Monday, August 29, 2016

Goodbye Gene

Today, it was reported that Gene Wilder passed away yesterday, at age 83, victim of the "complications of Alzheimer's disease".   Gene was one of the great comic actors of our time, and has brought me more smiles and laughs over the years than I can ever recount. 
Wilder's nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said the comedy legend died late Sunday in Stamford, Conn. from complications from Alzheimer's disease, a condition the actor kept private for three years so as not to disappoint fans.
It's hard not to think of the roles he played that became favorites at a time like this.  Headlines referred to his roles in "Young Frankenstein" and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", but the first role I saw him that made me laugh and that's still easy to remember 44 years later, was as Dr. Ross in the otherwise-forgettable 1972 Woody Allen film "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask" (if you're under 50, it was the title of a popular book at the time).  Dr. Ross is a serious doctor of some sort, when a Greek patient comes in to talk about problems he's having with Daisy - his partner.  Dr. Ross eventually asks to meet Daisy, only to find she's a sheep.  He asks to see Daisy alone, falls for her, and the few minutes the movie devotes to this skit traces his descent from pinnacle of the medical profession to bum.   The subtlety Wilder plays this part with is just awesome to watch.  Truly a master of his craft, even at this young age. 
I'm one of "those guys" who pretty much knows the complete dialog of Young Frankenstein, and saw most of his movies.  He was one of those rare talents who could almost carry a movie himself.  Thanks for all the good times, Gene. 


Photo of the Day

I'm not quite sure how to credit it this.  It's from a CNN Story, and appears to be in the twitter feed of someone called @GoldboxATL. 
Delta flight 67, ATL to Las Vegas (LAS), a Boeing 737-900 (that means it's a new model of the 737) getting hit by lightning while queued up in the traffic Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson gets on days like that.  I've personally waited about an hour and a half on the ground in Atlanta for the roughly hour long ride to the Silicon Swamp.  In this case, flight 67 took off around two hours late, but arrived in Lost Wages only about 20 minutes late (I assume they were re-routed more directly).  I'll conclude nothing was damaged on the plane.

The fact that planes get hit by lightning generally tends to really upset passengers, but the designers expect every commercial airliner to get hit by lightning once a year or more, depending on where they fly.  Aircraft that stay in the tropics are expected to get hit more often than those that fly in more northern latitudes, but since you'll never know where a given aircraft is flying, they're all designed to take more strikes.  I have to say that I was surprised as a newbie when I was told that my radios were not only expected to survive a lightning strike to the antenna, they were expected to play through it and not experience a processor reset or anything that cause the crew inconvenience - although there isn't a whole lot that can be done about the static noise hit.  We can do that in the laboratory, where we can make standardized, repeatable lightning strikes, but real lightning doesn't come in standard voltages and currents ("I'll take 5000 Amps, please").  It's always nice to get feedback from the field that things really are working the way they're supposed to. 


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tales From the Over Regulated State # 22 - When Federal Agencies Ignore Federal Law

There was a complex case of Federal overreach in the last month, in which the US Fish and Wildlife Service seized control of 77 Million acres of Alaska to gain Federal control over Alaskan wildlife.  The president of the Sportsmen's Alliance, Evan Heusinkveld, said, “We’re talking about an area larger than 45 of our 50 states”.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and its appointed director, Dan Ashe, have issued new regulations closing 77 million acres of land in Alaska to state wildlife management, including effective predator control and other established means and methods of hunting and trapping.
Historically, control of the wildlife in every state has been left to the states; we buy our hunting and fishing licenses from our state, not the Fed.gov.  It's a recognition that the wildlife doesn't belong to landowners, it belongs to the people closest to it, the state.  In this case, when Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, they were guaranteed ownership and control of game populations by Congress.  No other state is more legally entitled to manage its game populations, including on federal lands within its border, than Alaska.
It is spelled out in multiple laws and agreements, and was debated three times by Congress, ultimately resulting in giving Alaska precedence, including:
  • the Alaska Statehood Act (1959),
  • the Alaska Lands Act (1980) which created most of the 77-million-acres of refuges at the center of this unprecedented power grab, and
  • the Refuge Improvement Act (1997) which also made hunting and fishing priority public uses on all refuge lands
With the vested power of Congress, these acts were clearly approved.
So that's three separate Federal laws the FWS is violating.  You might ask why?  Why now?  It turns out it's the same sordid story as we find everywhere else with this administration: cronyism.  Undue influence by left wing groups; in this case the HSUS - the Humane Society of the United States.  Behind the scenes, the HSUS – the most powerful anti-hunting lobby in the world and a group that despises all forms of hunting and hunters – was thanked by FWS director Ashe in a tweet.


"For ... ALL Americans" except the public's voice has been systematically silenced.  This was pure, banana republic, bureaucratic power grab, backed by the HSUS, an organization the country almost completely disagrees with.  In my mind, I can hear the FWS director Ashe saying,  " So what if we broke three acts of Congress?  We're the Feds!  Who's gonna stop us?  You... punk?".
The stench gets stronger. The rule changes include provisions that abruptly deny American citizens of their collective voice relative to management of the National Wildlife Refuge through the following:
  • Doubling the length of emergency closures of refuge lands from 30 to 60 days
  • Removing requirements for public hearings on such closures
  • Complete elimination of the maximum length of a temporary closure
[emphasis added: SiG]
For the second point, they're saying the public has no voice whatsoever in how their wildlife refuge is managed.  Typical.  As for the third point, if there is no maximum length, then how can it be a temporary closure?  I'm sure you can envision a temporary closure that extends into years or decades just as easily as I can.  When has a federal regulation not been stretched to benefit those in control?
If Ashe and Pacelle were being honest with their Tweets and blogs, they’d say what these rule changes actually were: a successful usurpation of power by the federal government to advance an anti-hunting agenda in the bulwark state for hunters’ rights; an offensive move that will allow them to invade Western states and assume control of large swaths of federal public lands to eliminate hunting, trapping and other management methods with ease. 
Since this a violation of at least those three federal laws, in a sane world, this should be easily defeated.  It does, however, require going to court, which invokes the massive legal expenses that are incurred whenever anyone fights the infinite checkbook of the Fed.gov.  The Sportsmen's Alliance has already filed protests about this ruling.  I don't know if this ruling is a "done deal" or if it's open for comments, but it appears to be a final ruling.  The FWS, like every other federal agency, is required to follow the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946 when they announce new rules.  I've been unable to find anything open for comment on Regulation.Gov, so it appears this may be too late to comment on.  Or they figure that since they just violated three other major federal laws, what's one more?
An Alaskan Grizzly (source



Saturday, August 27, 2016

An End to the Sliming

Tuesday is the Florida primary election, meaning this weekend has been almost back-to-back telephone calls, we've actually had opponents of each other call back-to-back, and the snail mail (like most days for at least the last week) has brought six to 10 large photo postcards.  The primary will bring with it a blessed end to the non-stop, neck-deep slime we've been assaulted by for months. 

This election season has been the most negative, most vitriolic, most slimy primary I can easily recall.  There might have been worse, but it's buried somewhere in the past.  It started early, too.  Our Presidential Preference primary was back in March.  The ballot was simply presidential preference: no other offices were present.  This Tuesday's primary (or for the last two weeks for those who do early voting) is for our local state representatives, senator, judges, school board, and then for US senator and one of the constitutional amendment votes Florida is justifiably infamous for.  For example, have a look at the 2002 pregnant pig amendment story  an amendment to the state constitution to outlaw a practice used by two farmers in the entire state.  That's right: two.

The most vicious races have been for the state senate and representative, with the state senate race being the worst.  With a primary at the end of August, it was a surprise when we started getting attack mailings in early June, aimed at our current representative who's now running for "promotion" to the senate.  There was no mention who the ads were promoting, but they all were from a PAC apparently dedicated to keeping him out of the senate.  He's a two term representative, first winning a seat in 2008, and while he's not what I'd call stellar as conservative/libertarian, he's a "4 out of 5" to me.  Naturally, I assume that a PAC dedicated to destroying a candidate is either funded by, affiliated with, or in other ways connected with his political opponent, so I started looking into who that was. 

The story gets needlessly complicated here (what?  more needlessly complicated than it already is?) with redistricting, the opponent and state rep. actually having been friends (I'd add "at one time"), the state rep's wife and ex-wife getting dragged through the mud, and then doing a commercial to support him, the same three or four politicians running against each other every election, and more.  My "issue" is that I've never seen the volume of glossy photo cards attack mailers (11x14 size postcards) that this race is generating, nor have we gotten the number of junk phones calls as we have this election. 

Long ago, like 35 years or so, I decided that a good rule of thumb was to not vote for the first candidate to sling mud.  Like all "zero tolerance policies" or rules of thumb, it's not right all the time, and should be used with some commonsense, but it's a pretty good indicator.  In this case, the state rep actually comes out on top.  He has released some negative ads about his opponent, but nowhere near the volume of slime she has generated against him. 

Comparatively, the race for the state representative has been a model of decorum.  Two of the four candidates for that race have actually knocked on our door and wanted to meet us - if only to give us another glossy photo card.  That race is marred by a "carpetbagger" - in this case, not a northerner coming to take advantage of us, but someone from south Florida coming to take advantage of us - and a candidate who has been a fixture in Tallahassee government, going from job to job, getting term limited out only to be elected to another, all while being our local model of the GOP Establishment.  The favorite trick is to pass a large amount of taxes, then pass another bill cutting some other taxes so that they can say they cut taxes while the total tax bill has gone up.  We get about a quarter of the junk phone calls for this race.

The candidates all act like there's a template they're filling out.  They all act like if they just say the same handful of buzzwords, or buzz phrases, they win.  This year's buzz phrases include:
  • I'm against Illegal immigration
  • I'm against Common Core
  • I'm pro-Second amendment (having the NRA ratings to back it up adds cred)
  • I'm against supporting illegal immigrants in any way, or doing anything that might benefit them 
Whoever the campaign consultants are this year, they've apparently convinced everyone this is the winning formula because they all say the same things.  Not that there's anything wrong with any of these, but if you're trying to distinguish yourself from other candidates, it's not working. 

I'm looking for the slime to ease up once Tuesday is over with.  Of course, then we transition to the mud slinging for the presidential election in another two months.  I'm going to move the recycling bin right next to the mailbox so that campaign literature can just be directly dumped from the mailbox into the recycling can.
(The famous Indonesian mud volcano has nothing on us).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Is the Stock Market Overvalued?

Is the stock market overpriced?  Are stocks way too expensive?  Or are we looking at another example of Bigger Fool Theory, which can be stated as buyers saying, "I may be a fool for paying this price for this stock, but there will be a bigger fool to sell it to next week for a higher price". 

There are probably as many favorite metrics to track as there are market commentators, but one of the standards is the Price to Earnings ratio, the P/E ratio or even just PER  As the name implies, it's the price paid for a stock vs. the earnings it pays: price per share vs. earnings per share.  The value usually given is the average over the last year.  A Nobel Prize winning economist from Yale, Robert Schiller, came up with a slightly different way of looking at this called the Cyclically Adjusted Price to Earnings Ratio, or CAPE.  Sometimes you'll see it called the Schiller P/E Ratio.  Instead of just looking at the last year, the CAPE ratio factors in the average of the past 10 years of earnings and adjusts for inflation.

In either case, how do you know what a fair P/E or CAPE is?  As always, opinions vary, but this is the process of price discovery: in the ideal market transaction, each party thinks they got a good deal at an agreed upon price.  That's when the information processes in an economy are all working, something that hasn't been the case since the age of fiat money began in full swing when Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold.  Historically, the chart looks like this:
This is the S&P 500 CAPE dating back 134 years.  The median CAPE value for stock trades was 16.0; the upper and lower 25th percentile are clearly marked on the figure (Wikimedia Commons).  It might be interesting to look at a slightly differently annotated and smoothed version of the same data:
This chart appears to go back to 1886 (by eye), so it's 130 years.  In that 130 years, the only three times that the CAPE ratio got as high as it is today, a crash followed.  You'll note that the run-up to the peak in both 1929 and 2000 was quite a bit sharper; that is, a faster increase to the peak than we're having now and the crash came immediately, dropping the CAPE back near to valuations it was at before the run-up and crash.  Comparatively, in the mid 2000s, the CAPE stayed on a high plateau for a few years before the crash happened. The Federal Reserve's massive dumping of money to banks, with at least part of the intent of pumping up stock prices, made the CAPE go back to the same valuations by 2015 as in the (roughly, again by eye) 2003 to 2008 period.  It really seems quite phenomenally stupid, spending trillions to restore a CAPE that is historically nowhere near the median.  You would think they'd try to drive the prices of stocks closer to the median CAPE values.   

As with all other indicators, there's debate over how good the CAPE is.  That's good.  From my viewpoint, any market near its all time high nominal prices (that is, not inflation-adjusted prices) is overpriced.  I think a drop of a couple of thousand points is more likely than a rise of a couple of thousand.  A drop of a few thousand points would be a buying opportunity. 

Are we headed for another crash?  Could be.  The CAPE valuation argues we are.  Not the shape of the curve, just the number being over 25.  The value says nothing about the timing.  Since the 1929 and 2000 crashes had massive, sharp peaks that immediately preceded crashes, perhaps this time our slower climb to the current value really is different and it doesn't mean another crash.  In that case, the New Normal is that stocks are quite a bit more expensive than they used to be.  From 1881 until 1996, 115 years, CAPE ratios hardly ever went above 20, and only once went as far as about 28.  Since 1996, CAPE ratios have almost never gone below 20, have hit 45 and spent a lot of time above 25.  It's a different world.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Taurus Rumblings

Just over a year ago, last August 19th, I posted a story about the Gen 1 Taurus Millennium series pistols and a legal settlement over allegations that, among other things, the guns would fire with the safety engaged.  I talked about my own PT-145 compact 45 being involved.  I pointed out it was not officially a recall, but they had agreed to look at, fix or replace all guns turned in.
I did the online customer service chat with them and inadvertently referred to this as a recall, asking how I could tell if my model was affected by the recall.  I was informed there was no recall, but they would look it over to make sure it was OK.  They emailed me a FedEx mailer to return it.  If they're offering to take a look at it, I'm game.
There was some talk about "like heck if I'm sending a perfectly good gun back", but I went ahead and sent mine.  In November, I posted this.
Around the end of October, the 8 weeks were up and I checked online to see the status.  They said it had been repaired, but had not been shipped.  This was a Sunday night (probably 11/1) so I figured I'd have it soon.  After another couple of weeks, I checked the status and it said the same thing, so I used the online chat feature to ask about it.

I was told they're going to replace my PT-145 with a new pistol of my choice, out of a few models they offered me.  Of course, this has to go to an FFL and I need to set up a few things, but they offered me a choice between the PT845 or 24/7 45 g2/or 24/7 45 Compact.  Since my original was most like the 24/7 Compact, I'll probably get one of these.  They're saying "4-6 months" which I'm assuming means I'll get the replacement next August - 9 months from now and a full year from sending the gun away. 
They told me to set it up with my local Taurus dealer/FFL, which I did.  Of course, it's now August and over a full year since I first contacted them, and (need I say?) no replacement Taurus.  Yesterday I contacted them again, and it seems we went backwards.  My conversation went this way.
(Taurus Rep)  At this point, all replacements are on hold until the repairs are completed. We in the process of having the firearm go through inspection. If the firearms needs a repair, it will be repaired and returned to you. If the firearm cannot be repaired, only then will the firearm be replaced.

(Me)  I was told it was going to be replaced last November. I was told to choose from a few models and have my Taurus dealer contact you. All that was done.

(Taurus Rep)  At this point, all replacements are on hold until the repairs are completed. We in the process of having the firearm go through inspection. If the firearms needs a repair, it will be repaired and returned to you. If the firearm cannot be repaired, only then will the firearm be replaced.
Note that her second response is another paste of the same text.  Finally she gave me this tidbit:
[SiG] your firearm is a part of a class action settlement. All information related to the matter can be found at www.tauruscartersettlement.com. A Third Party Administrator has set up this site , and can handle inquires. Please visit the website. You can fill out the contact us form or call the number on the website for further assistance.
https://www.tauruscartersettlement.com/ 
This website, in turn, says everything is on hold due to some sort of appeal to the class action lawsuit.  It seems that once the delay due to the appeal is over, there will be two choices
  • Settlement Payment Option – Settlement Class Members may elect to return their Class Pistol to the Taurus Companies and receive a payment of up to $200 per Class Pistol.  
  • Enhanced Warranty – The Taurus Companies agree to modify their existing warranty for all Class Pistols to allow any owner to submit a warranty claim at any time.
    • The Class Pistol will be inspected by the Taurus Companies at no cost and repaired or replaced with no requirement that you prove the pistol is defective.
There are more details but the important point is that there is no fix for this.  The owner's choice is either get their gun replaced or take $200 for it; which is probably quite bit less than they paid for it.  Should they develop a fix, they'll fix the guns and we'll get our old guns back.  I would guess that considering they've been working on this problem for well over a year, if they don't have a fix by now, they probably won't come up with one.  There doesn't appear to be any way to know if the cash is faster than the replacement, so it's definitely not "take $200 now, or wait another six months for your gun".   
As I said to the customer service rep, "so here we are a year later, and you tell me there's no fix and no schedule for when there will be one?"  Her answer, of course, was to refer me to the settlement web site.  I can understand that their assembly line may be set up to do some number of guns per month, and this may have put a burden of another 25 or 50% on them, but it's a short term problem.  Hire some contract workers, pay some overtime, do something to get over the rush.   Frankly, I'm more than a bit sick of it.  I consider that Taurus gone and unrecoverable, but I have to keep pushing this rope until I get a real answer. 
Considering the meaning of "Taurus", this seems appropriate. 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Techy Tuesday - How Do You Build Those Things, Anyway?

Semiconductors, that is.  Everyone knows the world is awash in electronics, from things like iPods to Fitbits, and really far more than one could ever list.  I'd hazard a guess that few people except those in the business have an idea how the integrated circuits in these things are made.  This is a topic that could fill a good-sized series of these posts, but tonight I want to focus on an improvement to the processing of raw semiconductors into integrated circuits (ICs) just announced.

To begin with, most of what you're familiar with is made from elemental Silicon.  It starts out as the most pure substance known to man, but pure (intrinsic) silicon isn't very useful by itself.  It's rather resistive, which is why Silicon is called a semiconductor - it's not a very good wire.  What makes Silicon useful is that tiny amounts of alloying elements are added to it ("doping"), producing either too many electrons in a given volume (N-type material) or too few electrons in a volume (P-type - also said to have "holes", places in the electron cloud that should have an electron but don't).  This ability to customize the conductivity of Silicon is why it's so useful and why this has become the silicon age.   

Over the last 30 years or so, new materials have been developed that offer improvements in performance over silicon transistors.  The III-V (three five) materials were among the first to market.  III-V materials typically give higher electron mobility, a characteristic of their atomic structure, and are often used in High Frequency and microwave applications.  Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) was the first commercial success, and the current industry darling Gallium Nitride (GaN - pronounced with a short "a", like in can).  Another material that has a lot of interest is Silicon Carbide, SiC.  SiC doesn't achieve the high frequency performance of GaAs or GaN, but it has excellent high temperature performance because the compound has very high thermal conductivity.  This makes it a natural for parts intended for car engines, at the end of well-drilling rigs, and other places where the temperatures exceed the 150C or so that Silicon will tolerate.

There's just one problem with SiC: it's very hard.  In mineral terms, it's between sapphire's Mohs hardness of 9 and diamond at 10.  So if one has a crystal of SiC, how does one cut that thing into wafers for further processing?  Any rockhound, tombstone, or granite countertop maker would recognize the current method: a saw made of thin wires carrying a slurry of diamond grit, kind of a hi-tech bread slicer, cuts the wafers free.   
As you can see by the picture, this is a time consuming process.  I find it remarkable that over the diameter of the crystal being cut (4 to 6" is common for SiC), the wire only wanders enough to cause a surface roughness of 50 millionths of a meter.  Which has to be ground away in that final step. 

The big innovation is that Japanese ingot processing equipment manufacturer DISCO Corporation has come up with a laser-based technique to slice wafers out of the SiC ingot, producing 50% more wafers through reduced material losses while slashing production times by a factor of six.
Dubbed KABRA (for Key Amorphous-Black Repetitive Absorption), the patent-pending process uses a focused laser to form an amorphous layer of SiC decomposed into its constituents silicon (Si) and carbon (C), which becomes the base point for separating the wafer through cleavage.
They save material because the diameter of the wire and the diamond grit combine to lose about 200µm per wafer of SiC.  The diamond is focused below the surface of the crystal, turning the point it scans into separate silicon and carbon atoms; the wafer is cleaved off resulting in half the loss of the SiC.
With half the loss of the diamond wire saw method, this has to drop the costs of SiC components.  Add to that the lowered cost of processing by taking 1/6 the time of the previous method, and SiC parts are about to get quite a bit cheaper. 

I debated doing this story because it's rather deep into the weeds for those of you who aren't even tangentially associated with the business, but I love this sort of story.  We have a problem - if we can get enough production on SiC transistors, we can make a butt load of money - so we get a bunch of clever folks together and say, "make it better".   It's what engineers do, and it's why this is the most dynamic industry in the world.

Oh.. By the way.  The people among the farthest from the semiconductor business know silicon carbide now, but don't know it.  It's sold as the diamond simulant Moissanite.  Exactly how they produce those clear, white crystals to cut into imitation diamonds when the chemically pure semiconductor is that off-yellow color is their trade secret. 


Monday, August 22, 2016

Shoehorns and Shop Machines

When I last updated the progress on my CNC conversion, I had completed the wooden chip tray, although I hadn't painted it. The paint came Tuesday, and I eventually got three coats of paint on the inside and two on the outside.  What I've been doing since Tuesday, instead of cutting metal, is 3D modeling on the computer.  I want to be sure things are going to fit before I start moving 300 pound machines around.  I am well past my years of looking at 300 pound machines and boasting, "I can carry two of them and drink a beer".

I was able to model the G0704 with the plywood chip tray in place.
While a "realistic" model isn't really needed - details like the red "STOP" button on the motor speed controller take tiny amounts of effort but aren't necessary - the size of the base is critically important, as is the size of the tray. 

Next I pulled out my floor plan layout that I originally created in '14 when the shop was being built, and then added to and tweaked as things were done.  The chip tray is 5'4" in the long direction, and 3' across.  I'd like two feet on each end, making 9'4" of floor space.  There's 6'8" between other stuff and the back wall.  Can't fit 9'4" with a shoehorn.   There's really not even enough room to put 2' of room on one end and the other against a wall, but that's a bad idea anyway.  Certainly while I'm building it (in place) and then while it's running, it's possible I'll need to get anywhere around it, and if I have to work on some side for a long period of time, I want a small chair (which is where my two foot border comes from). 

So now comes moving things around in the software to try and get everything to fit better.  In this corner of my shop I have the G0704, and my Little Machine Shop 3450 lathe.  I'm not sure it's possible to work on both the mill and the lathe without popping a breaker (maybe with light cuts on both machines), but I do want to be able to easily move from one to the other.  I needed to do a model of a chair I could move around and get a feel for how it fits, so I went searching for a free 3D model of a chair and found one I could modify.  Which was good because I don't know if it was the original or the translation into Rhino, but it came into Rhino being 65 meters across the seat!  (Obligatory, "even Moochell's butt doesn't need 65 meters").

I ended up making several copies in different modifications of the chair to get a feel for how much room there really is.  I think this layout will work. 
The bad part is that both heavy machines have to move.  I can't just put the mill in place without touching the lathe.  I have a shop crane to lift the heavy things, but it makes the job bigger.  A heavy duty extension cord or two may be needed. 

The large gold/mustard colored rectangle to the right of the mill is the LMS lathe set up with operator's position on the left looking right and its headstock on the left.  As positioned right now, it could handle a rifle barrel 34 or 36" long.  To the lathe's right is a set of bookshelves in front for manuals and catalogs, a rolling cabinet and more benches behind them.  To the left and in front of the mill is where my Sherline micro CNC stuff is.  You might notice nothing has the level of detail the mill and chairs do, although the bookshelves are close. 


Sunday, August 21, 2016

One Year From Today, August 21, 2017

I've been sitting on this post for a long time.  One year from today, Monday August 21, 2017 comes the best chance most of us will have to see a total solar eclipse, one of my top bucket list items since I was a teenager.
This screen capture shows the path of totality, with the centerline being the peak of the eclipse.  The two highlight boxes show that the eclipse geometry favors the SW corner of Kentucky and SE Missouri, giving those places the longest duration of totality and greatest eclipse (" the instant when the axis of the Moon's shadow cone passes closest to Earth's center"), but if you go to this interactive web site, you can get numbers for anywhere on that path.  Few people are fortunate enough to live on the path of totality of a total solar eclipse, but this one goes through fairly well-populated areas of the southeast, hitting Charleston, SC; Nashville, TN; SW St. Louis, MO; Columbia, MO; and Kansas City, MO.  The path of totality is also within an easy drive of Atlanta and a ton of other cities.

The better question is where's the best place to see it?  By that I mean, that combination of view to the horizons and weather, which is the most important of all.  The Greatest Duration and Greatest Eclipse points are at 1821 and 1825 UTC, respectively, and that's 1:21 PM (MO) and 1:25 PM (KY), both CDT, the local times.  If you're from that area, what's the weather like at that time of day in late August?  Around here, there's probably an increased chance of clouds and showers compared to earlier in the day.  I'd guess storms might be brewing that time of day there, too. 

The path, however goes across the entire lower 48; the shadow of the moon enters the  US near Depoe Bay, southwest of Salem Oregon, and proceeds easterly, leaving the mainland near Bulls Bay, SC, NE of Charleston.  For example it crosses virtually over Jackson Wyoming at 1736 UTC, where it's 11:36 AM local time (UTC -6 for MDT).  I would guess the weather would be better in Jackson Hole, than in SW Kentucky, but I don't know that.  Note that even as far away as it is from the point of greatest duration (2 min 40.2 sec), the duration in Jackson Wyoming is 2 min 16.6 sec, not a bad compromise if the weather is likely to be much better.  In general, the closer to the centerline on the map you get, the greater the duration, but you must be between the blue lines on the map to see totality.  A viewer in Nashville, off the centerline, sees 1 min 53 seconds of totality instead of the 2 min 40 on the centerline.  Within a few miles SW of Nashville, that goes to zero as the eclipse becomes partial.

If you have the freedom to move around to find the best weather based on last minute forecasts, plan to follow the centerline as much as you can, and go east/west as necessary. 


EDIT 8/21 at 0200 UTC:  Thanks to commenter Roy who pointed out SW Kentucky is also CDT, I revised the times to 1:21 and 1:25 CDT.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

OK, I'm Really Late to this Party

Several weeks ago, Borepatch and several of the smaht folks did that "I Side With" test to identify the candidate we align most closely with.  I did that at the time, but never posted about it for some reason or other.  I was a bit surprised to find I was closest to the Constitution Party - I didn't know they had a candidate, or, frankly that they even existed. 
Note my amazing similarity to Hilldebeest.  I've always thought if she told me the sun was rising in the east, I'd look west first.  This proves it. 


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Star Trek Future and Getting There From Here

Science fiction has regularly depicted a world where the robots were ubiquitous and ... somehow ... society had evolved.  Remember in Star Trek, they somehow were beyond money; in a society that had gone beyond scarcity?  They were officers in a space-going Navy, but never talked about getting paid?  When they wanted something, they told the replicator to make it for them.  But nobody in that universe ever depicted the world between ours and theirs, where the robots were displacing workers and society had to be funded more and more by fewer and fewer people.  Replicators are cool, but unlike warp engines, I'm not even aware of any research leading to them; the mathematics of special relativity that give us the incredibly large amounts of energy when we turn some matter into energy needs to run backwards in a replicator.  It would take the energy of multiple hydrogen bombs to "freeze out" the matter in a few drops of water. 

Consider the Star Wars universe.  It was a universe where robots were everywhere.  Parts to build intelligent robots were so common that a kid on a desert planet could build his own.  What place is there for humans?  In the Force Awakens, we see the heroine, Rey, scavenging parts from derelict ships and wreckage for money from a scrap merchant, giving the impression humans do the jobs that are beneath the ubiquitous androids.  If that scrap were valuable, wouldn't they send robots to strip the wreckage?  In this universe, humans are still needed for work, despite sufficient Artificial Intelligence that 'droids are free to move at will in society.  How is that even possible? 
(Star Wars: The Force Awakens scene, with Rey selling scrap to Unkur - source.)

All of that is to lead into an article I'd like to recommend folks read.  It's not academic or remote from our current situation at all; it examines the stresses in a society where the few who still have the desk make a good living as we transition to a society where the robots do all the work and humans are reduced to a minor side role.  The article is "The Omen of Lost Shirts", and it's on LinkedIn - a place I hardly ever read.  H/T to 90 Miles from Tyranny. The author, a mechanical engineer/ PE, writes:
... I’d like to lead in with the following quote from an on-line political newsletter I stumbled upon:
Destroy people’s hopes for a better life and you make riot, revolution, anarchy, and war inevitable.
Think about that quote in the context of these three articles, Drop in real wages longest for 50 years, says ONS, Shocking data revision by feds: Americans’ wages dropped 4.2% instead of rising in the first quarter, and Working 60 Hours A Week At 3 Part-Time Jobs And Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck among a legion of similar pieces over the last few years.  And then consider this, specifically that “Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency.”  And this quote about the AI/robot jobpocalypse (bolding added):
Harari calls it “the rise of the useless class” and ranks it as one of the most dire threats of the 21st century. In a nutshell, as artificial intelligence gets smarter, more humans are pushed out of the job market. No one knows what to study at college, because no one knows what skills learned at 20 will be relevant at 40. Before you know it, billions of people are useless, not through chance but by definition.
"The Omen of Lost Shirts" refers to an incident that happened in France last October.  Two officials of Air France, one of them an deputy director of HR, were running a meeting about layoffs.  Some 3000 union protestors were present, and some of them rushed the two executives.  One had his jacket and shirt shredded, presumably by grabbing and pulling, while the other had his shirt ripped off from under his jacket.  Both were eventually able to flee under police protection.  

The author spends time talking about H1B visas and the shenanigans going on with them, which I've written about, as well as the incident I also covered in which SEIU protestors went to a bankers house to "make it personal", invading the porch space and physically threatening the child left in the home. 

It's safe to say you and I are not the only ones expecting a bull market in pitchforks, and torches, because this just can't go on and continue to escalate.  Someone is going to catch a load of 00 buckshot in their face and you know the old saying, "it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye everything from the neck up".   

It's a longish article, but the smartest thing I've read in weeks.  Do go RTWT.  I don't know that any society can navigate the road from our current economics to the shiny, optimistic Star Trek future.  At some point, it seems that 10% of society will be working while paying 90% taxes for that privilege, and I don't think any society can work with those numbers.  The alternative is a dystopian future more like Blade Runner. 
(the dystopian El Lay of Blade Runner)


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Video of the Day

It's hard to explain how I got here, but if you ever wondered how Luke Skywalker, a farm boy with no combat experience and a complete newcomer to the X-Wing fighter, could succeed in taking out the trillion dollar, planet-destroying Death Star while all the experienced pilots around him died, you should watch this (I'm unable to embed).  Was the destruction of the Death Star an inside job?

Hat tip to the original source, Religio-Political Talk (RPT), an anti-conspiracy theory website.  Linked from a discussion about chem trails at WUWT.
(Father and son)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hipster Goes Camping in $145,000 Tesla

This was originally going to be a story put together by linking to Bloomberg.com, the business news folks.  Then I found they didn't want play nice and let me copy any of their text, and that got me thinking.  I said, "eff it anyway, why the hell should I send even one pair of eyes to Michael Freaking Bloomberg's site"?  I mean the guy's the most reliable fascist prick in American politics, he hates my guts as a gun owner, so why should help him even if it's a billionth of penny? 

So I found other sources carrying the same story, and linking to Bloomberg.  You're an adult; if you feel like going to Bloomberg's site, go ahead, but I'll skip that. 

I'm not sure if said hipster hasn't gone camping before or just hasn't taken his big bucks Tesla, but there's an interesting aspect to this story.  The Tesla Model S has a mode that users informally call "camper mode".  It configures the car in a low current consumption mode, allowing you to sleep in the back with the air conditioner on (although it appears to leave the running lights on).  It seems it would be most comfortable if you're under 5'6"; if you're bigger you'll have to sleep on your side with your knees bent.  Assuming you're in a campground, you'll be the quietest air conditioned camper in the place. 
Because an electric car is silent when not moving, noise isn’t a problem and ventilation needn’t be an issue either. Assuming your battery won’t run down too far, you can set the climate control system temperature, fan, and filtration to your preferred levels. In Tom Randall’s test night, he found that the battery charge decreased from 40 percent to 33 percent. That still left him with a 90-mile driving range for the Model S configuration he was sleep testing.
It's not as easy as pulling into a campground and flipping a switch, but you can get there. There are online forums, tutorials, and an enthusiastic community.  There's even supposed to be an independent (that is, not Tesla-official) phone app that you can use to put your car in camper mode.

Growing up in Florida, I think of camping weather as November through March or April.  This time of year is too unpleasant, but I never had a camper with air conditioning.  I could see how having AC would extend my camping to other times of year.  Not that a Tesla is even remotely in my future! 
(From the Daily Mail - and a completely different, non-camping story.  Just so you see we're not talking luxury accommodations here.)


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Techy Tuesday - About That 54.5 MPG CAFE Standard...

Yeah, the one mandated to be met by 2025 when it was put in place in 2012.  That one.  Yeah... it seems it was based on some assumptions that the world refused to go along with, and now the automakers are grumbling about not being able to meet it, and talking about trying to get the mandate knocked back a bit.

The EPA is having no part of any talk about lowering the mandated CAFE mileage.
During a speech Tuesday at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars, Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, made it clear the agency is in no mood to move backwards.

The EPA is already looking beyond 2025 and believes dangerous climate changes will occur if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced 80 percent by 2050 from today’s levels.
Which, according to everything I've been able to determine, would mean exactly nothing to global temperature - any change would be within the massive experimental errors in the system.  Which agrees with what at least one prominent "climate crusader" accidentally said on record once (about 35 seconds to 1 minute).  But let me ignore that for now. 

The problem the auto makers is facing comes from precisely defining the Corporate Average Fleet Economy (the CAFE).  Cars are treated differently than trucks, and one of the reasons for the explosion of SUVs is that they are counted as trucks, while station wagons were counted as cars.  Not many station wagons are being made these days.  There is great legal wrangling and fighting over how to classify any given vehicle because not every vehicle has a prayer of hitting that kind of mileage.  The problem is that the projected fleet makeup for 2025 was based on the oil prices in 2010 to 2012, which were before fracking revolutionized US energy production and drove oil prices down.  Low gas prices have precipitated a strong consumer shift from cars to light-duty trucks and SUVs; American consumers love their larger, more capable vehicles. The shift to more trucks makes it more difficult for the industry to meet the government’s 2025 gas mileage target.
"They didn’t accurately judge the mix of vehicles,” noted Chris Robinson, research associate for Lux Research. “The government was thinking it would be 65% cars and 35% pick-ups and SUVs. They basically had it backwards.”
In this case, the brutality of CAFE is that the average has to be >54.5.  If you're selling 65% trucks to 35% cars, the cars have to be far above 54.5 MPG to bring the average of the trucks up that.  The trucks need to be pretty darned good, too. 

It's a game of Chicken!  Who backs down first?  The EPA has the infinite checkbook of the Fed.Gov and no apparent sense of cost/benefit ratios; they see a target and they seem to have no sense of the costs involved.  Sort of saying, "whatever it costs to raise the fleet average to 54.5 MPG is worth it".  Bailouts aside, the auto makers don't have that infinite checkbook and are more bounded by reality.  How much will someone pay for increased mileage in their car or truck, especially since we're well on the curve of diminishing returns.  “If you have a truck that gets 10 mpg and you take it to 20, then the customer gets a big fuel-cost benefit,” Cole said. “But if you take it from 35 to 40 mpg, then the customer’s fuel savings grow smaller and smaller. And it may not be enough to offset the cost of the new fuel-saving technology.”  While the EPA estimates it will cost $1000 on average to get to the higher mileage, the industry is saying closer to $5000.  While both sides have an incentive to stretch those numbers a bit, I trust industry over the EPA any day.  They have to work with those costs, and ought to be more accurate than EPA spreadsheet jockeys. 

So why talk about this now?  This is preliminary wrangling going on for an interim ruling the EPA has to make by April 1, 2018.  Analysts say fuel prices will probably be the key to the EPA’s conclusion.  As fuel prices go, they say, so go the buying decisions of the American consumer.  Whether or not that means anything to the tyrants in the EPA is really what remains to be seen. 
“Ultimately, no one can control the type of vehicles that consumers choose,” Robinson told us. “The government can’t do it, and neither can the automakers.”
GM is counting on electric vehicles like its Chevy Bolt to push its CAFE numbers high enough.  They need to sell a butt load of these.  (Source)

Monday, August 15, 2016

How the Tea Party Was Killed Off

Remember the Tea Party?  They were a political force to be reckoned with in the 2010 elections, but by the 2012 elections had been rendered ineffective.  It turns out it wasn't a natural occurrence and it certainly wasn't that they ran out of things to do.  At least according to this operative, who says he was involved, the tea party was killed off; murdered.   What killed them was the very corruption and cronyism they rose up to fight. 
What began as an organic, policy-driven grass-roots movement was drained of its vitality and resources by national political action committees that dunned the movement’s true believers endlessly for money to support its candidates and causes. The PACs used that money first to enrich themselves and their vendors and then deployed most of the rest to search for more “prospects.” In Tea Party world, that meant mostly older, technologically unsavvy people willing to divulge personal information through “petitions”—which only made them prey to further attempts to lighten their wallets for what they believed was a good cause.
The tea party actually started to rise during the last years of the W; so it absolutely didn't start as reaction to Obama (the reflexive reaction of the media and the left was, of course, to call the tea party racist).  Instead, the impetus was a reaction to the profligate spending along with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  When Obama swept into office, of course, both of those things continued.  Add in the passing of Obamacare, the only major social program in history to be voted in by one party, and the lies that went along with it ("if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor", "we have to pass the bill to see what's in it" and more), anger at Washington exploded.  Tea party rallies started happening.

As Peggy Noonan noted in 2010, the tea party wasn't a wing of the Republican party, as the left wing media thought, so much as a critique of it.  The tea party wasn't a national organization and it originally had little or nothing to do with the idea we saw widely displayed on signs, "Taxed Enough Already".  It was an organic uprising; a leaderless system, or starfish organization as they're called. 
Republicans inside the Beltway reacted to the burgeoning Tea Party with glee but uncertainty about how to channel the grass-roots energy usually reserved for the left. A small group of supposedly conservative lawyers and consultants saw something different: dollar signs. The PACs found anger at the Republican Party sells very well. The campaigns they ran would be headlined “Boot John Boehner," or “Drop a Truth Bomb on Kevin McCarthy.” And after Boehner was in fact booted and McCarthy bombed in his bid to succeed him, it was naturally time to “Fire Paul Ryan." The selling is always urgent: “Stop what you’re doing” “This can’t wait.” One active solicitor is the Tea Party Leadership Fund, which received $6.7 million from 2013 to mid-2015, overwhelmingly from small donors. A typical solicitation from the TPLF read: “Your immediate contribution could be the most important financial investment you will make to help return America to greatness.” But, according to an investigation by POLITICO, 87 percent of that “investment” went to overhead; only $910,000 of the $6.7 million raised was used to support political candidates.
I don't think I get many uninformed readers here, but they should know that as a rule in life, when someone talks to you with the urgency seen in those examples ("stop what you're doing"... "this can't wait"), you're being hustled.  Walk away or ignore it.  It's like the slimy car salesman who hits you with, "what can I do to get you into this car today?".  

Personally, I've always been suspicious of the Tea Party Patriots and a few other groups that put themselves forward as leaders of the leaderless organization. 
Today, the Tea Party movement is dead, and Trump has co-opted the remnants. What was left of the Tea Party split for a while between Trump and, while he was still in the race, Ted Cruz, who was backed by Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. In 2014, the Tea Party Patriots group spent just 10 percent of the $14.4 million it collected actually supporting candidates, with the rest going to consultants and vendors and Martin’s hefty salary of $15,000 per month; in all, she makes an estimated $450,000 a year from her Tea Party-related ventures.
Folks, have you ever heard of Charity Navigator?   No, they don't - can't - have a file on every group that's going to ask you for money, but it's a good place to start.  I Will Never Give a Dime to an organization that puts 10% of what it collects into its nominal purpose.  That's even worse than the 13% cited in the first quote by POLITICO.  Another good place to go is OpenSecrets.org.  You can view a group’s track record in minutes. How much goes toward candidate contributions or so-called independent expenditures, which are supposed to be spent on the candidate (though even those can be thinly veiled solicitations if the "ask" or landing page directs to the PAC and not the candidate).

I'm not going to cite the whole article, you should definitely read the whole thing, but I will leave you with the author's summary of what happened.
But any insurgent movement needs oxygen in the form of victories or other measured progress in order to sustain itself and grow. By sapping the Tea Party’s resources and energy, the PACs thwarted any hope of building the movement. Every dollar swallowed up in PAC overhead or vendor fees was a dollar that did not go to federal Tea Party candidates in crucial primaries or general elections. This allowed the GOP to easily defeat or ignore them (with some rare exceptions). Second, the PACs drained money especially from local Tea Party groups, some of which were actively trying to grow the movement electorally from the ground up, at the school board and city council level. Lacking results five years on, interest in the movement waned—all that was left were the PACs and their lists.
It's really common to hear people complaining about what a corrupt place DC is (you've heard "Den of Criminals") is.   I say that and think that.  I didn't know anything compared to what's in that article.  To grab a quote from Walter Hudson at PJ Media, where I first saw the link to this story:
This is where our attention needs to be. This is the real establishment, not elected leaders in Washington, but a swirling flock of vultures that feed on the corpses of great expectation.
(AP Photo/Ben Margot - from PJ Media article)


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sawdust Generation Complete

Last Monday, I wrote about needing to make the chip tray for my CNC mill, a tray to be made out of wood.  I have the tray complete now, including an error that was in the jpeg of the plans that were provided.  Here is is next to the mill that will eventually mount on it. 
The error is in the placement of the drain hole for the coolant system, the large hole about 2/3 of the way up the tray.  The top in this picture is the left panel (a different grain pattern because it was a different piece of plywood) so it will eventually be on the left when looking at the mill this way.  Unfortunately, the hole for a sink drain is too close to the four mounting holes just below it.  I got the jpeg from the Hoss, the creator of the DVD I'm using, and it's right by the jpeg, but I found a video where he's building this system on his YouTube channel, and it's different than the jpeg.

Apparently, I need to patch that hole and put in a new one.  Alrighty then.  By the way, there's a saying among woodworkers that you can't have too many clamps: I'm here to tell you that's right.  There's six in use in this picture although only five are visible, and I could have used more.  These were needed to hold everything in place before I put in the first screw. 
Still moving along. 


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Any Jet Engine Mechanics Visit Here?

Especially anyone with Air Force experience? 

I read today that an F-22 Raptor was grounded by a hive of bees on its "exhaust nozzle".  This doesn't look like a nozzle to me; but I don't know the word for it.  It looks like part of the fuselage that gets exposed to jet exhaust, but that's not actually part of the engine.

Readers can see my epic lack of knowledge of the F-22.

CNN posted this picture:
A vertical stabilizer is visible on the right, and this piece of fuselage that ends in triangle is coated in bees.  They reported "nearly 20,000 bees" and had a beekeeper relocate the hive. 
Before transporting the bees to their new home at a local beer production facility, Westrich took them to his house and found that the hive weighed nearly eight pounds in total, according to the Air Force release.
OK, I get that the Air Force is trying to be all environmentally friendly and relocate the bees because "crew members realized that honey bees are at risk of extinction", but is this really necessary?

Why couldn't they just light up the engines and take off at full afterburner?  Wouldn't that kind of toast the little beasties and solve the problem?  Yeah, I know, I'm terribly incorrect here, but if they had to take off on a mission, would they really have to call beekeepers and meticulously move the colony?  Maybe toasted bees are good eatin'.  I love the smell of jet exhaust in the morning anyway, so why not toasted bees with it?
 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Productivity Continues to Slip

Back in June, I pointed out a problem to keep an eye on in the economatrix; that US productivity, defined as the amount of GDP produced per hour worked, declined two straight quarters.  The new numbers are out, and productivity continued its decline, down another 0.5 %.  That's slightly better than the 0.6% decline in the previous quarter, but dramatically missing the projected 0.5% increase in productivity that the "experts" predicted.  The US clearly has a productivity problem.
It was the third consecutive quarter of falling productivity, the longest streak since 1979. On a year-on-year basis, the productivity fell 0.4 percent, the first annual decline since the second quarter of 2013.
1979 was, of course, Jimmy Carter's term, a period when terms like malaise, stagflation (a mix of  price inflation, high unemployment, with low or no growth) and the misery index were being talked about.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the labor force participation rate stubbornly stays under 63%, 62.8% according to the July jobs report, the lowest the labor participation rate has been since those Jimmy Carter years.
Continuing growth in productivity is important and this decline for three straight quarters is a concern.  As I pointed out in June, as the proponents of the Information Theory of Money say, all our lives we've been told "time is money" but that's backwards: money is time.  Time is strictly limited, the most valuable "possession" each of us ever has is our time here.  The only way to build more wealth is to get more done in less time.  Echoing a quote from Bill Bonner:
The thing that separates rich societies from poor societies is productivity. It measures how much output you can get from each unit of input – mainly labor and capital.

In the richer societies, a workman’s time is more valuable because he can produce more from each hour of labor. Since time is limited, the only hope of making material progress is to increase productivity.
Underscoring the importance of this number, Fed Head Janet Yellen said it was one of her major concerns.  Yet more evidence the economy will never return to normal as long as the Fed keeps jacking the money supply around; there's always a reason not to let things recover.   
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said in June that the outlook for productivity growth was a key uncertainty for the U.S. economy and a key determinant of improvements in living standards.
The reasons being cited for the three successive quarter decline in productivity varied largely with whether or not the comments came from someone who is more or less an apologist for the status quo, like Jim Paulsen who says that everything is really fine, it's just that the way we're measuring it isn't right anymore ... suddenly... inexplicably... although it worked until a few months ago.  Peter Schiff, a  well-known "real money" guy thinks the reason is Janet Yellen and the rest of the central bankers.
Ultra low interest rates have encouraged businesses to borrow money to spend on share buybacks, debt refinancing, and dividends. They have also encouraged financial speculation in the stock market, the bond market, and in real estate. Investors may believe that central bankers will not allow any of those markets to fall as such declines could tip the already teetering global economies into recession. The Fed, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, and the European Central Bank have already telegraphed that they will be the lenders and buyers of last resort. These commitments have turned many investments into “no lose” propositions. Why take a chance on R&D when you can buy a risk free bond?
Anyone who has read just about anything I've ever written with the "economics" tag will know I'm no fan of the fake money regime the central banks force us to live under, but I'm going to ignore them today.  I want to suggest something I don't see being talked about as an issue: regulation - another of my hot buttons.   Your friendly Fed.Gov minions at Regulations.gov report that they've issued 6,180 regulations in the last 90 days.  Since I started watching that site in 2012, they've issued over 6000 new regulations every 90 days.  A little arithmetic shows that if they've been doing that since 2009, when Obama took office, 2761 days ago, at least 180,000 new regulations have been issued.  Not all of them will affect every business' productivity.  Some of them are low impact, affecting only very specific things.  No agency ever really considers the regulatory burden they impose on businesses; these are real costs.  Some of them end up taking real employees time away from their jobs, which automatically damages productivity. 
Utah senator Mike Lee posted this photo in 2013 which depicts the laws that the Senate passed and the president signed, it's the small stack of papers on top of the cabinet, along with the 80,000 pages of new rules and regulations passed by unelected bureaucrats - the stuff Regulations.gov tracks. 

If we're looking to figure out what's reducing productivity; what's gumming up the metaphorical gears of American industry, might I suggest we start looking here?


Thursday, August 11, 2016

August in Florida

There are many places in this nation where folks look forward to summer; it's time to go outside - maybe for the first time in months, enjoy warm, glorious days; garden, bike, picnic; maybe enjoy a book while lounging on the beach.  Songs like Nat King Cole's classic "Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" come to mind.

That's not here.  Here, summer is something to be a bit more reserved about.  If you live here, you can keep up with your regular life.  If you were from a moderate place, not used to our heat and humidity, running or other outdoors activity could conceivably kill you.  August marks the Dog Days of Summer; everything outdoors slows.  Fishing slows - sure the fish have to eat, but they become more active after dark.  Animals are more sluggish.  Ordinarily, it can be nasty here from about mid-July to almost the middle of September.  The worst stretch is August. 

When we first got an HDTV in '05, Mrs. Graybeard and I naturally spent most of our TV time searching out HD programming.  One of the first movies we watched was "The Chronicles of Riddick".  You have to understand this is not even particularly good scifi.  It's a fun movie to watch, it's a visual treat, it's a fantastic display of special effects perfect for HD, but don't pay too much attention to the story.  To quote a review, "Furyans, Necromongers, Elementals, The Underverse, the Threshold...it so clearly wants to be epic that it forgets to tie all of these disparate worlds, universes and civilizations into a coherent story. (Director) Twohy clearly makes the mistake of not realizing that there is a huge difference between being grand and being simply confusing and the more ideas that are introduced, the more lumbering it becomes…"  

A large portion of the movie, and one of the longest action sequences, takes place on the planet Crematoria (yes, all the names in the movie are that cheesy) .  Crematoria is a planet that has a tremendous temperature variation with daytime temperatures of 700C and night time temperatures far below zero.  When the sunrise terminator sweeps through, the force of the heat gales that come with it is literally enough to blow you apart, disintegrating flesh and blowing pieces off until you die.  There's a scene where a character (Purifier) destroys himself by walking into the sunrise terminator and self-immolating.  That's him trying to stand up to the gales while being set afire and having pieces of burning flesh blown off him.
The first time I saw that scene, I said, "I've been out on days like that".  Mrs. Graybeard said, "Oh, yeah.  We've been out on our bikes when it's like that". 

And that's what life here in Central Florida is like in the summer, for August plus or minus a week or two.  Sometimes, like last week, we get a few cloudy days that block the sun, but usually you just need to stay out of the it.  Do your outdoor activities near sunrise or sunset.  Don't expose bare skin to the sun any longer than necessary, and even then use sunscreen if you need to be out when the sun is intense, say from 9 AM to 5 PM.  SPF 3 million is adequate.  Without air conditioning and mosquito control, a technological civilization could not exist here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Interesting, But I'm Not Sure What It Means

Although I'm sure there will be lots of folks who want to declare a coming TEOTWAKI over it.

While reading an historical piece on Watts Up With That about how a solar storm in 1968 almost convinced SAC that the Russians were jamming our radars, someone posted that the earth's magnetic poles have started moving at a much higher rate than seen before.  The North Magnetic Pole is now north of Canada and the South Magnetic Pole is north of Antarctica.  A comment included this factoid, which no one challenged:
The Earth’s magnetic field is weakening 10 times faster than previously thought, decreasing in strength about 5 percent a decade rather than 5 percent a century.
Another comment included this:
The north magnetic pole has left Canada and is moving north by north-west at 55km per year. The south magnetic pole is no longer in Antarctica, and is moving in a north-westerly direction, but my quick search found no reference to its rate of movement. 
The magnetic north pole is now approaching, but southwest of, the geographic north pole.  NOAA charts both poles.  First the north magnetic pole (North is actually toward the right in this map):
and the south magnetic pole (the South Pole appears to be above the upper left of this map):
When I took my first class that included navigation by compass, the magnetic variance here on the East Coast of Florida was around 2 degrees (east).  Today it's around 7 degrees (still East).  With the precision that a compass can be read, and the distances offshore I typically boated, I could ignore 2 degrees.  I don't think 7 is small enough to ignore. 

All of our lives, most of us have heard that the Earth is "due" for a North-South magnetic pole reversal with the experts saying the poles have flipped many times and it has been too long since the last flip.  The story I recall hearing was that it took a long time to happen; more like centuries than decades, and certainly outside typical lifespans.  Nowadays, there seems to be some belief that it could happen very quickly; on human timescales.  
This summer, the European Space Agency published data that suggested that the Earth’s magnetic field could flip — as in, the magnetic north pole becomes the magnetic south pole — in “a few thousand years.” At the time, I figured there was no rush to write it up — after all, we might not even be living on Earth in a few thousand years. Now, however, new research published this week shows that the magnetic field might flip within our lifetime — so it’s probably something that we ought to talk about.
"within our lifetime" is such a relative term... One of our running jokes is that at our age, any subscription could be a lifetime subscription.  Still, it could well be that the process has already started, and might even have been going on for our entire lifetimes.  Earth will probably go through a period of magnetic chaos before the poles reach their (more or less) permanent positions and that could well be within the life of people reading this blog.  It's possible there could be more than one of each pole for some time so that a compass would point to two different "norths", making navigation by compass impossible.  Birds and other critters that use magnetic particles in their bodies for navigation will have a hard time, and migratory patterns would be seriously disrupted. 

Where it gets really hard to predict is whether the reversal happens very quickly, say within a year, or if the period of chaos is measured in decades.  No one alive has ever seen this happen, so everything they think they know comes from looking at old rocks and computer models.  Whether the TEOTWAKI situations that you'll read about would really happen or not is just as hard to say.  There don't appear to be mass extinctions associated with previous reversals, so it appears life muddled on through somehow.  

I'm hoping that with a weakened geomagnetic field, auroras may become visible farther south.  I seriously want to see auroras some day. 


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Techy Tuesday - US Air Force Wants to Plasma Bomb Ionosphere

The US Air Force has opened bids for a contract to figure out a way to set off a fleet of miniature, CubeSat, bombs, to inject plasma into the ionosphere, New Scientist reports.

The New Scientist story describes the ionosphere pretty poorly, so let me try to improve it.

The ionosphere is a section of the earth's atmosphere that's thin enough (from the altitude) that individual atoms are ionized by incoming solar energy and can exist for long periods as separate ions without recombining into neutral atoms.  It's generally considered to start about 50 miles up.  The ionosphere has multiple layers, generally named D for the lowest, E for the next highest and an F layer.  The F layer is capable of splitting under conditions of sufficient energy input into a lower F1 and higher F2.  Depending on conditions, the higher layers may not exist, or their density may be too low to be useful. 
(From KE9NS.com)

The way that radio signals interact with the ionosphere depends on the density of the layer, and the frequency of the radio waves.  During the day, the density of the D layer increases and lower frequency signals can't get through it.  Higher frequencies will go through the D layer and will be reflected back to earth by higher layers.  Something this illustration shows is that the highest frequencies that get reflected back to earth go to the highest levels of the atmosphere, the F1 and F2 layers, and result in reliable communications over the longest paths.  The problem is that if the solar activity is low (as it is now and will be for the foreseeable future), the F1 layer may not ionize sufficiently to reflect signals back at all.  Regardless of solar activity it's always the case that above some frequency, the ionization is too weak to reflect the signal back to earth, and the radio wave just continues into space.  At night, with the solar energy input removed, the F1 and F2 layers will essentially dissipate if the solar activity is low enough, and the ionization of all the layers will decrease.  The D layer becomes low enough density that lower frequencies can be reflected, and go longer distances.  You know this if you've ever listened to AM radio; at night, propagation changes and stations from a thousand miles away are readily heard while in the daytime, it's essentially local area only. To new hams: this is why 80 and 40 meters (3.5 and 7.0 MHz) are considered night time bands and only good for local contacts during the day. 

What the AF is proposing to do is to directly create these ions to create the higher layers in the ionosphere, by injecting plasma from small CubeSat satellites.
As well as increasing the range of radio signals, the USAF says it wants to smooth out the effects of solar winds, which can knock out GPS, and also investigate the possibility of blocking communication from enemy satellites.

There are at least two major challenges. One is building a plasma generator small enough to fit on a cubesat – roughly 10 centimetres cubed. Then there’s the problem of controlling exactly how the plasma will disperse once it is released.

The USAF has awarded three contracts to teams who are sketching out ways to tackle the approach. The best proposal will be selected for a second phase in which plasma generators will be tested in vacuum chambers and exploratory space flights.
Sample CubeSat, the smallest standard size, 10 x 10 x 11.35cm  (Wikipedia)
Plasma, of course, is an exotic state of matter.  Certainly not liquid or solid, and not exactly a gas due to its electrical properties.  It's ionized.  The three contractors have different proposals for how they'd generate the plasma, but nobody knows if any of the three would work, or if the Air Force's larger experiment would work.  Which is why we do experiments, after all. 

Clearly, this is in the early days of the work and we're a long way from even figuring out if it can be tried, but it certainly is an ambitious idea.  It's just the sort of over-the-top idea that can be associated with greatness, or could be a flaming, disastrous, waste of time and money.  It will be interesting to keep an eye on this one.