Sunday, November 29, 2015

Modern Day Pilgrims, I Tells Ya

So says the POS POTUS:
From IOwnTheWorld, via a friend's email.

It's amazingly historically naive, but what can you expect from someone who is so obviously not familiar with American culture? 

There are organizations dedicated to helping the persecuted Christian minorities away from Daesh*, and I'd much rather see those people in America than the many refugees we see in Hungary and everywhere else video comes from.  Why?  Tell me how many Christians are in Daesh?   Yeah, zero point zero.   I feel much safer with that population.  Or the Yazidis

*Daesh is a new term being used for the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL.  They consider it derogatory - which is a good enough reason to use the name for me.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy Conspicuous Consumption Days!

A belated Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Black Friday, dear readers. 

As is our tradition, we spent yesterday with my brother and his in-laws.  It's a 290 mile round trip drive for us, but by all means the distance champion was his father-in-law, a WWII veteran who (at 93) drove the hundred miles from where he lives to brothers', spent the night, than drove 120 miles across the state to pick up his sister and drove back, then drove the hundred miles home.  All together about 400 miles of driving.  I hope to be as sharp as he is, should I make it to 94.  He's a Navy veteran from the PT boat service in the South Pacific.  

After celebrating Thanksgivings there for the last fifteen years or so, it's a good reunion.  The fact that it's a bit smaller every year or two makes each get together that much more special.  Normalcy bias can be pleasant.

I don't do the Black Friday early morning competition stuff, but may pick up something or two online if the prices are right.  It's not holiday shopping, just keeping my eyes open for things we could use. 
Like every time you go shopping, it's a good idea to know what things should cost.  Retailers often raise prices before today or have products at prices that aren't really a deal or raised prices beforehand to make a better-sounding deal.  And, of course, they sometimes cut prices well in advance of today, too. 

My takeaway is that (1) I don't need anything so badly that I'd wait in line or get into a fight for a few bucks off on it, so (2) there's no reason to get wound up about today. 

Today, we have a turkey in the smoker and threw in a package of bacon for a couple of hours.  We'll just have a quieter, lower-key day, and have some turkey left overs, too. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

As We Enter "The Holiday Season"

With Hat Tip to Michael Bane's blog:
The words to listen to in the political gobbledygook going by are "Article 5" especially if those words are accompanied by the word NATO.   Article 5 of the NATO treaty is the "collective defense" article; the one that says an attack on any NATO member is viewed as an attack on them all.  You can be sure that Putin is aware of that and it's being figured into his gaming.  If there were any Warsaw pact left to counter it, they might well have thought the same of Turkey's action.  To quote from Tam:
  • This has the potential to spin right the f*** out of control before anybody involved realizes what they're doing.
To the suggestion that Russia would just continue to punk NATO with no response:
  • Yeah, see, sooner or later some individual fighter pilot or other trigger puller isn't going to understand that he's supposed to be punked.
There are a lot of people saying we're in the early days of WWIII, we just don't know it.  I think we'll be finding out.  I don't think that Russia has the military strength to go down the road of pushing NATO.  Strategy Page noted this weakness in numbers the other day (H/T to BRM)
The Russian intervention in Syria involves some 4,000 troops and about fifty warplanes and helicopters. The small size of this force exposes a sad fact of post-Cold War Russia; the military no longer has much in the way of combat capability and few post-Cold War weapons. Thus Russia has few smart bombs and is mostly relying on unguided bombs built in the 1980s,  ...  The Russian air force and navy are now less than ten percent of their Cold War strength and the army has fewer combat brigades than it did armies during the Cold War.
So they'll likely do something more subtle to hit Turkey, perhaps something like Col. Ralph Peters suggests in this video

May you live in interesting times, indeed.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, folks!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Space Tourism Getting Closer

Yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company Blue Origin successfully ran a rocket into space, returning the capsule under parachute, but landing the separated launch vehicle on nearby target at a gentle 4.4 mph.

The Blue Origin launch vehicle New Shepard, consisting of a BE-3 rocket and crew capsule, lifted off from the west Texas sands, traveled to the legally defined limit of space of 100 km (62 miles) and returned.
Bezos boasted that the BE-3 is "now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas, [and] is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket." He added that "it flew a flawless mission -- soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 199-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four-and-a-half feet from the center of the pad." In the video below, you can see the rocket approaching the ground at dramatically high speeds, then slowing rapidly with a final rocket thrust as the landing gear deploys. Meanwhile, the drogue parachutes on the capsule unfurled at 20,045 feet, helping the crew craft make a (fairly) gentle desert "splashdown."
I'll embed this one.

The main purpose of this rocket, at least if you poke around their website, appears to be space tourism. They will take six people up at a time, once this gets going, for four minutes of weightlessness and the "biggest windows in space".  They also advertise:

Designed with researchers in mind

With approximately three minutes in a high-quality microgravity environment, an apogee of over 100 km, and a comfortable shirt-sleeve cabin environment, our New Shepard system is ideal for microgravity physics, gravitational biology, technology demonstrations, and educational programs. You’ll also have the opportunity for Earth, atmospheric, and space science research.
Given that, I think the Engadget article headline, "Jeff Bezos beats Elon Musk's SpaceX in the reusable rocket race" is not just misleading, it's wrong.  SpaceX made a landing of a suborbital rocket on ground over a year ago, and did it with their Grasshopper technology demonstrator in 2012.  SpaceX has failed so far to land a Falcon 9 booster on small, moving ship at sea, dropping from a greater height.  I think that's at least marginally harder due to coming from a higher starting point.  Blue Origin is catching up with SpaceX. 

More competition is good, and kudos to Blue Origin for accomplishing this.  A healthy private space program is a good thing. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Next Frontier for Robots? Grocery Stores

We've been talking about robotic hamburger machines for years now, but now comes word that the next frontier is your grocery store.  Meet the Simbe Robotics autonomous robot, Tally.
Simbe Robotics developed the robot in response to the billions of dollars retailers lose annually as a result of out-of-stock items, empty shelves, and other in-store inconsistencies. Currently retailers rely on their IT systems and manual labor to account for product availability which has proved to be costly and inaccurate.

The mobile robot autonomously scans large retail environments to capture, report, and analyze the state and availability of merchandise and help ensure compliance standard placement of products on shelves in order to maximize sales. Tally performs the repetitive tasks of auditing shelves for out-of-stock items, low stock items, misplaced items, and pricing errors, in an attempt to make sure customers leave satisfied and the company doesn’t lose money.
They have a video of the small robot  (about 38" tall and 30 pounds) patrolling the store on the Simbe Robotics website.  As it rolls down the aisle, it examines every item noting those needed restock, items in the wrong place, or those that need a price correction.  Tally then sends the data to "the cloud".  You know from your own experience that when you go looking for an item in the store and it's not on the shelves, you usually don't linger around trying to find one, you move on.  That's a lost opportunity for the store.  With a small, nimble robot constantly on patrol, they can direct humans to do the tasks requiring hands.  The robot is autonomous and can navigate the store on its own, then find its way back to its charging station when its batteries are getting low. 

In my mind, the big question is why do the stores need Tally?  If everything coming into stock is ID'ed when it left the warehouse, and the ID tracked from the receiving deck (to rule out theft off the truck) to the shelf, and then ID'ed when the checkout robot scans it, shouldn't the stores know the contents of everything at all times?   Or is this too idealized?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Little Followup on the Long Range Strike Bomber

Friday, Bayou Renaissance Man ran a piece on the contract conflict over the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B).   Briefly, the contract was awarded to Northrup Grumman, and Boeing/Lockheed Martin who lost are suing over improper handling of some aspects.   Quoting:
Not surprisingly, the Long-Range Strike Bomber protest is on. Boeing and Lockheed Martin claim the Air Force’s selection of Northrop Grumman for the development and early production work – worth $23.5 billion – was bungled. The service failed to conduct a proper assessment of the risk for both teams to execute the work and neglected to account for modern advances in manufacturing and life-cycle maintenance, all of which would reduce the cost of such a program, according to Loren Thompson, a Washington DC-based analyst. Thompson’s think-tank receives funding from both Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and the latter employs him as a consultant; he publicly endorsed the Boeing/Lockheed Martin bid despite the requirements and source-selection criteria being classified. Thompson receives no funding from Northrop Grumman.

The losers filed their protest with the Government Accountability Office Nov. 6 after receiving their debrief Oct. 30 from the Air Force.

And, not surprisingly, the other protest is on. You see, in Washington, there’s the protest – filed with GAO and subject to a 100-day audit – and there’s the Protest – the political campaign to disparage the agency that made the alleged flawed choice and its entire strategy. The latter is designed as an end run to whatever the GAO may rule. By undercutting the agency and its strategy at the knees in Congress, pressure can force an agency into submission regardless of a GAO ruling.
The company I work for is not involved in this contract (well, I suspect - but don't know - we'll subcontract to the ultimate winner for some of the avionics), so I don't have a dog in this fight, but I have friends that have left to go work on this contract. 

Contesting the award seems to be the norm in these mega-contracts.  Do you remember the Boeing/Airbus tanker scandal a few years ago?  The contract for the next generation Air Force tanker was awarded to a joint venture between Airbus and Northrup Grumman; Airbus had built a plant in Mobile, Alabama to build the A-330 based tanker, but after a messy set of investigations, the contract was taken from Airbus and given to Boeing.  The Airbus tanker was to be built mostly in France, with final assembly in Mobile, probably as a political move to appease lawmakers' concerns of giving jobs to France.  Today, Airbus is building the biggest selling aircraft in their fleet, the A320 models, in that Mobile facility.   Boeing is building the KC-46A Tanker in its Seattle-area facilities. 

That was a $35B contract.  The first LRS-B contract is for $23.5B and while the Air Force inflated both contractors bids to try factor in how these contracts always go over cost, it seems a safe bet it will go beyond that.  Do you think that whichever side won the contract the other guys are not going to go sue and do everything they can to get that contract?  A contract this size, while probably not life or death for the companies involved, is going to be devastating loss for the loser and great benefit for the winner.  Lots of good details in the story at Aviation Week

This is the way things are done these days.  When the government gets so gargantuan that they call the shots on everything, industry works by lawsuits and counter suits.  

There are no official concept sketches of what this bomber is going to look like, but this is a concept illustration from industry insiders at Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine (often referred to in the biz as "Aviation Leak".  Published here.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tab Clearing

Things I've been meaning to pass on: Miscellaneous edition:

Back in August, I wrote about the non-recall recall that Taurus has on a few models of pistols they sell. These are the PT-111, PT-132, PT-138, PT-140, PT-145 and PT-745 Millennium models (all of these are Millenium models), the PT-609, PT-640, and PT-24/7.  I returned my PT-145 in August, received confirmation it was there, and sat back for the 6 to 8 week turnaround.   Around the end of October, the 8 weeks were up and I checked online to see the status.  They said it had been repaired, but had not been shipped.  This was a Sunday night (probably 11/1) so I figured I'd have it soon.  After another couple of weeks, I checked the status and it said the same thing, so I used the online chat feature to ask about it.

I was told they're going to replace my PT-145 with a new pistol of my choice, out of a few models they offered me.  Of course, this has to go to an FFL and I need to set up a few things, but they offered me a choice between the PT845 or 24/7 45 g2/or 24/7 45 Compact.  Since my original was most like the 24/7 Compact, I'll probably get one of these.  They're saying "4-6 months" which I'm assuming means I'll get the replacement next August - 9 months from now and a full year from sending the gun away. 
When I play an electric guitar I use a solid state modeling amplifier made by Fender called the Mustang 1.  What's a modeling amplifier?  In the world of guitar players, an amp is not an amp is not an amp by any stretch of imagination.  What a modeling amplifier does is model the sound of a number of "classic" amplifiers sought out for their unique tones.  In modern music the amplifier is played like another instrument, and the guitarist usually has a pedal board (example) with some number of different effects that can be chosen by switching them in and out.  The modeling amplifier allows me to choose 24 different sets of effects, emulating the sound of 24 different classic amplifiers.  It also allows me to download more settings from a user community (FUSE) that other users have designed, or post those settings I've come up with.

Cool, right?  Not to a very large number of users who say unless it's the exact right vacuum tube-based amplifier with the exact right effects pedals, it's Just Not Good Enough.  I mean, seriously, there are guys who agonize over the difference between identical part (industry part numbers) made by different companies, and make demo recordings of them. That's a couple of minutes of a guy comparing operational amplifiers that are sold as identical to each other by their manufacturers.  Even worse in my mind (as a soon-to-be-retiring, grizzled, old engineer) is that they're agonizing over parts that I consider jelly bean parts; parts used in non-critical places, where anybody's part would be good enough. 

A lot of folks have tried to get to the bottom of the complexity of the tube vs. solid state amplifier clash and a web site I've recently come across called Tone Lizard tries to break down the legend and lore of this sort of stuff.  I've only just started wading through it, but I like his approach.  In a case like the op amp tests just referred to, he'd try to do objective tests with sensitive instruments to see what the differences really are. 
While I am not the most gifted engineer, I still have enough horse sense to figure out that whether my cabinets are made of pine or poplar would have little bearing towards the tone of my amplifier. For some players though, because they read an article in a guitar magazine or on the Internet stating it does affect the tone, it must be true. Therefore, how could any guitar player shell out $$$ for my amplifier, when I refuse to house it in a pine cabinet? My thoughts raced towards a common question or two; ‘Is this true? Why didn’t I know about this?’ So, I’ve decided to investigate these stories for myself. I have discovered that since these guitar players seemed to be neurotic and gullible, it was very easy to spread all sorts of rumors in today’s information age.
After emphasizing the point that the "Leo" he's referring to in this piece is not intended to be Leo Fender, he writes:
  • Leo was not in business to make amplifiers; he was in business to make money.
  • Leo made money by mass-producing ‘affordable’ musical equipment.
  • Regardless of what you may hear or read, Leo had to make his chassis with standard sheet metal procedures. No ‘cutting-edge’ technology here, such as using copper, or billeting the chassis from a single piece of aluminum. Leo was an old radio man, and his chassis reflected that.
  • Regardless of what you may hear or read, Leo had to make his cabinet with basic woodworking philosophies, and common woods. I haven’t seen nor heard of a tweed Bassman made from Wenge, Parawood, or Eucalyptus.
  • Regardless of what you may hear or read, Leo had to use ‘standard’ parts. No manufacturer I spoke with mentioned ‘auditioning’ tube sockets or wire. They bought what they could locally, and in quantities. Leo did not ‘invent’ speakers to use with his amplifiers; he bought common speakers available to him at that time. Importing Celestion speakers was simply out of the question.
  • Regardless of what you may hear or read, Leo was just as swayed by advertising as everyone else. If he could read about a new speaker line, and the price looked good, he’d try it. Can you honestly say Leo ‘auditioned’ Oxford speakers, and said…. “Hey! These are way better than those flimsy Jensen speakers we’ve been using; let’s switch right away, Freddie!”? If you answered ‘Yes!’, you need professional help, and this web site cannot offer that kind of salvation.
If you're even the least bit interested in this sort of thing, check it out.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Good Capitalist Story

Good capitalist figures are hard to find stories about because they tend to be quiet folks who just do what they do.  They're generally not attention whores, they're more often the quiet ones that don't get noticed.

Meet Manaj Bhargava.  Chances are, you've never heard of him, but you've heard of his invention that made him rich, those ubiquitous red and yellow bottles of 5 Hour Energy.  Bhargava says he was surprised at the rapid acceptance of his invention, but from that first story link, a February 2012 issue of Forbes:
In one corner of Manoj Bhargava’s office is a cemetery of sorts. It’s a Formica bookcase, its shelves lined with hundreds of garishly colored screw-top plastic bottles not much taller than shot glasses. Front and center is a Cadillac-red bottle of 5-Hour Energy, the two-ounce caffeine and vitamin elixir that purports to keep you alert without crashing. In eight years 5-Hour has gone from nowhere to $1 billion in retail sales. Truckers swear by it. So do the traders in Oliver Stone’s 2010 sequel to Wall Street. So do hungover ­students. It’s $3 a bottle, and it has made Bhargava a fortune.
It has brought him to Forbes list of the richest people, with a net worth estimated at $4B.  The 62 year old now is in the enviable position to be able to live on 10% of his income and donate the other 90% to his personal charity, Stage 2 Innovations lab in Farmington, Michigan.  It's here where he's likely to do the most good.
The Stage 2 team consists of more than 100 engineers of all different backgrounds. The main focus of the project is to adopt ideas and concepts that have been around for centuries, but have not advanced due to perceived impracticality or inefficiency. Bhargava offers the team funding, plus as much 5 Hour Energy as they need in order to bring these ideas into fruition, designing efficient machines that can be manufactured on a large scale.
If you were to try to address the two largest needs in the third world, you'd probably end up pretty quickly focusing on energy and clean water with energy first because if you have energy you can purify water.
Free Electric exercise bike/generator: With a single hour of operation, this stationary exercise bike is claimed to generate enough electricity to power small household appliances, including lamps, toaster ovens, and cell phones. Pedaling turns a turbine that generates electricity and stores it in a battery for use throughout the day. This device allows for a clean energy source that can easily be used in homes. Bhargava plans to distribute 10,000 of these bikes in India next year, claiming that the bike could be made for less than $100. He expects that a community may share a bike to power numerous batteries for several households. 
Bhargava rides a prototype at Stage 2 Innovations.  Video here.

Mandatory nerd stuff.  Note that they talk about pedaling the bike for an hour and using the electricity throughout the day.  It doesn't say that it will last all day; that depends on how much energy is stored vs how much is removed.  Some numbers might help.  A professional road cyclist can put out amazing amounts of power - for a little while.  I've read that British sprinter Mark Cavendish puts out almost 1600 watts, but only for a few seconds.  For sustained power output, good riders can put out "a few hundred", like 300-400 watts, maybe 500.  But after an hour, that's still only 300-400 watt-hours.  It's highly unlikely an untrained villager will put out more than the low end of those numbers.  In (what looks like) a 12V battery, 240 Watts is 20 amps, though.  (I have a 35 amp hour battery I could fill in under two hours with one of these - assuming I could still put out 240 watts continuously for two hours.)   Finally, there's no free energy here.  That 240 watts the villager is providing will have to be supplied to the villager as food.

My point here, though, is that this is the story of a good man who made it big through innovation and creating a product (actually, he pretty much created the "energy shot" market).  Now his goal is to help others.  Voluntarily.  No government or NGO is taking 90% of his wealth; he's giving it.  There others out there that we never hear about.   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

80% Polymer Pistol - Here's A Fun Project

It seems that the good guys at Polymer80 are introducing an 80% "Glock" lower.  Just add a drill press and bit of skill and you have "ghost Glock"  (say that 5 times really fast!)  H/T to ENDO for the lead. 

Of course, they don't actually call it a Glock!  Trademarks and all.  Plus, Gaston would probably have their kneecaps broken.  Instead, they call it the Spectre, as in the Spectre that haunts the dreams of freaks like Kevin De Leon.  So why do I call it a Glock?  Because it can be finished by using standard Glock parts.
This compatibility chart from their web page shows you the options of making one of three calibers from this lower.  Just add the appropriate slide and barrel, and you've got a 9mm, 40 S&W or .357 Sig pistol.  You can make your 9mm  24,  17 or 17L length, after the appropriately named Glock model; likewise you can make your 40S&W 24, 22, or 35 length.  You can make up your list of appropriate parts and go shopping from this chart.

(Standard disclaimer: I get no payback from either Polymer80 or Brownells.  My only relation to Brownells is as a customer who paid my own money for things.  I have no relationship to Polymer 80, although I might just trade some green for some black plastic.)

Personally, I think this is a great idea.  Glocks are so widely used in the market that there's a ton of parts available.  The Glock armorer's class is so widely held, I wouldn't be surprised to find they offer it in the women's ministry where I go to church.  That means there's someone in every town that knows how to strip a Glock to metal bits and rebuild it.  You can probably substitute "group" for "town".  Polymer handguns are old tech these days, and the principles of designing them are pretty well understood.  I've heard Polymer80 had some issues with their first AR lowers, but the company was good as gold and made everything right.  I'd be confident buying one.  Just note this is a sale but also the first lot they'll produce for sale.  They expect to ship late January, so don't expect to put it under the tree.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Headline of the Day

From ReutersHonduras detains 5 Syrians heading for U.S. with stolen Greek passports-police 

The report in its entirety says:
Honduran authorities have detained five Syrian nationals who were trying to reach the United States using stolen Greek passports, but there are no signs of any links to last week's attacks in Paris, police said.

The group of Syrian men was held late on Tuesday in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa on arrival from Costa Rica and they were planning to head to the border with neighboring Guatemala. The passports had been doctored to replace the photographs with those of the Syrians, police said.
The men later told the police they had planned to cross Guatemala after exiting Honduras, then Mexico before crossing the southern border in the US.  Unlike the US, the countries of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras all have genuine border security and caught the five Syrians.  Plus, they consider crossing with invalid passports to be a crime.  Their journey will be interrupted at least a little while.

Don't worry; I'm sure they were coming to audition for a church choir somewhere.  Maybe the Mormon Tabernacle?  One of the big Texas mega-churches? No?

In other news, president Obama is right: ISIS has been contained.  There has not been one single ISIS attack on the moon or another planet.  They have been contained to Earth, where they're pretty much like cockroaches and are found everywhere.   
 (US Border Patrol agent)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Yet Another Smartphone Privacy Threat

Ars Technica reports on a new smartphone privacy threat that bares thinking about: it uses inaudible, ultrasonic sounds to surreptitiously track a person's online behavior across a range of devices, including phones, TVs, tablets, and computers.  These sounds, above the range of human hearing, are embedded into TV commercials or are played when a user encounters an ad displayed in a computer browser.  While you can't hear the sound, nearby tablets and smartphones can detect it.  When they do, browser cookies can now pair a single user to multiple devices and keep track of what TV commercials the person sees, how long the person watches the ads, and whether the person acts on the ads by doing a Web search or buying a product.  Of course, they also know the location of all those appliances, too.  The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) raised the privacy concerns with the Federal Trade Commission (pdf warning) for a meeting yesterday (Monday, the 16th). 
Often, people use as many as five connected devices throughout a given day—a phone, computer, tablet, wearable health device, and an RFID-enabled access fob. Until now, there hasn't been an easy way to track activity on one and tie it to another.

"As a person goes about her business, her activity on each device generates different data streams about her preferences and behavior that are siloed in these devices and services that mediate them," CDT officials wrote. "Cross-device tracking allows marketers to combine these streams by linking them to the same individual, enhancing the granularity of what they know about that person."
It turns out this not only isn't forbidden or illegal in any way, although it seems awfully virus-like to me, one of the companies that writes and sells the software that manages this, SilverPush, reported news that it received $1.25 million in venture capital.  Apparently tracking "everything you think, do, or say" is a growth industry.  The Indian news source in that link says:
At present, SilverPush is growing at a rate of 50 per cent quarter on quarter. In the last fiscal year, the startup had earned a revenue of USD 1.25 million. And for 2015-16, it is expected to touch USD five million.
The CDT reports "As of April of 2015, SilverPush’s software is used by 67 apps and the company monitors 18 million smartphones."  SilverPush is aware that some of us will find their approach ... unappealing. 
I pointed out that this could be pretty creepy, since it sounds like there’s an app listening in the background on your phone or tablet. Chawla acknowledged that there’s a risk of negative public perception, but he said that SilverPush isn’t receiving any actual audio data — once a match has been made, the only thing that gets sent back to the company is the identification code linking the devices. Chawla also said he’s working with the Mobile Marketing Association to develop guidelines around using this technology in a way that respects users’ privacy.
I don't know about you, but I don't find the fact that "the only thing that gets sent back to the company is the identification code linking the devices" particularly helps.  I don't like the idea of being watched, listened to or tracked at all, and I don't particularly like the idea of ads being shoved in my face all the time.  It reminds me of that scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise's character is walking into a store and the ads are calling him by name - everything targeted at him.  That move is increasingly prophetic.  I don't see any mention of how to avoid it or turn it off, except possibly by putting something over the microphone so that phone can't hear the TV (or vice versa).  
(Jimmy Margulies)

Monday, November 16, 2015


Yesterday afternoon, Mrs. Graybeard and I went to one of the local multiplex theaters to see Spectre, the latest film in the James Bond series.

It's an entertaining movie in the sense of lots of action, lots of chases, lots of splosions, lots of your typical James Bond movie stuff: Bond can do anything; survive just about any fall, or any attack, and jump into any handy, random aircraft and fly it.  What no one I've seen has talked about is that it has a strong libertarian theme: at its core it's about the overreaching surveillance state.  They never mention SPECTRE exactly in the context of the old movies, as the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, but the last few Bond movies have been a total reboot of the 60s movies. We met the new Moneypenny, M, Q, and the whole crew in Skyfall.  It's the 60s reimagined in the 21st century.  I think what this means is that by the time they set Bond's whole world up again, Daniel Craig will be too old to play him! 

Which is probably OK, since Craig thinks Bond is a jerk, and is always implying he doesn't like playing the character.  And, of course, he's one of the hypocritical Hollywood types who openly hates guns yet has to make so very, very much money pretending to use one.  Hate to make you do an unpleasant dance as we shower you in money, little dancing monkey.  Considering that he was credited as a producer, he probably isn't doing these little tantrums to bargain for more money from the next film. 

Short version: the British government is moving to eliminate the "00 program" and fold it into other surveillance systems.  The new administrator, "C", wants to do everything via the omnipresent surveillance systems and drones instead of field agents.  Spectre is behind that, and uses that data to do their moneymaking businesses: prostitution, sex slavery, smuggling, counterfeit drugs, and so on.   As counterpoint "M", the head of the program is fighting for the judgement of field agents like 007 to make the life or death decisions instead of computer systems.  A pivotal scene is Spectre running a false flag terrorism operation to get that nation to join the worldwide linking of all intelligence streams.  C mocks the idea of democracy several times, and gives the usual leftist views that only the enlightened geniuses like him should run everything. 

Surprisingly libertarian or conservative views for Hollywood.  I wonder if it was accidental?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What ISIS Really Wants

In March of this year, the Atlantic magazine published a fascinating, in-depth article by that name, on the real nature of ISIS and what we can really expect the organization to try to do.  Hat Tip to Self Sufficient Mountain Living who says a British friend mailed it to him.

It's easy for Western minds to dismiss these radical Islamists as insane, trying to establish conditions exactly the way their prophet ordered it in the Koran.  They are far from insane; they're methodically reconstructing the seventh century world as they believe they're commanded to.  They are perfect Muslims in their minds and attack anyone who believes in anything their spiritual leaders say is wrong.  In short, in the words of the subtitle of that piece:
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse.
I've stated before in various places that Islam is Satanic.  I realize that probably sounds inflammatory, especially to non-evangelicals, but all it means is that it follows tenets that are anti-Christian. Among those beliefs is that phrase " is a key agent of the coming apocalypse".  Christians don't believe God requires us to create the apocalypse.  God could end the world in an instant if He desired.  If you compare the biblical book Revelations to Islamic stories of the return of the 12th Imam - the Mahdi - from a well in Iran, I think it can easily be envisioned that they're talking about a similar story but from opposite sides.  Unlike the Christian end-times talk, Muslims who follow this theology believe they need to go on such a killing spree as to wash the world in blood before their leader will return.  

I'll be honest: I haven't finished the article, but I think it's worthwhile reading - if not mandatory for understanding the world in 2015.  I'll excerpt some pieces here that particularly made me take notice:
  • Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world
  • In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.
  • The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
    Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.
  • Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.
  • According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”
  • The Koran specifies crucifixion as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of Islam. ... Leaders of the Islamic State have taken emulation of Muhammad as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. “What’s striking about them is not just the literalism, but also the seriousness with which they read these texts,” Haykel said. “There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t normally have.”
  • If al-Qaeda wanted to revive slavery, it never said so. And why would it? Silence on slavery probably reflected strategic thinking, with public sympathies in mind: when the Islamic State began enslaving people, even some of its supporters balked. Nonetheless, the caliphate has continued to embrace slavery [including sex slavery - SiG] and crucifixion without apology. “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,” Adnani, the spokesman, promised in one of his periodic valentines to the West. “If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
  • The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims.
  • Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.
  • The Islamic State awaits the army of “Rome,” whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. [All bold emphasis added - SiG]
That's probably too much to have excerpted here, but these are important pulls.  There is no negotiation with the Islamic State.  All you have to look at is their imagery: the crucified men and children; the beheaded prisoners, including little girls barely beyond toddler age; prisoners drowned en masse, burned to death, or beheaded in lines along the beaches.  Then we find their own doctrine forbids negotiation or making peace in any way.  No, their doctrine ensures that the only response proper for the Islamic State is the same as for an invasive cancer.   Every single cell must be killed.  The author of that piece offers as one of his conclusions that a slow, continuous bleeding of ISIS might be the best of the bad solutions to dealing with them.
(by Scott Stantis)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Here We Are Yet Again

First and foremost, no matter what else, my prayers for peace and healing for the families affected by the Paris attacks.  As with any mass killing, that's the highest of priorities.  

Bayou Renaissance Man puts up a thought-provoking post on the attacks in Paris, "Paris and the pain of being human".  I trust you've read it; if not, it's worth your time.  This started as a comment over there, but as always, when a comment gets too long, one of the privileges (the only privilege?) of having this space is the ability to post longer thoughts here.

The one type of attack that is impossible to stop is the surprise attack: you have no idea what it is or where it's coming from.  After all, that's why nations invest billions in intelligence agencies: to discover those attacks before they happen.  Compound that with surprise attacks in which the attacker doesn't care if they survive, or actually wishes to die, and the number of options for an attack increases while the ability to ward them off approaches zero. 

I'd say from Isis' standpoint, Paris was immensely successful.  As of reporting I saw this morning, a mere 7 of their men - who wanted to die in the first place - achieved their goal while killing over 120 directly and emotionally damaging hundreds more.  On a purely demographic basis, they will wipe out western civilization before they run out of jihadis.  As long as they sacrifice less than 10 and take out 10 to 100x that number, they can effectively destroy Europe.  Or it can be over in fewer attacks if they use more lethal weapons.  Nuclear or Biological agents have the desired lethality that could end this within a handful of years.

As others have said, what are we to do?  We have a moral responsibility to protect our families, our societies and ourselves.  It's immoral to allow your family to die in some sort of attempt to have a moral high ground over those who attack you.  On the other hand, they want the West to attack them with overwhelming force so they can play the victim card in their civilizational jihad; "Look! The great Satan really is trying to kill all Muslims!!"  They believe the West nuking them would be a great recruiting tool.   

If we refuse to play their game and don't respond with righteous outrage to attacks on our families, what are we left with?  That we only punch back?  We wait for the next surprise attack, which is surely coming ... and then what?  Chances are the attackers will either commit suicide in the operation or be killed by police or defense forces so there will be nobody to retaliate against.  In other words, do we, as "enlightened Westerners" accept being shot first before we shoot back?  In the event of a surprise attack like these in Paris, when you don't know who's attacking or where they're coming from, is there any alternative to taking the first shot?  How many family members are you willing to lose?  Note: in my view, any number higher than zero is unacceptable.

One of the most important abilities humans have is pattern recognition.  I don't think we'd have survived a few hundred years without it.  We see the pattern behind these attacks, and that leads to the dehumanization Peter writes about.  Not recognizing the incompatibility of the societies, and trying to integrate Islam into the West is suicidal.  The "enlightened left" will bristle at this, but Western societies' morality is derived from Judaeo-Christian ethics; Islam's moral code is not.  They're inherently incompatible and if we insist on attempting to integrate Islam into Western societies we're going to have to accept a continuing number of attacks that kill hundreds of innocent people every time.  

As a people, we really need to answer the question of "so what are we to do?".  As has been said many times, the Jihadis have declared war on us.  When someone declares war on you and swears they're going to kill you, it's wise to take them at their word. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

The College Mess

I've got to admit to being a bit conflicted about the insanity going on across various college campae across the country.  Things like the racially motivated protests at  Mizzou, Yale, and even tiny Claremont McKenna College.

My first reaction is just the outright schadenfreude of watching "what goes around comes around" with the way young students are being brought up.  The protests at Yale started out being centered around an email about what costumes to wear for Halloween:
Erika Christakis reflected on the frustrations of the students, drew on her scholarship and career experience, and composed an email inviting the community to think about the controversy through an intellectual lens that few if any had considered. Her message was a model of relevant, thoughtful, civil engagement.

For her trouble, a faction of students are now trying to get the couple removed from their residential positions, which is to say, censured and ousted from their home on campus. Hundreds of Yale students are attacking them, some with hateful insults, shouted epithets, and a campaign of public shaming. In doing so, they have shown an illiberal streak that flows from flaws in their well-intentioned ideology.
It's fun watching the academic twits being out-idioted by the idiots they've been training to do exactly what they're doing.  It's heartening to see journalism professor Melissa Click forced to resign for trying to run an independent journalist off campus - if anyone on campus should know the jobs of the student journalists and their first amendment rights to cover a story, it's the j-school professor!
(Chip Bok Cartoons)

On the other hand there's potential for real trouble here.  I mean, do these last few years remind you of the late 1960s or what?  Considering that many of these protests are left against left, because the targets aren't far enough left, how far are we from a repeat of the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968 next year at their convention?  It seems the last few years have duplicated all of the worst of the '60s, except for the assassinations.  I guess that shouldn't be a surprise with a bunch of wrinkled, washed-up, old, 60s hippies influenced by commies like Bill Ayers and Frank Marshall Davis running the country. 

Roger Simon writes an interesting piece for PJ Media comparing what's going on in these demonstrations to the Chinese Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao, where millions were killed and up to a hundred million displaced or otherwise affected.
Recent events at the University of Missouri and Yale (where I attended graduate school), plus now other institutions, have only increased my apprehension. It’s not  at the level of the Cultural Revolution — professors haven’t been asked to wear dunce caps yet and no one (to my knowledge) has been killed — but the portents are not reassuring.

Mob rule, not anything close to democracy, is at play. The so-called SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) seem to be functioning as early avatars of the infamous Red Guard, bullying and then threatening violence to anyone whose thoughts run outside what is deemed to be correct.

College professors and administrators quiver in their path. In the case of Mizzou, the president resigned before any concrete evidence of racism was made manifest. It still hasn’t been days later. At dear old Yale, it’s even more bizarre because there were no imputations of racism in the first place, only that there might have been or might be. Forget Bull Connor and the KKK, inappropriate Halloween costumes were the new danger. It was all about having a “safe space” so feelings wouldn’t be hurt, as if the world could be perfect and the human species remade for an extraordinarily fragile generation of coddled students.
Saving the pull quote for last words (as I often do), Simon says:
Some people ridicule these students as “snowflakes” unable to stand up to the slightest discomfiting words or images. But it is far worse than that. These so-called “snowflakes” are the potential shock troops of the aforementioned Red Guard, American style. There is a fine line between the extreme entitlement that demands to be warned before reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses (as happened recently at Columbia) and a kind of narcissistic rage acting out against any presumed enemy in its path. How do you think the CR actually happened in China? Yes, the country was significantly poorer, but the psychological evolution was strikingly similar.
 (comrade Click, from PJ Media)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Remembering all veterans on Veteran's Day 2015.  My deepest respects to those who served. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

40 Years Ago This Evening

"Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".  Today, the bells chimed 29 times again for the men of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  It is still said to be the biggest ship ever sunk on the largest fresh-water lake by surface area in the world.

I didn't notice the story at that time; I was in my early life, struggling through my first attempt at college and trying to get established in life.  It wasn't until Gordon Lightfoot's haunting song about it came out in August of '76 that I became aware of the wreck.  Columnist Thomas Walton of the Toledo Blade writes:
A few minutes past 7 p.m. on Nov. 10, 1975, on a bitter and brutal night on Lake Superior, Capt. Ernie McSorley and his shipmates on the Edmund Fitzgerald were in a fight for their lives in a storm more violent than anything they had ever encountered.

The great ship was in peril, and when the end came, it came with such suddenness and ferocity there was no time for an SOS, no time for anything but a few seconds of desperation and terror as the fastest, grandest freighter on the Great Lakes slipped into the depths and into history.
Walton writes with the pain of having lost his uncle on the Fitz, having worked on the ship himself, and then watching how the loss of his uncle affected his father.  Chances are that we all know the basic story because of Lightfoot's song, and he basically got it right if you read around some poetic license, but reading some local writing about the disaster paints a vivid picture. 
Forty years later, those of us who lost a loved one that night still don’t know for sure how the Great Lakes’ most legendary tragedy occurred. We know what sank the Titanic. But exactly what caused the Big Fitz to disappear remains a mystery that may never be solved.
The Fitz was held in awe everywhere she went. She was a tourist attraction, especially when she sailed through the Soo Locks connecting Lakes Huron and Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At 729 feet long, she was the equivalent of a 70-story skyscraper on its side.
Walton writes about his father:
It was only through good fortune and the grace of God that my dad was not on the Fitzgerald the night she sank. He was out in the storm, but on another vessel. He could have taken accrued vacation time to get off the lakes in November when the weather is at its worst, but he didn’t. He was a laker. He needed to be out there.
"He was a laker.  He needed to be out there".  Out on the lakes where a storm of "freezing rain", of a "hurricane west wind" could take out the largest boats mankind knew how to make.  Iron men on iron boats - carrying more iron to build the world.  This is the way I envision Americans.  Not pansies who need "trigger warnings" if someone might say something that upsets them;  not overly pampered kids who need to go into rooms full of puppies to sooth them if they heard an unsettling word.
The pilot house of the Fitz, 530 feet down in Lake Superior, from the FWS.

I think anyone who has taken a boat out of sight of land can identify with some of the lyrics in Gordon Lightfoot's song; how it captures the rage of a storm at sea and puts words to being in a situation you just may never survive.  I find it hard to listen to the song. 
Every man knew as the captain did, too, was the witch of November come stealin'
Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

Monday, November 9, 2015

IMF Warns of Financial Instability

Last week, the International Monetary Fund issued warnings of global economic slowdown and instability.

True to their nature as central bankers, they stressed worry about deflation, and presented comical inflation numbers to make their point.
“I worry about deflation globally,” new IMF Economic Counselor Maurice Obstfeld said in an interview ahead of an annual IMF research conference that focuses this year on unconventional monetary policies and exchange rate regimes. “It may be time to start thinking outside the box.”

Weak—and in some cases falling—price growth has plagued Japan, Europe, the U.S. and other major economies since the financial crisis. Plummeting commodity prices are exacerbating the so-called “lowflation” and deflation problems that curb investment, spending and growth.
According to their data, shown here, the advanced economies in the world are showing mere 0.3% inflation, a level not seen since the depths of the '08/'09 crisis, while their goal for the world is 2%; doubling prices on everything every 36 years.
The IMF is talking about "thinking outside the box" and then goes on to suggest... wait for it ... permanent Quantitative Easing!  Because what they've done so far has worked out so well. 
So, what would be thinking outside the box for Mr. Obstfeld? One option is a proposal by Adair Turner, a member of the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee, for central bankers to overtly finance increased budget stimulus with permanent increases in the money supply. By contrast, the increased money supply resulting from recent central bank bond-buying programs is meant to be temporary.
The problem is that all that money they created through QE went to banks who propped up housing prices for their own reasons, and corporations who found it was so cheap and easy to borrow money they could go on a spending spree, buying other companies, and doing minimal investment in more lasting things, like modernization and improvements.  As the Guardian puts it:
Massive monetary policy stimulus has rekindled growth in developed economies since the deep recession that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008; but what the IMF calls the “handover” to a more sustainable recovery – without the extra prop of ultra-low borrowing costs – has so far failed to materialise.

Meanwhile, the cheap money created to rescue the developed economies has flooded out into emerging markets, inflating asset bubbles, and encouraging companies and governments to take advantage of unusually low borrowing costs and load up on debt.
The distortions created by the central banks has been a central problem.  The other problem is that we never really fixed the problems of '08.  The problem in '08 was too much borrowing and too much leverage throughout society .  Too many institutions are over-extended on free credit.
Meanwhile, the failure to patch up the international financial system after the last crash, by ensuring that banks in emerging markets hold enough capital, and constraining risky borrowing, for example, means that a new Lehman Brothers-type shock could spark another global panic.

“Shocks may originate in advanced or emerging markets and, combined with unaddressed system vulnerabilities, could lead to a global asset market disruption and a sudden drying up of market liquidity in many asset classes,” the IMF says, warning that some markets appear to be “brittle”.
Bayou Renaissance Man points to an issue of Porter Stansberry's newsletter saying we are already in the opening phases of this “financial instability”.
We are in the early stages of a great debt default – the largest in U.S. history.

We know roughly the size and scope of the coming default wave because we know the history of the U.S. corporate debt market. As the sizes of corporate bond deals have grown over time, each wave of defaults has led to bigger and bigger defaults.
Default rates on "speculative" bonds are normally less than 5%. That means, less than 5% of noninvestment-grade, U.S. corporate debt defaults in a year. But when the rate breaks above that threshold, it goes through a three- to four-year period of rising, peaking, and then normalizing defaults. This is the normal credit cycle. It's part of a healthy capitalistic economy, where entrepreneurs have access to capital and frequently go bankrupt.
Six years after default rates normalized in 2003, they suddenly spiked up to almost 10% in 2009. But thanks to a massive and unprecedented government intervention, featuring trillions of dollars in credit protection, default rates immediately returned to normal in 2010. As a result, only about $1 trillion of corporate debt went into default during this cycle.
What happens next should be obvious to everyone: The big debt-clearing cycle that was "paused" in 2009 will make the next debt-clearing cycle much, much larger – by far the biggest we've ever seen. When will that happen? Six years after default rates last returned to normal. In other words... right now.
As Peter says in the BRM post just linked, it's worthwhile reading to go read Stansberry research, and it's worth the time to read the original BRM post.  The IMF has posted the entire report excerpted at that top in a variety of languages and formats.  Final quote back to the Guardian story on the IMF:
Yet the failure of the world’s policymakers to get to grips with the shortcomings of the international financial system over the past seven years, despite the long shadow cast by Lehman and its aftermath, suggests that any measures enacted now are likely to be too little, too late. The message many may take home from Lima is, “batten down the hatches”.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Getting an Idea Into CNC

It has been a day of staying busy with lots of little and not so little tasks.  Some of the Windows 10 discussion has been very good.  I thought I'd put up a little more details about some of the things I was talking about.  A lot of newcomers to CNC are confused at the many pieces of software that's required. 

Today, I took a line drawing, a DXF format drawing of a part and made a 3D model of it in Rhino3D.  This is the Z-axis motor mount for my G0704 CNC conversion.  Note that this drawing is copyright Daniel E. "Hoss" Kemp.
Given those dimensions, and the fact I'm using NEMA 23 stepper motors (that's a National Electronics Manufacturer's Association specification for the mounting hole pattern on the motor), that means I omitted the holes marked "Use for Nema 34" on the drawing.  I turned that into a 3D drawing in Rhino 3D...  
The next process is to save this as an .STL file, the format 3D printers usually use - it comes from the earliest 3D printers: stereolithography.  The .STL file becomes the input to DeskProto.  DeskProto is a CAM program (Computer Aided Manufacturing).  It takes the 3D model, positions it on a virtual milling machine, and creates tool paths for the cutting tools to take.  The tool paths are written in what's frequently called G-Code.  (I've often thought that's because many of the commands start with the letter G and two numbers).  It's an industry standard language, RS-274. 

The CAM program gives a graphical output that shows the path of the center of the cutting tool, as well as the G-Code file.  In this case I'm using a 3/8" diameter end mill.  It's too big for the holes, I'll drill those with direct commands to the CNC mill.  
Finally, this G-Code file, also called a CNC file, it loaded into a motion control system that drives the motors on the CNC mill.  I've been using a program called Mach3 for that.  It's running on an air gapped XP machine.  I've had the Mach3 installation (and almost nothing else) on that particular computer for years, and saw no reason to toss the PC when XP went unsupported. 

Now that I've gone through all of that, I don't think I'm going to use it.  I think it will be easier and better to drill the holes with direct commands (that is, go the exact location of the hole and do the series of operations they'll require) and then cut out the large hole in the middle with something like the tool paths shown here.   The whole purpose of all of these steps is to create the G-code.  That can be created with a plain text editor; you just need to know the X, Y, Z coordinates of the places you will be working.  I've created a file with a spreadsheet and copied the coordinates into a text file. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Coming Windows 10 Push

Two months ago, I ran a piece on Windows 10 and how it spies on everything you do.  Briefly, it's the embodiment of the conventional wisdom about the online world: if something you're using is free, you're what's being sold.

Now comes word from Microsoft that Windows 10 will graduate from being Nagware - that daily popup box we get offering 10 - and become a "Recommended" update:
Early next year, we expect to be re-categorizing Windows 10 as a “Recommended Update”. Depending upon your Windows Update settings, this may cause the upgrade process to automatically initiate on your device. Before the upgrade changes the OS of your device, you will be clearly prompted to choose whether or not to continue. And of course, if you choose to upgrade (our recommendation!), then you will have 31 days to roll back to your previous Windows version if you don’t love it.
I'm a bit torn on doing an upgrade.  I'm certainly not anti-technology and over the thirty-ish years I've been running a PC of some sort, I've tended to update OS not too long after the current one came out.  With Win 10, I don't know if this box will run it reliably and I sure am reading mixed comments on it including well-sourced reports that some of the big sellers' tech support lines are telling customers to uninstall it and go back to 7 or 8.  Unfortunately, the privacy issues aren't that simple to resolve.  In that September piece, I pointed out:
...there are also reports (another) that some of the Windows X tracking tools are being pushed into the automatic updates that Windows 7 and 8 users are getting, too.  They've changed the "Terms of Service Agreement" for their Windows Store and given themselves the right to sniff you're computer's butt to detect and uninstall any pirated first-party XBox and Windows games you have installed.  They even claim the right to disable “unauthorized hardware peripheral devices”.  While I don't play games more modern than Freecell and wouldn't be affected by that change at all, I'm a bit put off by the "unauthorized hardware" statement.  How would my OS know if my hardware is authorized and what does unauthorized hardware even mean?  If I have it, I either bought it or traded for it: either way, it's mine.  What exactly are they talking about and what exactly are they going to do??
The problem with Windoze is that it's the 800 pound gorilla of the OS world.  More stuff is developed for Windows because more users are using Windows because more stuff is developed for Windows...   I have a couple of programs that appear to require Windows: Mathcad, Rhino, my 3d design program and Deskproto, the CAM program that creates tool paths for CNC.  The design program now offers a Mac version; the CAM program is Win only.  

It's not like there are lots of options to Windows.  There are several robust, well-established versions of Linux, but none of those three programs run under Linux.  There are Windows emulators and virtual machines, but those options expose you to the same risks that running Win 10 does anyway.  A Mac is a possible alternative, but fewer programs are available for the Mac OS machine - which I'd have to buy. Virtually all of the software I use day to day is available under Linux, or there's an equivalent Linux program I could run.  It's these few programs that are keeping me trying to find better ways to implement them.  A possible backup/plan C would be to move this Win 7 box to be firewalled off the 'net, and keep it just for running those programs.  Then I could get a simple box running Linux to do my day to day stuff that, none of which requires Windows.

It ends up being a very tedious and involved decision.  I suspect most people will just get Windows 10 and either fight through the "45 pages of policy documents and opt-out settings split across 13 different Settings screens and an external website" to turn off the monitoring, or ignore it and pretend it's not there.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

In America, You Can Grow Up to be Anything

Heck, you don't even have to grow up.  From Hope n' Change Cartoons (obviously)
What a country!  We have a white woman self-identifying as black running an NAACP office.  We have an American senator, also a white woman, who self identifies as a native American and got a sweet academic gig out of it.  We have some fraction of 1% of the population who don't identify with the sex they were born into and now, by Federal ruling, get to impose their will onto the other 99.99% of society and use the bathrooms and locker rooms they feel they identify with. 

Why stop there?  Gender is so limiting; why not choose another species?  Why not choose to be what you want to be?  I self-identify as a Yak this evening.  Tomorrow, I may choose to be something else.  Maybe even an object instead of an animal.  Do any of these court rulings say I have to identify the same way every day?  (John Kricfalusi style yak from Ren and Stimpy)
At a high school in the Chicago area, a young man (sorry - no one is saying the kid doesn't have a normal XY chromosome pair so genetics say that's what he is, regardless of what he feels he is) has been pushing on the school district; Township High School District 211, and demanding accommodations from them.  And the district accommodated.  I'm all for accommodation as long as everyone is accommodated, but in this case it appears that only the complainant is being accommodated.  They bent over backwards for the kid, providing a separate bathroom, and then a curtained-off area in the girls' locker room.  The District did everything for the complainant except grant him access to the girls' showers while the girls were in them.  Rather than being appreciative for the school's efforts to accommodate his needs, he continued to press the legal actions to be allowed full access to the girls' areas.  The Examiner puts the parents concerns this way:
But many parents of students who aren't transgender are appalled. Parents of girls are particularly incensed that their daughters will have to share locker rooms and private facilities with transgender boys. They are concerned about girls dressing or being naked around people of the opposite sex. They feel their children's rights to privacy are being violated by being forced to share bathrooms. It's fine when the genitalia doesn't show and the boy looks like a girl, but it's asking a lot to let a kid who still has his boy parts change in front of girls. It's asking a lot to make girls with girl parts change in front of guys just because they say they're really girls.
As always, the trick of rights is that you never increase freedom by taking freedom away from people.  A compromise is needed and the kid at the center of the story apparently refused to compromise.  If you inconvenience one person and don't impose on the freedoms of the majority, you've spread more freedom around than if you give one person their desire and remove a freedom from everyone else.  I don't know the exact numbers, nobody is reporting, but instead of making 99 people comfortable and 1 person less than completely happy, we've made one person happy and 99 people very unhappy. 

It's nice to say, "All that really has to happen here is the adults have to put their prejudices in check," as Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality did, but you're dealing with very deep cultural attitudes.  Separate bathroom facilities for the sexes are almost always the case in the US.  Small offices and small buildings may have only one restroom, for only one person at a time, but I've never worked or even been in a building with large bathrooms that were mixed.  

Handing the conclusion off to Stilton Jarlsberg of Hope n' Change:
For instance, a 12 year old who "identifies" as an adult shouldn't get to buy booze. A 25 year old who "identifies" as a senior citizen shouldn't be able to collect Social Security payments.  An 11 year old girl who "identifies" as a grown woman shouldn't be able to be a consensual sex partner for a pederast. Yet in our society, it seems increasingly likely that any and all of these things could come to pass.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Keeping Americans From Working Act

Otherwise known as FATCA - the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.  FATCA was passed in 2010 when the Evil party controlled all branches of government.  The idea was to punish those ebil peoples who go overseas to work, and "hide their income" from the IRS - a problem that might impact as much as an estimated .00001% of the budget, so it MUST be addressed. 

FATCA has had the (probably) unintended consequence of making it financially much harder to be an American overseas, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of American expatriates renouncing their American citizenship.   The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports that during the W administration an average of 480 Americans gave up their citizenship yearly, while that number has jumped radically since FATCA was passed.  In the just-completed third quarter, a record 1,426 people renounced their US citizenship, bringing the year's total to 3,221, just 196 short of the record for a full year.  It seems a lock to bet that more than 196 people will apply in the fourth quarter, producing a new record number.

As a further kick in the teeth, the feds dramatically increased the fee that these people must pay to renounce. 
Simply applying to renounce citizenship now costs $2,350, way up from the $450 fee of a few years ago, meaning the IRS made over $7.5 million just by processing renounced citizenships. The figure is actually even higher than that, as wealthier Americans who renounce their citizenship are hit with an expatriation tax that can total into the millions.
Should you be in that group the democrats considered they could tax without repercussions, you're required to pay an exit tax.  To leave America, you generally must prove 5 years of U.S. tax compliance. If you have a net worth greater than $2 million or average annual net income tax for the 5 previous years of $160,000 or more (that’s tax you paid, not income), you pay an exit tax. It's a capital gain tax as if you sold your property when you left.  There's an exemption for the first $680,000.

As the cheesy infomercials like to say, "But wait!  There's more!"   FATCA drastically increased the amount of paperwork and reporting that foreign banks must do if they allow Americans to bank there.  Foreign banks, brokers, insurers, and other financial institutions must provide the IRS detailed asset and transaction records for any accounts held by Americans, including corporate accounts controlled by American employees.  If the foreign bank refuses, the IRS can slap a 30% withholding penalty on any transaction going from a US bank to the foreign company. 

As a result, foreign banks are increasingly refusing to work with American expatriates.  Obviously not the "rich fat cats" that the politicos rail against, but average, middle class Americans working overseas:  English teachers, sales reps, lawyers and retirees - who are the overwhelming majority of expatriates.  Especially the retirees, who generally are overseas because they can live cheaper there than here in the US; the foreign banks don't make enough profit off the retirees when the costs of compliance to the IRS rules are included.

It's not much better for expats working as employees or business partners of foreign companies in the FATCA age.   Any financial accounts they can access must now be exposed to government scrutiny; not just from the US, but from any one of over 100 other countries that have signed FATCA-related information-sharing agreements with DC.  Americans up for executive posts in Brazil, Switzerland, Singapore and elsewhere have been asked to renounce their citizenship in order to get the promotion.

FATCA has the effects of limiting opportunities for Americans to work or live overseas, or making them renounce their citizenship if they want to work.  The exit tax has the effect of the saying, "how dare you think you can take what you earned away from our taxing authority".  Doesn't that sound like something the mafia would do? 

(From the UK Progressive (!?!) of all places.  Note that the third quarter of 2015 at 1426 is well off the scale on this plot!)