Sunday, February 7, 2016

In Case You Missed It - A New Debt Milestone

We are in uncharted waters.  Within the last few days, the US National Debt, as tracked by the US Debt Clock, exceeded 19 Treel-yun Dollars. 

Every box has an explanation at the source for those unfamiliar with all the terms.  No nation in the history of the world has been this indebted.  My take is that this doesn't stop.  None of the candidates left on the Stupid side has seriously addressed getting control of this monster, and the Evil Party side is actively advocating making it worse.  They're gonna ride this mother into the ground. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fun Show Day

It was Fun Show day here in the Silicon Swamp.  First show of the New Year so we had to drop by. 

It was packed.  It looked like peak days all over again, in keeping with the fact that NICS checks just keep setting record after record.  As always, folks were polite to each other and it was possible to make your way around the auditorium.   Well, it was slow to get around. 

No, didn't get anything.  I'm looking for a few things that are hard to find.  First, I want to get my hands on a Ruger Precision Rifle, but still haven't seen one.  I've heard they're almost vaporware and selling as fast as faster than Ruger can make them.  There are stories of being on back order and taking months to get.  I'd also like to find a 1911 that was used, even if it's in rough shape - doesn't even really have to be working - so that I can take it apart and use it as model for building one.  Strangely, I saw that Tam wrote about doing almost exactly the same thing a couple of days ago.    I started out saying that, and Mrs. Graybeard said, "If you're going to buy one, why buy junk?  Just get a good one."  Hard to argue with that, but I didn't find that mythical 1911 that was exactly right.  I could see getting one of these little guys, for one, but I also like these.  There was one of the Springfields at the show, but in 9mm, and if I'm going to get one, it's got to be in God's own caliber.  (Note to 9mm advocates: that's a joke based on J M Browning being referred to as a God of firearms design, and since he designed the original 1911 and the 45 ACP round for it, it must be...)
The Sig 1911.  It is a compact, so there would be that difference. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Surprising Place for an EMP Article

Although I'm retired and don't particularly feel the "fire in the belly" to go do some work, I am still interested in electronics and keeping up with the field.  At least for now.  (When I feel the fire in the belly, I just grab a couple of Prilosec OTC and the feeling goes away in a little while).

Because of my interest, I set up as a consultant and started subscriptions to the industry magazines, newsletters, and assorted junk mail.  One of the emails I get is called Planet Analog, which as the name implies is dedicated to analog electronics design.  I was a bit surprised to see a blog post called, "It's The End Of Civilization As We Know It!! Oh, Wait... It's A Squirrel."  The author begins by talking about the House hearing last May (it's a 2 1/2 hour video!) and the possibility of this "existential threat", with a 90% fatality rate through "starvation, disease, and societal collapse."  In turn he references these 2010 papers (part 1 and part 2) by Harvard astrophysicist Yousaf M. Butt (I can't help but wonder if that's his real name) which proposes that the threat of an EMP attack is highly overblown, and what we should really be emphasizing is the threat of a solar flare.  They go on to say that if we are hardened to a solar flare and its Ground Induced Currents, we're well hardened against an EMP, and reduce the chance of an EMP attack being waged against us in the first place.
I first briefly describe the source of the various types of electromagnetic pulses that are the sub-components of what is generically termed “EMP”: E1, E2 and E3. To properly assess the effects of EMP on electric power systems, appropriate specifications of these E1, E2, and E3 sub-components are vital. I follow by a short review some historical US and Soviet high-altitude nuclear explosions that took place 1955-1962 in order to see what may be learnt from such archival data. Lastly, I evaluate the possible threat we may face from an EMP attack, as well as that from geomagnetic storms, and conclude with some suggested responses.
Have you ever heard there are three principle types of EMP?
Each type has a different effect on electrical systems. An E1 pulse, the fastest, has a rise time in the nano-second range. It only lasts for a microsecond, but during that time can induce fields of up to 30kV/m at ground level. E1 affects primarily integrated circuits, and can damage relays, computer controls, and communications.

An E3 pulse is the lowest amplitude and has the lowest frequency, less than 1Hz. It can last up to 1,000 seconds, though, and poses the highest risk to the electrical grid since it can induce large currents even in buried cables. An E3 pulse can destroy HV and EHV transformers due to internal heating.
The E1 pulse is probably the one you're most familiar with because of its extremely high fields (30,000 Volts/meter); this one is called the Early pulse because of arriving first and being over within a microsecond.  The E2 pulse arises mostly from the E1 pulse and collisions of subatomic particles in the atmosphere.  It can last up to a second.  The E3 pulse comes about as a result of the ionized explosive fireball expanding and pushing the earth’s magnetic field (due to the fact that it is an electrically-conductive region), in a “heaving” action. This pulse can last up to 1,000 seconds or longer.  Exactly how bad the effects of these pulses are is heavily dependent on yield, altitude of the blast, and other factors.  The data that is openly available is pretty sparse, and I have to suspect most of it is classified.  Much of the literature that's available comes from megaton-class tests that the US and Soviets carried out in the 1950s through 1962.  They state:
Many of these were powerful megaton-range weapons and their effects cannot be simply interpolated to lower yield weapons (such as new nuclear proliferator states may possess), nor is it trivial to infer what effects they may have had upon the much more sensitive modern electronics. Of course, it is also important to recalibrate the expected effects from similar weapons exploded in different parts of the globe: detonations further from the equator, or those taking place in a high magnetic field region, will generally lead to stronger peak E1 pulse amplitudes, other things being equal.
Dr. Butt then goes on to speculate that the chances a terrorist organization or rogue state would be rather unlikely to try such an attack because it's much harder and much riskier than it sounds.  
Thus, it is not at all a simple matter, even for countries with considerable resources and focused decades-long effort, to build such weapons, let alone pair them to reliable delivery systems. As carefully argued by John Mueller in his new book, Atomic Obsession, it is virtually impossible for a terrorist cell to obtain the raw materials needed for a nuclear device and assemble it correctly themselves [Ref 22, p. 172–198]. Even a “crude” U-type device is not all that “crude” and requires the concerted effort of skilled scientists and engineers. Any weapon produced by a terrorist cell would likely be a one of a kind and would have to remain untested. For a terrorist group to then mate this weapon to a ballistic missile and successfully carry out an EMP strike beggars belief. As John Pike, director of has said, “It is just very difficult to imagine how terrorists are going to be able to lay hands on a nuclear-tipped missile, and launch it and reprogram it in such a way that it would be a high-altitude burst like that.”
They go on to state that the chances a nation state with more resources would attempt an EMP attack aren't very great either.  
A state would be highly unlikely to launch an EMP strike from their own territory because the rocket could be traced to the country of origin and would probably result in nuclear or massive conventional retaliation by the US. The EMP commission also considers adversarial nations carrying out a shipborne EMP attack that would be less traceable. However, even so, there would some small risk of trace-back that would give the leadership in such nations pause... Furthermore, the US certainly has data, via its DSP satellites, on the infrared (IR) signatures of the rocket exhausts from the missiles of various countries. Though these signatures are probably virtually identical for the Scud/Shahab/No-dong family of missiles, the nations which may entertain such attacks do not necessarily know whether, e.g., the DSP data can discriminate between a NK Nodong versus an Iranian Shahabs, perhaps due to differences in fuel and/or subtle design idiosyncrasies. This is data only the US has, and it has an inherent deterrent value to nations thinking about launching an EMP strike via a ship-launched ballistic missile.
There's a saying in personal defense training that goes something to the effect that we shouldn't draw out in our minds exactly how our gunfight looks; how it might break out or exactly what we think our attacker is going to look like so that we don't sacrifice awareness.  If I'm only expecting a 16 to 30 year old male, say, I might not pay any attention to the 13 year old girl who has been sent to get me to lower my defenses or distract me.  That idea was playing through my mind as I read this.  When we say that our logical analyses lead us to conclude that it's unlikely, the unspoken assumption is that a Kim Jong Un or Ayatollah Khamenei or the Revolutionary Guards see the situation exactly the same way we do; or that they base their decisions on the same value system we do.  

Nevertheless, I'd recommend that you read both of those EMP papers by Dr. Butt because there's a lot of useful information in there. 
The punch line to the original article's title is that the House committee meeting was worried about EMP, but squirrels cause around 12% of all electricity outages by shorting out equipment as they use poles and wires to go about their daily business. (I hear they email Nigerian princes...).

EDIT 2/6 @ 1214 EST:  Fixed a typo.  I hate it when the typo monster kills my lame attempts at jokes...

The Peculiar Story of How the Super Bowl Got Its Name

The name was actually inspired by the Wham-O Super Ball.  From Design News:
On Sunday, when more than a hundred million Americans turn on their televisions to watch the Super Bowl, they might consider first giving thanks to a polymer known as polybutadiene. Because were it not for polybutadiene, America’s greatest sports spectacle might now be called The Ultimate Bowl. Or worse, The Final Game.

If polybutadiene could talk, it might tell us that thanks are unnecessary. It was, after all, little more than a bystander during the odd decision-making process that led to the name, “Super Bowl.” But merely by existing, and by possessing some rather unusual mechanical properties, the synthetic rubber changed the course of professional football.

The story of polybutadiene’s role in the naming of the Super Bowl started in 1964, when a chemist named Norman H. Stingley was trying to devise a material that would be flexible, yet sturdy enough to serve as a cap on oil wells. Using polybutadiene along with hydrated silica, zinc oxide, sulfur, stearic acid, and some other ingredients, Stingley found he had created a synthetic rubber with a very high coefficient of restitution. Dropped from shoulder level, it would snap nearly all the way back up. Thrown by an adult, it had the ability to bounce over a three-story house. The material, he discovered, might make a better toy than an oil well cap.

“He formed it into a sphere and was playing around with it in his office when he realized he might have something unusual,” Todd Richards, president of Wham-O Inc., told Design News. “Back in the 1960s, if you came up with a crazy, wacky idea, the first place you’d go to was Wham-O.”

Indeed, Wham-O was the Stingley’s first visit. Wham-O executives quickly decided his material had the potential to join the company’s growing list of hot fad products, which already included the Frisbee, Hula Hoop and Slip’N Slide. In late 1964 and early 1965, the two hammered out a licensing agreement and set to work on making their new product, the Super Ball. An August 1965 patent, assigned to Wham-O Manufacturing Co., calls for the manufacturer to add sulfur as a curing agent to give the ball its resiliency. It also calls for a preferred manufacturing process in which the mixture is placed in a mold, heated to about 320F, and pressurized to 1,000 psi. The resulting recipe is said to yield a ball with “extremely high resilience and a high coefficient of friction.”

Given its qualities, it didn’t take long for the Super Ball to become a full-fledged American fad. By December 1965, six million had been sold, with peak production reaching 170,000 balls a day. A US presidential advisor even had five dozen of the balls shipped to the White House for the staff’s amusement, according to Wikipedia.

Around the same time, executives of the National and American football leagues had begun to discuss a championship game between their organizations. During the summer of 1966, six months before the first such game, they still struggled to find a name for it. Some team owners informally called it “The Final Game.” Others preferred “AFL-NFL Championship Game.”

But one of the American Football League’s main founders, Lamar Hunt, had a different idea. “As it turned out, two of his kids had Super Balls, and they would bounce those balls all over the house,” Richards told us. “Then they would come to his office and bounce the balls there.”

In his book, “When It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl,” author Harvey Frommer wrote that Hunt’s son recalled how the big game’s name came into being. “My dad was in an owner’s meeting,” Lamar Hunt Jr. reportedly said. “They were trying to figure out what to call the last game, the championship game. I don’t know if he had the ball with him as some reports suggest. My dad said, ‘Well, we need to come up with a name, something like the Super Bowl.’”

To be sure, the name was hardly popular with the other executives. Pete Rozelle, the young commissioner of the National Football League, wasn’t impressed. “Allegedly, Rozelle hated the name,” Richards told us. “He was pushing names like ‘Ultimate Bowl’ and ‘Premier Bowl.’ But those names didn’t have the same buzz.”

The name, “Super Bowl,” however, did have a lasting buzz. This Sunday, champions of the American and National conferences -- Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers -- will meet again in Super Bowl 50, while approximately 115 million Americans watch.

Today, of course, the name is unchangeable –- a moniker associated, not just with a game, but with an American entertainment extravaganza. That’s a far cry, Richards says, from the days when polybutadiene balls were rocketing around Lamar Hunt’s office. “Even he was quoted as saying, ‘Yeah, it’s kind of silly and kind of corny, but I couldn’t come up with anything better.’”
In my mind, I can hear John Facenda, the guy they called "The Voice of the NFL" saying each of those names: The Final Game, The Ultimate Bowl and the rest.  Super Bowl sounds better.  (Sample of The Voice.)
I remember watching the first game, and it was referred to as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, although some voices in the media were already calling it the Super Bowl.  It wasn't called the Super Bowl until the third game, between the New York Jets and the Baltimore Colts, played in January of 1969. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

This Will Be a Little Me Me Me

On an average day, Blogger says 1200 to 1500 of you stop by.  Thank you.  I'm truly humbled.  In the past few months, a post of mine that didn't seem terribly important at the time has slowly risen to the number two spot on my list of top 10 most popular posts with 6183 views: A Little More About .308 vs. 7.62x51.  Last week, it had 173 views, so if that holds, it will take the number one spot away in around 10 weeks.  I would have never guessed.  The post with the most comments ever is when I asked "Has Anybody Else Been Ripped Off By Iain Sinclair Design?  That post has 52 comments and I get them fairly regularly as people search for those words and find this.  My repost of that question has an additional 25 comments.  I wish I had been able to reach those 77 other folks and let them now before they ordered - as I wish I had found out before I ordered!

This is post #1988 in this blog's life.  I'm coming up on my 6th Blogiversary and I should pass post #2000 before that.  Unless I get writer's block.  Or get lazy. 

Happy Birthday to me.

A friend sent an interesting promotional video from Volkswagen.  I'd like to link it, but they don't allow that.  Which is just as well because I had to let it try to load for minutes before it finally played.

I found what is quite possibly the best furniture ever for a certain granddaughter's room.
(From Pinterest) 

Finally, did you know that if you take a marshmallow Easter bunny and subject it to high pressure, it turns into Kim Jong Un?
(From YouHadOneJob on Twitter.  You can blame Borepatch.  I spent the better part of an hour there.)

And now, since it is my birthday, I'm going to go play. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Techy Tuesday - FCC Targets Set-Top Boxes

Last week, the FCC released a statement saying they will start the regulatory process to require cable companies to abandon the proprietary formats used in their set top boxes.  In essence they want to make these formats open source so that app writers and competing hardware makers can provide alternative ways to view cable TV offerings.  This is being done in the name of providing more choice to consumers in how the access programming and even what programming they have available. 

Sounds good, right?  I mean, who could be opposed to more consumer choice and more access?  At times like this, I resort to an old mental model of mine that first gelled in my mind in the 1970s: think of the as a retarded giant.  The giant may want to help you, but it's just as likely going to step on you and kill you.  It's going to be slow to move, and when it does move, it's going to be clumsy and dangerous. 

In a counterpoint editorial, Michael Powell*, who was the FCC Chairman under W and is now chairman and CEO of the Cable industry's trade group the NTCA,  points out the obvious: it seems that what Chairman Wheeler at the FCC wants to regulate has happened already without gubmint intervention.  They're going to assure "more consumer choice and access to programming?"  Has the FCC heard of Netflix?  That Netflix and Amazon have won awards for their programming?  And he wants us to be able to stream TV onto any device?  Our local company is Bright House Networks, and I have a free app they provide to stream cable programming onto my iPad (not to mention they run commercials every 20 or 30 minutes encouraging people to stream more). Powell points out:
Contrary to Wheeler’s assertion, cable content can already be watched on iPhones, iPads, Xboxes, Rokus, smart TVs and more. Pay-TV companies offer apps of their services for millions of customer-owned devices, as do most major TV programmers. HBO Now, anyone? But irrespective of real progress, no good market seems to go unregulated these days.
Chairman Wheeler wrote an op ed for a site called re/code arguing that consumers spend too much money on set-top boxes. 
Today, 99 percent of pay-TV customers lease set-top boxes from their cable, satellite or telco providers. Pay-TV subscribers spend an average of $231 a year to rent these boxes, because there are few meaningful alternatives.
He points out, and is accurate as far as I know, that the companies make back what those boxes cost them and then continue to collect the monthly fees.  In counterpoint, Michael Powell says
What the FCC fails to make clear is the cost of leasing a cable box will be replaced with the cost of buying and using a retail box. Retail boxes in the market today are no bargain. The latest Tivo box will cost you $299 to buy, and after the first year, you will pay a $14.99 monthly subscription fee (forever). And to get any new innovations in boxes, you will have to toss yours out and buy a new one.
It's time for me to fill in the details on the asterisk above, next to Michael Powell's name.  See, I personally detest the guy because I (and every other ham radio HF operator) have been injured by him.  He's the guy, who as FCC chairman, allowed the abomination of BPL or Broadband over Power Lines.  Thankfully, the system never really showed up in my area, but the FCC authorized BPL at interference levels 40 dB - 10,000 times - greater than other "unintentional radiators" they regulate.  When hams complained, the FCC effectively said, "sue each other".  I think he's a crooked "crony capitalist" who used his power and position as FCC chairman to funnel money to some companies to sell BPL systems, presumably to get some return from those companies.  Perhaps this job at the NTCA?  On the other hand, going by the "takes one to know one" theory, he may be well qualified to recognize Wheeler doing the same thing!
Sadly, the real benefits of the FCC’s proposal tilt decidedly to the commercial interests of a few well-heeled tech companies. What’s in it for them? In short, they get to create their own video service on the back of others. Rather than negotiate and pay for content — like all video streamers do today — they want the government to mandate its free availability. Why negotiate and pay for ESPN, Food Network or TV One, when the government will create a mandate that lets you build a box and fill it with top-value content without paying a dime?
I kinda hate to say it, but while Michael Powell may be a corrupt scumbag, I think he's right on this one: no good market seems to go unregulated these days.  I think the FCC action is the classic Washington DC idiocy of trying to legally mandate things that have already happened and take credit for creating them.  Throw in some corruption, money under the table, and it's whole DC package.  They're never as fast and as good as the free market and they're out of touch with reality.  I find I actually trust an industry trade group more than the government - unless they're trying to lobby the, in which case I want a pox on both of them.
(from re/code)

Monday, February 1, 2016


Thirteen years ago this morning, February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry at the conclusion of a successful mission, taking the lives of seven astronauts.

It's a peculiar coincidence that in the history of NASA's manned space flight programs exactly three incidents caused the loss of the vehicle and everyone aboard, and all three of those fell within a single week ending today with Columbia: 

Apollo 1 burned on the pad during a test, killing Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White on January 27, 1967 .  It was the result of a pure oxygen atmosphere and a spark from a wiring defect.

Shuttle Challenger was destroyed on January 28, 1986, 73 seconds into mission 51-L, as the starboard solid rocket booster's O-ring gaskets, stiffened by the cold, allowed a secondary flame to burn through supports and cause the external tank to tear apart, and then detonate the liquid hydrogen and oxygen it carried.

January 27 to February 1 is five days.  The Challenger disaster can be tracked directly back to launching on a record cold morning in a vehicle that just wasn't safe at that temperature.  The other two don't appear to have any aspects to their histories that could limit it to this one week in time.  They could have happened at any time. 

The Orlando Sentinel printed a long piece on the timeline of what destroyed Columbia just before the first anniversary of the disaster in 2004.  It's still there, although it seems to talk about photos that are no longer there.  Columbia and her crew were sentenced to death during their liftoff on January 11, it's just that no one knew it.  A chunk of foam had broken off the external tank during liftoff and hit the left wing's carbon composite leading edge, punching a hole in it.  There was no way a shuttle could reenter without exposing that wing to conditions that would destroy it.  They were either going to die on reentry or sit up there and run out of food, water and air.  There was a report that some engineers wanted to use a DOD spy satellite to take photos of the shuttle and assess the damage to the wing (they learned about the impact )the day after launch), and that management shut them down - as happened with engineers who thought it too cold to launch Challenger.
In 2013, Hale recalled that Director of Mission Operations Jon C. Harpold told him before Columbia's destruction:

You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS [Thermal Protection System]. If it has been damaged it's probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?
During reentry, hot plasma worked its way into that impact hole, through the structure of the wing, burning through piece after piece, sensor after sensor, until the wing tore off the shuttle and tore the vehicle apart.  Local lore on this one is that the original foam recipe on the external tank was changed due to environmental regulations, causing them to switch to a foam that didn't adhere or stand up to abuse as well.  From the Orlando Sentinel piece:
The team concluded the foam broke away from the left bipod ramp 81.7 seconds after liftoff and hit the underside of Columbia's left wing two-tenths of a second later. The foam measured 21 to 27 inches long by 12 to 18 inches wide. It was tumbling at 18 revolutions per second. Before the foam separated, the shuttle -- and the foam -- had a velocity of 1,568 mph, about twice the speed of sound. Because of its low density, the foam rapidly decelerated once in the airstream, slowing by 550 mph in that two-tenths of a second. The foam didn't fall on to the leading edge of the left wing as much as the shuttle ran into it from below. The relative speed of the collision was more than 500 mph, delivering more than a ton of force.

[On July 7, [2003] investigators using a nitrogen-powered cannon fired a 1,200-cubic-inch block of foam weighing 1.67 pounds at RCC panel 8, taken from the shuttle Atlantis. Traveling at 530 mph, the foam blew a ragged 16-inch hole in the RCC panel, vividly demonstrating how much damage foam could do.]
After Challenger, missions felt a bit more raw and I think we all sort of held our breath until the solids were dropped.  By the time the intervening 17 years had gone by and Columbia happened, it was feeling routine again.  We're a long way from space flight ever being routine. Closing words back to the Orlando Sentinel piece:
One of the crew members came to rest beside a country road near Hemphill [TX]. The remains were found by a 59-year-old chemical engineer and Vietnam veteran named Roger Coday, who called the sheriff and then watched from the porch of his mobile home as a funeral director drove by to collect them.

"The astronauts have always been my heroes," said Coday, who that afternoon fashioned a cross out of two cedar logs he had cut earlier and erected it at the place where the astronaut had fallen to Earth.
The pieces of Columbia continue their descent.  (Dallas Morning News)

Sunday, January 31, 2016


This weekend saw us travel to the NE Gulf Coast area of Florida, sometimes called the Big Bend area, for a memorial service for a family member.  A relationship that I don't know a name for, but an in-law on Mrs. Graybeard's side. 

Unfortunately, I didn't really know the gentleman, but I think he would have been a lot of fun.  His idea was to have everyone get together for a dinner and tell stories about their fun times or fond memories of times together.   He passed away a year ago yesterday, so his brother, sister and widow hosted the party on the first anniversary of his passing.  I think it allowed everyone's pain to subside so that the stories were more happy than sad, although there was plenty of dust in the room.

He competed on his college rifle team in the late 50s, loved fly fishing, wildlife photography, animals,  kids and had an impish sense of humor.  We would have gotten along just fine.  To give you an idea of his approach to life, he was cremated and his urn placed on the table with the guestbook.  We all had name tags, so there was one on his urn saying,
"Hi!  I'm <redacted> 
Thanks for coming 
Have a ball
Share good memories
Love you all!"
Which displays a wonderful attitude. 
A copy of one of his photos.  They called this bird Henry the Househawk. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Odds and Ends

From EE Times, a cute, entertaining video that uses a technique called (I think) projection mapping.

They have another one where the table turns into a lagoon so a miniature chef can create a bouillabaisse. These are short videos, under two minutes each, and the source article links to some other fun videos.

Puzzled over the array of candidates looking to work for you in the White House this year?  Do you like long, involved questionnaires?  Look no further than "I Side With".  Not only can you fill in a lot of pages, you can provide answers beyond a simple Yes/No.  You can even write in an answer, and their software seems to do a nice job of interpreting your meaning.  For the record, I was 89% in agreement with Marco Rubio, 88% in agreement with Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump, and well over 80% with the entire Stupid Party field.  It said I was 17% in agreement with the Old Lady Who Belongs in a Federal Jail and 17% in agreement with the Cranky, Crazy Old Socialist.  I'm surprised it was that high.  I don't think they give points for us all being bipedal air breathers, which is the only way I'd think I have that much in common with them.

Finally, while cleaning out my email boxes (anal-retentive is hyphenated, dammit!) I came across this great piece from The Onion in 2011, "Remains Of Ancient Race Of Job Creators Found In Rust Belt".  It has the tone of an archaeological publication. As a sample:
According to researchers, these long- forgotten people once flourished between western New York state and Illinois, erecting highly distinctive steel and brick structures wherever they went, including many buildings thought to have held hundreds of paid workers at a time.

"It's truly fascinating—after spending a certain number of hours performing assigned tasks, the so-called 'employees' at such facilities would receive monetary compensation that allowed them to support themselves and their families," said archaeologist Alan H. Mueller, citing old ledgers and time-keeping devices unearthed at excavation sites in the region. "In fact, this practice seems to have been the norm for their culture, which consisted of advanced tool users capable of exploiting their skills to produce highly valued goods and services."

"It's a complex and intriguing set of rituals we're still trying to fully understand," Mueller added. "But it appears as if their entire society was centered around creating, out of thin air, actual jobs that paid an actual living wage."
Yeah, it's an old piece, but whole idea that people creating and working at regular jobs where they earn a living from as being so remote in history that archaeologists study those people is a funny concept.  The idea that work is an ancient culture fits well in the Obama economy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Techy Wednesday (?) - Can Radio Frequency Wireless Charging Work?

A rather late post.  After working on this for an hour or so last night, it just wasn't coming across clearly.  To me.  I thought discretion was in order and I'd rework it to make it more understandable - and make it twice as long. 

Wireless charging is one of those things that seems like a great idea but really hasn't taken off as much as many had expected.  I touched on that briefly last month, but while wireless charging fits into many peoples' lives, it isn't revolutionary.  I recall writing:
Yeah, they allow you to put your phone on a mat, or a special pad like the Samsung charger pictured, but the bottom line is that it doesn't buy you much.  Your phone isn't very usable while it's charging - at least, not as a phone.   How different is leaving your phone on a pad overnight from leaving it plugged in overnight?
Within a week of that, I ran into talk about another wireless charger that went beyond "not revolutionary" to a bit scary.  EE Times reported:
The Cota wireless charging technology from Cairo-based Si-Ware Systems (SWS) and Ossia Inc. departs from coil-based systems to serve up to eight devices simultaneously at a distance of 30 feet using 2.4 GHz multi-path radio frequency.
Ossia and SWS envision a charging technology that mimics Wi-Fi, automatically connecting devices to power without the need for charging mats. The Cota system includes a scalable receiver and transmitter with between 1,000 and 8,000 tiny antennas. [emphasis added - SiG]
The idea itself is pretty elegant and you have to admit it has some aspects that sound cool.  Instead of charging inductively, like all current systems do; implementing the two halves of a transformer as a coil on the charger and one in the thing being charged, this system uses radio transmitters to send power to the thing you're charging.  As a user, you never worry about plugging in the device, or putting it on the charging coil.  You simply go about your life and the phone (or whatever) is automagically charged while you use it.  In their system, one transmitter connects with up to 8 devices with no action required from the user, like a WiFi network recognizing a device that had been there before, and sends power to charge the device's batteries over radio frequencies.  The article reports this system relies on custom components which they describe.
The SWS1410 MIMO transmitter chip can deliver more than 10 Watts with support for up to four antennas, a central CPU that can store location data for different clients and on-chip RAM. Abid Hussein, chief commercialization officer at Ossia, which developed Cota’s antenna technology, made a distinction between his technology and beam forming.

Each antenna emits a few milliwatts of ambient power he said, then uses massive multi-path technology to process a receiver’s signal and send power to a chip or chips. Ossia and SWS will demonstrate a consumer-scale personal area transmitter at CES in January. [emphasis added - SiG]
The way I read how they're describing this, they intend to radiate "more than 10 Watts" for the charging, but the system will emit a few milliwatts, and when a receiver replies, then it sends power.

So what's the problem?  The amount of power they need to send and the way the system is described sounds like it's going to be in the realm of potentially dangerous.  

I find numbers help me visualize the system and make it easier to see the way it works, so let's play with some numbers.  An iPhone 5 or 6 has a battery rated at about 6 or 7 Watts.  An iPad has a battery rated at 25W.  A Samsung Galaxy S5 has a battery which upgrades that to almost 11 Watts.  The Nexus 10 Tablets are rated at close to 34 Watts.  That sort of rating in watts is generally given for a 10 hour charge/discharge rate (I talk about this in more detail here), which implies a charger would apply about a tenth of that for over 10 hours.  (Why more than 10 hours to put back 10 hours worth of use?  There are always inefficiencies, things that generate heat, that make it take more than 10 hours to put 10 hours of capacity into a battery).

Since they say that their system will charge up to eight devices, we could assume a mix of these things or "worst case" it by assuming we have a room with eight Nexus 10 tablets in it, but I'm going to be generous and say four Nexus 10 tablets (4 times 3.4 Watts) and four iPhones (4 times 0.7 Watts).  That's 16.4 Watts, quite a bit more than the "more than 10 Watts" rating they talk about.  Based on reading Engineering Sales pitches for 30 years, I believe that if they really could do 16.4 watts they'd say, "more than 15 watts" if not saying more than 16 watts.  So I'm going to go from here and limit my calculations to 10 Watts.  (More than 10 Watts could mean 10.001)

The problem is the electromagnetics of filling a room with 10 Watts of radio frequency (RF) energy, aiming it at a handful of small devices, and actually transferring the charge to them.  In particular, can it be done safely?  RF safety is pretty big and contentious subject.  Way back in 2011, I put down a lot of thoughts on the subject, but the 25 cent summary is that while there are many, many accusations that RF causes all sorts of injuries, cancers or other problems, the only effects that everyone agrees with is that it causes heating.  We all know that - didn't Robin Williams joke about putting Mr. Hamster in the microwave oven in the mid '70s?  

Over the last half year or so of my career, I became the default guy to go to with questions about RF safety.  I reviewed what the US, European Union, Canada, and Australia had for their RF safety limits, and then looked into what the Environmental Defense Fund had to say about smart meters (I found it interesting that EDF essentially used the US limits).  In general, the US limits are about typical of everyone.  There are a couple of countries in the European Union who reject the EU limits and impose limits about 1/10 of those but don't really justify it.  I will stick with the US limits here.

The US has a safe exposure limit (for the general public) in the 2.4 GHz frequency range (cited in the first quote paragraph) of .001 W per square centimeter; 1mW/  Recall from the previous charging discussion that we're assuming 10Watts or 10,000 mW.  To get to 1 mW/, we have to spread that over 10,000 to be safe!  10,000 is 1550 square inches.   An antenna beam doesn't have to be circular in shape, but it's a convenient way to wonder how big a thing we're talking about.  A circular beam of 1550 square inches would be almost 44 inches in diameter, almost four feet in diameter.     

Think now about pointing that 44 inch diameter pencil-shaped beam at one device to charge.  44 inches diameter is much bigger than an iPad, so some of that energy will be lost and charging efficiency will go down making it take more hours to charge it.  The only way they could get the efficiency up would be to make the beam smaller, but that would make the power density exceed the FCC safety rules.  It gets more complicated.  That 10Watts needs to be split into eight different directions to put the power into the device.  In a way that's good, since it might be feasible to send lower powers, which can ease the safety hazard and make the beams smaller.  On the other hand, consider a room with eight people carrying devices and the system trying to charge them.  How does it track them?  How does it keep the beam from not crossing someone's eyes?  How fast could someone move and still allow the system to charge something?
I hate to be the guy who told the Wright Brothers "it'll never fly", but it doesn't seem to be an approach that can really work.  Too many conflicting requirements.  They say that they want to use the 2.4 GHz band for this power distribution, but your smart device has a 2.4 GHz WiFi receiver in it and putting 10 Watts in the vicinity of a receiver designed to handle millionths of a watt just isn't a good idea.  That much power would very likely physically damage the receiver.  If it doesn't physically damage the receiver, it will jam it and make it useless.

I'm especially concerned about the RF safety requirements.  No, I don't think 1mW/ is dangerous, but computing what an actual electromagnetic field looks like, especially one that comes from "between 1000 and 8000" radiating antennas, is so computationally horrific that it would choke a really fast computer for days.  The amount of simulation and measurement that would be required to show it to be safe would require many sets of calculations.  And those calculations go out the window unless everything in the room can be modeled, including the people carrying the devices. Don't say they can measure the fields because putting any probe into a field distorts it.  That doesn't make the safety analysis any easier.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Do You 'Cue?

As in barbecue?

Long time readers will know I tend to talk about firing up the smoker and barbecuing a pork butt or brisket or whatever is around, especially on holidays.  I say that barbecue is two of the four basic food groups:  barbecue, bacon, barbecue and fruit.  Much of what people think of as vegetables are really fruits from a biological standpoint: corn is a fruit, squash, zucchini, green beans, and tomatoes are all fruits.  When you get down to it, virtually all non-leafy, non-starchy vegetables are fruit.  Coffee comes from coffee beans, the seeds in the fruit of that plant, which makes coffee sorta like a fruit juice.

There's a distinction between barbecuing and grilling.  Grilling is throwing a hunk 'o meat (or whatever) over hot charcoal and cooking it in about the same time as you would on your kitchen stove.  Barbecue is "low and slow".  Low temperature; slow cooking.  My bias is that Real Barbecue is done in a smoker, which can be fired in any number of ways: wood, propane, electric, anything that will heat the wood to the smoking point.

If you 'cue, you may have made a fatty (or fattie) - or heard of them.  I came across the idea on some barbecue forums; people talking about "smoking a big fattie".  I was puzzled, but went off and read.  I made my first one this weekend.  A fatty is more like a template than a recipe, and there's almost as many versions as there are people making them.  The basic idea is take about a pound of pork sausage or ground beef, form it into a thin sheet with something like a rolling pin, and then roll that up around some stuffing of some sort.  The stuffing could be just about anything; I've seen guys put spinach in theirs, diced ham, potatoes, or even scrambled eggs.  One guy just took the wrapper off a one pound roll of sausage, rolled that in the dry rub mix that folks use on ribs, and smoked that. 
This was my starting point: a 2 pound package of Jimmy Dean pork sausage and two packages of bacon.  Using wax paper on that cookie sheet, I spread it out into a thin layer, added fillings, and rolled it up into a round sorta-meatloaf.  I stuffed it with provolone, mushrooms and salami slices with some garlic and red pepper.  (This is before the mushrooms and spices.) 
Then I rolled it up into a package of bacon made into a basket weave, like this:
Since I started out with a two pound package of sausage, it turned out too big for the bacon weave.  No problem, we just wrapped some more bacon around the ends, and then skewered them to hold them in place.   Into the smoker at 230F with hickory chips and four hours later, when the internal temperature hit 165, this is what came out:
Those white things that look like plugs?  That's molten provolone cheese coming out from where the meat thermometer probes were.  If you're keeping score, it's a bacon-wrapped, cheese and salami filled, pork sausage roll.  Bet you can see where the name fattie comes from! 
Seems like something to experiment with once a month or so.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

China Isn't Going to Recover for a Long Time

A few times in the last year, I mentioned Jim Rickards and his book "The Death of Money" (book link).  In one of the more pucker-inducing section of the book, Jim devotes a full chapter to the problems lurking just under the surface in China.  China has corruption that makes our government look like a brownie girl scout troop.

One of the ways this corruption is evident is in systemic malinvestment.  It works like this:  China doesn't really have a free market system; it has a state run economy like any other socialist state.  There is some freedom around the edges, but the monsters are the so called "state owned enterprises", typically run by local or provincial "big wigs", almost the equivalent of war lords.  Think of these SOEs as engines of corruption, shoveling money from the government to cronies who do whatever they want with it (did I say it was like our system, only worse?)   China has "ghost cities" that have never been occupied, bridges to nowhere, bridges and other projects that are abandoned after an aborted start and more.

Case in point is the city of Caofeidian, the "world's first fully realized eco-city", in a Guardian article from July of '14.  Roughly 120 miles southeast of Beijing, Caofeidian was built on land reclaimed from the sea by dredging sea bottom and piling it up (the term "dredge and fill" is an obscenity in South Florida, BTW).  
‘As precious as gold ...’ That was how then-president Hu Jintao described Caofeidian during his visit in 2006. It was pledged to be ‘the world’s first fully realised eco-city’ – yet 10 years and almost $100bn later, only a few thousand inhabitants have moved to this land reclaimed from the sea ...
One million residents were once supposed to live there. It is a ghost town today, sporting only a few thousand inhabitants. Practically no-one has ever stayed in the city, and the buildings are already deteriorating. In fact, many of the buildings have been left half-finished, as credit eventually ran out. 

The first city to get a lot of press as a ghost was Ordos, in Inner Mongolia.  Ordos was built as a copy of... well, Ordos, a Mongolian city that became wealthy as a center for coal production.   A BBC article from 2012 begins:
A huge statue of the mighty warrior Genghis Khan presides over Genghis Khan Plaza in Ordos New Town. The square is vast, fading into the snowy mist on a recent Sunday morning.

Genghis Khan Plaza is flanked by huge and imposing buildings.

Two giant horses from the steppes rise on their hind legs in the centre of the Plaza, statues which dwarf the great Khan himself.

Only one element is missing from this vast ensemble - people.

There are only two or three of us in this immense townscape. Because this is Ordos, a place that has been called the largest ghost town in China.
But it's not just cities, it's all sorts of infrastructure.  Consider the Qingdao Haiwan Bridge, shown here in white in the middle of the water.
This recently completed bridge (the white line across the middle of the bay in the image above) holds the world record for the longest bridge over water.

Spanning 42 kilometers, it’s long enough to cross the English Channel.

Built at a cost of 56 billion yuan ($8.7 billion), the bridge crosses Jiaozhou Bay and connects the main urban area of Qingdao city with the Huangdao District.
The bridge saves approximately 20 minutes drive time to go from one industrial side to other.  Is 20 minutes times the number of commuters really worth $8.7 billion?  How much traffic does this represent?  Consider, instead, building a bridge where the red line is at the mouth of that bay.  It wouldn't be able to claim the title of "longest bridge over water in the world", but it would have cut drive time between the population centers as well.

There's bad investment all over China: bridges, cities and more.   Estimates run into the trillions of dollars. 

You've heard for some time that the China's yuan is being manipulated to make it look better than it really is.  They made a mistake, though, in pegging it to the dollar.  Since the dollar has been doing well for the last year or so (due to my "least disgusting girl at the dance" theory) causing the dollar to rise against other currencies.  This makes Chinese exports more expensive compared to those from places like Vietnam, Myanmar, Taiwan or Thailand.  Financial writer Tom Dyson of the Palm Beach Letter observes:
That’s why we’ve seen China’s gross domestic product (GDP) decrease every consecutive year since 2007. And it’s now growing at its slowest pace in 25 years. China’s GDP is expected to contract even further next year.

The billions of dollars in lost export revenue are now no longer available to service bad debts.

The lost revenue was the cash flow that kept the show going. Without it, those who have partaken in this grand scheme will have their legs swept out from under them.
He also cautions that we're not going to see China default or go bankrupt, but it is going to take years to go through this bad debt.  The days of the (so-called) 7% per year growth in China are over.  In my opinion, they're going to look at years of zero to negative growth.  That will ripple around the world, and will affect the US economy, too.  He presents a list of Exchange Traded Funds that center on China that should be avoided.  If you accept his analysis (RTWT). 
Bridge pylons from Caofeidian.  A six-lane road span bridge was abandoned after 10 support pylons had been erected.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Different Kind of Fun Show

Not just a gun show, but a gun and fishing show. 

Today, Mrs. Graybeard and I drove an hour south to Ft. Pierce for the Florida Sportsman Expo held outdoors at the county fairgrounds.  Florida Sportsman is a magazine dedicated to the state that covers fishing, hunting, shooting, camping, diving and basically everything you'd want to do in outdoors sports.  I know a lot of you north of us on the east coast are suffering through snowmageddon so I don't mean to sound silly, but it was cold today by our standards.  It made it up to about 60, but there was a NW wind at about 20 steady and gusting to 35 or so.  Yeah, I know, many of you think of that as car washing weather. 

At the fishing expo there were various boats on display, kayaks, and other man-powered, skinny water fishing boats, plus custom rods, lots of reels, tackle, and lures like DOA Lures and USB Lures.  Pretty much everything you'd need to outfit a fishing addiction.  The fishing show, though, was in an equestrian events building that offered no protection from the wind.  With sun blocked out by the building, the wind was rather difficult to bear, and I had good rain jacket/windbreaker on.  Before someone says it, I know the term "dress in layers", but it isn't part of my everyday life.  Plus, I expected the expo to be indoors, based on the photos at the FS Expo website. 

Running alongside the fishing expo was a gun show.  The gun show wasn't particularly good.  The venue was two small side buildings, and there was hardly anything to see.  The most interesting thing I saw was that a Mossberg 715T, their AR-lookalike .22LR semiauto was going for less than a plain old Ruger 10/22 with the basic wood stock

So we drove about 130 miles, spent $12 to get in, didn't see a thing worth buying and spent three hours to find that out. The worst part was that I managed to get my two wheel drive Exploder stuck in mud looking for a parking spot.  A nice guy with a 4WD Ram gave me a tow out back to firmer ground. 

The Fairgrounds looking more or less south.  Fishing was in the big building in the back behind the red circle. The gun show was in two of the three smaller, squat buildings to the right and in front of the circle. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

I Don't Care Who You Are, That's Funny!

I don't care if you like or dislike either of them, I love the caricatures.  I've always admired the ability of a cartoonist to capture the essence of a face with a few lines. 

Glenn McCoy, whose work is seen at Townhall and GoComics.  He also nails a pretty accurate Bernie, too.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Time's Up For This Prediction - The Market Correction Will Be Over in Four Months

Not my prediction, but while looking for something I'd written around last August or September, I ran across this piece from September 4th quoting an interview on CNBC with Brian Jacobsen, Wells Fargo Advantage Funds chief portfolio strategist.  He said that the market drop to 16,000 was a correction and it should be over within two to three weeks:
"I do hope that it is a two to three week bottoming pattern. However, when I look at the history of bull market corrections, it actually suggests that it might take a little bit longer than two to three weeks," Jacobsen told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."
The piece goes on to quote the observation that "There were two major corrections since 2009. In each case, stocks recovered all their losses within about four months."

Coincidentally, we're just over four months since that article.  The DJIA was 16,102 on that day, "correcting" down from 18,312.  Today it closed at 15,882.  Doesn't sound like it has recovered its losses in four months like those other corrections, does it?

As I've said here many times, the money that the Fed has cranked into the economy has distorted it extremely badly and those distortions have rippled everywhere so that it will take a long time to recover.  Check that.  It won't recover and go back to being a free market because before that can happen, someone will find ways to inject other distortions into the system.  They've essentially completely destroyed the free market.  As Milton Friedman said, “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

Simple question:  Can a small bunch of PhD economists with no market or business experience really manage the entire world’s economy?  Of course not.  A true free market doesn't need to be managed; it's an almost infinite set of signals and feedbacks that sets prices, sets demands and rights itself.  For example, the Fed decided years ago that they want inflation of 2%.  Why 2?  Why not 1?  Why not 3.14159%?  Why not a negative number?   What theory… what experience… what divine revelation leads them to think that an economy should have annual price increases of 2%? There is none. It is a modern myth.  In reality, prices go up and down on supply and demand.  There’s no more reason they should always go up by 2% than down by 2%.

Any commanded change in interest rates (the cost of money) to encourage buying or selling, lending or borrowing, distorts the free market.  The tired example is the bank loaning you money at low rates to prompt you to buy only moves that purchase forward in time.  Now that you have that item, you don't need one and you're paying it off, anyway.  Something you would have bought next year, say, moves into this year, but it doesn't change the aggregate number to be made and sold; it only changes the timing of making and selling it.  Eventually all of your income goes to making payments on what you bought and you can't add the payments when something breaks and you need a replacement.
Reality is that resources are limited. Prices tell us what we’ve got to work with. Falsify prices and you get errors of omission and commission. After a while, the system suffers from things it shouldna, oughtna done.

As Hjalmar Schacht, Germany’s minister of economics in the 1930s, put it: “I don’t want a low rate. I don’t want a high rate. I want a true rate.”

An honest interest rate tells the truth about how much savings are available and at what price. People still make mistakes; they still get up to some pretty weird stuff. But at least the perverts aren’t handing out candy on the playground.
There are those saying we're entering a bad bear market while the system goes through the equivalent of withdrawal symptoms from all that free money, the delirium tremens.  Some say five years of recession, some say 20.  I. Don't. Know.  What I was looking for when I found this "four months" quote was my technical analysis predictions that we could be looking at Dow 6000 or even Dow 5000.  It was in response to seeing a click bait ad that "one expert" predicts Dow 6000. 
The MSCI Index tracks stocks in both 23 advanced countries and 23 emerging economies worldwide.  Staying below 20% from its 52 week high is a standard definition of bear market. 

Is the DJIA really heading for 6000?  I think it's within the realm of possibility.  If I knew for sure, I'd be saying we should all be buying more beans, bullets and band-aids.  At those levels, there will be blood in the streets.  On the other hand if you can protect your assets now and avoid a bank haircut/bail-in as Peter comments, then when it is 6000 - or 5000 - that will be the time to buy. 

Tactical Yoga Pants

At SHOT show this week, 5.11 Tactical apparently announced what they call Raven Ranch Capri pants, but which the media is calling Tactical yoga pants.  My first reaction was to laugh.  "What a bunch of minxes!  What a lively sense of humor!"  (bonus points for recognizing the mangled quote...) 

My second reaction was to laugh. 

Then I thought, you know, with women being just about the fastest growing demographic in gun purchases, and every place I look women asking "how do I carry this darned thing?", maybe it's brilliance.  Young women seem reluctant to give up their carefully-considered style to dress around the gun.  You and I might get pants a size too big so we can use an IWB holster, but we're not 20-something studly guys (even if I'm only speaking for myself) and we're certainly not attractive young women (ditto about only speaking for myself).  It seems that young women don't want to "dress around the gun".  From what I can tell by reading, you understand. 
(image from 5.11 Tactical, via TFB).  The comments at the page on The Firearms Blog are pure gold, though. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Techy Tuesday - Ultra HD, 4K TV and HDR

Some time ago, Mrs. Graybeard and I were in that electronics store that implies they have the best buys on everything.  I don't even remember why we were there.  My only distinct memory is drifting over to where they have the monster TVs and encountering my first 4K TV.  It was playing a demo loop consisting of a vivid night time scene in some city, switching to a dusk scene of boats and a large riverboat on what appeared to be a European waterway, and then some scenes from Arches National Park.

My jaw hit the floor with such force that I think it's still partially dislocated.  Despite the enormous screen size, I think it was 60", it seemed there was detail in the picture finer than I could see; that if you put it under a microscope, you'd see more and more detail.  If I had a pocket magnifier, I would have tried it.

Unfortunately, the terms involved are somewhat muddled and there really isn't a way to know exactly what you're getting without seeing the TV.  For example, if I had bought that TV, I would have bought a 4K Ultra High Definition TV and would have thought I had the best there is. After this year's Consumer Electronics Show, though, I might be finding out that TV isn’t actually “Ultra HD Premium.”  EE Times' reporter Junko Yoshida does a summary of the terms and what's really going on in the market.
The UHD Alliance, an industry group with 35 member companies, came to Las Vegas last week, and rolled out a set of new specifications called “Ultra High Definition Premium,” and a ‘Good Housekeeping’ logo for products and services that comply with the spec.  The group’s recommended performance metrics include resolution, high dynamic range (HDR), peak luminance, black levels and wide color gamut.

The new spec actually clarifies the definition of Ultra High Definition. This is something “premium UHD” panel makers wanted but the Consumer Technology Association (formerly known as Consumer Electronics Association) never did,” according to Richard Doherty, Research Director of the Envisioneering Group. “So, the UHD Alliance stepped up and gave them what they wanted… Others can now aspire to meeting the criteria.”
As always, "the devil is in the details".  The HDR specifications, for example, specify how black the blackest levels need to be and how bright the whitest levels need to be.  The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) has been researching what constitutes "HDR" and developing specifications.  Their "HDR10" has been adopted as a basic standard for HDR 4k TV.  But peak brightness and peak blackness are just limits; how to meet those limits is a different question; if I told you the blackest blacks need to be the blackest thing imaginable and the peak brightness had to match the sun, I might have created a spec. that nobody could meet.
To date, four companies — Dolby, Technicolor, Philips and the BBC — have developed an HDR format. Each firm, armed with its own intellectual property rights, has been pitching its technology — a development destined to trigger another format battle over which format will be added to Ultra High Definition TV.
Shades of the VHS/Beta VCR standards?  Yup.  I'm fond of the saying that goes, "when there's more than one standard, there is no standard". 
This simulation from Dolby Labs shows their simulation of how much better their HDR is than the competition (real or imagined).  
One piece of surprise news came out of CES last week. Technicolor (Paris) and Royal Philips announced an agreement to merge their HDR solutions.
This matters because every scene isn't pure white or pure black.  The color space is incredibly important.  If you were around as CGA computer monitors were replaced by VGA and then SVGA and so on, you'll be familiar with the ideas color resolution and color spaces a monitor can display.  It applies here, as well.  (This is a deep subject; people study this for a living, so don't be surprised if it seems to be really esoteric.)  The most inclusive standard for color spaces I can find is CIE 1931.  Ultra HDR, 4K TVs are supposed to meet an input of Rec. BT.2020 ("Rec" is short for recommendation, but think of it as yet another specification).
Pictured here are three spec.s: CIE1931 as the large colored zone and two triangular areas.  The smaller one is the current HDTV color space, called Rec.709.  The larger triangle is BT2020.  The dot in the middle, D65, is white. 

So what does all this mean?  What's the bottom line?  Right now, the market appears to be both scattered and looking for directions.  There are some gorgeous 4k TVs out there, but while walking through the Big Box store a couple of weeks ago, I took a look at the display aisle and there were some that didn't look that good.  Not just HDR, which makes the screen look less vivid, but other picture problems as well.  I'm not buying for that reason, along with the lack of 4k source material.  In this neck of the woods, HD cable TV is just starting to do 1080p TV.  The 2160p of 4k just isn't there.  If you feel you have to have one, I'd still be really hesitant until specs get agreed upon.  You might read this article, too.  If you still feel you have to have one, I wouldn't buy one unless I could see it first. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Glenn Frey

By now, just about everyone knows that Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey passed away today, at the too-young age of 67.  Most everyone is commenting on years of listening to their music, and those memories are personal - the kind of things that probably don't translate well.  I've had them listed in my profile as one of my few favorite bands of all time.  Lately, I've been spending time learning to play some of it, too. 

Billboard magazine has the most complete bio I've seen, and is worth a read.  It includes a great history of the band.  But Glenn's best friends (and, yes, co-workers) at The Eagles have a touching tribute.
It Is With The Heaviest of Hearts That We Announce ... ...the passing of our comrade, Eagles founder, Glenn Frey, in New York City on Monday, January 18th, 2016.

Glenn fought a courageous battle for the past several weeks but, sadly, succumbed to complications from Rheumatoid Arthritis, Acute Ulcerative Colitis and Pneumonia.
The Eagles include the lyrics and an audio recording of this song Glenn wrote, the last song from their 2007 album.
 “It's Your World Now
Written by Glenn Frey and Jack Tempchin
From the Eagles’ Long Road Out of Eden album

A perfect day, the sun is sinkin' low
As evening falls, the gentle breezes blow
The time we shared went by so fast
Just like a dream, we knew it couldn't last
But I'd do it all again
If I could, somehow
But I must be leavin' soon
It's your world now

It's your world now
My race is run
I'm moving on
Like the setting sun
No sad goodbyes
No tears allowed
You'll be alright
It's your world now

Even when we are apart
You'll always be in my heart
When dark clouds appear in the sky
Remember true love never dies

But first a kiss, one glass of wine
Just one more dance while there's still time
My one last wish: someday, you'll see
How hard I tried and how much you meant to me

It's your world now
Use well your time
Be part of something good
Leave something good behind
The curtain falls
I take my bow
That's how it's meant to be
It's your world now
It's your world now
It's your world now
I could do no better than to grab the final paragraph in the Billboard article

Discussing the superb 2013 History of the Eagles, Part 1 documentary with Billboard, Frey said: "You couldn't have asked for a better script for a bunch of guys in their 20s trying to make it into the music business. We were young, we made mistakes, we still make mistakes. It's the story of an American band, but it's also the story of the songs we wrote and what those songs did to [people]. We're here because everybody likes the songs."  [emphasis added - SiG]

Sunday, January 17, 2016

SpaceX Falcon 9 Muffs Landing Attempt at Sea

After last month's successful return and landing of their Falcon9 booster on the Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX upped the ante today and attempted to land on a barge at sea after a launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  They got closer than they have before, but the rocket fell over on the barge.  Elon Musk went to twitter to explain that of the four legs required for landing, one failed to lock in position, so that when the rocket leaned onto that leg, it fell over.  Initially, it was thought that they landed too hard and broke the leg, but later said the leg had never locked properly. 
 "After further data review, stage landed softly but leg 3 didn't lockout. Was within 1.3 meters of droneship center," SpaceX confirmed later.
Later he posted this picture of the Falcon9 lying on its side on the barge, saying "Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time!"   (I think I'd wear that on a Tee shirt!)
One report said the seas were 10-13' , which seems like it has to affect the landing.  Think of the ship rising and smacking the legs of the booster just as its ready to gently touch down.  Or think of the booster calculating where it's going to land and the ship being 6' lower than the calculation because of a wave.  
"Definitely harder to land on a ship. Similar to an aircraft carrier vs land: much smaller target area, that's also translating & rotating," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted.
Each attempt at landing on a barge has gotten a bit closer to sticking the landing, so I fully expect them to get it figured out soon.  You can see the engineering getting better.  The drone ship landings are desirable because they allow the biggest portion of fuel in the booster to be used for the launch.  To return to the land at the launch site requires more fuel. I believe they'll get there. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Internet of Things Isn't Just About Bad Security

The problem isn't just that the software has gaping security holes, it's that software driven everything appears to be a recipe for disaster.

EE Times reports this week that Consumers are feeling the peril of all the connectivity.  There's a "smart thermostat" for air conditioners called the Nest (which I mentioned here).  It offers convenience features such as the ability to set the temperature from elsewhere.  Your first thought is probably a widespread hacking, but in this case, that isn't the "uh oh".
Earlier this month, Nest’s smart thermostat reportedly stopped working, leaving many users frustrated and their homes freezing cold.

Users took their problem to social media, blaming a mysterious software bug that drained Nest’s battery, and complaining that the thermostat can’t connect to the Internet.
Later, company officials explained that during a December software update which was pushed onto the customers' thermostats, they introduced a bug that didn't show up until January.
Richard Doherty, research director of Envisioneering Group, called the Nest fiasco “the worst possible consumer experience imaginable.” All the more egregious is that most of the time “customers do NOT know of the update; or even the purpose of the ‘fix’ it was supposed to deliver,” he added.
You're not the only people getting concerned about this.  Apparently, that concern is getting pretty widespread.
Take a look at the 2016 Accenture Digital Consumer Survey in which 28,000 consumers in 28 countries were polled on their use of consumer technology.  One result that jumps out is that consumers’ “security and privacy” concerns over IoT devices are much more prominent, compared to 12 months ago, John Curran, managing director of Accenture, told us. 
An even bigger surprise is how many consumers said they are going out of their way “to quit or terminate an IoT device or services until they are assured of safety,” explained Curran. “It’s not a majority, but close to 20 percent of people told us that. It’s a big number.”
Curran said, “the most sobering view of where we are today is captured by a sharp drop of the purchase intent of smartphones among Chinese respondents.” Globally, the purchase intent for smartphones is declining. Only 48% of consumers plan to buy a smartphone in the next 12 months. The drop is sharpest in China, down from 82 percent last year to 61 percent this year.
I think this maturation of the IoT market is like the quote from the CEO of Big Ass Fans I used back on January 7th:
 "[The connected home] [or in this case IoT - SiG] is in the very early stages," Smith says, "and when people ask why hasn't this caught on, well, what the hell is there to catch on? There's nothing there. I mean, taking something off of the wall and putting it on your's a conceit to imagine that that's anything interesting or important. You aren't doing jack is what it comes down to." 
A running joke in the electronics hardware business is that software is going to cause the end of the world.  The way the software business is run is so fundamentally different from the way that hardware works that most of us are perpetually astounded.  Can you imagine buying a car where many features just don't work right, and the companies have you return to the dealer to install new hardware?  I suspect that would raise a pretty loud howl from their owners.  How is that different from a software patch to fix something that doesn't work properly?  Now imagine you don't take the car to the dealer, but someone comes to your car in the middle of the night, installs the new hardware, and the car won't work the next morning.  That's what Nest did. 

In the aviation business, commercial or military, software is deadly serious and the emphasis on the way software is created is unlike anything you'll find in a place like Nest.  In the commercial world I just came from, the industry specifications essentially require that every single line of code can be shown to come from a system level requirement; that every single line of code be inspected, tested and verified to work as intended.  The verification has to be done by someone independent from the software engineers.  That reduces, but doesn't eliminate, the chance the system won't work as intended.  The military and commercial aviation markets are so tough on software that the old cliche' of "fix it in software" has turned into "fix it in hardware".  The equivalent rigor for hardware is mostly aimed at complex digital components, such as FPGAs, ASICs, CPLDs and other hardware that's largely created by writing software.
Software issues have killed people already.  The Nest probably didn't kill anyone, but may have allowed some pipes to freeze and flooded some houses.
(found here, but the image is from Cisco, whose version is much more involved and interesting)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

For My Fellow Florida Gunnies

Full disclosure: a couple of years ago, the NRA had life memberships on sale for much lower than usual (someone may have been picking up part of the cost) and I became a life member.  That may color your reaction to this, so let me "lead with my chin" and put it up here.

Ammoland is reporting that there's an out of state group representing themselves as Florida Gun Rights lobbying Florida gun owners by email.  Personally, I haven't gotten one of these solicitations, but the source is Marion Hammer, former NRA president, and one of the gunnies' best lobbyists in the state.
Once again email is flooding to Florida gun owners from an entity calling itself “Florida Gun Rights” (FLGR) asking that gun owners send email to Florida Legislators about a nonexistent bill.
These alerts are not coming from a grassroots group in Florida, their corporate documents clearly show their principal place of business is Colorado.
Once again they are claiming there is a “Backyard Range Ban” bill. Make no mistake, there is NO SUCH BILL.
The specifics about it being a bill seem to be a technicality (which is all that lawyers live for) because they go on to say,
HB-41 adds a subsection (4) to existing law to prohibit the discharge of firearms in residential neighborhoods that have a density of one or more dwellings per acre.
I could see how this could be construed to be a Backyard Range Ban bill, rather than an addition to existing law 790.15, but that's not the point.  The point is that if you're going to donate to a Florida gun rights group, I'd personally rather donate to one that's really in Florida, not Colorado. It's why I'm a member of Florida Carry
FLGR is not incorporated as a nonprofit Florida corporation. FLGR is registered as Florida LLC (normally a for-profit small business). Their single purpose seems to be conning you (regardless of your political party) into sending them money.
The Ammoland article alleges that FLGR is a PO Box for NAGR, which appears to be the case according to the Update section of this article in a South Florida news service.  I've given to NAGR in the past, but stopped doing so when it turned out that "nagger" was a pretty good descriptor.  They may be a decent group, but they send a begging request once a day.