net electromagnetic field do not reflect back from the metal walls but escape from the resonator. By this action momentum is lost from the cavity which, according to the conservation of momentum, gives rise to an equal and opposite reaction.
The narrator here is AIP author Arto Annila.  Notice in this summary (from the abstract) there's no mention of how the thrust becomes directional.  Later in the paper, they say the asymmetry of the cavity directs more photons in one direction than other, causing the thrust.  In the original UK Mail article, they include an explanation that invokes a seldom-referred-to effect of general relativity.
Mike McCulloch of Plymouth University came up with a possible explanation based on a new theory of inertia.

McCulloch's suggests inertia arises from an effect predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity called 'Unruh radiation'.

The Unruh radiation effect states that if you're accelerating in a vacuum, empty space will contain a gas of particles at a temperature proportional to the acceleration.

According to McCulloch, inertia is the pressure that the Unruh radiation exerts on an accelerating body.

When the accelerations involved are smaller, such as is the case with the EmDrive, the wavelength of Unruh radiation gets larger.

At extremely small accelerations, the wavelengths become too large to fit in the observable universe.

As a result, inertia may only take on whole-wavelength units over time, causing it to become 'quantized.' This means it can only in some multiple of a unit of measure, causing sudden jumps in acceleration.

But because of the EmDrive's truncated cone, the Unruh radiation in tiny.

The cone allows Unruh radiation of a certain size at the large end but only a smaller wavelength at the other end, according to an in-depth report by MIT.

This means the inertia of photons inside the cavity change as they bounce back and forth. To conserve momentum, they are forced to generate thrust.

This is a really interesting development.  I came across the EMDrive a while back but frankly didn't know what to make of it.  Now that it has been verified to produce thrust by several independent labs and the theoreticians are starting to develop models that explain how it works, things look up for it.  The inventor filed a patent (pdf warning) on an improvement to it, using a superconducting plane in the engine to improve efficiency.  The EMDrive has the potential to completely revolutionize the satellite industry.  Currently, satellites use small thrusters rated around one Newton - about the same size as the thrust EMDrive thrusters can generate.  (SPR says that a thruster like the one the Chinese Academy built, 750 mN, if deployed on the ISS, would easily provide the necessary acceleration to compensate for orbital decay, thus eliminating the need for the reboost/refueling missions.)  Satellites carry fuel which can be the ultimate life determinant for a mission.  The EMDrive can convert that to larger solar panels and microwave transmitter, giving potentially much longer life.  Right now, satellites in the Geostationary Orbit are out of reach of any known way to repair.  What if a satellite could be slowed down by constant light thrust from an EMDrive until it's in low Earth orbit and reachable by technicians on orbit?  Of course, the idea of using that constant low level thrust to speed trips to Mars is rather interesting, too.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Cutting Metal, Test-Fitting Pieces

Time for my (roughly) weekly update on my major project of converting my Grizzly G0704 to CNC control.  This week, I finished all of the metal for the controller box except one piece; the front panel, which I should be able to do tomorrow.  Last week, I showed the back panel with one of the two rectangular cutouts that need to be made.  After that post, I made the other cutout and drilled out the back panel holes for the fan.  It's slow going because this piece is 16" wide, and my Sherline/A2ZCNC system doesn't really travel 16".  I was going to reference everything off the top right corner, but the mill wasn't able to get there.  With this orientation, I could get the last features cut, but to get everything cut I had to use three different orientations: one for the DB-9s, the second for the narrow rectangle, and the last for the fan holes and the bigger rectangle.
This is it, completed, upside down from the position on the panel, but otherwise WYSIWYG.  There's an OOPS on the top rectangular cutout.  That cutout gets the AC input block that was the late addition to the design.  It's bottom, just left of center in this test fit. 
Next up to be made was the mounting bracket to hold the breakout board in position (in that long, narrow cutout on the right, above).   The bracket is just a piece of 1/8" aluminum with a total of six holes drilled in it.  The holes had to be in the right places, but it was the easiest piece I've made in this project.  The bracket, in turn, is screwed to a 2.5 x 1" block of 3/8" aluminum; tapped 6-32 in two places to mount to the bracket and in two places to be fastened to the bottom plate.  This test fit photo shows that hardware on the left, and the AC input block not-exactly pushed into place right of the fan, under the wires.  Nothing here is permanently mounted.  The Breakout Board (BoB) is just sitting on some screws, rather than held on standoffs and fastened in place.  I had to make the 1/4" standoffs, just to keep from having to order them.
As a bonus, no extra charge, I broke off the tap in the last of the four holes, the very last operation of making that little piece of metal, making the hole unusable and threatening the usefulness of the piece.  It includes some heat treated metal, though, so no charge for that!  I don't have any around the house, but the cool way to remove a tap from aluminum is to heat a solution of alum to just about boiling and saturate it, then put the aluminum in the alum solution "for a while".  The steel tap will dissolve away leaving the aluminum.  This has to be done in a ceramic, glass container, or aluminum vessel, otherwise the alum would attack a steel pan just as quickly as a steel tap.  I need to try to find some alum so I can try this. 

I often say that much of my worldview comes from Looney Tunes, so all I know about alum is that when you give it to a character getting ready to eat you, their mouth shrinks up from its astringent action and you can get away.  Or it can be used to shrink an opera singer's head. Who woulda guessed it might save a piece of project I was making?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

An Off Day/Day Off

Day off?  Why would a retired guy need a day off?  First off, it wasn't really planned this way.  Second, despite being retired, I hardly ever sit around and read or watch TV.  Most days I spend several hours in the shop working on some aspect of some project, or on more than one project. Today I had a reset because the power went out at noon (almost exactly) and I try to minimize our power footprint while the backup generator is on.  Power was out until about 2. 

More importantly, there was barbecue to take care of.  We had some old (dated 2015) spare ribs in the freezer along with some month old beef short ribs and decided last night that with the forecast being what it is, we'd smoke all of the ribs today and have leftovers for a few days.  Barbecue is a slow process and it rarely hurts to be lazy about timing, but there are times when you gotta do what you gotta do.  There are recipes for a reason.  The recipes started with getting everything into the smoker by about noon.  It ended up closer to 12:30. 
A rack of pork spare ribs on the left split in two pieces, surrounded by a bunch of beef short ribs.  Mrs. Graybeard (bless her heart) makes the dry rub from jars of spices and then gets all the meat ready, leaving me to just run the smoker, and thinks I'm doing the hard part!  We used the same rub for both beef and pork, and generally use the same basic rub.  Other than the rub, I did the 3-2-1 method that several people talk about on the spare ribs, a six hour recipe cooking by time instead of temperature.   For the short ribs, they just got stuck on the top shelf in the smoker with a temperature probe.  Thankfully, at the end of the ribs' six hours the thick beef rib I was measuring was 195F internal.  (Six hours is short for a barbecue session)  The goal is >190, but you probably don't want to go over 205.  Everything was fall-off-the-bone tender.  One of the beef ribs fell apart while putting it on this tray to bring indoors.    

Aside from that, I did a little work in the shop, but no holes were drilled and no metal changed shape.  Watched a little football.  Browsed through a few of the magazines that are stacked up.  Answered a handful of emails.  Generally took it easy.  Despite it peaking in the mid-80s, it's definitely getting more like fall here.  The forecast for next weekend brings the first cold front of the season through, which means a high near 80 and low closer to 60.  Forecasts of the first cool weather are famously inaccurate, though.  Hope you had a nice relaxing day, too.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

We Were Just Talking About the Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Just the other day.  Today, the US Department of Transportation banned the phones from air travel.  No one will be allowed on a commercial air flight with a Note 7 as of Noon Eastern time today, October 15.
The phone will not be allowed on the plane in any form; passengers cannot have it in carry-on luggage or checked baggage on any flight that goes to or from the United States.

Airlines have not allowed passengers to operate or charge their Note 7 phones for weeks, as many of the smartphone's users reported that the devices were catching fire and, in some cases, exploding. A smoking Galaxy Note 7 forced a Southwest Airlines flight to evacuate earlier this month. A formal recall followed, and Samsung has since discontinued the phone and offered full refunds or exchanges to anyone who still has the Note 7.
Does this make sense?  I don't think it makes much sense.  Here's why:

To begin with, the number I quoted Wednesday of .01% defect rate is based on the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's data (92 bad phones) mixed with some data from around the world (another 20).  That's dated 9/15, a full month ago, and I don't know that anyone really knows the total number.  Additionally, as a comment from reader Able said, other phones might catch fire, too, at an unknown rate.  Every manufacturer uses these lithium-polymer batteries, and every manufacturer is trying to get every minute of battery life out of them they can.  To quote another comment from reader Arthur, "Is Lithium, is not safe". 

I think we can assume an upper limit for how dangerous these phones are by taking the highest number we can assign for the failure rate and multiplying by 10 to 0.1% defect rate.  With 1 million phones out there (CPSC data), that would turn into 1000 bad phones out there somewhere.  How many of those 1000 are likely to be flying on any given day?  One?  Ten?   Wouldn't it be just as practical to find anyone flying with a Note 7 and issue them one of these for the flight?  Those would be pretty good way to contain a phone that's got a battery catching fire.

In the commercial avionics world, boxes are supposed to have lower failure rates than 0.1%, and there are special requirements for non-flammability, non-propagation of a fire, and other things.  Passengers' phones and other electronics aren't commercial avionics and can't be expected to meet those standards.  The same goes for every other phone or item of personal electronics someone takes on a plane.  A 30 cal ammo can is cheap insurance and making it temporarily standard on passenger flights sure makes sense to me.  Several users have posted pictures and video of the supposedly fireproof boxes Samsung is sending out.  It's just four layers of cardboard.  A 30 cal ammo can has got to be better than that. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

New Book Alert

Most of you know of Cody Wilson, the guy who created the Liberator in 2013, the world's first open source gun.  The Liberator and other work in the field has been covered here often.  Defense Distributed, Cody's company, released the Ghost Gunner, a totally open source small CNC machine introduced with the idea of producing open source hardware and software guns.  Like it or not, conventional machining (subtractive manufacturing) with a small metal-cutting mill has an enormous advantage in the materials it can use versus 3D printing (additive manufacturing). The first home-class 3D printer that can print metals like the big boys can will be a global game changer.  Right now, there aren't even any moderate strength alloys available coming out of 3D printers that are priced for the "home user" segment.

I wanted to pass on that Cody has a new book out, "Come and Take It: The Gun Printer's Guide to Thinking Free".  There might have been announcements or a coordinated book buy, but I missed all that.  I caught Cody on Dana Loesch's show on the Blaze, and bought the book Tuesday.  I've only cracked the cover and read the preface, which is on the Amazon page.  An excerpt from that:
...At one of these twilight salons sat Chris Hancock, an old classmate of mine, his tangled black hair brushed from his face. He had brought a friend.

“You remember WikiLeaks!” I insisted to them both. “Do you recall the insurance files?”

“WikiLeaks sends everything they’ve got out to the public in advance. It’s all published and torrented but protected from reading by some long password, right?” Chris answered.

“Exactly,” I said, losing the word on my breath. “And in the event the states move in for some final shutdown, only then do they release the password. The copies were already distributed. The damage sits waiting to be done. Maybe the files had been seeded for months, maybe years. You can’t pull them all down. The threat is credible because everyone has a computer. Every computer is always already on the Internet.”

“Peer-to-peer technology gives you leverage, sure. So, what are you saying?”

“What I’m saying is you can leak more than emails and cables. There are new machines—networked, material printers. They use complex and evolving materials. Into this budding universe of digital production . . . you leak a gun.”

I liked to watch the realization come to people in stages. It had been no different with Chris. Except on this night he made a conceptual leap.

“A Wiki Weapon,” he mused, looking down at the square candle on our table.

And I admit I was a little stunned by the words. Alarmed, even, that the clever coinage was a sign I still didn’t understand the significance of the proposition after these months. They made me jealous too.

Chris’s friend looked at both of us then, his face flushed with the chill of true and unwelcome surprise. And I whispered it:

“We are the heartworms of history.”

The eminent science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law states: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Although 3D printing may seem like magic, it came from very practical beginnings. 

The book goes through the trials Cody has been put through by our anti-freedom government.  The Feds, with their infinite checkbook, have run Cody and Defense Distributed through as much hardship as they could generate, costing him over a million dollars.  The book appears to be an attempt to defray some of those costs.  It details the lengthy battles, invoking ITAR laws to tie their hands behind their backs, and trying to stop them in every way.  I bought the hardback version on the chance that it might be revoked some day and rounding up every copy will be harder than revoking an e-book.  Plus the hard copy has redacted text blacked out, as ordered by the  It adds a certain ... je ne sais quoi ... odor of tyranny to emphasize their actions. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Americans' Biggest Fears

Chapman University is out with their survey of the things Americans fear most.  It makes an interesting read or skim, especially in light of the election.  All the data are here.
Head and shoulders above all the other fears in the list is corruption of government officials.  It gathered almost 50% more responses than the number two, while from number two through 10, it's only a 15% difference.   Government corruption was number 1 last year as well.  With the possible exception of the number three fear, not having enough funds for the future, it's easily arguable that the top five fears are all fear of the government mismanaging the country.  I would say that all five of the top five fears are in the government's lap because if they weren't constantly messing with the economy through the horrible deficit spending and the execrable central banks, it would be much easier to plan for having enough money for the future.  A terrorist attack (numbers two and four) are in the category of defense.  In fact, out of the top ten there are only three that aren't in the government's lap: fear of loved ones dying or getting seriously ill (five and nine) and fear of identity theft. 

So tell me again why voters shouldn't be lining up around the block to dump the establishment?  While you're at it, tell me why the establishment candidate is doing so well in the polls.  Instead of wondering why she's not 50 points ahead, she should be wondering why she's not 50 points behind. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why Does The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Catch Fire?

The problems with Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones, among the most feature-rich phones on the market, spontaneously catching fire have made a lot of news.  The problems first hit the news in August, not long after the phone first hit the market, and my reaction was that it must be some defective batteries or a problem with the charging circuit.   Samsung announced a global recall, so I figured they were on top of the issue.

The thing is, lithium ion batteries catching fire or exploding isn't that unusual.  Li-ion batteries have major advantages over other battery chemistries, so they're literally found in everything.  If it's a run of bad batteries, why aren't other company's phones catching fire?  That implies that it's not really a battery problem, it's a system problem.  Which is to say it's a Samsung problem.

The story is hard to pin down, so I've been bouncing back and forth between engineering sites like EE Times, business sites and those for the technically-inclined consumers, like C/NET.  Samsung, like most companies in this situation, is trying to balance being 100% open and responsive to customers, while not saying things that would discourage new customers and all the while realizing there's nothing they can do to please some customers.  At first, they thought the batteries were being pinched too hard in the slim case of the Note 7, as seen in the bottom video at the C/NET link, (originally posted in mid-September) but that cause seems to have lost some of the blamestorming it was subject to.

The company replaced the returned phones with units thought to be fixed in some way, but as of a couple of days ago, it has been reported that some of these supposedly known-safe units have already caught fire.  Today, the company warned users not to use any phones, even these replacements, and said they were shipping fire resistant glass shipping containers to return the phones.

Unfortunately, there is no clear answer I can give you as to why these particular phones are an issue.  It's being reported that the relevant Samsung engineers are virtually locked into the building until they solve this, and have been unable to reproduce the problem.  Each phone that catches fire tends to gather news coverage, but there really haven't been many.  C/NET says they can account for 112 phones catching fire.  That's less than .01 % of the phones sold.   

I've got to tell you this is a hard kind of problem to fix.  I can also guarantee that the first thing that's going to be found is actually not the cause but a dead end.  The problem is only going to happen once (after that, the phone is destroyed); they'll need to simultaneously test a lot of phones because it only happens to a small percentage of the product, and it doesn't happen immediately.  It's not new phones on their first charging cycle, and the phones were only out a few days before the first fires were reported, so it's not old, worn out batteries.  While one might expect the problem to show up during charging, there are several reports of the phone just catching fire while sitting on a table or desk or something.  I would say it's going to take time to get this resolved.  The best thing they could do would be to find a way to make an infrequent, rare, disastrous failure happen more often. 

EE Times relayed an interesting idea
Attributing an unnamed source who has spoken to Samsung chiefs, the Financial Times reported, “Problems with the phone appeared to have arisen from tweaks to the processor to speed up the rate at which the phone could be charged.”
Samsung's Note 7 comes in two versions, with one using Samsung's own Exynos 8893 processor and another based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor.
That makes me wonder if the way the code executes in those two processors isn't different somehow.  Since Samsung decided to cancel all production of the Note 7; if not killing off the latest model phone then putting it into a medically induced coma, that seems to indicate Samsung is relatively sure the problem isn't simply defective batteries.  It seems that the Korean giant realizes it must look elsewhere — other than batteries — to explain the alarming phenomenon of its smartphones bursting into flames.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 taken apart with the battery being lifted out of its normal position. From IFixit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bits and Pieces

Just a couple of little things, none of them big enough to warrant a post.

Ever drop something, or misplace something, search like crazy and give up only to find that days or weeks later you find it exactly where you were looking?  I've come to think that the act of dropping something somehow creates superposed quantum states or superluminal motion.  I think what's happening is that the dropped object moves forward in time or into a parallel universe and we have to wait for the universe to catch up with it before we can see it.  I don't know why. 

I had a really great example of this, while putting one of my antennas back up after the storm.  This is a dual band vertical antenna by Cushcraft called the MA8040, for the 80 and 40 meter amateur bands.  Much like the electrical design of the antenna, I had planned a simple way to raise and lower the antenna for storms, and Cushcraft offered it as an option.  Imagine two pieces of angle aluminum about 1 1/2 inches on a side on either side of the antenna and a clamp between them to surround a short piece of antenna mounting pole.  Now add a bolt to pivot around at the bottom and another six inches above to lock it in place.  Both of these are stainless bolts 3/8 or 1/2", with insulating spacers on either side to keep the antenna centered.  Pull off the wingnut on the top and the antenna is free to pivot around the bottom bolt and lie down.

I can't recall the last time I took the antenna down, but we didn't have it for the big storms in '04.  When I was putting it back up, one of the wing nuts fell into the dirt immediately below the antenna.  A search followed, but I could never find that wingnut.  Yesterday, while raising the antenna, I looked down and there it was, exactly where it should have been, under the spot it was dropped from, which is the first place I looked.  Back then, I replaced it with a plain galvanized nut, but galvanized on stainless will rust away first and it was already corroded, so I replaced the nut with the one that had been designed for that spot.  It could be the nut went only a matter of hours into the future or it could have been in a parallel universe for years; I'll never know.  I've worked around that spot many times and never seen it.

On Friday morning, while the internet was down and we were waiting for the rain to let up, I spent time working on the details of how to build the back panel and breakout board mounting bracket for the CNC controller box.  Today, I cut one of the new cutouts, then tried to set up to do the next one but failed.  The Sherline just isn't big enough to handle the 16" back panel the way I planned.  While staring at the drawing and trying to figure out another way, I think I see how.  I wasn't able to try it, but I put together a CNC file to cut it.  Tomorrow, I'll continue and see if I can get the back panel finished.
The cutout for the breakout board interconnect. 

Batteries. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

Almost two years ago, I mentioned we'd gotten a deal on one of those very portable car jump starters / battery banks.  Several months ago, I realized I had been leaving it in the car far too often and the Florida heat just isn't a good thing for batteries.  I found that it appears to be rather low in capacity.  Just running the battery down with the builtin flashlight and recharging hasn't helped, so I'm going to go for more desperate measures, and try to hit it with big current surges.  Regularly cycling your storage batteries is a good thing.  I'm also currently doing the same thing to the only NiCd pack I still have around here.    Rechargeable batteries require care and cycling techniques that depend on what kind of batteries they are. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Financial Hurricanes Are Far Worse Than Matthew

I've always thought that hurricanes were a kind of disaster that's easy to live with.  Every place has its natural disasters, and hurricane country seems to me to be a better place to live than tornado alley or earthquake country.  I'm sure there are exceptions, but I've never experienced one, to the idea that hurricanes always give you tons of warning.  I was watching Matthew for at least a week before we had to prepare.  We could have picked up any needed supplies at least that far in advance.  We could have put up our shutters last weekend if we wanted.  By contrast, you know there's a tornado season if you live in tornado country, but you may get five minutes warning.  With earthquakes, you know you're going to get one when things start moving.  With a hurricane, there's no reason to play that common, last minute rush game.  There's no reason to wait until the warning flags are up to go line up for plywood at Home Despot or wait for water at the grocery store; buy that stuff before hurricane season and put it aside.  It's the lazy man's disaster in the sense that there's nothing that absolutely needs to be done by the time they post warnings.  Everything can be done at your leisure in advance. 

The fact is we're not going to get any more warnings than we've already gotten that the western economies are in the path of an approaching financial hurricane.  Metaphorically, the hurricane warning flags are already flying.  There will be no warning siren five minutes before the banks close, you'll just go to use your ATM card to buy gas or groceries and the store won't accept it or it will bounce when they try to process the transaction.  Lots of us have had the experience of going to the gas station and finding we can't use the credit or debit card because "the machines are down".  Ordinarily, you go to the next gas station down the road or wait until the machines start working.  What happens when all of the networks go down; all of the machines go down?  Nothing is available unless you have cash, and then sellers will ask whatever they want to ask.  It will be the start of panic.

Two days before Matthew, people who live along the beach were told there was a mandatory evacuation coming the next day.  Some people left early.  I've heard of ATMs being out of money.  What will happen if everyone hits their bank and they run out of cash?  

You've probably heard a lot about the troubles at Deutsche Bank (example), but they're not the only big bank in trouble.  When the next financial crisis occurs, it will be suddenly and without warning.  It will almost certainly follow the collapse of a big bank like Deutsche Bank, which will be followed by a stock market dive.  Almost no one would understand what caused it. Almost no one would be prepared for it.  No one would know how long it will last.  No one will know what the world will be like when it's over.  It will be worldwide and inescapable.

Janet Yellen and her fellow central bankers would try to reassure us they understand everything, but they don't.  The central banks have blown trillions of dollars into an equity bubble on Wall Street.  Estimates go upwards from $30 Trillion dollars disappearing in a short period, like one week.  But that's not the worst case possibility; if the bond market collapses it could take another $70 trillion with it.  Sure, they can throw a few hundred billion dollars at that, but are they really crazy enough to try to digitize $30 Trillion?  $70 Trillion? It has been speculated that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be the only group left in the world with any money: their Special Drawing Rights (SDRs)  The problem is that SDRs aren't really money: they're more like a promissory note.  They're a claim to currency held by an IMF member nation.  What if they need more money than they can get?  What if they need more money than the GDP of the planet? 

I've beaten this horse for years here: the market is not fine, the economy is not fine, inflation is not the 2% the Fed claims and essentially every statistic you commonly come across is bogus.  The Fed blew the bubble in the stock market and it is going to burst, like all bubbles do.  Nothing has been done to fix the root cause of too much debt in the system, and we're reaching the point where the storm is getting ready to hit. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Perils of SDR&R Ain't Nothing

That is: sex, drugs and rock and roll ain't nothing compared to living with Hillary.  From the emails.

Then again, maybe it's not Hillary.  Maybe Bill has tertiary syphilis.  Or maybe it's that vegan diet he's on.   

Keep an Eye on Italy

For the remainder of this year and into the start of next, keep your eye on Italy as a potential origin for "financial contagion", more likely to be the catalyst for the final breakup of the European Union.

A little background is in order.  Italy has been a focus of efforts to stabilize the EU since the last fiscal crisis.  You remember the term PIIGS, right?  That was the term for Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain, the most financially troubled countries in the EU.  My earliest reference to the term was the first actual post on this blog, so it goes back before February of 2010.

Like most of the Western world, Italy is going through a period of anger with their elected leaders, thinking them a corrupt, venal, criminal ruling class interested only in their own betterment at the expense of taxpayers.  In 2007, Beppe Grillo, an Italian actor and comedian, launched Vaffanculo Day to register that disgust with politics.  Those of us not from areas where Italian is spoken every day are probably not aware that “vaffanculo” is Italian for “f*** you” (you'll also see that interpreted as “f*** off”).

What began as a joke morphed into a political party which took the more publicly acceptable name of the 5 Star Movement or M5S.  M5S then morphed into one of the most popular parties in Italy, winning mayoral elections in Rome and Turin earlier this year.  Italy has had virtually no productive growth since it joined the euro in 1999.  M5S blames Italy’s chronic lack of growth on the euro and it appears a large plurality of Italians agree.
M5S has promised to hold a vote to leave the euro and return to Italy’s old currency, the lira, as soon as they’re in power. Under these circumstances it would probably pass.

Meanwhile, the current pro-EU Italian government of Matteo Renzi is holding a referendum on changing the Italian constitution later this year.
Remember Brexit?  How about calling this iExit?  Leaving the EU and government reform have become the central theme of a referendum coming on December 4th, which CITI bank is calling a bigger risk to the EU than Brexit.  Renzi has offered to take power from the senate because Italians think the senate is a useless, obstructionist debating club.  (Sound familiar?)  Renzi's proposal doesn't seem to be widely popular because Italians also don't seem to trust transferring the power to the Prime Minister.  They have a well-kept memory of a too-powerful executive (can you say Benito Mussolini?). 

If Renzi's constitutional change fails, he has said he'll resign, and this opens the path to Italy leaving the EU. Voting against the current government, though, seems like it's giving them the finger, a real Vaffanculo Day. 

There's more at stake here than just populist politicians and an angry population wanting to tell their leaders to “f*** off ”.  Italy's economy has brought the concept of bank bail-ins back to the population.
Last year, four small Italian banks became insolvent and immediately needed capital. They turned to a bail-in.  
A pair of retirees living off their savings in those banks responded by committing suicide.  The news rocked the nation.  The level of anger at the banks and the government is reaching a boiling point.  (Again, sound familiar?)  It’s hard to imagine that the frustrated Italian populace won’t vote to give the establishment the finger in the referendum and humiliate the pro-EU government.  By that time, our election should be over (barring another Florida-style perpetual recount).  It seems like it has the potential to be a pretty ... interesting couple of months.
Beppe Grillo; originator of V-Day and the M5S party.  Getty Images.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Now That That's Over With

It has been a long day for us.  I only got about 3 hours of sleep last night, after setting an early alarm the day before to get the final preparations done.

The hurricane story in a nutshell is that when I last posted, the forecast was for the storm to come ashore very close to the city I live in, Melbourne, while packing winds of a high Category 3 to Category 4.  I even heard the normally-rational Joe Bastardi of AccuWeather saying (going from memory), "The last measured central pressure in Matthew was 936 millibars.  The definition of a Category 5 hurricane is 926, and the storm is intensifying, so we could be looking at a Category 5 storm at landfall".   None of this is within a light year of being "good news".  All of it was wrong.

On the other hand, there were encouraging words to be found.  The storm seemed to be starting an eyewall replacement cycle, and had two eyewalls; one about 8 miles in diameter and the other closer to 60.  With the center less than 15 hours from the coast, that could lead to a period of weakness that never gets followed by intensification because there just isn't enough time.  There were infrared satellite photos showing the storm had been sucking in dry air, a sure hurricane killer.  Then there was word that the storm was tracking east of the predicted path, putting the worst winds farther offshore.  This comment in the Central Florida Hurricane Center, was posted by a retired professional meteorologist and former Chief Meteorologist for Boeing.
Well I'm thinking no landfall at all. When I briefed EM yesterday I felt that it would stay about 30 miles offshore. I've been plotting all of the recon center fixes since 09Z and they have all been about 15 miles to the east of the forecast track that I used in the briefing - so I sure hope that the trend continues. That would put Matthew about 45 miles offshore east of Melbourne at about 07/1130Z.  [I believe EM here is Emergency Management - SiG] 
Amid all that, I noted the Thursday night forecast from the Melbourne NOAA weather forecast website - the local guys - and made fun of them.  I mailed this to my Daughter in Law (who had been pestering me to evacuate).
Hurricane conditions expected. Showers and possibly a thunderstorm. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. Low around 80. North wind 25 to 30 mph increasing to 45 to 65 mph. Winds could gust as high as 80 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%.

Hurricane conditions expected. Periods of showers and possibly a thunderstorm. Some of the storms could produce gusty winds and heavy rain. High near 83. West southwest wind 45 to 65 mph decreasing to 35 to 40 mph. Winds could gust as high as 80 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%.

"Hurricane conditions expected... Some of the storms could produce heavy rain."  or  "...could produce gusty winds and heavy rain".   Gee... do ya think? 
More to the point of this post, the highest winds they forecast were 65mph, which "could gust as high as 80".  That's not even a category 1 hurricane; gusts don't count.

The local guys and that one comment were right.   I grabbed this screen capture of the Melbourne radar loop at 5 this morning.  This is the closest Matthew came to us.  I could believe that eye center is 45 miles from the coast, about 2 1/2 hours ahead of that 07/1130Z estimate.
I was awakened by intermittent power outages about 2:45 this morning.  I immediately noticed the wind was the worst it had been in the storm, but also noticed it didn't sound remotely as strong as the Category 3 hurricanes we had in '04.  I never really got back to sleep except for a few minutes at a time and got up for good around 4:15.  By that time the power had been out for some time and my backup generator was running outside.  The cable/internet went out around 7AM.  Both regular power and the cable came back around 4:30 this afternoon.  We got outside and started the cleanup process around 2, and except for a couple of small squalls moving through were able to work outside for a couple of hours and get the cleanup accomplished.  Most of the cleanup.  

Hurricanes are a messy pain in the ass.

While I don't think we had any damage whatsoever from the storm, some of my neighbors were not so lucky.  Going either direction out of my front door, there are two trees down within three doors.  In one case, it blew away from the house; in the other it fell across part of the garage.  The local fish wrapper newspaper has plenty of pictures of people (places) that didn't do as well as we did. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Out of Our Hands, Now

Well, the shutters are up, the antennas are down, and everything that can be made safe has been.  We're going to lose our freshly planted tomatoes and winter veggies, but there just isn't much we can do about that.  The hurricane forecasts have had Matthew on top of us since late Tuesday.  We've had occasional hours of good news, from the standpoint of weakening the storm, but the chances of it staying well offshore are long gone. 

I hope it was clear when I said, "I'll decide if I'm putting the shutters up and taking the antennas down in the morning.  That will depend on how stable the track is looking.", that the decision to not put up shutters would be if the track moved away from us.  If the track stayed where it was or ventured closer, the shutters were going up.  Here's a comparison where I tacked the Tuesday night track next to the one they just put up:
That "8AM Fri" location on the bigger plot looks to be directly over my house, as accurately as one can read those things.  As you can see, the Tuesday track kept it offshore for the entire forecast period, while today's map (and, really, Wednesday morning's) show it riding up the coast from here.  The only things that would improve our chances are if it goes very far offshore, which isn't likely, or if it should come ashore earlier and either ride the coast longer, or better yet, move farther inland.  Both of those would serve to weaken the storm.  The morning forecast showed it hugging the coast more, but that went away a few hours later.  Also note that they now think the storm will weaken and loop back for another run at south Florida.  We could conceivably get it twice

Depending on how the next 30 hours progress, it might get spotty around here.  Like I said before, the last time we had hurricanes ('04) our power wasn't out more than 36 hours.  Our power was back on while neighbors literally across the street behind us didn't get theirs back for another day.  Some places were out for weeks.  Those were two category 3 storms, which this might become, if we're lucky.

So wish us luck or send your prayers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

I'm A Little Scattered

A close approximation of my worst case ramblings about Hurricane Matthew appears to be playing out.  We're under hurricane watch with warnings expected in the morning.  I've been hanging back and not doing much in the way of preparing until tomorrow.  I'll decide if I'm putting the shutters up and taking the antennas down in the morning.  That will depend on how stable the track is looking. 

The current forecast has us well covered by the "cone of uncertainty"; we've been covered since the 5PM forecast yesterday.  This is the 10/5 @ 0000 UTC forecast map.  We're now in the white part of the forecast cone, the first 3 days.  Of course the forecast gets more accurate the less they go into the future.  ("It's 8 PM and the storm is right there.  At 8:05 it will be in the same freaking place.")
The bump on the east coast of Florida is Cape Canaveral; I'm south of the tip of the Cape by about 20 miles and about 4 miles from the Atlantic, on the mainland, not the beach island. 

A direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane is scary, especially since almost everything we have that's "hurricane rated" is for 150 MPH winds.  On the other hand, the most likely scenario is that it stays about 50 miles off the coast, and the forecast strength is down a little from the current 140 MPH winds.  If it follows the track in that plot, we should get winds around the definition of hurricane: 75 MPH.

So since I'm waiting around, I've been in the shop!  (What else?)  I ran a test of the DB-9 file I was talking about last night and it still came out bigger than I thought looked good.  It seems my connector is smaller than the size I had the drawing for.  So I reduced the size and tried it again.  Came out fine.  This is it with the too large pattern, and the connector mounted in the right sized cutout.  It's another piece of scrap I had with a few extra holes, but plenty of room to put in the DB-9.  The connector, BTW, comes with different hardware, so these #4 screws are just to test the hole placement.  And hold it for the picture. 
With the connector cutout refined and ready, I went ahead and modified things to put the panel on my Sherline.  I located every connector with a ruler and square, but then went back and moved them to a common spacing.  Since the first two were 2.6" apart, I made them all 2.6" apart (scientific, huh?).  I'd cut one, change to the drill bit to drill out the holes, then "G00 X2.600" (do a rapid movement 2.6" to the right), change the X/Y coordinates to 0,0 and run the file again.  It went pretty rapidly, once I had the steps clear in my mind; each cutout took about four minutes.  And wah-lah:
There's a little glitch in the upper right corner of the left two cutouts.  I missed a a line when I corrected the file to make the cutout smaller.  I fixed it for the right two. 

Depending on how the next few days progress, it might get spotty around here.  Miguel, who is about 200 miles south of me, has checked out already.  Last time we had hurricanes ('04) our power wasn't out more than 36 hours.  Our power was back on while neighbors literally across the street behind us didn't get theirs back for another day.  No guarantees, but we're apparently more prepared than many. I can't understand why anyone would want to spend the day before the storm rushing out to buy lumber, bottled water, or any "storm supplies". 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Shop Update - Drilling Holes, Cutting Panels

In the last week, I made some more progress on the CNC controller box.  The bottom is done and I've been testing cuts that go on the back panel with available scrap.  First the bottom:
The only major part missing when I snapped this is the breakout board, which will go closest to the back (viewer) on the right.  I left a gap in the motor controllers to verify how the fourth will fit when I add it.  I later moved one over so that the empty slot is on the right.  The power supply (shiny box on the left) is held down with #6 hardware through the bottom.  Screw, lock washer and nut.  The three motor controllers are held down with #4 hardware into tapped holes in the bottom.  That was just because of the hardware I had on hand.

The back panel cutouts are hanging on the DB-9 connectors now.  I found a CNC file online that's very easy to use and did a couple of runs of it.  I had to modify it to cut in two passes and slow down the feed rates because of the light duty nature of the Sherline, but it ran with no issues.  The DB-9 outlines came out too big, though.  Here are two cutouts on a piece of scrap aluminum I had lying around.  Turns out they're over 1/8" larger than the connector.  You'd want some room around the connector shell but not that much.  (Ignore the three large round holes.  They're not part of this experiment).  This is also low grade aluminum; soft and gummy.  The chips cling to the edges of the cut and have to be filed away.  I think that's part of why the cutouts look kind of raggedy, too.
I realized that the reason the holes were too large was because the file was using cutter compensation and I hadn't set that up in the software (Mach3).  Cutter compensation is supposed to automatically move the cutter a programmed value (the radius of the cut) inside the cut line and since no entry is interpreted as "0.000", the center of the cutter ran along the lines, not its outer edge.  Which made the cutout too big.  When I added the value, the software gave me an error and wouldn't run.  I reloaded the original file (without my changes) and got the same error, which means the original file is the problem, not my edits.

This led me to decide to just code one up myself. I used a 1/4" EM instead of 1/8" and don't sweep the cutter in arcs in the corners. I just move the cutter from corner to corner and the radius of the cutter creates the curves in the corners.  At least that's the plan.  Do to other goings on around here, I didn't get to try out the code.  I'll run that tomorrow.  I do have to change cutters to drill the 1/8" holes on the ends, but that doesn't really require CNC.  Just change the bit once the work is located. 

As I say every time I post about the project, I work on this some amount virtually every day.  Always trying to learn new things and solve a new puzzle.