Wednesday, July 30, 2014

And Furthermore

Related to last night's post on the IoT:
The artwork looks like Dave Farley - Dr. Fun.  Found it out there somewhere...


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Techy Tuesday - the Internet of Things (IoT)

I know you've heard the term because both Borepatch and Denninger have posted on it; it's also one of the big buzzwords in the electronics industry now.  It even has conferences of its own.

So when an industry writer takes on the Next Big Thing, I find that encouraging.  Especially, this thing.  Author Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent for EE Times writes in "Convince Me Why Washer Must Talk to Grill":
MADISON, Wis. — At the risk of sounding a bit curmudgeonly, I have to confess one thing. While there’s certainly something positive to be said about the Internet of Things (IoT), I can’t help feeling suspicious, weary, and a bit turned off by the whole idea.

Aside from big-number projections (e.g., Cisco predicts 50 billion IoT devices by 2020), which would tempt anyone into becoming an IoT cheerleader, I haven’t seen a single credible-use scenario that might lure the average consumer onto the IoT bandwagon.

Honestly, it creeps me out to think about my devices at home talking to one another, doing stuff without my involvement, and talking about my habits -- good and bad -- to total strangers (advertisers, service providers, or just more machines), behind my back. There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about this. At all. [Bold added - SiG]
That emphasized text raises an important point.  Those of us in the technical fields have a tendency to think of something that would be cool and then do it simply because it can be done.  On the other hand, the vast majority of people are not technophiles like us who do things because we can.  They want to know just what they're getting for what they spend on the interconnectedness and thanks (in my opinion) to Edward Snowden, they increasingly want to know what privacy they're giving up to get that interconnection.  Yoshida continues:
With this in mind, I’ve started asking industry sources for credible scenarios under which IoT devices improve my life by talking to each other. Readers are welcome to chime in below. Give me your best shot. Convince me why my washing machine needs to strike up a conversation with my gas grill.
The answers leave her flat.  They're the same old home automation stuff that's been sold and resold for years.  Oooh: a house that knows you're in the living room and can turn off lights for you, or change the temperature while you're coming home from work.   The thing is, when you leave the trite and unoriginal, you end up at creepy pretty fast.  Richard Doherty, research director at something called the Envisioneering Group says:
  • IoT will mean “peace of mind” allowances. For example, IoT could let us know if Grandma opened the fridge this morning or used her Bluetooth toothbrush.
  • IoT will also create insurance access. Did Rick walk his requisite one mile a day to earn his present insurance discount?
  • IoT offers public services. Are enabled air conditioners being throttled back 10% for brownout prevention?
In my mind, all of those get darned close to (or jump over) the "none of your damned business" line.  I admit I would have felt better about my elderly mom living by herself with the first one (assuming she agreed to have it), but I'll have no part of the other two.  But they go on from there into asking who controls what information is being handled and how it gets around.  Predictably, the industry giants are starting Sumo matches; throwing salt and trying to force each other out of the ring.  Intel, Qualcomm, AT&T, Time Warner and Google (among others) all want to be the one to see you crank your thermostat warmer some winter and promptly send you an ad for sweaters.  
(source) Creep you out, yet?


Monday, July 28, 2014

Hamas Blusters and Threatens - Israel Laughs

From The Tower
Hackers identifying with Hamas have sent threatening text messages to Israeli mobile phone numbers, via Twitter and on Facebook feeds.

The problem: The Hebrew grammar and spelling are riddled with errors.

Instead of causing fear – as intended – Israelis have reposted the messages with corrections and tips on how to better construct a threatening message.
That's the spirit!
Earlier this week, Hamas hackers overtook the Domino’s Pizza Israel Facebook page, posting threatening messages against Israelis. They didn’t know Israelis have been punching out jokes at a quick pace. Hamas hackers wrote: “Today will strike deep in Israel, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Ashdod more than 2000 rockets. We’ll start at 7. Counting back towards the end of Israel … Be warned!”

An Israeli response read: “Hey, please reserve a missile for me with jalapenos, green olives, extra cheese, and mushrooms. You have my address. Tell the delivery boy to activate the alarm when it is arriving, so I know to put my pants on.”
For their part, Hamas appears to be a bit demoralized.  From an Israeli soldier and reported in  the Jerusalem Post, and posted by The Right Curmudgeon (H/T, Joe the Plumber):
... a recognizable wave of demoralization has washed over Hamas’s combat battalions. “They simply escape, leaving behind weapons and suicide bomb vests that were laid out for battle. This morning we stormed a position, and they just weren’t there. I don’t see a determined enemy. We have encountered stronger pockets of fighting in the past. But now, I would not give them a high grade for fighting spirit.”
In the age of social media, it's inevitable that the conflict should spread to Facebook.  It seems, though, that faces aren't the only images that Israelis are posting there as encouragement to the IDF.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

NFW

No. Effing. Way.

(story) Some dood with a new book doing the radio TV tour said, "Obama could kill someone, personally, on live TV, and would survive without getting impeached".  Someone like me - or you, probably - would be painted in seconds as some sort of terrorist by the leftist media.  Not enough senators would vote to bring to president to trial.  That's more like the truth.

Besides, his replacement (and walking life insurance policy) is Joe Biden.  How much better do you think that's going to work out? 


Friday, July 25, 2014

Staleness, Part II

I haz a stale.  "Not so much writer's block, more like tired of writing about the same damned problems all the time."  Including my stale.  Besides, it has been a busy week and I haven't had much time to ponder what to write about.
Steve Breen at Townhall.  (Background)


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Metal Finishing in the Small Shop

A post over at Theredneckengineer got me thinking about this topic again.  When you're done cutting metal, now what?  Steel, except for stainless, will rust quickly in all but the driest climates.  Aluminum won't rust, but it oxidizes and will develop a kind of cruddy, blotched look.

This has been a hot topic in the gun industry since before Sam Colt was a little boy.  A lot of finishes exist; from Parkerizing, and bluing, to Cerakote and the dozens of other finishes.  I'm going to focus on two simple processes: powder coating (because it's the one Redneck Engineer wrote about) and anodizing.

Powder coating is a painting process, and can be done to almost any material, like most painting.  You can powder coat any metal: steel pieces or aluminum; titanium or brass.  What's neat about the process is that you attach a ground wire to the piece to be coated and spray a powder that gets electrically charged in the gun.  Instead of the overspray of paint that plagues spraying liquids, the powder is electrically attracted to the grounded piece.  There's less over spray, and any overspray that happens is a powder that can be brushed off.  Powder that goes beyond that part will actually turn around and come back to coat the other side.  That's not to say you may not get better results turning the part, just emphasizing that attraction of the powder to the charged surface.  Once the part is coated, it's then baked in an oven, where the powder turns into a liquid and flows over the surface.  The temperature depends on the type of powder, but is around 300-400F.  The result is a hard, chip resistant finish that holds up better than the spray paints I've been able to use. 

Powder coating is new technology, but hardly exotic.  Powder coating sets can be bought at Sears, Harbor Freight and many others.  Two excellent sources are Caswell Plating and Eastwood; both of them are also excellent suppliers for anodizing. 

Anodizing is an electrolytic surface treatment process that is most often done to aluminum.  Compared to painting, it allows a more precise control of the finish thickness and typically looks better in a thin finish than powder coat tends to look.  It's rather more involved than powder coating, but a good finish in almost any color imaginable is within the reach of determined folks.  The word comes from using the material you're finishing as the anode (more positive piece) in an electrical circuit you make.  Anodizing is often referred to by its "type" (these come from MilSpecs) , and you may have seen references to Type III anodizing as a selling feature for gun parts.  Home anodizing is most often Type II, Low Current Density.  There are good, detailed explanations on the web, but I find my favorite is gone tonight (haven't checked it for a while).  This guy seems to have a couple of pages of his results and looks good to follow; but let me summarize here.

You may not have noticed the first important thing that was up there in the descriptions.  Powder coating applies a layer of paint over the surface, hiding it to at least some degree.  Anodizing is a surface treatment; that means it doesn't really cover the surface.  However pretty your surface is before you start, that's how pretty it's going to be when you're done.  The first step is to finish the surface until it is free of defects. Finishing metal surfaces is simple in concept, just tedious and time consuming.  You sand with progressively finer abrasives and either leave a matte surface (600 grit on metal looks like a matte finish) or proceed to polish.  Books have been written in place of that sentence, and industry has invested tons of money in getting pretty finishes faster.

The piece is then thoroughly cleaned and degreased.   After completely cleaning it, so that water doesn't bead up on the aluminum at all, it's time to actually anodize.  The work is submerged in a mix of sulfuric acid and distilled water.  Yes, there's a specific ratio; no, I'm not going to tell you what it is.  This piece is an overview, not instructions.  Two electrodes go into the acid: the cathode goes to the negative side of your power supply while the piece you're finishing is the anode.  The process depends on current, not voltage, so low voltage, high current supplies are usually used; the 12V, 20 to 30A supplies that hams use aren't adjustable enough although they're in the ballpark for capacity.  You want a constant current supply with adjustable current.  The actual anodizing part of the process takes a couple of hours, depending on how big the part is and how thick the layer you're striving for.

At this point, the parts have barely changed color, and they're coated with a thin, new coating of aluminum oxide (you can call it corrosion, white sapphire, or anodizing).  The guys who do this refer to the finish having pores that are open.  The parts are washed in distilled water, before going into the dying process - if you want to add color. The process is simple: heat a water solution of the dye (RIT clothes dyes are often used) up to about 140F, and suspend the part in it for a few minutes, checking to see if it has the color you want.  The dying process is self limiting and the parts just can't keep getting darker after some time.  If you don't dye the part, you go straight to the next step. 

The final step sets the color permanently.  You take the dyed parts and submerge them in boiling water for a half hour.  This doesn't need to be distilled water.  That sets the finish and results in the hard, colorful finish anodized parts are known for.  That is, parts not intended to be tactical black. 
The paintball guys are big on wild anodizing colors.  Hard to imagine someone making an AR lower in this color scheme.

Anodizing can also be done on titanium, and the colors are obtained by allowing different thicknesses of the oxide layer to build up.  Check out these titanium chopsticks, although the technique is commonly used in titanium jewelry.

This is admittedly a brief overview.  Not enough detail to begin either technique but hopefully enough to tickle your interest and get you looking.


Monday, July 21, 2014

If Your Grammar Needs Attention

Weird Al Yankovic, the 80s parody king, has released his (probably) final album, and has been featuring a song per day for 8 days.  I couldn't resist this one: Word Crimes.

Know when it's less or it's fewer
like people who were
never raised in a sewer
...
Hire some cunning linguist to
help you distinguish
what is proper English
As for "final album", I saw an interview with Al this morning, and he said it was his last album on a contract he's been under since the '80s, and while he intends to keep writing songs, albums are probably not the direction the world is going.  IMO, look for Al to start selling singles rather than albums, probably through iTunes or something setup more for direct sale to consumers.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stolen Mercilessly

From Sense of Events
For the "my boss can't tell me what to do with my uterus" crowd.

Busier day than I thought it would be here.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Border Mess, Federal Corruption and Son of ACORN

While sipping coffee and trying to get my heart beating this morning, I heard something in passing that made my ears stand up like a Doberman's. 

You might recall that earlier in the week, there was story that the Fed.gov was going to open a $50 Million resort for these children that are invading over the southern border, the Palm Aire Hotel and Suites in Weslaco, Texas.  Complete with swimming pools, tennis courts, saunas - you name it - the hotel was to be renovated and house them for a couple of weeks,  providing “health, mental health services, education, case management services” while they were being placed with family or foster families.
Think about that for just a moment.  These illegals, who have no right to be in the country, are going to be housed by the Department of Homeland Security for two weeks and they’d receive health, mental health services, education and case management services provided by taxpayer dollars over that two week period.

Let’s contrast that with the VA hospital in Phoenix where men who fought for America, who were injured, who bled for freedom were – and probably still are being – put on waiting lists for medical care that was promised them for their honorable military service.  We’ve got military veterans who are being put on phantom waiting lists for care, who stay on those waiting lists for months or years, while illegal aliens can receive care immediately.
You might also recall that there was somewhat of a public stink raised over this and the deal was dropped.

Today, the news droid dropped the name of who was getting the $50 million contract: the Baptist Child and Family Services.  The Baptist Child and Family... a Christian charity??  Wait a minute.   Our government - 99 and 44/100 % Muslim Brotherhood infiltrated, working with a Christian group?  Sumthin jest don't seem right.  

Not alone in my skepticism, The Right Curmudgeon started peeling back the layers of this onion and concludes BCFS is a new identity for ACORN.  I'm sure all of my readers will recall that ACORN, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, was brought down by James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles in a 2009 hidden camera video series, in which O'Keefe played a pimp and Giles one of his girls.  As Right Curmudgeon points out, we all know ACORN:
They’re the “community service” organization, 100% funded by Democrats with tax dollars, who were raking in hundreds of millions of shadow money for a variety of housing and mortgage scams.  They’re the people that James O’Keefe brought down with a series of videos.  Probably his most famous was one of him and an attractive young lady dressed as a pimp and a prostitute going to an ACORN office, telling them they were in the sex trade and wanted a house but didn’t have any declared income.  ACORN was ready to help them falsify the paperwork to qualify for a loan.

As a result of O’Keefe’s videos ACORN lost their government funding and disbanded. Of course, like zombies, they weren’t dead, they just morphed into several new “community service” organizations, again being fed with a combination of your tax dollars and money borrowed from the Chinese.
It's worth the time to RTWT.  Right Curmudgeon looks into BCFS and this deal, asking a lot of very reasonable questions and trying to track down just who this group is:
These questions, to which the most transparent administration in American history will never provide answers, heck, they may never be asked, bring us back to BCFS.  Given all their donation buttons, you’d think they got their money from private donations and Baptist Charities, probably supported by Baptist Missions organizations given the countries they supposedly work in.  Well, it appears you’d be wrong.

Their “Partners” page lists 22 governmental groups, both federal and state, so it looks like the $50 million contract they walked away from because of bad publicity is just a drop in the bucket.  The number of groups that appear to have religious affiliation?  Zero.  Groups connected with any Baptist denomination?  Zero.
Is BCFS really the reborn ACORN?  I don't know, but they certainly don't appear to be a Baptist or Christian group either.  They appear to have chosen the name to appear innocent.  "Don't look here!  We're just a bunch of boring, Baptist do-gooders". 



Friday, July 18, 2014

Old Memories

Michael Ramirez brings back a few here:
Pure cartoon mastery. 


Thursday, July 17, 2014

VDH Nails It

If you're old enough to be in college, the nation you were born in is falling apart.  If you're in my age group, the country you were born in is gone.  Victor Davis Hanson nails it in The Turbulent Summer of 2014.
What keeps the country afloat this terrible summer?

Some American companies produce more gas and oil than ever despite, not because of, the Obama administration. Most Americans still get up every day, work hard and pay more taxes than they receive in subsidies. American soldiers remain the most formidable in the world despite the confusion of their superiors. The law, regardless of the administration, is still followed by most. And most do not duck out on their daily responsibilities to golf, play pool or go on junkets.
Even that little bit of optimism is overstated.  The statement that "Most Americans still get up every day, work hard and pay more taxes than they receive in subsidies" is only barely true.  If the country is afloat, it's taking on water and foundering badly. 

Go read.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Little Airplane Pr0n

Cause I think it's beautiful.  Watch it full screen in HD.


Boeing posted a video of the actual flight at Farnborough, but it's a measly 360P resolution, and not as pretty as this practice film.  If you're watching any screen bigger than your phone, watch this one.

I said here before,
Put the better part of four years of your life into it, and never even get to see one, touch one, or sit inside one.  But be a reporter for a tech magazine and you get to take the yoke during a test flight...  Sounds like I made a wrong career choice somewhere along the line.
Come to think of it, I've spent a fair amount of the two years since I wrote that post working on that beauty.  I have to live vicariously through these videos. Yeah, I know... whine whine whine. 


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Techy Tuesday - How to Make Holes in Things

Most people right now have those Looney Tunes-style question marks over their head.  "How to make holes in things?  Uh... with a drill and bit?"

Before you can answer that question, you need to know what the hole has to be for, how perfect it needs to be and what material it will be in.  Sunday, for example, I needed a hole to clear a 3/8" bolt, through 1 3/4" thick hardwood.  A portable drill is the right answer here; I started a pilot hole with a small bit (between 1/8 and 1/4") and then finished it with a 7/16" bit.  Yes, deliberately oversized to allow some adjustment by jiggling the reloading presses while I set them in place.  Ask a carpenter and this is the answer you'll get.  It's the right approach for a very wide range of problems. 

Ask a machinist and you'll be told that holes drilled with a drill bit in a drill press are never circular and never straight.  Drill bits wander as they go through the work piece.  For a hole that needs to be more circular and straight with a precisely sized diameter, machinists will use a boring head and boring cutter on the milling machine and gently feed the cutter into the work.  Many use a pilot (undersized starting) hole to locate the feature and a boring head to enlarge to just about size, followed by a reamer to achieve the final size.  A high quality, "heavy metal" or "big iron" boring head.  A set of reamers sold like a set of drill bits.  Sherline's miniature version is here:

That idea of starting with smaller bits and working up to bigger ones is universal.  It will get your through lots of problems in the shop.  Another thing to do is "peck" with the drill, advance the drill no more than a couple of diameters and then pull it back to help clear chips.  Keeping the waste out of the hole helps the process.  (Peck drilling is so important, it has its own command in CNC instructions).  If you're drilling metal, a cutting/cooling fluid like a light oil can keep the bit from getting too hot and getting duller.   

Chances are you've seen (or even have) a set of standard sized drill bits like this.  But what you have to drill a deeper hole than those?  Longer drill bits are available, like this set.  Longer drill bits wander even more than short ones, but if it's the only way to cut a hole to pass a wire, you have to do it.  Easily found twist drill bits get you up to a half inch holes.  Spade bits for wood get you even bigger; over an inch.  For larger holes, most people transition to a hole saw.  Hole saws cut out a waste plug in the middle of the material and get you to even bigger holes, but usually not in very thick materials.   For large holes in thin sheet metal, I've seen many people recommend these step bits.  I've personally never used them as I don't do much sheet work.  In my early ham radio days, when more people homebrewed their radios, a set of Greenlee punches for punching holes in metal chassis was absolutely da bomb.  I've used a nibbler to cut out 1 1/2" holes for a pair of meters and almost lost the use of my hands from muscle fatigue!  I've seen a nifty video of a power nibbler driven by your electric drill; that would be the way to go. 

Need to cut a hole in a granite counter top?  You need a diamond drill bit or diamond hole saw set.

We could go on, but I'll cut it here.  People have been making holes in things for a long time and a lot of clever solutions have been developed.  We really haven't touched on making holes that aren't round.   And we haven't even gotten near the topic of drilling a long piece of steel into a barrel without the bit wandering through the sides!


Monday, July 14, 2014

"Obama's Katrina"

Only worse.
Katrina was a hurricane.  A storm.  Weather happens.  The mess on the border is the product of policies designed to do precisely what they've done.  Since Obama implemented the guts of the DREAM act by executive order, it has had the same effect as putting up signs like Michael Ramirez creates in this cartoon.  Just read that article - from December of 2013 - if you're surprised by the crisis going on.  Or this one from American Thinker.

Every one of those dead children floating ashore from the Rio Grande, every person in the US who gets tuberculosis, every person hurt or killed by the young gang members crossing into the US; the blame for every one of those tragedies falls on the President and his staff. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The D Word

The D word as in "Done". 

I hate to use that word in association with a project as big as moving into my shop, but I think everything I had pictured in my mind for moving in has been accomplished.  Today, I mounted the reloading presses to their bench with 3/8 x 3" bolts.  Even decapped about 40 pieces of .308 brass I shot a while back.
For completeness sake, the addition isn't done.  The contractor is working through his last punch list.  I hope to be done by the end of the month, but we're fully moved in, ready to reload or build or do anything.


Now There's a Headline for Ya

From Drudge:
Eric Holder sees "racial animus" when people are opposed to the Administration?  Seriously? 

Eric Holder sees racial animus when random dogs whiz on random fire hydrants.  He sees racial animus in cloud patterns, when the sun rises, when the sun sets, when it's hot, when it's cold, when the most mundane of daily life's happenings take place.  He sees nothing but racial animus in Every Freaking Thing 24/7/365. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again.
This blatantly racist, pathetic little man, the least fit to be attorney general in at least a generation, who said "America is a nation of cowards" when it comes to race issues is a disgrace to his office and this great country.  Congress - this man needs to be arrested for malfeasance. 
Racial animus?  You insult honest, competent black people. 


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rust Never Sleeps*

Since about Memorial Day weekend, my time has been split between getting the new shop going and tending to a problem with my aluminum boat.  The boat is stored in the garage, and so it lives an easy life.  Not exposed to rain, or other environmental problems; when we take it out, we wash it down, run the outboard for 10 minutes worth of freshwater flush, followed by renewing oil or grease layers and generally doing our best to keep it in top shape.  During the work putting in the shop, we rolled a toolbox out of its normal position to behind the boat, and there it stayed for a couple of months. When I moved that toolbox back, I was stunned to find this hole in the back of the boat, on the left in this picture.  The visible metal on the right is just a scuffed area where the buckle of the strap (just visible on the right edge) rubbed against it one day. 
You're looking forward from behind the boat near the right (starboard) side.  This is the transom, the vertical wall that's the back of the boat; the outboard pushes on this and so it has to be strong.  It undoubtedly gets the strongest forces the boat experiences.  

There's no mark of impact; no evidence anything hit the boat; if anything, the exposed metal looks dissolved.  Since this is just inches away from that strap on the right (used in strapping the boat to the trailer for towing), and is large (about 3/4" long) I absolutely would have noticed it if it had been there when we last had the boat out.  No, this formed while the boat was sitting in the air conditioned garage. 

So my free time in the last month or so has been spent trying to understand what caused it, and if it's fixable.  Some boat mechanics I've been able to talk with say it's galvanic corrosion caused by saltwater getting trapped in there, between the plywood core and the thin aluminum skin.  (I do have a picture or two that appears to show salt crystals on the wood).  The dissimilar materials set up a corrosion process.  Experts tell me the only way to fix this is to tear the boat down to bare metal and replace all the wood.  Rebuild it.  There is some chance that this is electrolysis; that some current flows in the boat's metal hull from a damaged wire or something, and this current is what caused the corrosion.  Last weekend, I put a kill switch in line with the battery, so that the battery will be completely disconnected when we're not on the water.  That will help a lot if it's electrolysis, but have no effect if it's galvanic corrosion simply from some saltwater getting trapped in there. 

There are other holes in the boat.  These are smaller, on the order of 1/8" or less diameter.  There are some on the left (port) side of the transom and along the on bow both sides.  Only a couple on each side.  Funny thing is they appear to be on the level of the bottom of the plywood deck of the boat.  The experts I spoke with say that when a pinhole appears in the aluminum skin, the other side of the skin looks like a large corroded crater, many times larger in diameter.  

Today, I sanded the holes down and especially along the edges of the bigger ones, using polymer/silicone wheels with SiC abrasive embedded in them.  Once the edges of all of the holes were clean, I degreased everything with denatured alcohol, and then sealed them all with epoxy putty.  We'll have to wait until tomorrow to see how well it bonded and some time (probably on the water) to see how well it holds up.

My gut feeling is that it isn't electrolysis, it's just galvanic corrosion.  That means the boat is scrap - or soon will be.  Holes will continue to appear, and enlarge.  We can repeat today's work over and over, chasing new holes whenever they form, but eventually the boat corrodes away.  The shame is that this is only a 9 year old boat - I've only had it 2 1/2.   

* with apologies to Neil Young: it's not rust, it's aluminum oxide.  The other word for aluminum oxide is sapphire, but Sapphire Never Sleeps just doesn't have the right connotation.


Friday, July 11, 2014

This Amazed Me

This morning, I came across a reference from the National Weather Surface that spoke of anticyclonic winds extending from the Arklatex to the Azores.  From Texas to Europe?? A quick check of the amazing Earth website showed this:
A little tough to see when the lines aren't moving, but darkish blue means slow winds, greenish is stronger winds tending to orange and red for the strongest winds (usually only at higher levels in the atmosphere - these are surface winds).  There really is a clockwise (anticyclonic) wind field from the coast of Spain to the coast of Florida and it actually does extend to Texas where it wraps up into the mainland of the US.  That blue area covering a couple of thousand miles of open Atlantic is the relative calm characteristic of high pressure centers at the surface.  What does this mean?  Pretty much nothing.   Just interesting.

The situation is somewhat different tonight, but the big picture summary of high pressure in control from the southeast coast of the US to Europe is still the same.  Earth is one of those places I could spend hours watching. 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Virginia Democrat is Utter Scumbag Of the Year

One of the little stories that has gathered quite a following this week is of Texas Tech cheerleader Kendall Jones, who posted pictures from African hunting trips on her Facebook page.  The pictures ignited a firestorm of hate against Kendall and the incredibly evil company even took down some of her pictures.  I say they're incredibly evil because they allowed at least two pages on Facebook dedicated to killing her.  TMZ reports at least one of the pages was taken down although Facebook originally said the page "does not violate our community standards".  Consider it simply the public outrage that got them to take the page down.  I just checked the other one Doug Giles linked to and the name has been changed to "Screw Kendall Jones".  
(Miss Jones - from her Facebook page)

I haven't written on this subject because I've written on the wrath the "tolerant" left showers on women who hunt before - and the story of one of our Olympic athletes who was showered in death threats.  The same story is going on yet again today, over L'Oreal model Axelle Despiegelaere.  She'll be getting death threats any moment now, if she hasn't already.

But what I came across today is just too far.

A Virginia Democrat who self describes as  “I’m left of President Obama,” has offered $100,000 for nude pictures of the 19 year old. But this was only the first of the offensive tweets from the congressional candidate (like hell I'm going to link to this scumbag), who then went on to insult anyone who told him what he was doing was wrong.  To quote from an interview conducted by The Blaze:  (Note: I'm going to replace the scumbag's name with the word <scumbag> because I don't even want to give him that much press)
<scumbag> also described Jones’ enjoyment of hunting as “obscene.”

Asked why he thought it was ok to publicly shame a 19-year-old for doing something that was perfectly legal, <scumbag> said, “She deserves to be shamed.”

“I think anything that stops these people from killing these animals is legal,” he said.

<scumbag> also made mention of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, calling him “my mentor.
Larry Frickin' Flynt is your mentor?  The guy with a 9th grade education whose own daughter accused him of raping her?  Nothing but class, Democrats.  You may have finally found someone stupid enough and evil enough to play the idiot sidekick for Orlando's Alan Grayson.



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Musical Interlude

A masterful one-man arrangement of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.



I'm going to make the wild guess that most of you haven't seen McPherson guitars with the unusual location of the soundhole.  Guitar design, like all design, is a series of choices and the offset soundhole allows them to have a larger sound board for a given body size, which turns into better dynamic range.  It allows different internal bracing for the sound board, which they combine with other design and construction tricks to affect both the feel and the sound.  More details here, if you're interested.

Wait! This guy does great parody songs! How have I not heard of him, yet??

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Cooking With A Raspberry Pi

Not cooking a raspberry pie, cooking With a Raspberry Pi, the ubiquitous single board computer that experimenters all over the world have embraced.

Experimenter Nathan Broadbent had one of those "why doesn't the world work the way I want?" moments that most of us get.  Unlike most of us he decided to make his corner of the world work exactly that way.
A few months ago, I was inspired by this post on Reddit, titled: Food items should have QR codes that instruct the microwave exactly what to do. Like high for 2 minutes, let stand 1 minute, medium 1 minutes..

I thought this was a pretty cool idea, and that it would be a fun project for a Raspberry Pi. I agreed with the people who thought using UPC barcodes would be better, since products already have them, so I went with a barcode scanner + online product database.

Here’s a summary of the features that I’ve added to my microwave:
  • Re-designed touchpad
  • Nicer sounds
  • Clock is automatically updated from the internet
  • Can be controlled with voice commands
  • Can use a barcode scanner to look up cooking instructions from an online database
  • There weren’t any online microwave cooking databases around, so I made one: http://microwavecookingdb.com
  • The microwave has a web page so you can control it from your phone (why not), and set up cooking instructions for products
  • Tweets after it’s finished cooking something (See https://twitter.com/rbmicrowave)
Pretty cool - and pretty ambitious when you include starting the worldwide database of microwave cooking instructions.  Lots of details at the link, but watch the video of how it ended up and actually works now. 

Pretty amazing what a guy can do with relatively simple hardware and the experimenter's spirit.


Monday, July 7, 2014

A Little Public Service Geekery

All bloggers will know that we get emails from all sorts of spammers.  I rarely get any of the strange, free form poetry that Tam has written about; I usually just get comments about how wonderful my blog is with a link to their site (completely unrelated to the post).  Sometimes those are comically poor English, but don't rise to the level of poetry.

Some emails are harder to categorize as spam.  In the last few months, I've gotten several complaints about browser problems.  People report the blog looks bad on one browser and fine on others, or that they get weird popups.  Some of these emails or comments are obviously spam; others harder to tell, but all seem to be based on the idea that we control that sort of stuff.  We don't.  Unless you're writing your own HTML templates, authors on blogger have very little control over such things.  I'm sure only a small few of us do that.

Most strange things that pop up in your browser are on the reader's end and can be controlled with a hosts file.  There are several sources of these around, but I use this one - the first one someone ever pointed me to.  The site includes all the instructions you need to get started, but it's not really hard and you probably don't need to do everything they talk about. 

Right now, some percentage of you are nodding in agreement, while the rest of you have Looney Tunes-style question marks in the air over your heads.  What's a hosts file?  Hosts is a plain text file that's put in a place reserved for Windows to look.  The file is loaded when you open your browser and effectively presents a list of sites not to accept connections from!  Presto - no browser hijacks, no redirects, no ads, no pop-ups (or, at least, lots less of them). 
You can use a HOSTS file to block ads, banners, 3rd party Cookies, 3rd party page counters, web bugs, and even most hijackers. This is accomplished by blocking the connection(s) that supplies these little gems. The Hosts file is loaded into memory (cache) at startup, so there is no need to turn on, adjust or change any settings with the exception of the DNS Client service (see below). Windows automatically looks for the existence of a HOSTS file and if found, checks the HOSTS file first for entries to the web page you just requested. The 127.0.0.1 is considered the location of your computer, so when an entry listed in the MVPS HOSTS file is requested on a page you are viewing, your computer thinks 127.0.0.1 is the location of the file. When this file is not located it skips onto the next file and thus the ad server is blocked from loading the banner, Cookie, or some unscrupulous ActiveX, or javascript file.

Example - the following entry 127.0.0.1 ad.doubleclick.net blocks all files supplied by that DoubleClick Server to the web page you are viewing. This also prevents the server from tracking your movements. Why? ... because in certain cases "Ad Servers" like Doubleclick (and many others) will try silently to open a separate connection on the webpage you are viewing, record your movements then yes ... follow you to additional sites you may visit.
The lovely and longtime computer technician Mrs. Graybeard volunteers at a free clinic for people without health insurance in an "I'll do anything to help" capacity.  Several of the clinic's computers have had browser hijacks and malware that rendered them useless.  By disinfecting them and then installing that hosts file, the number of such problems has dropped radically.  I've been using one for years and have had one Trojan get through on my computers.   

Like everything else, hosts files aren't a perfect answer.  Some of the companies they block do legitimate businesses as well as less scrupulous thing.   Some of the companies that send you commercial (solicited, not spam) email may use one of these blocked sites as the way they handle your email click.  Sometimes you'll find a site that you can't get to even though you're sure it's there and legit; usually, the site you're clicking from has gone through an intermediary in the hosts file.  If you absolutely must be able to click on an email link that the hosts file blocks, or get to that check out service, edit hosts as administrator (XP and Win7 for sure; don't know about others), and delete just that entry (you'll know which site it is from the error box in the browser).  Exit and restart the browser.  You'll now be able to get to that previously blocked website. 
Finally, this is a kind of cyber warfare.  Companies change their domain names to get around the hosts file block and new companies open up that the hosts file doesn't know of.  It is updated regularly to address these changes.  I have a hosts file on every computer at home, but not at work.  The browsing experience is much more pleasant at home without the popups, pop unders, and all the other format ads I get at work.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Thought for the Day

Michael Ramirez

But I'm sure I don't need to tell you that.

Busy - BRB


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Simple Reason Why The Federal Reserve Wants Inflation

Thanks to the Mogambo Guru for the link to Agora Financial Services where we learn this little tidbit (in Mogambo Guru's voice):
As proof, look no farther than Agora Financial’s 5-Minute Forecast’s synopsis of the Federal Reserve's weekly H.4.1 statement, which they characterize as “the Fed's consolidated balance sheet,” and found “$4.37 trillion in ‘assets,’ if that's what you want to call them, compared with $56.3 billion in capital. That's a leverage ratio of 77.6- to-1.”

Leveraged 80 times! Imagine you borrowing 80 times as much as everything you own!
And switching to Agora Financial, answering a question from a reader:
“My question is as rates rise and the Fed’s $4.3 trillion load loses value (if they are not sold, there will be no recorded loss), is there any harm done to the rest of the world as that asset drops in value?”

The 5: Well, seeing as the Fed is leveraged something like 80-to-1 — far beyond any of the investment banks circa 2008 — that would render the Fed insolvent and incapable of managing the next financial crisis whenever it comes.
And there you have it.  The Fed has $56.3 billion in capital and $4.37 trillion in assets they've bought.  The Fed is pumping up the world's stock markets because if those markets go seriously down, the Fed goes bankrupt.

I've always said that the reason the banks want "persistent, benign" inflation is that it's better for them.  That's a bit glib and short on detail; this provides some of that detail.

But it's not just the Fed.  Another important detail comes from Zerohedge, where "Tyler Durden" reports:
Another conspiracy "theory" becomes conspiracy "fact" as The FT reports "a cluster of central banking investors has become major players on world equity markets." The report, to be published this week by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF), confirms $29.1tn in market investments, held by 400 public sector institutions in 162 countries, which "could potentially contribute to overheated asset prices." China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange has become “the world’s largest public sector holder of equities”, according to officials, and we suspect the Fed is close behind (courtesy of more levered positions at Citadel), as the world's banks try to diversify themselves and "counters the monopoly power of the dollar.
...
China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange has become “the world’s largest public sector holder of equities”, as the report argues is “partly strategic” because it “counters the monopoly power of the dollar” and reflects Beijing’s global financial ambitions
The central banks own the stock markets?  (Who else has $30 trillion??)  And the Chinese are "the world's largest public sector holder of equities"?  From there, it's a bit more difficult to see what percentage of the companies they own, but it's pretty close to the central banks and governments owning all the production capacity in the world.  Governments owning the means of production... seems to me there's a word for that... World socialism, anyone? 
"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."
... Winston Churchill
(ThePeoplesCube)


Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

Hate to be Dougie Downer on this day, but it came out that way.  I had a lot of stuff tumbling around in my mind about the holiday for the last few days.  I came across Kenny's Fourth of July post over on Knuckledraggin My Life Away, and a lot of it is in there.  I think it's a really good summary of the state of the US today.  Go read.  I'll wait for you.

Maybe this is why, when asked to rate their own freedom, Americans don't even rate the country in the top 25% of the most free nations.   We rate ourselves 36th in the world.
That 12-point drop pushes the United States from among the highest in the world in terms of perceived freedom to 36th place, outside the top quartile of the 120 countries sampled, trailing Paraguay, Rwanda, and the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
I've got to tell you that while I have a decent knowledge of geography (thanks to ham radio) I hadn't even heard of Nagorno-KarabakhGallup says Americans are losing confidence in every branch of the Federal Government, with confidence in congress at 7%, the president at 29% and the Supreme Court at 30%.
My take on the graph is that while the general trend of confidence is downwards, presidents seem to be more cyclic, rising and falling with their public perceptions.
“Americans not only feel that the U.S. government is performing poorly, as demonstrated by record-low congressional approval ratings, but they also report that the U.S. government itself as one of the biggest problem facing the country today,” the report concludes.
Since 2006 perception of widespread corruption in the U.S. government has risen from 59 percent to 79 percent in 2013, a perception likely driven in part by the Edward Snowden NSA documents, the IRS, and Benghazi. 

Taken together, all of this screams of Angelo Codevilla's 2010 article on the Ruling Class vs. the Country Class, the article the gelled those two terms in the public consciousness (well, at least in mine) and the excellent Chicago Boyz commentary on it.
Our oligarchy is in its newborn infancy, but it is hungry for power, venal in its corruption, covetous of security, impatient of democratic accountability and intolerant of dissent. Beware of legislative moves, cloaked in high-sounding phrases, to regulate speech, circumscribe criticism of public officials, grant police powers to private corporations like BP, tax farm the many to benefit the few, and generally exclude the public from important policy decisions by making citizen participation in governmental process more complex, opaque, indirect, financially burdensome and personally risky.
 The ruling class: Separated at Birth?
(Harry Reid and a blobfish)

The polls show that the people are aware of this separation into a ruling class, a weaponized government willing to use every agency against the people who pay for it to exist.  The question is how we get our freedom back.  Reagan famously said, "Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again."  On that question I don't have anything encouraging to say.  If you haven't read Day by Day's link to "15 Things You Probably Do Not Know About Psychopaths", you ought to.  It explains a good 80 to 90% of who you're dealing with. 

Sigh... but this is a holiday.  A good day for a barbecue or to grill something.  Go send some rounds downrange.  Practice Is Good.  The problems will still be here tomorrow.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Carbon Footprints In the Sands of Time

Blog master Borepatch links to a story about some German Greenies who calculated a carbon footprint for blogging:
German greenies calculate that a blog which gets 15,000 hits or more a month (yay! we qualify!) pumps out 8 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
Well, gosh I qualify, too; Blogger tells me I get about twice that.  And as far as I can tell, they're concentrating on the electric power that all the people who drop by use in reading my blog on their computers, so they're not even counting the cubic yards of methane I generate while writing, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas!  Consequently, I've proudly posted Borepatch's graphic down below on the right sidebar.  
Along these lines, another real life silliness story: when I had to fly to Canada last summer, I flew Air Canada and their subsidiary Rouge.  We noticed that they had a calculated value for how much CO2 I was responsible for on the tickets.  I realize there's very little effort there, probably a couple of instruction cycles for the computer processing the tickets, but it's still an amazing waste of instruction cycles when you consider how many people fly every day.  I wonder how much CO2 is generated by the power it takes to run the computers to do that? 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Potentially Useful Wind Turbines?

Anyone who has honestly evaluated the current generation of wind turbines has to say they have so many problems that they're just not ready for prime time.  Whether it's drawing excessive energy from the grid to operate, which results in them sometimes operating as an energy drain rather than producer, killing eagles along with other raptors and even bats, the green energy subsidies that hurt the local or national governments, causing illness or injury in nearby people, or simply being available only at the capricious whim of the wind, wind power simply hasn't lived up the hype.  Wind farms even interfere with NOAA weather radar!  It's a disappointment to everyone except the large crony capitalist companies that latched onto the free government money and put the turbines up. 

Could this be about to change?

German physicist Albert Betz long ago (1909) calculated the maximum efficiency that a wind turbine could achieve, today called the Betz limit.  According to Betz's law, no turbine can capture more than 16/27 (59.3%) of the kinetic energy in wind.  Those monstrous infrastructure-sized turbines that we've all seen achieve about 80% of the Betz limit, or about 47% of the energy in the wind.  But what about other shapes?  The Dutch firm Archimedes tried the shape they named themselves after, the expanding spiral Archimedes' screw that has been used for pumping water since Archimedes' time.  They claim an efficiency of 80% - not 80% of 59% - a true 80% of the energy in the wind.  But it's better than even that:
Marinus Mieremet, cofounder of Archimedes, puts it this way: "Generally speaking, there is a difference in pressure in front and behind of the rotor blades of a windmill. However, this is not the case with the Liam F1. The difference in pressure is created by the spatial figure in the spiral blade. This results in a much better performance. Even when the wind is blowing at an angle of 60 degrees into the rotor, it will start to spin. We do not require expensive software: Because of its conical shape, the wind turbine yaws itself automatically into the optimal wind direction. Just like a wind vane. And because the wind turbine encounters minimal resistance, it is virtually silent.
Part of the energy consumption of conventionally bladed turbines is that they need motors to point them into the wind.  Their Liam F1 turbine self-yaws into the wind saving that energy.  Another energy waste for conventional turbines is they need motors to start their blades when the wind is below about 15 mph; the Laim F1 turbine cuts in at about 4 1/2 mph. Its maximum output is 1.5 kW which it reaches when winds hit a little over 11 mph.  Instead of huge infrastructure windfarms like GE makes, these are intended for individual homes (while1.5 kW still strikes me as terribly small, I'd sure like to have it in the blackouts after a hurricane).
(source)

While 4.5 mph is good number, what about less breeze than that?  Nevada-based Wind Sail Receptor, Inc., (WSRI) is well into prototyping of a design that produces power with 3 mph winds.  Their design looks like the plastic pinwheels you get at carnivals.  The blades are of a special polyurethane material developed by inventor and WSRI chairman Richard Steinke. "An AK-47 round won't go through the blade. That's important in developing countries where we see a big market for small turbines."
The shape of the blades is such that the turbines can capture more of the wind than traditional designs and, thus, can do useful work at much lower wind speeds. "I did 52 different iterations of blade shapes to optimize the rpm to the torque generated," says Steinke. "Existing wind turbines have a lot of inertia so they generally need a starter motor to get them going in low winds. Once the wind hits about 15 mph, they can run with winds as low as perhaps 7 or 8 mph. But our blade design lets us start generating power at 3 mph and we don't use a starting motor. We are fine tuning our generator and changing the bearing system and believe will be able to start generating electricity at 1.5 to 2 mph."

Another benefit of the blade shape: essentially no noise. "Noise has been a real environmental issue in many locations with the traditional wind turbines operating in the 50 to 125 dB range. Our wind turbines run at a sound level below 10 dB, about the sound level of normal breathing," says Steinke.
The noise, or perhaps the infrasonic pounding of the giant turbine blades now in use, appears to be is the cause of Wind Turbine Syndrome linked to above. 
A pinwheel prototype being prepared for testing at Wind Sail Receptor.

WSRI is going for larger systems than Archimedes; more like infrastructure systems but still not as large as the GE/Siemens types. 
WSRI is now producing 6-ft diameter turbines and expects to begin making 12-ft. units shortly. It has set up prototypes in Boulder City, Nev. and in Belgium. A 30-ft diameter model is awaiting completion of a custom-designed generator from GinLong. The turbines initially will be designed to work with 40 mph maximum winds until the generators get optimized for the wind loads, at which time Steinke expects to produce models able to operate at 50 mph wind speeds.
This strikes me as both cool innovations and interesting.  A story that plays out in industry all the time is that the first approaches to a task get an industry going, but then revolutions come from smaller shops.  Bright individual inventors who see a better way to accomplish things; sometimes they go after a niche market the big guys don't want to be bothered with, and sometimes David knocks off Goliath.  This is really the best information on wind power that I've come across. 



Monday, June 30, 2014

Selfie Of the Day

From Curiosity, one of the robotic rovers on Mars in celebration of its one year anniversary on Mars.:
Not an Earth year; the large rover (longer than a Smart Car at 10' long and heavier than one at 1982 lbs.) has spent more than one Martian year, 687 Earth days, on the Red Planet.  APOD says:
The mosaicked selfie was constructed with frames taken this April and May using the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), intended for close-up work and mounted at the end of the rover's robotic arm. The MAHLI frames used exclude sections that show the arm itself and so MAHLI and the robotic arm are not seen.
If you look to the left of that wheel sticking forward, just onto the flat rocks, you'll see a dark gray deposit.  That's some rock dust from the probe's drill and the hole is also visible.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Data Collection State Meets Your Medical Plans

Denninger talks about the merger of big data and your private medical records.
You may soon get a call from your doctor if you’ve let your gym membership lapse, made a habit of picking up candy bars at the check-out counter or begin shopping at plus-sized stores.

That’s because some hospitals are starting to use detailed consumer data to create profiles on current and potential patients to identify those most likely to get sick, so the hospitals can intervene before they do.
Karl's point is about how data mining companies are extracting the information we voluntarily give the stores we shop at and determining how best to sell the data; in this case, to hospitals and doctors' groups.  Things like your Cabela's Club, BassPro Rewards or other loyalty/bonus cards that pay you for shopping someplace collect more than just your name and address; they collect your shopping history.  This goes for grocery stores and any others where you pay by debit or credit card.  This information is up for sale.  As Denninger says:
It would be nice to believe that this is all a matter of consensual conduct but it is not; there is effectively nowhere you can shop, other than by strictly using cash (and probably not even then given the prevalence of cameras at the checkstand) without having your identity indelibly stamped on every single thing you buy.
Back in the '80s, I read a book about this trend when it was first starting.  The author and his wife had just learned that they were expecting their first child, and he was shocked to get email attempting to sell him them a diaper service.  He wondered how they knew such private information, that was literally known only to the couple, their doctor's office, and one or two others.  Pulling on this loose thread led him down the path to how check-cashing cards (remember them?) allowed grocery stores to track your purchases.  It's easier today, with UPC codes on everything, those codes linked to you by your debit card.  From there, he went to "ZIP code demographics"; certain ZIP codes in his city were higher in young families likely to be having children, other codes higher in older couples.  (Example of what a little outlay can tell companies).

The medical angle that the Bloomberg article takes goes beyond this to creepy - if anything, it goes to the heart of the nanny state drive of the nasty little fascist (Michael Bloomberg) himself.
For a patient with asthma, the hospital would be able to score how likely they are to arrive at the emergency room by looking at whether they’ve refilled their asthma medication at the pharmacy, been buying cigarettes at the grocery store and live in an area with a high pollen count, Dulin said.

The system may also score the probability of someone having a heart attack by considering factors such as the type of foods they buy and if they have a gym membership, he said.

“What we are looking to find are people before they end up in trouble,” said Dulin, who is also a practicing physician. “The idea is to use big data and predictive models to think about population health and drill down to the individual levels to find someone running into trouble that we can reach out to and try to help out.”
Sounds all wonderful and cheery, right?  They just want to help; they just want to "drill down to the individual ... to find someone running into trouble...."  In reality, their motivation is not to be fined.  Under Obamacare, "hospital pay is becoming increasingly linked to quality metrics rather than the traditional fee-for-service model where hospitals were paid based on their numbers of tests or procedures."  Hospitals that have too many patients readmitted within a month are now being fined by the government.   So they'll call you into the office, prescribe more pills (which they can monitor refills of to ensure you're taking them) or send you to health camp, so that lots of interests can milk you for more money all the while doing things to you that don't necessarily help you (remember: your "cardio" workout may be killing you).  

It wouldn't be so bad if they really could predict who needed some help, not just who could contribute some funding.  As I've said before, my personal view on "wellness" is that it's a fine thing, but most of what's thought to be true probably isn't.  The lab numbers they keep telling us we should all meet are more likely to simply mean "young and healthy" than reflect a healthy older adult.  How many times do studies which show that overweight people live longer and appear healthier need to be published before they stop being called "paradoxical".  
Study after study has shown that obese heart patients have better survival and have fewer strokes and heart attacks than normal-weight or underweight heart patients with the same severity of disease, says cardiologist Carl J. Lavie, MD, of the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.
To borrow a conclusion from Denninger, 
You are being screwed by this association already.  You will get screwed much more-severely in coming years.



Warmest Day of the Year

H/T to WUWT, we find this graphic from NOAA on the historical date of the warmest day of the year:

I see that for some of you, this week is the historically the peak.  I'm in that zone around the little bump on the east coast of Florida (Cape Canaveral) and while the map says the warmest day falls in the last week of July, I would have said about two weeks later in mid-August.  

Been a busy weekend here.  I think most people have heard the saying, "a boat is a hole in the water which you pour money into"; my version ends with "time and money".

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Aereo Decision

Along with the big supreme court decisions this week that predominantly came down on the side of the constitution (remarkably, by 9-0 decisions), the court ruled that a company called Aereo was violating the 1976 Copyright act originally aimed at the (then) new cable TV industry. The idea is that they are essentially taking broadcast signals and rebroadcasting them without the owners' permissions.

Aere...who?  What?

Loosing my techno-geek equivalent of a man-card, I admit I hadn't heard of them, so when the reporters explained how the service worked, I was all ears.  My simple version of their case is this: imagine you have TV antenna at the end of a piece of cable on the side of your house.  Now what if that cable was really long, like you needed to put the antenna in another yard; or another city.  Now if you make that cable too long, you need to amplify the signal to make up for loss in the cable, so what if you encoded that and stuck it over the internet?  Their argument was that they leased each customer an antenna that received any channel they wanted, ran it to a Digital Video Recorder, and then sent the video to the customer over the internet. 

All this sounds technically feasible, and on a scale of 1 to 10 in interest (10 being most interesting) about a 2.  Then the reporter flashed this picture of the Aereo antennas that are leased and I mumbled loudly enough for Mrs. Graybeard to hear, "but that's impossible.  It can't possibly work the way they're claiming". 
Here's why: antennas are at their most efficient when they're resonant, and they're resonant where their length approaches multiples of one quarter wavelength of the frequency they're tuned to.  This antenna is too small to be an effective antenna for broadcast TV. 

Wait... What? 

Broadcast TV signals, like all radio waves, have a wavelength inversely proportional to the frequency they operate on, so that frequency times wavelength is always the speed of light.  Commonly written as c = f * l.  If you measure c in meters/second, which is the most common unit, c is a nice round number: 300,000,000 (three hundred million) meters/second.  With frequencies in MHz, just divide 300 by the frequency to get the wavelength.  It's easy to see that the wavelength of the UHF TV channel 35 at 600 MHz would be 300/600 or 1/2 of a meter (19.8 inches).  A quarter wave 600 MHz antenna would be 4.92" long.  It's not to say that the antenna wouldn't receive other signals at all, just that they wouldn't be received as well.  As the channel moves farther away (either direction) from 600 MHz, the received signal would become weaker.  The frequencies that carry over the air HDTV signals run from below 100 MHz, nearly 20' in wavelength, up to 800 MHz, 14.76".  This antenna (a dime is 0.7" in diameter) is simply too small to effectively capture over the air signals.  It can't work. 

I can hear the folks who want the service saying, "but Aereo says they use massive arrays of antennas; that has to make it work, right?".  Actually, no.  Antenna arrays are arrays of tuned elements, each one of which is a quarter wavelength, connected in only a small number of ways and effective only at very specific things.  Can it just work if they're all connected end to end and make a lot more metal?  You can connect them and make them longer, but that won't work for all frequencies either.   Yes, putting lots of independent loops in close proximity can make the antennas interact with each other, but this is more likely to be a bad thing than a good one.  (BTDTGTTS) Making broadband antennas isn't a trivial thing, and unique designs are few and far between.  You don't just throw loops of metal together and have it work worth a damn.
 
Antennas are extremely well studied, and they are so tightly bound by electromagnetics that truly new innovations are extremely, mind-numbingly rare.  Antenna patents are for new applications of old ideas (I have one), and tweaks to existing designs.  Think of it this way: if you could make an antenna the size of a dime work at VHF, one the size of a dinner plate would work for broadcast radio, so why would broadcast stations buy all the real estate they do to put up giant towers?  (My frequent advice to newbies: I don't care who you think is the toughest or strictest teacher you've ever had, Maxwell is a cast iron bitch compared to the worst you've ever had). 

I'm not commenting on the law or the ruling at all.  I don't watch broadcast TV, so I don't have a horse in this race.  It simply doesn't matter to me personally or professionally (much like the LightSquared fiasco I wrote about back in '12), but I do call bullshit on the argument they're making.  If they're claiming they lease an antenna to users and get everything off the air, they're not doing what they say they are.  Maybe somebody told the court it can't work.     

Also note that as I was thinking these things through and getting ready to write this, Mrs. Graybeard found this article on HDTVExpert.com which takes the same approach to the problem that I do - probably because we're both radio engineers and hams. 


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Headline of the Day

I swear I'm not making this up.  From Fedblog over at Government Executive:

EPA Employees Told to Stop Pooping in the Hallway

I quote:
Environmental Protection Agency workers have done some odd things recently.

Contractors built secret man caves in an EPA warehouse, an employee pretended to work for the CIA to get unlimited vacations and one worker even spent most of his time on the clock looking at pornography.

It appears, however, that a regional office has reached a new low: Management for Region 8 in Denver, Colo., wrote an email earlier this year to all staff in the area pleading with them to stop inappropriate bathroom behavior, including defecating in the hallway.

In the email, obtained by Government Executive, Deputy Regional Administrator Howard Cantor mentioned “several incidents” in the building, including clogging the toilets with paper towels and “an individual placing feces in the hallway” outside the restroom.
Hat tip to Twitchy, in "This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things".   The Twitter feed and the comments at Government Executive have too many potential Quote of the Day candidates for me to pick one, although the article contains this gem (emphasis added):
Confounded by what to make of this occurrence, EPA management “consulted” with workplace violence “national expert” John Nicoletti, who said that hallway feces is in fact a health and safety risk.
The freakin' Environmental Protection Agency needed to hire a consultant to tell them poop on the floors was a health and safety risk??!!??  What do you think they'd do if they walked into your place of work and found poop on the floor?  Do you think the company would ever open its doors again?   

(note: while it's my standard to try to put at least one picture with every post to kind of sum up the story, decorum prevents my doing so in this case).



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Photography In a Different Light

I remember my first camera, a Kodak Brownie that took roll film (pretty sure it was this model).  As a 6 year old, it wasn't too hard to load roll film, but even black and white prints were a special thing and getting film not an everyday treat.  I think I still have Christmas pictures I took as a 6 year old.  I advanced through Instamatics with cartridges and flash cubes, finally getting my first SLR in the mid 70s: a Minolta SRT-101 (once I was a working dude).  I won't bore you with the complete history of my photography hobby from 35mm through the start of the digital age to now, which went through bouts of being semi-professional, I'll just say I've always had good quality cameras since that Minolta (which was stolen, but I still have its replacement).  This is to show where I'm coming from as a photographer: strictly old school. 

The camera I count on the most these days is my Canon T3i, a DSLR introduced in 2011.  When I was doing 35mm and 120/220 roll (aka 2 1/4" film) I was an absolute bug for sharpness in photos.  "Tack sharp" is the photographer's buzz phrase and sharpness was my life.  Manual focus and manual exposure control only, baby.  I have a few lenses for my Canon: I never saw much sense in the popular idea of getting a DSLR and then a compromise lens and leaving it on the camera.  I always thought the whole idea was interchangeable lenses that got the best performance at the required focal length.

I've related the story that I ran across a great deal on a Nikon Coolpix S4000 when they were closing out the model and grabbed one.  I've tended to throw this in a pocket when headed to the range or out on the boat, always figuring it was much easier to live with trashing this little camera than the Canon and a lens, especially when my main lens cost about 3x what the Nikon did.  The problem is that coming from my background in 35mm and an obsession for sharp images, the Nikon image quality always disappointed me.  They'd look acceptable in small web images, or small sizes for posting here, but virtually every time I needed to go to 100% image size to look at something in detail, the detail just wasn't there.

Sometime around late March or early April, I decided I was going to replace the Nikon with something that gives higher quality.  Along the way of researching what was out there, I found out about the existence of waterproof, ruggedized, point and shoot cameras.  These are typically waterproof to 40 or 50 feet, freeze proof to 10F, and resistant to dropping or crushing.  With the main uses for this being outdoors, that just seemed like a natural.  The problem was that I didn't like the image quality enough to want to get one.  That's last year's review article, though, and I was kind of tempted by the Olympus TG-3, which had been announced in March, but there were no images.  If the TG-3 had better image quality (IQ) than the previous year's model, I'd get one.  Otherwise, well, I'll figure it out when I get there.

The first TG-3 images started coming out about two weeks ago, and DPReview put up its 2014 review last week.  Guess what?  The TG-3 IQ was not improved at all, that I can tell.  I'd fill this blog entry with pictures if I tried to show you what I don't like, but one writer used the term watercolor to describe the effect.  You know how watercolors look smeared and spread out, not crisp?  That's what the images look like at 100% to me.  The issue is noise, which all photographers of my age called grain because (in those days) it was individual grains of a silver salt in the film.  Modern digital sensors act very much like film, but are followed by custom ASICs that do noise reduction.  Exactly what algorithms are used and exactly how processed the image is are what I'm reacting to.  In my view (and many other folks') the Olympus images are over processed.  Yes, the noise reduction removes discrete grain or speckles, but replaces them with a muddied, low-resolution look.  I'd rather have the grain than the watercolor look. 

Enough with keeping you in suspense.  I finally settled on a Ricoh WG-4 (manufacturer's website) DPReview reviewed the WG-4GPS, a camera with a GPS in it to tag your photos; I got the model without GPS.  But wait... Ricoh the photocopier company?  Last year, Ricoh entered into some sort of partnership with Pentax, one of the historically great camera companies.  Last year's model was the Pentax WG-3.  (To borrow a phrase from Dave Barry, Ricoh and Pentax checked into a motel room and merged repeatedly).  Although it's a bit of a tossup in my mind, DPReview said the WG-4 had the best image quality of the group.  If you're in the market, the Canon Powershot D30 also looked pretty good to me.

I went with the WG-4 for some other features and reasons aside from IQ.  Compared to the Canon, the WG-4 has a macro mode with built in LEDs around the lens for illuminating your subject.  The WG-4 has a faster lens (although lower zoom range) and does better video modes.  It's always a set of trades, but IQ is tops on my requirements.  If the camera doesn't have good images, I won't look at the other features.
This is a cropped portion of a macro shot of my watch, taken out of a 100% size image.  No image manipulation except to crop it.  A reflection of one of those LEDs is visible between the abbreviations DEN and LAX (yeah, Denver and El Lay).  There's an area that looks kind or rough or fuzzy across the bottom: that's a reflection of the shirt I was wearing while I took the picture: I was wearing the watch while I took this.

After 25 test shots, I have to say I'm quite pleased with the IQ out of this camera.  I'm examining this photo at 100% (and more) and the IQ is all I'd ask for.  Yeah, it can be tough to distinguish lens aberrations from plain ol' out of focus from sensor noise reduction, but I think I can interpret what I'm seeing there.  I'm just learning my way around with it, but I think we'll get along just fine.

Oh.  If you're an old-school photographer pining for the old Kodak days, I stumbled across this site.  All I could manage was a Mr. Sulu-style, "oh... my...."