Thursday, July 2, 2015

Shaky Economies From East to West

Greece shook the US markets this Tuesday.  For a day, anyway, after which they seem to have shaken it back off.  In my mind, the 300 point drop can hard be called a "correction" (<2%), so the smallness of the drop is interesting.  I suppose they were worrying that the zombie apocalypse was going to start the next day and when it didn't they went back to - SQUIRREL!!! - their normal mode, which is that as long as Janet keeps sticking money in their pockets, they'll keep cranking up the market.  Even with that, the DJIA closed well under 18,000  (17,730 today) which is down from the first of the year. 

But don't think of Greece as an isolated case of a really badly run economy.  In fact, Greece is the rule, not the exception.  According to Credit Suisse, Greece has total debt – including households, businesses, and government – equal to 353% of GDP.   But U.S. debt is even higher at 370%.  Germany, that supposed paragon of the European Unions highest financial virtue, has 302%. China, with its state-controlled economy, is at 250%.  Did you notice that China's Shanghai stock market is down over 20% in the last 30 days?  The Shenzhen stock market has dropped over 30% as well. 

On the other hand,  a debt to GDP ratio of either Greece's 353% or our 370% is great compared to Britain. It has total debt equal to 546% of GDP.   Japan is in an even worse state. Its total-debt-to-GDP is 646%.  And if the Credit Suisse numbers are correct, Ireland is off the charts with total debt equal to more than 1,000 times GDP.

Will there be a "Grexit" after all of this plays out?  I don't know.  It seems most Greeks want to stay in EU and prefer the Euro over their old currency, the Drachma.  I've read the same about the other countries; notably Ireland, Italy, and Spain, all of them larger economies than Greece.  It's said that the European Union is more a political union than an economic one, and people want to stay in the EU for those reasons. 

But the takeaway is that these problems are not unique to Greece or the EU.  The entire world is awash in debt, addicted to the transient high of growth being pulled in from the future and accelerated.  Greece is the focal point this week, but it will be somewhere else soon enough.  It can be anywhere.  At some point, the money creation will stop and interest rates will have to go up.  The sense of today's jobs reports is that the often talked-about September rate hike is less likely than it had been.  Interest rates simply have to go up at some point.  That storm will unavoidably rage.  


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

One Step Closer to Holodecks

A persistent idea in SciFi movies is holograms as either 3D videos that can be projected into thin air or tangible objects you can touch and interact with.  It's a disappointment for almost everyone when they learn that the hologram can't be seen unless it's projected onto something like smoke or wispy cloth.  Similarly, the laser beams in movies that can be seen from any angle as colored streaks across the screen are only visible in that kind of smoke or fog. 

Released to the world on June 22, we get news of a breakthrough that gives us a little bit of both.
Released by The Digital Nature Group at Japan’s University of Tsukuba, this video shows a technique they've developed that not only projects an image in thin air, you can interact with it and touch it.  Furthermore, their system can sense your touch and change in response.  While it's very, very far from a solid image you could touch like they used to portray in Star Trek Holodeck scenes, something like the displays that Tom Cruise's character manipulates in Minority Report just got a step closer.  Suddenly they seem like something that could be 10 years away.  The displays in this video are quite small, so they'll need to be made bigger, but that doesn't seem hard just looking at their approach.

So what's different in this breakthrough? They are using very short laser pulses, measured in femtoseconds (fs).  In some experiments the pulses were 269 fs, in others 30-100fs.  (1 fs is 10^-15 second)  The laser pulses essentially ignite the air turning it into plasma and the plasma is illuminated by the laser.  The plasma takes the place of the smoke, water vapor or other media currently used.  Plasma is hot but the combination of tiny amounts of energy, less than 50 micro joules, and those short pulses results in a plasma you can touch without being burned. 

The future is looking like a neat place.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Did Tuesday Seem Like A Long Day to You?

Strangely, it really was longer than the usual day today.  Exactly one second longer because a leap second was inserted into Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).  This was at 0000 UTC on July 1st, which was 8:00 PM on June 30th Eastern Daylight Time, 7:00 PM Central or 1349 PM on October 13th, The Year of the Walrus in California. 
Instead of the clock rolling around to 00:00:00 on July 1 as per usual, the time will actually jump to 23:59:60 before finally ending up in July a second later. The previous leap second, which was inserted in June 2012, caused a number of high-profile technological issues, and it's likely that the leap tonight will cause some problems as well.
Leap seconds are added because the rotation of the Earth just isn't quite as perfect time as we can measure.  I gave a few examples here of just how accurately we can measure time and some of the implications.   In UTC, which is the basis for all the time zones on Earth, a day is defined as 86400 SI seconds.  How long the Earth actually takes to rotate on its axis is somewhat varied, however: for the past few centuries, the rotation of the Earth has been slowing, causing mean solar days to get ever so slightly longer.  The kicker is that not only is the Earth's rotation slowing, it's slowing at an irregular rate.
In an attempt to ameliorate the artistic differences between UTC and Earth, the leap second system was introduced in 1972. Leap seconds can be inserted (or removed) at the end of June or December. There is no regularity in the system, though—nine seconds were inserted between 1972 and 1979, but only three seconds have been added since 2005—which is problematic in domains that demand regularity.
So who cares?  Anybody in any of the industries that care deeply about how long a day is, and the exact number of seconds since a previous event occurred. 
In June 2012, when the last leap second was applied, reddit crashed, Gawker went down, lots of Linux servers fell over, and Australian airline Qantas had some computer problems that caused up to 50 delayed flights.
In some cases, it was computer operators being caught unprepared (i.e., old systems and software packages that haven't been updated), but sometimes it was newer code that just wasn't tested adequately.  Remember Y2K?  Yeah, it's like that.  I recall going out to an old computer system I was using, tied to an HP Test System that was antiquated but irreplaceable, and setting the date to 2000 a few months ahead of need.  It handled the date just fine, but in some places on the screen  messed up the text-mode display.  (I'm really dating myself - in the archaeological sense).

If you're reading this, the Leap Second has already occurred and everything is cool.  If you're reading this and it's turned into the apocalypse out there, it's all because of this leap second! 

(Speaking of dating myself, Morris Day, of Morris Day and The Time, an entertaining diversion in the 1980s, from). 
  

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Supreme Court Ruling Nobody is Talking About

The media has been hammering on the SCOTUS-care and Gay Marriage rulings, because ratings, but it's not all they did.  What strikes me as another outrageous ruling was in the case of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs vs. The Inclusive Communities Project that upholds the notion that a seller can be guilty of discrimination against a buyer even if they didn't treat the buyer differently from other buyers and didn't intend to discriminate.   

If you're like me you're saying, "Excuse me?"
[The court ruled that] Texas's biggest housing subsidy has been reinforcing segregated housing. The project claimed that even if Texas did not treat minority applicants differently, the subsidy program had the effect of disadvantaging them, under a so-called "disparate impact" theory.
In other words,  if someone thinks the policy in question has a discriminatory effect, even if it wasn’t motivated by an intent to discriminate, they can sue the organization or seller.  The ruling will have the effect of encouraging lawsuits for discrimination; in doing so, it will force sellers to bend over backwards not to discriminate.  In effect, it will force reverse discrimination.

Last Friday, Bayou Renaissance Man posted an article on the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development pushing to force towns to build low income housing in the highest income sections of town.  The reasoning?  Poor minorities don't live there because they can't afford it, and while the communities don't intend to discriminate, they are having a disparate impact.  As the NY Post put it:
An African-American millionaire can buy a home in any expensive suburb. Color is no longer a barrier.

Despite this progress, President Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development is accusing expensive towns of racism, simply because most minorities can’t afford to live there.
...
HUD’s soon-to-be-released regulation, in the works since 2013, will compel affluent suburbs across the nation to build more high-density, low-income housing, plus sewers, water lines, bus routes and other changes needed to support it.

Obama’s social engineers will eliminate local zoning requirements to achieve what the HUD rule calls “inclusive communities.”
Sound familiar? This is exactly what the Supreme Court decision just encouraged.  There's no intent to discriminate: whoever can afford to live in these suburbs can live there.  So the HUD is going to put projects into these neighborhoods, and force extreme or crippling costs on the local governments in the name of fixing "disparate impact". 
  
Predatory government. 


Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Vanishing Craftsman

A friend emailed me this link to this story of one of the last manual baseball bat makers retiring. Danny Luckett has spent over 45 years, turning Louisville Sluggers by hand on a lathe at the Hillerich & Bradsby factory. 
For 45 years, nine months and eight days, Danny Luckett's office consisted of a spinning machine and a cloud of sawdust. Before retiring Friday morning, Luckett turned his final baseball bat, one of an estimated 2½ million he created during nearly half a century making Louisville Sluggers for so many of the moments burned into the sport's history.

Hank Aaron's 715th home run came with a 35-inch, 33-ounce Model A99 run through Luckett's lathe. Ozzie Smith's go-crazy-folks homer in the 1985 NLCS? Luckett and a K75 model. Joe Carter's World Series-winning home run in '93 was a Luckett-spun J93 model, and nearly every Derek Jeter plate appearance came using a P72 turned by Luckett. Every day, Luckett stepped out the door at 4:50 a.m., into the office at 5:30, inhaled the rich smell of metal shaping wood for 10 hours and witnessed his work as quickly as the same evening.
It's a poignant little story, and the craftsman's attitude shows through clearly.  At one point, Luckett says, "I take pride in what I do.  It's not just throwing a piece of wood in there and turning it."  The inevitable increasing need for production output led to more automation and more efficiency.
Luckett is perfectly content to live in the background, as he did throughout his entire career. He witnessed his craft turn to automation, with the shapes of models input into computers that now spit out bats with remarkable efficiency. A dozen bats used to take Luckett three hours to hand turn. Today's machines carve a dozen in 15 minutes. 
Danny Luckett at "the office" - the tool rest on his lathe.

Maybe it's just that I'm nearing retirement, but the idea of the vanishing American craftsman resonates with me.  Og posted a similar story yesterday about an old graybeard technician retiring, and I understand.  I consider myself to be at apprentice or slightly better levels in many things, from cutting metal to shaving glass and even more unusual things (perhaps "jack of all trades but master of none") and deeply value the meticulous work such craftsmen produce.  I can go into a quiet "zen zone" for a long time working on these sorts of projects.  If you scratch the surface on the topic of craftsmanship you'll soon find acres of stories of machinists, master carpenters and other craftsmen who are out of work because the companies went with cheaper ways of doing things.  As I've said numerous times, look around you: if it wasn't grown, harvested and used out of the ground, everything you see was made by someone.  Perhaps a master machinist or tool and die maker made the first ones, and then someone created the methods for making the mass quantities.  Even the mass-produced pieces usually involve someone touching them.

I like to talk about quartz crystals.  Every computer, every smartphone, every tablet, every digital watch, virtually everything electronic has at least one that controls the timing of everything that goes on inside the box.  Quartz comes out of the ground, but no piece of quartz creates the frequency that's needed right out of the ground.  The quartz is often recrystallized, but it's always cut to size, ground to frequency (thickness), mounted in holders, and tested.  Usually, someone touches every single piece of quartz that's made -- and billions are made every year.  The first ones are always made by the master craftsman; the rest are made by bulk. 

Throughout the aerospace industry - and others - companies are coming to terms with a third of their workforces being eligible to retire.  It's the case at Major Avionics Company where I work, and just since the first of the year a half dozen friends and long term coworkers have retired.  It will have to lead to widespread changes in how things are done as the tribal knowledge of all the previously encountered pitfalls, traps and bad decisions leaves the company.   As Og remarked about his retiring technician, "His skills come from a different era, and are no longer being taught by anyone, and are no less important for that."  Industry will have to figure out how not to repeat the mistakes of the past. 


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Is A Major Finanical Collapse Imminent?

Blogger Michael Snyder at ETF Daily News thinks so and posts a pretty sound circumstantial-evidence case that it's going to happen.   Circumstantial evidence is all we ever get, by the way.
Based on information that I have received, things that I have been told, and thousands of hours of research that have gone into the publication of more than 1,300 articles about our ongoing blog, I have come to the conclusion that a major financial collapse is imminent.  Therefore, I am issuing a RED ALERT for the last six months of 2015.

To clarify, when I say “imminent” I do not mean that it will happen within the next 48 hours.  And I am not saying that our problems will be “over” once we get to the end of 2015.  In fact, I believe that the truth is that our problems will only be just beginning as we enter 2016.
For the record, last January, I wrote much the same, so he and I see the same sort of timing.  He says in the second half of the 2015, I narrowed it down to the end of the Federal fiscal year, because most other market crashes happen in within a month either side of October 1.   
The proverbial black swan could fly in at any time in the guise of a really bad attack like the Charlie Hebdo massacre here in the US, or worse.  On the other hand it could sit like this for quite some time.  Given the timing of other market crashes, my bet is on next September or October.
In a list of things that could be the contributing event to collapse, the author points out a few interesting things.  He points out a story I missed in Reuters that the EU has ordered 11 countries so have "bail-in" rules (fancy term for confiscation of your bank account) within two months (making it July 28) or they will face legal action.  Pretty sharp and short deadline.  Are they expecting something?

In the rest of his list, he points out additional ammunition for my September prediction.
  • The 70th session of the UN General Assembly begins on September 15th.  It's being reported that France plans to introduce a resolution which would give formal UN Security Council recognition to a Palestinian state.  Up until now, the United States has always been the one blocking such a resolution, but Barack Obama is indicating that things may be much different this time around.  With the Supreme court ruling this week that Jerusalem is essentially not part of Israel by striking down a ruling that people born in Jerusalem are may claim  Israel as their country of birth, that adds backing to this belief. 
  • September 25th to September 27th – The United Nations is going to launch a brand new sustainable development agenda for the entire planet.  Some have called this “Agenda 21 on steroids”.  But this new agenda is not just about the environment.  It also includes provisions regarding economics, agriculture, education and gender equality.  On September 25th, the Pope will travel to New York to give a major speech kicking off the UN conference where this new agenda will be unveiled.
There's an additional set of arguments here that rely on biblical prophesy.  He goes into a couple of angles on that and points out something interesting in the recent pattern. The number seven and multiples of seven are prominent.  First, I must explain that in Jewish history, the Shemitah is the 7th year of a cycle.  Much like a seven day week, the Shemitah year was like a sabbath; fields were to lie fallow, and debts were to be forgiven - something foreign to today's world of 30 year mortgages and other long obligations.  Every seventh Shemitah year (every 49 years) is a year of Jubilee, where every Jew was expected to return to their property and their family.  
On September 17th, 2001 (which was Elul 29 on the Biblical calendar), we witnessed the greatest one day stock market crash in U.S. history up until that time.  The Dow plummeted 684 points, and it was a record that held for exactly seven years until the end of the next Shemitah cycle.

On September 29th, 2008 (which was also Elul 29 on the Biblical calendar, so exactly seven years later by that calendar), the Dow fell by an astounding 777 points, which still today remains the greatest one day stock market crash of all time.  [777 is a Biblical number itself, said to be a sign of perfection - SiG]

September 13th of this year is Elul 29 on the Biblical calendar – the last day of the Shemitah year, again exactly seven years later by that calendar, many are concerned about this date because we have seen giant stock market crashes on the last day of the previous two Shemitah cycles. 
For one thing, we can absolutely guarantee there will be no market crash on September 13th.  It's a Sunday; the markets are closed.  Aside from that, the piece is worth reading.  I'll note that there are several links to the Economic Collapse Blog embedded in that article that are not working today.  I suspect they're having some problems.
In what has to be the freakiest example of a "you can't make this stuff up" event, two cows were born with the number 7 on their head at the beginning of this Shemitah year; one in Pennsylvania (named Baby Ben after Steelers' QB Ben Rothlisberger) and one in Texas - a red heifer.  How rare is this?  That is, how many calves are born every year with markings like the number 7?  I couldn't tell you. 

Am I losing it?  Have I already lost it?  The times between the previous crashes and their place on the calendar simply "are what they are".  Whether they mean something is happening this year on Elul 29, the Shemitah, or on the blood moon eclipse on September 25th, or if the markets are going to collapse at all is the leap you must make.  

Friday, June 26, 2015

On Today's SCOTUS Ruling

For those reading this in an archive some time in the future, in my piece on the Supreme Court becoming Trans-legislators last night (on the outside they look like Justices, but on the inside they feel they were born legislators), I predicted today's ruling, saying:
Tomorrow or Monday, I expect them to rule that gay marriage is the law of the land.  Right behind that, I expect freedom of religion to be rescinded, along with the freedom of conscience.   
Commenter Erin Pallete wrote:
I'm not really clear on how allowing two consenting adults to sign a legally-binding marriage contract wrecks the nation and naturally follows into repeal of the 1st Amendment. Aren't we FOR rights, FOR freedom, and FOR fewer laws?
As I've said before, the only privilege running a blog gets you is the ability to write a wall of text to a two sentence comment like that.  If I may...

To answer the direct question: Of course.  We're all in agreement that we want more rights more freedom, and fewer laws (although I'd like an example of just once in history where getting the Fed.gov involved resulted in fewer laws).  But that's only the beginning and way too incomplete.  The problems always arise where the rights of two people collide. 

Freedom of Religion (NOT freedom of worship, as the president loves to say) is the right to believe in whatever you wish and follow those beliefs.  Pure first amendment.  Let's leave out human sacrifice because that obviously violates a whole host of laws, but my standpoint as both a libertarian and Nazarene (as ISIS says) is that if you want to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Buddha or just believe in yourself, that's your choice.  Free will.  That's between you and God, at least as I perceive Him.  The line gets crossed if I say you have to believe what I do or else you go to jail or get otherwise destroyed (or if you do the same to me, of course).  That's taking someone else's freedom away.  

There was a story out of Georgia last week about a firefighter who gave a talk as a lay pastor (filling in) at his church where he affirmed the Biblical view of marriage and was fired over it.  From what I've heard, he didn't preach at work; no one claimed he was hostile to anyone at work, I never heard he even talked about it at work but he was fired.  The chaplain for Seal Team 6 was fired over taking a Biblical view, too.  That's a chaplain's job, isn't it?  And, of course, there are all of the cases where bakers or photographers or whatever were sued and are getting economically ruined for refusing to take part in a gay ceremony.  I've heard of gay people being fired for being gay; what's the difference?  Are people looking for equality or revenge?

This sounds like less rights, less freedom and more laws for everyone. Whenever anyone imposes their beliefs on other people, it's a problem.  

Are they going to start arresting Clergy for refusing to marry a gay couple?  At this point, that seems like a distinct possibility.  Will they get arrested when they teach on marriage from the Bible, Torah or Koran?  It seems possible.  By the way, if you say the Government would never arrest people based on what their religion says, how is the situation different from the Feds saying the Catholic church had to pay for abortions for their employees under Obamacare?    

Where is Freedom of Religion if your beliefs are mandated by the state?  Everyone is free to believe whatever they're ordered to?  Or else what?  There's way too big a chance for tyranny to grow here. 

So yeah, I'm completely in favor of more rights, more freedom and fewer laws for everyone.  And I think we'll be getting the complete opposite of that. 



Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Constitutional Republic is Gone

Fundamental transformation is complete.  The executive branch has eliminated congress by ruling via executive order or agency regulation.  The supreme court has become the legislative branch by changing laws to mean whatever they wish them to mean.  Send congress home.  You'll save a butt load of money and they aren't doing anything anyway; their function has been taken over.

Today's ruling in Berwell essentially says that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is a State.  I'm not sure what the word for this form of government is, but it clearly isn't what the design used to be. 

Justice Scalia wrote:
[T]he court “accepts that the ‘most natural sense’ of the phrase ‘Exchange established by the State’ is an Exchange established by a State” but then “continues, with no semblance of shame, that ‘it is also possible that the phrase refers to all Exchanges—both State and Federal.’”
...
Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is “established by the State.” It is hard to come up with a clearer way to limit tax credits to state Exchanges than to use the words “established by the State.” And it is hard to come up with a reason to include the words “by the State” other than the purpose of limiting credits to state Exchanges.  (Scalia's dissent, page 28 of pdf)
Tomorrow or Monday, I expect them to rule that gay marriage is the law of the land.  Right behind that, I expect freedom of religion to be rescinded, along with the freedom of conscience.   


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

When Evil Strikes, Blame the Thing, Not the Person

"Blame the thing, not the person" is like the motto of the Brain Dead.  Shooting?  Blame the gun!  (Unless you're in Canada or another place with strict controls, in which case "it's just an outlier").

In this case, it goes: Racism?  Blame the flag!  Hat tip to Irish who points out that all racism ended yesterday.
Well, it is official and in case you have not heard, an inanimate object is to blame for the nations racial strife! Once again libtards and rinos are tripping over themselves in an effort to banish forever from the halls of history, state house lawns and Confederate Memorials the Confederate Battle Flag. From South Carolina to Mississippi "do gooders" are calling for the flags removal! Hell, even WalMart has got in on the act announcing they are pulling merchandise that bears the dreaded "Stars and Bars".  I wish there was some way I could apologize for that social misfit-drugged-zombie-killer being under the "spell" of the flag and shooting those people in their Bible class, but I cannot. Neither can I blame the 1911 .45 a.c.p. handgun. I would love to ask these politically correct wannabes this question; Once the flags are gone and the division of the races fails to disappear, who or what will be to blame? Shame on all of these politicians and the pundits who have turned this tragic event into a media circus and are using it to promote their agendas.
I don't know what they'll blame the next time some psycho goes off.  Whatever object that happens to be around, I suppose.  Since people are incapable of controlling themselves, it must be some object around them that makes them do evil things. 

Although I've lived in the South since I was 3 (so almost a hundred years), the history of the flag and the dark times of the First Civil War have never held much interest to me.  It's only in my later adulthood that I've become more interested in history as a broad subject.  I've had it explained to me, though, that after the War, the Yankees took so much from the south that many felt that the flag was all they had left. I'm sure many of you could teach me a thing or three here.

All that out of the way, it's just remarkable how quickly the media swooped down onto this topic.  It's like they had a stack of possible battle plans and just picked the appropriate one.  Nobody was talking about the confederate battle flag 10 days ago.  Today, a week after the mass murder, other states are rushing to drop the flag and stores are racing to show just how politically correct they are, too.  Amazon is dropping them, although Nazi items are still cool to sell.   Walmart is dropping them, but still sells products featuring mass murderer Che

For some perspective it really hasn't been that long since we saw these:
and even less time since we saw this one:
I really hate the bitter smell of hypocrisy.   (source of both pics)


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Making Big Trucks "Invisible"

This is relatively simple solution, and like some things I've covered here before, but Samsung has demonstrated a solution to make big trucks safer to be around on the road.  By putting cameras on the front of a tractor trailer and large flat panels on the back, they effectively make the truck transparent.
Back in 2009, Russian design house Art Lebedev introduced the dramatically titled Transparentius concept for improving road safety. It was remarkably simple: put a camera on the front of large, slow-moving trucks and connect it to video displays on the back, thereby informing trailing drivers whether it's safe to overtake the big rig. That's the exact same idea that Samsung is now pursuing with a new prototype truck. Making use of its abundance of outdoor displays, the Korean company has stitched together a video wall of four displays at the rear of the truck, which transmits video captured by a wireless camera at the front.
In the video, Samsung refers to developing this project in Argentina and saying that on average almost one person dies in a vehicle accident in that country every hour.  They claim a large percentage of them are in overtaking/passing situations.

My guess is that unless Samsung has giant monitors they can't otherwise sell stacked waist deep in a warehouse bigger than a football stadium, it's going to be a bit too pricey for most transportation companies.  From the trucking company's perspective, it would be expense that has no payback or benefit. At the least, it would be hard to quantify what benefit the trucking company gets from it.

Neat idea, but perhaps a bit short on cost-effectiveness.  

Monday, June 22, 2015

It Really Is Religion

When Pope Francis released his encyclical that included strict-global warming doctrine the other day, the talk was about how it was all about reasoned discourse.  On the Sunday talk shows, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington explained:
[Pope Francis is] saying, "Why don't we all discuss this? Why don't we all come to the table, and before we start eliminating other people from the discussion -- before denouncing them or even ridiculing them -- why don't we listen to them and see what they're saying and see where we really ought to be going as a human family?"
Except that statement doesn't appear to be true.  It seems that "eliminating other people from the discussion" is exactly what they're doing.  French climate change skeptic Philippe de Larminat says he was denied a spot at April's summit sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences. 
De Larminat has written a book arguing that the sun, and not human activity, is the primary cause of climate change

"They did not want to hear an off note," de Larminat told the paper.
Doesn't quite agree with the Cardinal's talking points, does it?  It's more like this:
(Chip Bok at Townhall.com) 

It looks to me like good old Latin American Liberation Theology, think Jeremiah Wright, is mainstream in the Catholic Church these days. 


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Is This the Week Greece Drops Out of the EU?

We've been talking about the Greek situation for years - I know I've been writing about it since I started this blog.  You'll see many people refer to this as the Greek financial crisis, but to me it's hard to call something that lasts over five years a crisis.  A crisis is pure adrenaline dump; something that gets you into absolute "fight or flight" mode.  People and countries can't survive five years of adrenaline, so I prefer to call it a situation.

This week there was a massive run on the banks amounting to half a billion Euros per day, and there's speculation that the banks will just be closed tomorrow.  That's not really necessary, now, because the ECB extended them more loans of cash reserves.  About $1.25 billion was extended Wednesday,and another $2 billion on Friday, bringing the total liquidity assistance up to roughly $97.58 billion.  At the current rate of the bank run, they're covered for another month.

There's Yet Another Emergency Summit about Greece tomorrow (Monday, the 22nd - I can never know when you're reading this), but unless Greece finally takes the plunge of leaving the EU, the famous "Grexit", there will be more of these.  The man leading Monday's emergency summit, EU Council president Donald Tusk, is sick of the blame game and the game of chicken. He doesn't like games.
"The game of chicken needs to end, and so does the blame game. There is no time for more games."

"We need to get rid of the illusion that there will be a magic solution at the leaders level. This summit will not be the final step - there will be no detailed technical negotiations, that remains the job of the finance ministers.

We are close to the point where the Greek government will have to choose to accept what I believe is a good offer for support, or to head towards default. At the end of the day, this can only be a Greek decision. There is time, but only a few days. Let us use them wisely.
As for the run on the banks, Investment Watch author "WorkerAnt#11" put it this way: "What is perhaps more shocking is that anyone still had money in Greek banks at all…"., especially with the talk starting to surface about more bank haircuts; get it out before they take it from you.  But it's not just Greece; Citi argues that Italy and Portugal are also on the verge of death spirals.

You may have seen stories about Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meeting with Vladimir Putin.  While it's possible there might be financial agreements between them, my view is that this is just posturing; Tsipras is trying to put pressure on the EU.  Putin's Russia isn't in good shape economically and there doesn't seem to be much incentive for them to take on a basket case like Greece.  The threat has, however, gotten Angela Merkel to flinch, and say an EU agreement with Greece is not impossible. 

Another of those things I got out of Jim Rickard's book is that the first drive at a Single European Currency isn't this one under the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, but was under Charlemagne.  It's not a new idea, it's an old idea that has been tried and failed before (and Charlemagne's was based on a silver standard, instead of gold).  Will it fail again this time?  What's your bet?

Even discounting or ignoring the Greek melodrama, there's plenty of caution and unrest in the financial world right now.  That article links to a well-read comment from Fidelity UK Fund manager Ian Spreadbury that investors should be preparing for a systemic (read global) 2008-level financial crisis:
The best strategy to deal with this, he said, was for investors to spread their money widely into different assets, including gold and silver, as well as cash in savings accounts. But he went further, suggesting it was wise to hold some “physical cash”, an unusual suggestion from a mainstream fund manager.
...
He declined to predict the exact trigger but said it was more likely to happen in the next five years rather than 10.
It's a little surprising a Fidelity Fund manager would recommend stuffing cash in the mattress instead of a Fidelity product, but I can't see it being really controversial.  If you're talking about savings accounts, you're getting negative interest when real inflation is included, so there's marginally almost no additional loss to keeping that money in the mattress.  According to this web site, the very best savings accounts are paying ~1% interest on all amounts (I only focused on amounts up $50,000 in savings).  The Shadowstats inflation rate, using the 1980s method of measuring, says inflation is around 7%, so your 1% interest is really -6%.  Putting it in your mattress just makes that a 7% loss.  Sure you'd like to lose less, but look at it as paying 1% in insurance for a SHTF event.

This sort of awful market disturbance comes courtesy of the Federal Reserve, the European Central Banks, and all of the other Central Banks.  Stocks are incredibly over-valued, the housing bubble is reinflated, and don't even get me started on how screwed up China is. 

(not mine - from Preparedness Pro)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Noted in Passing

The FDA has decided to ban trans- fats, marking the first time our Federal Government has regulated trans- anything.

Trans fats entered the diet in significant quantities in the early 20th century as food chemists searched for a cheaper way to make a solid fat.  Crisco was the first and eventually quintessential imitation food.  There wasn't much trans fat in the diet until the professional alarmists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest pushed them as a replacement for those evil ol' debbils butter and lard.  Now the same people are pushing to get them out of the food supply because, well, they screwed up.  To me, the lesson here is to always demand higher levels of proof before we jump to regulate.  But they've shown over and over again they don't.  (EPA, cough, cough).

The Treasury Department has said, "Hey, we need to put a woman on the $10 bill!".  As opposed to "We need to re-design the $10 bill to put in more security features.  Who's a prominent woman that deserves to be that widely circulated?", which makes more sense to a Future Dead White Male (FDWM) like me.  I sure don't mind a woman on the ten, but I think the change should be made because they're changing it anyway, which isn't the way they come across.   Since they're not serious, I'm not serious.  I recommend Charo.

There aren't many advantages to being an old FDWM, but I do know that if I get recognized or praised for anything, it's not going to be on my looks.





Friday, June 19, 2015

It Seems Androids Do, in Fact, Dream of Electric Sheep

I'm having a bit of problem with my mind being so completely blown that I don't know where to start, but a friend sent a link to a Guardian article of essentially the same title.  The story concerns research from Google labs about training the neural networks used for image recognition.  Neural networks are a form of computer processor architecture that were created in attempt to mimic the way brains are organized.  A neural network usually involves a large number of processors operating in parallel, each with its own small sphere of knowledge and access to data in its local memory.

These networks have to be trained, and that's typically done by showing them lots of images of the things they're being trained to recognize.  That works to some extent, but the researchers want to know what's going on at each step of the process so that they could optimize the way the programming works. 
We train an artificial neural network by showing it millions of training examples and gradually adjusting the network parameters until it gives the classifications we want. The network typically consists of 10-30 stacked layers of artificial neurons. Each image is fed into the input layer, which then talks to the next layer, until eventually the “output” layer is reached. The network’s “answer” comes from this final output layer.

One of the challenges of neural networks is understanding what exactly goes on at each layer. We know that after training, each layer progressively extracts higher and higher-level features of the image, until the final layer essentially makes a decision on what the image shows. For example, the first layer maybe looks for edges or corners. Intermediate layers interpret the basic features to look for overall shapes or components, like a door or a leaf. The final few layers assemble those into complete interpretations—these neurons activate in response to very complex things such as entire buildings or trees.
It turns out that if they have the knowledge to recognize something in an image, they have most of the knowledge to create images from nothing.  
“One way to visualise what goes on is to turn the network upside down and ask it to enhance an input image in such a way as to elicit a particular interpretation,” they add. “Say you want to know what sort of image would result in ‘banana’. Start with an image full of random noise, then gradually tweak the image towards what the neural net considers a banana.”
In other words, they generate a set of random pixels and feed it into the algorithm.  The output has some features that are more reminiscent of bananas than before so they use that as the input and run the algorithm again.  Eventually, they get something like this:
That doesn't look like a photo of bananas, but it's more like bananas than the original input.  In one interesting example they asked the network to find weight lifters' dumbbells.  The resulting image always had portions of an arm holding the dumbbell!  The network learned to recognize them, but so many of the training photos had a muscular arm holding the dumbbell, it assumed the arm was part of the dumbbell.  The solution might be to just give it many more images that don't include an arm, so that it learns the arm isn't part of it.

The surprise to me was the stunning, beautiful abstract art the networks are creating.  The Google labs team says,
If we apply the algorithm iteratively on its own outputs and apply some zooming after each iteration, we get an endless stream of new impressions, exploring the set of things the network knows about. We can even start this process from a random-noise image, so that the result becomes purely the result of the neural network...
If the network is being trained to recognize buildings, and random noise is fed in, with some zooming and selecting of areas to work on, you eventually come up fantasy-impressionistic landscapes like this one
Fountains, pagodas, arches, aqueducts, and ponds with fountains - or icebergs.  It's reminiscent of an album cover from the days of widespread hallucinogens.  More incredible eye candy at this gallery

As the Guardian says,
Androids don’t just dream of electric sheep; they also dream of mesmerising, multicoloured landscapes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bill Nye The Stepped In It Guy

This is probably not news to you, but Bill Nye "The Science Guy" who makes a living doing basic science instruction for school-aged kids, is not a scientist.  He's a mechanical engineer.  Non-engineers probably aren't aware that most places with a large complement of both electrical and mechanical engineers usually have good-natured running dialog of jabs going between the two types of engineers.  I'll forgo that sort of joke aimed at Bill.

Mostly because Nye has made a joke of himself.

Yesterday, Nye linked the fact that a wimpy tropical storm (coincidentally also named Bill) was going ashore in Texas and there are some wildfires in Alaska to global warming.
Bill Nye   Bill floods Texas. Alaska is on fire. Just a little global warming & climate change. Nothing to worry about… pic.twitter.com/l2qAaiytE6
<Blink, blink... Checks watch.>  Bill, old man, it's June.  That means it's hurricane season.  A tropical storm in June is about as rare and noteworthy as a rush hour traffic jam in New York City.  To be honest, a tropical storm in the Gulf in May or December wouldn't really draw many raised eyebrows, either. 

What might be a little more surprising than a doctrinaire warmist like Nye making the stupid mistake of blaming entirely normal weather on climate change is that a group of people who really know what they're talking about took him to task for that.  Joe Bastardi is well-known meteorologist, Chief Forecaster at WeatherBell Analytics, and also forecasts for Accuweather
Joe Bastardi Are you crazy. Linkage to 50s and MJO textbook! Do you have any clue about what you are saying? pic.twitter.com/Jv2qjc6N4O  

@BigJoeBastardi  @BillNye Have you even looked that the objective analysis of SST parallels to 1950s. Have you read Vitart on the MJO and TC development?
A researcher I've been following since becoming aware of his work while he was still a Ph.D. student at FSU:
Ryan Maue @RyanMaue
Bill Nye the bloviating, low information "climate guy" ... not taken seriously by any meteorologist.
This young man, who's Twitter pages says he's Meteorology student at Penn State University, gets the big picture right.
Ryan Breton @RyanBretonWX
@BillNye you stand for everything that is wrong in the world of climate/atmospheric science
For those keeping track, the US hasn't had a major hurricane (defined as category 3 and above) since Hurricane Wilma in October, 2005.  Those who study hurricanes for a living (like Dr. Maue) say there is no correlation between "climate change" and hurricanes. 
From Bill Nye's Twitter feed.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Measuring Glucose Levels With A Contact Lens

DAC - the Design Automation Conference - is one of the many electronics trade shows held each year.  These aren't as well known as CES - The Consumer Electronics Show - and don't get as much press or cable news coverage.  This year's show was last week, June 7th to the 11th. 

Last week, EDN reported on DAC and showed a really cool idea from Google's X project team, the guys charged with thinking big and trying for projects that other companies might not be able to do.  A disposable contact lens that measures glucose in tears (a scaling offset away from blood sugar levels) and reports it by RFID radio link to a data collector. 
Google's Brian Otis explained that current invasive monitoring methods are only used by the relatively small number of people who have type 1 or 2 diabetes, but many more could benefit, whether pre-diabetic, genetically predisposed, or overweight. Frequent non-invasive monitoring could help delay the onset or prevent diabetes from manifesting, and could even be used for "lighter" applications, like athletics and weight loss. Google sees bringing this technology to 100 million users. [emphasis added: SiG]
...
The system employs RFID for communications between its SoC (System On a Chip) and a reader, but is powered from a local micro battery so that it can perform a full day's monitoring and logging,...

The platinum glucose sensor uses a glucose oxidase enzyme to convert sugar to hydrogen peroxide. An eye's tear film has about 2% the glucose level as blood.
Just based on statistics, I know that some of you are measuring your blood sugar with today's glucometers.  You stick your finger, draw a drop of blood and wait a few seconds for a reading.  Imagine never having to do that again.  Imagine being able to track your response to a new type of meal without having to stick yourself over and over again. 

Take a look at that eye model again.  See the three dark squares where the yellow rings come together on the right?  That's the complete system including, power storage capacitors, the SoC microcircuit, glucose sensor, and a battery.  Although they don't talk about the battery in the conference, perhaps it's something like this?
I don't wear contacts, never have, but this is a pretty neat innovation.  A real reflection of what engineering is all about: making things better.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Honestly, Some Times I Just Don't Know

I gotta tell ya, sometimes I just don't know what to make of things going on in the world.  It's like we crashed the space ship in Lake Michigan and are stuck on the wrong planet (extra credit for getting the reference). 

On Saturday, I heard some awful noises coming from the TV and found it was the Hildebeest giving a campaign speech.  Opposite her was a movie called Spawn on the SyFy network.  Gee, a movie about the Devil's Spawn or the real deal?  I'll watch the movie.

But that's minor.  I think I've come across the one that bends my mind the most: the transabled.  This story appeared earlier in the month, with their example case being a young man who felt the need to become disabled and cut off part of his arm. 
OTTAWA — When he cut off his right arm with a “very sharp power tool,” a man who now calls himself One Hand Jason let everyone believe it was an accident.

But he had for months tried different means of cutting and crushing the limb that never quite felt like his own, training himself on first aid so he wouldn’t bleed to death, even practicing on animal parts sourced from a butcher.

“My goal was to get the job done with no hope of reconstruction or re-attachment, and I wanted some method that I could actually bring myself to do,” he told the body modification website ModBlog.
That Canada National post article covers a variety of ways in which people felt they were "disabled in a normal body".  It includes a young woman in a wheelchair who always felt she needed braces on her legs, although they always tested normally; a Scottish man in the early 1900's who requested both of his legs be amputated and others who want to be blind, or want to be castrated. 

Doctors call this Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), and "Jason" is perfectly happy calling himself that in that ModBlog interview.   As the Wikipedia article says, sufferers feel they would be happier living as an amputee, or being "transabled."[2][3][4] It is related to xenomelia, "the oppressive feeling that one or more limbs of one's body do not belong to one's self".  However, Canadian  Researcher Clive Baldwin says this disorder is starting to be thought of as a neurological problem with the body’s mapping, rather than a mental illness.  Perhaps their brain's map of their body doesn't properly cover the body part the sufferer considers foreign because of a problem in the nerves from that part.   

The similarities to gender reassignment are obvious, but with the gender reassigning folks having the ability to have qualified surgeons remove your sexual organs instead of doing it themself with a power tool as "One Hand Jason" did.  As Ben Domenech at The Federalist put it:
... And this raises other troublesome questions: Is wanting to cut off certain essential body parts reasonable, while wanting to cut off others isn’t? Is self-mutilation something that we ought to hail as courageous and brave, but cutting yourself as a teenager problematic? Cutting your genitalia is good, but cutting off your hand isn’t? What if you are really into pirate cosplay and need that peg leg or hook hand to make things complete? Is it okay to say you’re mentally disturbed and need therapy and should probably try skipping Comicon, or is that a hate crime yet?
I would hope that modern medicine comes up with treatments for BIID that are effective and help people live with their bodies, but to be honest, I don't know they can.  The brain is an amazing network and can apparently screw up profoundly in many surprising ways.  Yes, I am making the value judgement that someone who voluntarily cuts off perfectly good body parts is doing something wrong.  Personally, I was a little put off at people putting magnets into their fingertips to feel magnetic fields; this is way beyond that.  I suppose I must be "cis-abled" and of course being an old white male, I must be a hater.  Mostly, I believe in the axiom of "first of all, do no harm". 



Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Bit of An Unexpected Project

Back around the end of April, I told a story about finishing my kit guitar and getting that great offer from a friend who has worked as a professional Luthier to come and have him walk me through the process of doing a really good setup on it.  What I didn't mention then was that there was string attached.  A horrible price.  He made me take this home.
Although it's clearly missing some major parts, this really is a violin (or fiddle if you're from the south). To be more specific, it's kind of a generic student violin in 3/4 scale (apparently violins come in a lot of different scale sizes - who knew? (answer: anyone who knows anything about them!)).  He insisted on giving this to me, clearing out some room in his shop in exchange for helping me.

I've never really touched a violin, but I have played guitar, bass, ukelele and mandolin - at least in the sense of figuring out how to play different scales on them.  Mrs. Graybeard, on the other hand, took lessons on the violin for some time when she was a little girl.

Trying to ignore a naked half of a violin sitting around started getting to me, and just as my friend figured, I couldn't resist gathering the parts to make it playable.  I don't want to spend too much, considering student violins can be had pretty cheaply online, so I spent a couple of hours running down prices and ordered this morning from Amazon.  Since some parts are coming from around the country it won't all be here in the dependable two days.  But I'll have them within a week or so, and then I'll put it together and go onto phase II: ignoring a complete violin.

This isn't a project in the sense of machining things or cutting wood.  It's really something any student of the violin will know how to do after a little while.  We'll just start there.  I'm under no delusions that it'll be easy to pick up, but the direction will be more like Charlie Daniels and less like Itzhak Perlman.  Ironically, I've actually seen Perlman in concert but not Daniels.      


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bwa-Ha-Ha-Ha

It takes a special kind of freak to save the $60 from buying one of these and dump a couple of dozen hours and some scrap metal into making one.  As someone once said about hobbies, at any reasonable rate of pay for your time to make one, you could probably buy a half dozen.  But where's the fun in that? 
My version was made from a piece of 1" square aluminum bar and an iGaging indicator, both of which I had sitting around.  How you use it is like this:
You measure the height of the top of the string, then press down on the string on both sides of the fret, to measure how far the string went down, .011" in this case (A string).  I could have zeroed that out better before taking the measurement, but you can see the principle.  For the tech weenies out there, that's a rather low action for an acoustic.  It's the factory setup on this Seagull guitar



Friday, June 12, 2015

This Week In History

This week, a milestone for music techno-geeks passed.  June 9 would have been Les Paul's 100th birthday.  Les died 6 years ago, at 94, of complications from pneumonia.  That link is to electronics trade magazine EDN, who publishes a good biography for people who aren't familiar with the name.
Born June 9, 1915, in Waukesha, WI, Lester Polfuss--who would later use the stage name Les Paul--started inventing at an early age. As a teen, he developed a harmonica holder fashioned out of a coat hanger that allowed him to flip his harmonica with his chin while also still playing his guitar and singing. Harmonica holders available at the time required that the user manually remove the harmonica from the holder and reposition it.
...
While continuing to play music, Paul began experimenting with electronics and amplification in the early 1940s because he disliked the hollow bodies on the then-current electric guitars. He believed their vibration led to a thin tone and feedback.

Paul created one of the first solid-body electric guitars in 1941. He built “The Log,” as he called it, a 4" × 4" chunk of pine with strings and a pickup, after-hours in the Epiphone guitar factory. One of the first solid-body electric guitars, it was basically a wooden board with a guitar neck to which he attached strings and two pickups. Check it out in the video below.

With advances he made in multitrack engineering, tape delay and echo effects, and overdubbing, Paul was also responsible for changes in the way music was recorded. He invented an effects-generating synthesizer called the “Les Paulverizer” in 1949, and he developed the eight-track tape recorder with Ampex, which was introduced in 1952.

Paul was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005.
From what I've been able to find out, Les was the consummate geek; always hacking guitars, amplifiers, recording instruments and everything else.  He was frequently seen with experimental guitars; new pickups tacked into places not originally intended for them, new switches or controls tack-soldered in place.  It's widely said that much of modern rock music was born from this geek's ideas. 

Shortly before his passing, Slash, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) and some other top-tier rock guitarists gathered to pay homage to him, although Les played country music himself.  Video at Rolling Stone - which wouldn't embed. 

Since the Les Paul name and trademark have belonged to Gibson since the first ones went into production in 1952, their website currently has several pieces up pertaining to his birthday.  They ran a couple of special promotions associated with it, too. 
Les in a photo I couldn't put a date on, with one of his "Franken-guitars".  The guitar, at least, is no stock Les Paul. 

YouTube is full of videos of Les, but I'm kinda fond of this 30 second Coors commercial


Thursday, June 11, 2015

10 Years After?

No, not the Woodstock band.

Is this us, the US, in 10 years?  15?  The country of Zimbabwe formally killed off it's currency today.
The Zimbabwean dollar will be taken from circulation, formalizing a multi-currency system introduced in 2009 to help stem inflation and stabilize the economy.

The central bank will offer $5 for every 175 quadrillion, or 175,000 trillion, Zimbabwean dollars, Governor John Mangudya said in an e-mailed statement from the capital, Harare. While it marks the official dropping of the currency, transactions in the southern African nation have been made using mainly the U.S. dollar and rand of neighboring South Africa for six years.
Just for effect, let me point out that $5 US corresponds to $175,000,000,000,000,000.  Before Robert Mugabe and the Glorious Socialist Revolution, $5 US corresponded to $5 Zimbabwe.  Then inflation surged to 500 billion percent.  And, well, here we are now. 
Remember the halcyon days of 2008 when you could buy a few eggs for 100 Billion Zim Dollars?

There are big enough differences between the US and Zimbabwe that a simple comparison isn't appropriate.  That doesn't mean we can't end up the same way.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why I Prefer Hotels

This appeared a few days ago (and, yeah, turns out it really is a rerun - note the date, lower left) and I had to save it.  For when I just can't think of a freakin' cogent thing to write about!

I don't know how common this is; I've run across people who talk about the wonderful B&B they stayed in.  Personally, I prefer anonymity. This sums it up pretty well. 


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Reusable Booster Rockets With a Twist

SpaceX has been making headlines with its attempts to land a booster on a barge at sea, completely autonomously, and completely unsuccessfully to date, but they're not alone. The European Space Agency's contractor, Airbus has unveiled their version of a reusable booster called Adeline, the Advanced Expendable Launcher with Innovative engine Economy.  What makes Adeline innovative is it has wings and propellers that allow the engines to follow a ballistic trajectory, and then fly like an airplane back to a runway.
SpaceX and Airbus have very different methods of return, too. Falcon 9 keeps some fuel in reserve, which is used to slow the first stage's descent. Adeline detaches from the fuel tank, continues on a ballistic path, and then eventually uses winglets and propellers to land horizontally on a runway, a bit like a UAV. The main benefit of this method, at least as Airbus tells it, is that it requires much less fuel than SpaceX's method.
 Airbus' Adeline
It's no big secret that launching payloads into space is still horrifically expensive.  Rocket engines are the main problem.  They're the most expensive part of a disposable expendable vehicle.   Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) paid around $1 billion to the Russian company Roscosmos for 20 RD-180 rocket engines.  These are the engines OSC used on the ISS supply mission that ended in a catastrophic explosion within seconds of igniting.  They're actually old engines, dating back to the Soviet Union, and after the explosive ending to that mission, OSC says they're not going to use them.  The current flight mode of jettisoning and throwing away these multimillion dollar engines after they've run for two to three minutes is one of the barriers to space flight.  
All current space launch systems—SpaceX's Falcon 9, Airbus' Ariane 5, Russia's Soyuz, etc.—are expendable.  During every single rocket launch, the rocket engines and fuel tanks fall back to Earth, usually into the ocean, never to be used again.
...
This is why companies like SpaceX, and now Airbus, are developing technologies that can bring the rocket engines back to the launchpad, so that they can be reused. SpaceX, which is currently leading the charge in this area, says that it wants to reuse rocket engines and fuel tanks within "single-digit hours" of their return. Depending on who you talk to, and the configuration of the rocket, current space launch prices are somewhere around $250-500 million; with reusable components, SpaceX wants to get that price down below $100 million.
Airbus includes the almost-mandatory computer generated animation of their design concept.

Cool?  Sure.  Interesting design idea.  I hope they succeed in lowering the costs like they say.  There were reports going around the area that the reusable boosters from the Space Shuttle program didn't really save appreciable amounts of money; they never really reduced launch costs.  Whether that was due to the incredible documentation and reliability requirements on manned space flight, or something else, I don't know.  



Monday, June 8, 2015

The ITAR Thing

At Major Commercial Avionics Corporation, I take a mandatory annual training class in ITAR (International Trade in Arms Regulations) and EAR (Export Administration Regulations).  These monstrosity laws are part and parcel of what we have to do; although, being a Commercial Avionics Corporation, we work far more with EAR than ITAR. 

Because of that, I find it hard to believe this proposed ruling actually says what's being reported

The idea that posting something on the internet is going to become classified as an "Export" is not new to me.  We not only can't post things on the Internet about defense-related products, we can't put them on our company intranet that is completely isolated from the outside world.  Because we have facilities all around the world, including places that most of us would think could be troublesome (like the PRC), and we also have people in the US who are foreign nationals. We have to be careful not to allow access to this Technical Data to just anyone in those categories.

Of course, I'm not a lawyer and I don't even play one here much less than TV, but the way I read this is that it's aimed at Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed.  You know the Tyrants HAAAAATE GhostGunner.net.  This is how they attack them.  With the kind of lawbreaking they went through in the case against The Silk Road, (minor example 1, minor example 2, egregious example) you know they're going to try something. 

There are two important points here.  They say
"In their current form, the ITAR do not (as a rule) regulate technical data that are in what the regulations call the 'public domain.' Essentially, this means data 'which is published and which is generally accessible or available to the public' through a variety of specified means. These include 'at libraries open to the public or from which the public can obtain documents.'
and
Some State Department officials now insist that anything published online in a generally-accessible location has essentially been 'exported,' as it would be accessible to foreign nationals both in the U.S. and overseas.
That's saying anything that already exists online or is generally accessible to the public has already been exported. 

But the story we're getting is that if you tell someone how to clean their AR, that's a violation of ITAR.  The way I read this, they're saying something that appears in books in libraries is already in the public domain and has already been exported.   They are not seeking to regulate this.  Does ITAR cover information about the AR-15?  If there's anything left that you can't find in half a dozen books, sure.  Does ITAR cover something like cleaning an AR that's already out there in all kinds of public information?  I can't imagine how that could be.  How about your favorite load for 5.56 NATO?  If you tell someone, "I had good success with 27 grains of Varget and a 55 grain FMJBT bullet" - maybe.   If you tell them,  "I had good success with the 27 grains of Varget and a 55 grain FMJBT bullet load from page 223 of the Speer Reloading Manual"; that manual has already been exported.  Likewise if it's from a website full of custom loads.  Because the full plans for an AR have been in the public (exported) for decades, I can't even see them going after you for posting how you built one.  If you post that you like your SmithenSpiel 129 better than the Taurus Eagle 50, (or that "1911s rule, Glocks drool") there's no technical data there whatsoever.

What would you need to get permission for?  Certainly a new gun design would.  Or a design improvement for a military weapon.  It's clear they're trying to stop more printable guns, receivers or other designs from getting into widespread circulation.  You know that the revolution in small production is driving anti-gun regulators crazy.  Just like the free speech of the internet drives them crazy.  It takes away their control, and they're nothing if not control freaks.  

In my comments to the proposal, I'm going to make an effort to come up with things that don't rely on the current line of arguments we're seeing.  You can understand they won't like the argument that they can't stop the spread of 3D printed weaponry; it's against their DNA.  I think the argument is that nothing gun bloggers talk about could conceivably be something to worry about. 


Sunday, June 7, 2015

This Weekend's Main Project Has Been...

Getting all the pieces on order to convert my Grizzly milling machine to CNC-based.  I spent a while considering whether I wanted to go that way or just add some sort of digital readouts (DROs).  My bottom line is that CNC costs more than DROs, but not that much more, and for that extra cost it does much more - as well as acting as a DRO.  After researching the topic on a couple of hobbyist machinist forums, I settled on the approaches used by "Hoss" at Hossmachine.info or G0704.com.  Hossmachine is aimed at the smaller SIEG X2 and X3 milling machines while G0704 is aimed at it and the other machines based on the same basic machine, the BF20L. 

Hoss has a couple of different approaches that he calls Phases 1 through 3.  That added extra confusion to me, and I bought his DVD ROM (based on recommendations on three different hobby machinist forums).  The three phases are three separate approaches to building a CNC system based on the G0704, and comprise the two basic approaches to CNC'ing the mill.  Phase 1 is the simplest: it attaches motor mounts to the existing hardware (lead screws).  Add motors, controllers, the wiring need to get it hooked up, and off you go.  This is the way my CNC Sherline is designed and I'm going to do this on the Griz.  Lead screws are serviceable, but aren't considered ideal in the CNC world.  The problem with lead screws from the CNC viewpoint is backlash, that moment when you change directions and the wheel moves before the table does.  Backlash can be compensated for in CNC, just like you compensate for it when you're working by hand by going farther than you need to when you change direction.  I think I've said before that an old Master machinist once told me, "your machine has backlash; get over it.  They all do". 

Lead screws have one major advantage, though: they allow you to use the mill with the CNC controller turned off (although you lose the DRO equivalence).  If the motors have dual shafts, you can attach the motor's front shaft to the lead screw and put a hand wheel on the other end.

The alternative to lead screws is to use ball screws (for example).  Ball screws convey motion not by screw threads pushing on each other, but by ball bearings.  (There's a tremendous amount of information on screws of all kinds at Lead-Screws.com on their "Application Engineering" page).  The big advantage of ball screws is that they don't have backlash, but the disadvantage is that they don't offer holding torque to keep things from moving when you don't want them to.  If I stop moving the wheel on my mill, the table stops moving due to that holding torque.  With ball screws, pressing on the table will make it move.  The holding torque is provided by the motor, so it's impossible to use a ball screw driven CNC without the motors running. 

The Phase 2 version of Hoss' approach uses ball screws.  More disassembly is needed, since you need to replace the lead screws on all three axes, and some modification of the table is required, but the result is a most likely a higher performance system.  Phase 3 is a more deluxe version of phase 2 with additional features. It's important that the Phase 1 system can be changed to ball screws in the future with just the additional work.  Going with the easy lead screw approach doesn't mean you can never upgrade to Phase 2 or 3. 

The lead screws on the X and Y axes on the G0704 are 10 Turns Per Inch (TPI).  One turn of the hand wheel moves the table 0.100 inch (those numbers are 20 TPI and .050", respectively, on a standard Sherline).  A 200 step motor divides that into .0005" per step, although it's highly likely that the movement is not that accurate for every step.  Further, stepper motor controllers divide that .0005" into 8 or 16 steps, called "microstepping" (1600 to 3200 microsteps per rotation).  In principle, that would make your smallest step 62.5 millionths of an inch (8 microsteps) or half that, 31.25 millionths of an inch (with 16 microsteps).  That accuracy can't be counted on.  What it's really good for is smoothing out the motion of the motor.  The Z axis is a 6 TPI screw, so the headstock/cutting tool raises or lowers 1/6" or 0.1667" per turn.  The 200 step motor makes that .000833", and you can do the rest of that arithmetic if you want.

In reality, you can expect accuracies on the order of 1 or 2 thousandths out of a machine like this.

Hoss recommends 570 in-oz torque motors and a set of controllers from Automation Technologies.  I'm just going to go with his approach unless I find reason not to.  Add a power supply, (mine will be a 48V, 10A switcher) a breakout board from CNC4PC which turns parallel (printer) port signals into the signals to the motor controllers, throw in some some odds and ends (wires, switches, etc.), and you have a system.  To control the system, I'm going to keep using Mach3, which I bought years ago.  Mach4 was on display at Cabin Fever in April; I need to spend some time getting caught up on what's different about it.  I see it doesn't use the parallel port control, as Mach3 does, and that's a complication I haven't looked into in detail.  My plan right now is to use another old, 1-ish GHz, XP machine that's currently a door stop.  A stripped down old PC with XP works fine as a controller, if it's off the internet.  (In the Linux world, there's a program called EMC or just plain LinuxCNC if you absolutely don't do Windows).  Modern computers have largely abandoned the parallel printer port, and getting it to work properly has always been a struggle as Windows takes lower level control of the ports with every version. 

The DVD also includes materials lists, and I went through my aluminum stockpile this morning to make sure I had everything I need to make the motor mounts and the few other pieces of machined metal it will take.  Didn't need to get any of that.

So with the rest of the day to play around in the shop, I played with the Griz mill making a guitar nut/string height adjustment tool based on that one.  Got about halfway through and realized I didn't have an end mill I needed.  I'll go order one from Enco or someone real quick.  This is it cut to size, and with a slot prepared for the digital depth indicator I picked up for woodworking. 
Hoss has a YouTube channel and shows a lot of videos of the things he's done to his Griz.  A ton of videos come on the DVD but I'm pretty sure some of the videos on the YouTube channel aren't on the DVD.  I'm not sure how much time to spend on this project here on my blog; for one thing, it's not my design and I can't say much about it.  We can talk CNC systems in general as much as folks want.  Once this project is done, and it should be over the summer, honest evaluations are what I'm here for.  I strongly suspect he wouldn't want me showing lots of details that he charges for! 

As always, anything you'd like to see covered, let me know.