Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Adventures of SiG in 18650 Land - Part 1

I'm just envisioning a lot of  people saying "what?"

The generic term 18650 refers to a battery that has become very popular in the last couple of years.  The leading 18 refers to the cell diameter and 65 refers to its length, both in millimeters.  I have no idea what the trailing 0 is supposed to mean.  They're quite a bit bigger than the familiar AA battery, and those dimensions show the 18650 to be very similar in size to what's referred to as 4/3A at 17x67 or 4/3 Fat A at 18x67.  (There are literally about 85 standard sizes for batteries other than AAA, AA, C and D cells).

There may be an exception, but every 18650 cell I've seen is a Lithium Ion battery and most tend to be higher current capacity than a AA rechargeable.  The picture gets more complicated from here.  I'll pick that topic up in few minutes.

If you have a tactical flashlight like a Streamlight, Ultrafire or some other brands, you may know about these batteries because they have become very widely used.  Likewise, they'll get used without your direct knowledge in things like the power banks available for charging your phone on the go.  For example, one like this, which based on its ratings and size, is probably a single 18650 cell with the required circuitry.  I believe they're at the heart of things like car jump starters I've talked about before, but their use in laptop battery packs is probably where industry first cranked up to make lots of these batteries. 

I started down this road into 18650 land because of a battery powered light I found while looking for something else.  Not a flashlight, it's a bike headlight leftover from the days when the only time I could ride my bike this time of year was after dark.  (It's long since obsoleted by the manufacturer, but it resembles this one).  I found this light and a pair of batteries, long since forgotten.  Due to their shapes, I'll call them the bottle and the brick.  Both were Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, NiMH; the bottle measured more like 5 cells (over 7V open circuit after 16hours on a trickle charger) while the brick measured more like 4 cells (over 5-1/2V).   I believe the brick was the battery I used with this headlight while riding.

You would probably think it would be remarkable if they worked after years in storage.  I did, too.  After several discharge/recharge cycles, it turned out that the bottle would run the headlight for a while, while the brick wouldn't.  Neither was "good", but the bottle was better.  It's capacity curve looked very reasonable when supplying 1 amp, for over 2 hours.  When I say it's not "good", it's not like a new battery and can't be charged faster than a trickle rate for 16 hours.

I had started to think that it would be nice to have this bright light available in the aftermath of a storm, or any other blackout.  Lights are always good.  After some effort, I was able to measure the current the headlight drew, which allowed me to size how big a battery pack I would need: it would have to be over 4V and rated one amp*hour for every hour I wanted it to run it at max brightness.  As a test, I ran the headlight for over two hours on maximum brightness from a pack of 4 AA NiMH Eneloop Pros that I borrowed from a handheld radio, just as my "1AH per hour" predicts.  That meant I knew I could just buy another pack of those, but I got interested in the capacity of the Li-Ion batteries.

A quick search of Amazon and eBay showed a bewildering assortment of 18650s.  Worse than bewildering, I would say a preposterous assortment.  One the one hand, you have reputable  companies like Samsung selling a 2500 mAH rated battery - identical to the smaller AA Eneloop batteries I tested - while on the other hand you'll find companies you've never heard of selling batteries rated almost four times that capacity.   I'm not a battery designer, but I understand what goes into them and how they work.  While it's true that in a given sized battery, current can be increased somewhat by increasing the surface area of the electrodes, the capacity in mAH depends most on the battery size.  As a result, I honestly don't believe anyone on earth can get 9800 mAH out of any 18650-sized battery, if the companies with a good reputation are claiming 2500 mAH. 

Worse than ridiculous claims for batteries, the marketplace is also full of outright fraud, counterfeit batteries and counterfeit components.   After some looking around, I found a site dedicated to a niche use, home made battery packs for home made electric bikes.  That site ended up having lots of good solid information, including this gem:
Here is a video of disassembling an 18650 shell that has a very tiny 4.2V battery inside. Counterfeits are everywhere these days!

If you begin shopping for loose individual 18650 cells, and you find advertisements for 4200-mAh cells that put out 30A per cell…they are lying (Trustfire, Ultrafire, etc). An authentic Ultrafire cell is not horrible, but again, there are lots of counterfeits.

Buy some samples of the cell you think you want to use. Set-up a current-drain pulling the same watts that the cell is rated for, and…if it is too hot to hold in your hand after 5 minutes, its a fake. It may even look exactly like an authentic Samsung, Panasonic, or LG cell. Once you find a trusted vendor, only buy cells from them.
Using this guide, I narrowed my search to a few part numbers, eventually settling on Panasonic batteries rated for 10A surges and 3200 mAH, then found a seller on eBay with a decent package at a good price

More adventures in 18650 land will follow.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Next Big Thing - HD Haptics

Haptic technology is around now.  Haptics is using technological means to cause physical sensations to a technology user.  The easy example is the use of a vibrating motor in your phone to tell you a message is there; it's a way of communicating back to the user through physical sensation.  The Wikipedia definition (first link) contains a pretty useful summary.
Haptic or kinesthetic communication recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user.[1] This mechanical stimulation can be used to assist in the creation of virtual objects in a computer simulation, to control such virtual objects, and to enhance the remote control of machines and devices (telerobotics).
This is about what's coming.

Wired magazine used to have a meme for tech articles, where they would give a summary of some technology approaches saying the well known way was "tired", while the new advanced one was "Wired".   Electronic design puts a new spin on it with this lead into the article.
Tired: simple haptics that make smartphones vibrate with new message alerts.
Wired: haptic technology that recreates the sensation of pressing a physical key on a touchscreen.
Inspired: high-definition haptics that imitate the texture of a sweater’s fabric so that people shopping on their devices can feel before they buy.
That last one could shake the retail sector to its core.  One of the reasons Mrs. Graybeard and I go to brick and mortar stores to shop for clothes is to see what the fabric feels like.  If you could run your fingers over the screen of a phone or tablet and get an accurate simulation of the feel of that fabric, I can see massive impacts to the already-decimated local malls.

Perhaps you've seen the ads for places like MTailor that use an app to command your phone to take pictures of you.  Other services also say you'll answer a handful of questions.  They send you a custom tailored shirt - for roughly twice the price of your local department store's shirt.  Combine that with the high def haptics to feel the fabric choices and it seems like a combination that could take custom shirts made by using an app from a fringe small business to mainstream.

The company behind this is Boreas Technology, a startup company with 12 employees.
To recreate that touch sensation requires piezoelectric actuators that can generate a precise amount of haptic feedback. These parts are unable to function without large amounts of power, keeping them out of things like smartphones and wearables. But Boreas Technologies, a startup, introduced on Tuesday a high-voltage, low-power driver IC built from the ground up for these actuators. And it could help change things.

“The electronics required to operate these actuators has not been very efficient, preventing companies from using piezoelectric actuators in consumer products,” said Simon Chaput, chief executive and founder of Boreas. Changing that could move more responsive and realistic haptics into applications with power and thermal constraints. That could include not only smartphones and wearables but also home appliances and cars.
The market leader in drivers for these piezoelectric actuators is analog electronics giant Texas Instruments and Boreas is looking to capture parts of the market, which is expected to grow to $13.7 billion by 2022. Whether Boreas is the company that makes this reality or not is hard to say, but I think it's predictable High Definition haptics will succeed.  Between online shopping and gaming, both of which are among the biggest businesses, there will be plenty of push to make it happen.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Why I Don't Live on the Beach in One Picture

A montage of Mexico Beach, Florida from yesterday and Gilchrist, Texas from 2008.   Hurricanes Michael and Ike respectively. 

The picture on the right came to mind immediately after seeing early reports out of Michael - I knew I had posted it in the early days of this blog, 2010.  The point of that post is that people talk about a "TEOTWAWKI" event like an EMP, a monster solar flare, the magnetic poles reversing or even a Screaming Meteor of Death, but something like this is many times more likely, and for all the people whose homes used to be on the scattered concrete pads visible in those pictures, this was the end of the world as they knew it.  

Hurricanes are part of the forces that shape the planet.  Beaches are not permanent.  If you decide to live on "shifting sands", you may outlive your house and you may not.  Either way, exactly when your house is no longer there is not your decision. 

The official death toll for Michael was three a little while ago.  The AP article (first link) says:
State officials said 285 people in Mexico Beach had defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Michael. More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in.
As we said Wednesday night, the storm intensified so radically, so fast that they may have thought it was too late to get out of town Wednesday morning.  There's really only two ways out of Mexico Beach: the best is probably US98 to 231 and then I-10; the other is a back road, 386.  Being stuck in traffic or broken down in a car isn't much better than being in one of those houses - probably worse.  Searches are ongoing, but I think three fatalities is low by quite a bit.  Maybe low by a couple of orders of magnitude.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Aircraft Wing vs. Two Pound Plastic Drone

Courtesy of Digital Photography Review's newsletter, we get this video of two pound drone hitting an aircraft wing at speed (238mph).

The University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) has published a video showing the damage caused by a consumer drone when it strikes the wing of a fixed-wing aircraft. The test simulated life-like conditions, the end result mimicking the collision of a quadcopter with the wing of an aircraft at 383km/h (238mph).

Despite weighing only 952g (2.1lbs), the drone tore a large hole in the wing, ultimately causing damage to its main spar. UDRI's group leader for impact physics Kevin Poormon said in a university release that the drone caused "significant damage" to the structure. Both the video and test results were recently presented at the Unmanned Systems Academic Summit.
The "main spar" of a wing can be thought of as its backbone and the way the wing attaches to the aircraft.  We have a pretty good idea of what a couple of pounds of bird can do to an aircraft engine, but this is new research (AFAIK).  It's quite dramatic; it doesn't rip the wing off the the aircraft, but you can envision controlling the aircraft just got a lot harder.

Reports of "near misses" (near collisions) and actual collisions between drones and manned aircraft are increasingly common.  DPReview goes on to add:
Earlier this year, a video surfaced of a drone pilot operating their UAV directly above a passenger jet as it left McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.  Similar reports of reckless activity have surfaced in recent months, such as an investigation into a possibly drone-related helicopter crash earlier this year and a drone-plane collision in Canada late last year.
There was a lot of talk on other blogs about cheap hobby drones carrying small explosive devices; maybe that's not the only way of thinking they might be used.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hurricane Michael As A Worst Case To Consider

Some time during the mid '80s  or early '90s, after Mrs. Graybeard and I had moved into this house, the newspaper we got at the time (The Orlando Sentinel) published an article on a county Emergency Operations Center planning event.  The scenario was designed to tax the area's ability to respond to a worst case hurricane.  The scenario had the storm coming into central Florida from the east over open Atlantic to maintain strength the most until impact.  Then (IIRC) the storm slowed to a stop far enough off the coast to start lashing us with hurricane force winds while the hurricane intensified over the warm Gulf stream to chart-topping strength.  I think it intensified to a category 5 hurricane then came ashore slowly crossing the state east to west in the middle. 

The projected destruction was mind blowing.  Virtually nothing along the barrier island - what locals call "beach side" - survives a direct hit from a Cat 5 hurricane.  Very little within 10 miles of the coast survives.  Even very few of the buildings and launch structures on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center were said to be able to survive a category 5 storm with a 15-20 foot storm surge.  I thought that blockhouses designed to survive an exploding rocket falling on them would laugh off a little 160 mph wind; the EOC said otherwise.  Or said they didn't do well under 15 feet of water. 

Long time readers might recall we caught a lucky break with Hurricane Matthew two years ago and had only tropical storm force conditions.  We had a Cat 1 storm conditions with Irma going up the other side of the state last year.  Before that, we had hits from Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 (a few weeks apart) and Erin in 1995.  Going back to childhood, I lived through Cleo, Betsey and Donna.  Over the years, we've had more tropical storms than I recall because they're not really worth counting.  So I claim some level of "cred" when it comes to these storms. 

Today's Michael is the worst case I can recall.  The thing only got named on Sunday the 7th, three days ago!  Yeah, the precursors were there a few days longer, but only us weather geeks who check the tropical weather every morning know that.  The vast majority of people who got hammered today probably heard about it on Monday.  Or yesterday.  They either heard "evacuate NOW" or "your preparations must be rushed to completion.  Tuesday evening was too late.  This morning the storm was starting and it was way too late.  Then the storm did the worst thing it could possibly due, it explosively intensified right up to the moment of landfall.  Early reports are calling it Category 4 with winds at 155, which is 2mph below the low end of Cat 5, and the third lowest central pressure in history.  It's truly a storm for the record books. 

Yesterday, it was still a category 2 and then cat 3 storm until as late as 11PM (bottom of that page) with 125 mph winds.  Just 14 hours later the winds were 155.  Wind damage scales as wind speed squared, so the factor is 155^2/125^2, over 1.5 times as strong in 14 hours. 

When I look at storms like this, I try to figure out what I can learn from it.  Would I stay or would I go? 

The storm surge reports I've seen have been 9 feet or less, compared to forecasts of 12 feet.  Most of that is due to the shape of the gulf bottom helping the winds pile up the water along the shores of the panhandle east of Apalachicola.  One of the reasons I bought this house is that we drove around looking for neighborhoods that don't flood.  We're high enough above sea level that it would take much more storm surge to reach us.  Facing a cat 2 storm that everyone was saying should make 3, I would have stayed.  If I was on the beach a couple of feet above sea level looking at a storm surge higher than my house?  Aside from the fact I wouldn't live there, yeah, I'd get out. 

What if I had known it would make it to the cusp of Cat 5?  I don't think I could have known that in time, because we would have needed to be out by Tuesday evening.  I probably would have stayed until this morning when it was too late to go and treated it more like something serious.  Maybe camp out in an inner hallway with a mattress in case the roof leaves. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

If Spray Painted Antennas Aren't Your Thing

How about 3D printed antennas.

For most amateur applications, certainly below 440 MHz, the consumer-end commercial printers aren't going to be big enough to print a full sized antenna, but printing pieces like insulators, or even plastic radiating elements that are spray painted with a conductive paint to make them conductive all seem to be within the capabilities of these printers.

The problem with low end printers is surface roughness.  Most of them work by hot filament extrusion and the prints often look and feel rough - the much more expensive stereolithography (liquid resin) printers produce a smoother surface.  At HF (2-30 MHz) through the VHF Ham bands (30-300 MHz), the roughness is going to be too small in terms of a wavelength to affect the performance of anything you print.  At higher frequencies, though, this sort of surface roughness can have marked effects on performance. 

(Example of a lumpy, bumpy 3D filament print from

A group of workers at Antenna Test Lab Co. ran a series of experiments on ways to improve the surface and measured how much the treatments helped the performance.  The results are reported by Microwaves & RF magazine.
To help RF/microwave engineers better understand the capabilities of antennas produced by 3D printing, Antenna Test Lab Company modeled printed, metallized, and tested a family of 15-dBi standard-gain horns for use from 2 to 40 GHz. The company is a professional antenna test laboratory with anechoic chamber (Fig. 1) to isolate antennas under test from outside RF/microwave energy sources and signals.

Some trial-and-error is involved in the process of producing and characterizing these antennas, especially over such a wide frequency range, but the benefits of 3D printing can be dramatic. For example, commercially available standard gain horns are typically quite expensive, with price tags ranging from $500 to $1500 depending on frequency range. Once the expense of learning how to print RF/microwave antennas has passed, compare those prices to the cost of producing a 3D standard gain horn at microwave frequencies for about $1.
$1 vs $500 to $1500?  Not many engineers will pass up that kind of savings.  They went on to print these standard-geometry horn antennas in a wide range of sizes to cover the frequencies they wanted to research.  Shown here:

For size comparisons in your mind you can think that antenna in the background is about the size of a big salad bowl (or you could look at the respirator right front).  This antenna was printed in sections and glued together.  The smaller, higher frequency antennas were printed in one session.  All of these follow the same geometry and are only scaled in overall size to account for the different frequencies (their mounts were probably scaled as well).  The standard antennas have a standard gain, which is 15 dBi (15 decibels above a theoretical isotropic antenna that's perfectly omnidirectional; a decibel (dB) is a ratio of two numbers, 10*log (ratio) when dealing with powers or intensities).

As expected, they found that the printed horns acted like they were tuned to the right frequencies, but they had less gain: 5 dB instead of the expected 15. 
The first test antenna was an X-band horn (8 to 12 GHz) with an easy-to-print 4-in. aperture. Two copies of the antenna were printed to evaluate two common shielding spray paints: “841 Super Shield Nickel” and “843AR Super Shield Silver Coated Copper.” Each copy of the antenna was given two coats of the shielding spray paint, with suitable drying time between coats.
That's when they decided to go after surface roughness.
Smoothing the plastic surfaces of a 3D-printed antenna is a necessary step in achieving the target gain performance from those surfaces once they are metallized. Sanding is one way to smooth the 3D layer surface roughness, but it’s time-consuming. The funnel shape of the horn also results in triangular facets that are enclosed and tapered, forming a surface that’s not practical for power sanding tools to work on.

After experimentation, it was found that “solvent smoothing” required the least time and effort with satisfactory results. Acetone is a useful and well-known solvent for ABS plastic prints, and it worked well with prints from a smaller ABS filament printer. The large-format printer uses only PLA filament, for which there does not seem to be a readily available solvent. Some research did reveal that dichloromethane (methylene chloride) was a candidate solvent for PLA plastic, and was found to be highly effective at softening and smoothing the plastic’s surface roughness.
Acetone is widely used as a solvent, it's still in nail polish remover, but methylene chloride is a bit more hazardous to work with.  It's a bit less common and the authors argue it's being phased out in favor of less toxic solvents.  They worked outside with gloves, respirators and full safety gear. 

The combination of smoothing the surfaces followed by the conductive paint succeeded and the printed antennas more closely approached the ideal gain.  Yes, doing that work reduces the "$1 vs $500-$1500" differential we mentioned, but I'd believe it still represents a good savings. 

It's worth noting that in their experiments, the nickle-based shielding (conductive) paint never performed as well as the other one they tested.
The nickel-based version of the conductive paint apparently exhibited several decibels loss at all frequencies, even following smoothing of the plastic horn surfaces. The silver/copper-based point, on the other hand, worked well to 26 GHz. From 26 to 40 GHz, the small horn exhibited about 3 dB loss (12 dBi gain) even when the plastic surfaces were smoothed by application of the solvents.

The 3-dB loss could be overcome by sanding the horn completely smooth with a small file, brushing with solvent, and recoating the surface with conductive paint. Since this Ka-band horn is only 1 in. in size, its soft plastic walls can easily be filed smooth in a manner of minutes. This extra smoothing step allowed it to achieve very low shorted aperture return loss while also reaching the expected 15-dBi gain when tested in the anechoic chamber
To sum this up, a 3D printer can be a useful accessory for making passive and radiating portions of an antenna.  If you're operating above "a few" hundred MHz, you might want to smooth the radiating elements with solvents or sanding - replace "you might want to" with "you'd better" if you're operating above about 2 GHz.  After smoothing, radiating structures should be painted with silver/copper shielding paint - this appears to be what they used.  

Monday, October 8, 2018

Drexel University's Spray-On Antennas

Courtesy of the American Radio Relay League's weekly ARRL Letter, we learn of a new material for spraying antennas onto insulating substrates, with more features than simply spraying conductive paint.  The new material is called MXene (pronounced "Maxine") and is a new form of titanium carbide developed at Drexel University being described as a two dimensional conductor, like the better known graphene.  The MXene antennas were shown to be 50 times better than graphene and 300 times better than silver ink antennas.  The MXene form of titanium carbide is easily dissolved or suspended in water and then sprayed onto test substrates with an air brush. 
"The ability to spray an antenna on a flexible substrate or make it optically transparent means that we could have a lot of new places to set up networks," said Drexel Wireless Systems Laboratory Director and engineering professor Kapil Dandekar, a co-author of the research published recently in Science Advances.
Wait.  "Optically transparent", as in "invisible"?
“The thinnest antenna was as thin as 62 nanometers — about thousand times thinner than a sheet of paper — and it was almost transparent. Unlike other nanomaterials fabrication methods, that requires additives, called binders, and extra steps of heating to sinter the nanoparticles together, we made antennas in a single step by airbrush spraying our water-based MXene ink.”
The buzzword in radio design these days, like so much of engineering, is the Internet of Things (IoT) so naturally they talk about that market for printable, virtually invisible antennas, or printed antennas that work better than any current technology allows.  There's a belief that people will want antennas embedded into their clothes, possibly onto their skin, and many other parts of day to day life.
“The MXene antenna not only outperformed the macro and micro world of metal antennas, we went beyond the performance of available nanomaterial antennas, while keeping the antenna thickness very low,” said Babak Anasori, PhD, a research assistant professor in A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute.
The group initially tested the spray-on application of the antenna ink on a rough substrate — cellulose paper — and a smooth one — polyethylene terephthalate sheets — the next step for their work will be looking at the best ways to apply it to a wide variety of surfaces from glass to yarn and skin.

“Further research on using materials from the MXene family in wireless communication may enable fully transparent electronics and greatly improved wearable devices that will support the active lifestyles we are living,” Anasori said.
Drexel researchers discovered the family of MXene materials in 2011, so they're not really a new discovery.  They've spent the last seven years gaining an understanding of their properties, and considering possible applications.  The layered two-dimensional material, which is made by wet chemical processing, has already shown potential in energy storage devices, electromagnetic shielding, water filtration, chemical sensing, structural reinforcement and gas separation.

Doctoral student Asia Sarycheva with an antenna printed onto a small square of plastic.

Nowhere in the Drexel or the ARRL articles do they mention the practical question of "how do you hook it up?"  For hams who need to keep a low profile due to Home Owners Associations, an invisible antenna might be just the thing.  Hang up a sheet of clear plastic with an antenna printed on it?  A clear plastic yagi antenna?   My experience with HOA people is they'll still complain.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

On Believing Allegations: An Analogy

I've never told this story, but it's about something I was involved in over 30 years ago.  You see, I was the principal product designer on the Apple Macintosh computer.  I worked remotely, and almost exclusively with Steve Jobs.  I would direct Steve, telling him what can be done, and correcting his strange visions of whatever "insanely great" meant at any given moment. 

I have exactly as much evidence as Dr. Fraud has.  My main corroborating witness is unavailable for comment. 

I've never told this story, but it's about something I was involved in over 160 years ago.  You see, I was the inventor of dynamite.  I know you've heard that Alfred Nobel is the inventor, but I showed him how to do it.  We worked some of the details together. 

I have exactly as much evidence as Dr. Fraud has.   My main corroborating witness is unavailable for comment.

And that's the difference between making an allegation and having corroborating evidence and witnesses.  Just thought I'd share that.

And just because this is one of the funniest pictures on the whole story.

Stolen mercilessly from but with credit to Raconteur Report

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Get Your Kids Into STEM Fields

Ran across this illustration.  I don't know that it's true, but I've fact checked these folks on things before and they were right.

Unless your kid can be an NFL superstar, or a superstar in any professional sport, they can do better as an engineer.  They don't distinguish the engineering specialty and that varies pretty widely.  Sites like this one comparing fields are pretty easy to find.

Plus, they'll never blow out a knee or suffer CTE from solving problems (although it might feel like it at times). 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Lockheed Martin Proposes Huge Lunar Lander for NASA

According to Ars Technica reporting, aerospace/defense giant Lockheed Martin, known around here as "Lock-Mart, your one stop defense super store", has responded to a NASA request for proposal for a lunar lander, proposing a mega-version of the Lunar Excursion Module from the Apollo program.
The company's proposal for a "crewed lunar lander" is fairly ambitious. The 14-meter (46') single-stage spacecraft can carry up to four astronauts to the lunar surface, where they can stay for up to 14 days before the vehicle's engines blast it back into lunar orbit. This vehicle would be twice as tall as the Lunar Module used during the Apollo missions to the Moon nearly half a century ago. That vehicle carried two astronauts for short stays of no more than a few days.

"There is a lift elevator platform to get the crew down from the cabin to the surface," said Lockheed Martin principal space exploration architect Tim Cichan in an interview with Ars.

The lander would have considerable dry mass—22 metric tons—and would require an additional 40 tons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel for its sorties down to the surface of the Moon from the proposed Lunar Gateway. The vehicle's preliminary design uses four modified RL10 engines, but other engines could be employed. The reusable vehicle could be re-fueled on the surface of the Moon or in orbit and should be capable of at least five to 10 flights.
Essentially twice the size of the Apollo LEM in every category.  Four astronauts instead of two; 14 days on the lunar surface instead of "a few", and a single stage rather than two with one left behind on the moon forever, giving this vehicle the opportunity to last "five to 10" flights instead of single mission.  An interesting point is that NASA didn't request a proposal for anything this big.
In March, the space agency solicited information from industry about medium-sized landers on the scale of 500kg, which could scale up to a 6-ton human-class lander. Lockheed's proposed lander is considerably larger than anything NASA has requested so far. "What we chose to do is jump to the end game," Antonelli said of the design.
At 62 tons instead of the "could scale up to a 6-ton" size, it really is a jump to the end game.  They say the lander is usable for a Mars landing with no modifications.

Anybody who read Heinlein's classic novel, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" knows the saying "TANSTAAFL" - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch - and thinks of it as a law of space travel.  More precisely, it's a law of "life, the universe and everything" and space travel just happens to be part of that.  A lander this big can do a lot for you but that comes at a lot of cost. 
There are some questions about this approach. One is that the vehicle would require a lot of fuel, 40 tons, all of which initially will have to be launched from the surface of Earth and transferred into lunar orbit. This would require a costly Space Launch System-class rocket launch all by itself. Alternately, the fuel could be launched to low-Earth orbit by smaller rockets and then be transferred with a solar electric power tug from there to lunar orbit. Eventually, if NASA and commercial companies figure out how to mine lunar water, this hydrogen and oxygen could come from the lunar poles.
Read that last sentence again: it says that it might not be as bad if humans figure out how to mine lunar water at reasonable costs.   This has been theoretically possible for quite a while, but nobody has demonstrated being able to do it in the hostile environment of the moon's surface at any cost.  Oh, and in that second to last sentence, "...transferred with a solar electric power tug..." - those tugs don't exist either.

NASA has said that it won't decide the "date and method" for a human return to the moon until 2024, so nothing is going to happen about this in the short term.  My bet is that nothing happens about it in the longer term either.  If we are ever to be able to reduce or eliminate the deficit, it's getting to be time for NASA to no longer be involved in this.  Yes, I think there is a place for NASA; in my mind, that place is new pure science and aeronautics research.  They're involved in too much routine stuff; see this comparison of the costs of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and similar launch vehicles.  Most or all research flights should be unmanned.  There is room to learn better ways to live in space, but I think human spaceflight is largely understood.  I'm sure there are things left to learn, especially about deep space travel (beyond the moon), and I'm even more sure there are things to learn about habitats and colonies on the moon and planets, but that's something NASA and the private sector can work on together. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Shameless Pluggery Ahead

Pardon me if you've read this before, but reloading and shooting supply store Widener's has announced a new contest:
We are giving away “Free Ammo For A Year” to one lucky Widener’s fan. To win all they have to do is subscribe to our blog newsletter by following the link below:
They're doing this to bring attention to their new blog, which (of course) is put up to keep people coming by the website.   

I thought I'd pass this on.  I've already entered the contest and in the interest of full disclosure, they're going to send me some ammo and enter me in another drawing for a Widener's gift card.  If memory serves properly, I've placed a couple of orders with Widener's in the past, but I've never been a very steady customer.  The same goes for pretty much every company in the market. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

DC Politics vs Reality

This was a lesson that real life organized to reinforce in my mind this week.  The enormous difference between actual courts, actual laws and allegations vs. the DC circus we've been watching for weeks. 

I had jury duty this week in the circuit court.system, Florida's 18th judicial circuit which includes my county and the next one over.

The short version of the story is that much like the other four or five times in my life I've responded to a jury duty summons, I didn't serve on a jury.  The longer version is that the process has gotten more efficient in the county over the 36 years I've lived here and I reported Tuesday (not Monday for the whole week).  A first group of 50 potential jurors was called out and sent to a court to start their selection process.  After that, 30 of us were called to a case we had already been assigned to.  We spent the day yesterday going through jury selection and still didn't complete that.  We were instructed to report back at 10 this morning for the down selection.  10AM turned to 10:30 and then 11:00.  Finally, at almost noon, the bailiff who had been assigned to corral us came to bring us back to the courtroom.  We were then told that the state and the defendant had come to a settlement, told us not to underestimate how important our being there and being willing to go through the process was, thanked for our service and allowed to leave. 

The important part of the story has little to do with the actual case and jury duty selection process.  The important part is that every time we were addressed, be it by the clerks in the office coordinating the candidate jurors, the judge who was responsible for the case, or the state's attorneys, the story of our judicial system was emphasized.  The foundations of our system of trial by jury being established at the formation of our nation, how it's woven into our constitution, and how it's one of the major developments of the enlightenment, flowing down from King Henry the 2nd.  The state's attorney started by telling us how our job is to protect our fellow citizens from the immense power of the state - as wielded by him.  The state's attorney and the judge said over and over that we must presume the defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, we were asked to swear to being able to presume the defendant innocent, swear to treat the facts the same regardless if presented by the state or the defense attorney, and more. 

Every step of the way was couched in the terms of the presumption of innocence and that no one is convicted unless that state proves it beyond a reasonable doubt. 

And given the three ring circus of Spartacus and the Seven Dwarves we've been forced to watch for weeks, now, all of that sounded mighty nice to my ears.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Organ Harvesting for Transplant from Living Donors

Not a horror story from the Mideast perpetrated by ISIS, but a reminder of a column I wrote well over 6-1/2 years ago.

The Weekly Standard reports in it's September 17th edition about a push in modern medicine to allow organ harvesting from living people.
In its September 6, 2018, edition though, NEJM has outdone itself. With Belgium and the Netherlands already allowing the conjoining of organ donation and euthanasia, and with Canada debating whether to follow them off that moral cliff, the journal has published a radical proposal that would demolish the ethical foundation of transplant medicine—the “dead donor rule.”

The rule requires that donors be declared dead before vital organs are procured and that the surgical transplant procedure not be the cause of the donor’s death.
In the NEJM piece “Voluntary Euthanasia—Implications for Organ Donation,” Dr. Ian M. Ball and bioethicists Robert Sibbald and Robert D. Truog urge that those rules be loosened in countries where euthanasia is legal.
Although some patients may want to be sure that organ procurement won’t begin before they are declared dead, others may want not only a rapid, peaceful, and painless death, but also the option of donating as many organs as possible and in the best condition possible. Following the dead donor rule could interfere with the ability of these patients to achieve their goals. In such cases, it may be ethically preferable to procure the patient’s organs in the same way that organs are procured from brain-dead patients (with the use of general anesthesia to ensure the patient’s comfort).
Looking back at my piece from 2012, it's remarkable how similar its predictions are to today's situation.  In that piece,  bioethicist authors in the Journal of Medical Ethics were saying that “killing by itself is not morally wrong” and that killing a human was no different than killing a weed.
“[I]f killing were wrong just because it is causing death or the loss of life, then the same principle would apply with the same strength to pulling weeds out of a garden. If it is not immoral to weed a garden, then life as such cannot really be sacred, and killing as such cannot be morally wrong.”
Today we find that legal euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands is not limited to the terminally ill. In Canada, the euthanasia patient’s death need only be “foreseeable,” whatever that means, and even that vague limitation is under court attack.
Conjoining euthanasia with organ donation would thus send the insidious message to vulnerable people that their deaths have greater social value than their lives. For the particularly vulnerable, that could be the point that tips their decisions. Moreover, following the path the authors urge would transform a life-saving medical sector into one that also ends lives, imposing on transplant specialists the dual role of both healer and killer. 
Today, as in that 2012 story, the advocates in the New England Journal of Medicine are saying it's not killing to take the organs out of someone who is of no use to society.  In the 2012 article, they referred to people who have no abilities.  The NEJM piece depends on an invidious health-care rationing measure known as the QALY (“quality-adjusted life year”), which is an almost identical concept.  Adoption of the QALY has the effect of limiting care to the disabled and disadvantaged whose lives are bureaucratically rated as lower in quality than the lives of others.  If a 35 year old lawyer or other professional needs a liver or a kidney, it's not unethical to whack a 70 year old or a 10 year old to get one - even if that person isn't done with it quite yet.

Hippocrates.  DeAgostini for Getty Images

This is stepping too far for me.  To argue that it's not immoral to kill someone with impaired or nonexistent abilities leaves the gaping question of "who decides?"  Who defines what abilities allow someone to live?  In my view, bioethicists have no marketable abilities and are only employed because they're in a society so rich it pays for people to come up with ideas like this.  Does that mean it's ethical to kill bioethicists? 

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Latest Meaningless Drivel on the "Opioid Epidemic"

This weekend saw a story about Clay County, Tennessee, with the hook to reel in readers being that  pharmacists bought, “270 pain pills for every man, woman, and child” in the county.  You're supposed to say, "oh my God, that's terrible!" or "those poor people!" or perhaps just cluck like a chicken.  Personally, I say, "what would a normal number be?"

I think it ought to be obvious that in one year, “every man, woman, and child”didn't take 270 pain pills.  That would be almost 3/4 of one pill for the year.  Clearly, some people needed to take some regularly while the vast majority didn't.  I can speculate: if someone has an acute pain crisis, surgery or an injury, say, they may take four pills a day for a couple of weeks, call it 60 pills.  That reduces the 270 pills for the entire population to a smaller number.  If the entire population took that one course of pain pills (they wouldn't have), you're down to 210 per person.  The story offers no such details, nor does the DEA provide them. 

Clay County doesn't have much in the way of population.  According to the news story linked above, about 7800 people, and its one city of any size, Celina, has four pharmacies.  The owner of one of those pharmacies, Tara Anderson, says, “I haven’t done anything I’m trying to hide.”
She says there's a need for pain medication in Clay County because of an aging workforce of manual laborers, who are now feeling the physical effects of their jobs.
Sound familiar?  Isn't this what Aesop at Raconteur Report wrote about opioids in Northern California last year?   (Parts 1, 2, 3, Final)

Bouncing back to the original news report:
It's that high volume of opioids for such a small population that caught the attention of federal agents.
Again, no information on exactly what the "high volume" is.  Is this 2.0 standard deviations higher than other cities with similar populations?  (I doubt it, but for illustration).  Three standard deviations?  Is it twice the normal amount?  10x?  20x?  We simply have nothing to judge this with.  With no contextual information, the whole story is based on a meaningless number.

Instead of going through drug store records, the DEA might be better off looking at the Census records.  If the population is largely older manual laborers, as pharmacist Ms. Anderson says, it may be totally legit.

Short version of my conclusion: I think there's a deliberate attempt to conflate prescription opioid problems with illegal heroin overdose.  We don't have a prescription drug problem, we have a "junkies shooting adulterated heroin problem".  So why the public ruse?  The old advise to "follow the money" leads me to the company that makes naloxone, the anti-narcotic drug administered to people in overdose.  It was being pushed that virtually everyone should carry it everywhere as a lifesaver; it was even pushed on librarians to have it available for the library junkies who OD while watching internet porn in the library (do you have that where you live?).  The price of naloxone had gone up 17x.  Going down that rabbit hole led directly to Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration.

Going on a wider view, that led directly to the US government making deals with the Sinaloa drug cartel for purposes that aren't clear.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The SpaceX Falcon at 10

On September 28, SpaceX and industry watchers quietly commemorated the 10th anniversary of the first launch of the Falcon 1, the first version of the SpaceX booster that is quietly forcing the rest of the world to play catch up; even the Russians announced plans to develop a reusable booster to keep up with SpaceX.  Ars Technica passes on the story of the eight desperate weeks that saved SpaceX from ruin.
Three times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, SpaceX tried to launch a Falcon 1 rocket from Omelek Island in the Pacific Ocean, a coral shelf perhaps a meter above sea level and the size of three soccer fields. Less than two months after the last failure, the money was running out. SpaceX had just one final rocket to launch, with only some spare components left over in its California factory.

“We all knew that the stakes were incredibly high,” Zach Dunn recalled of that feverish period in 2008. This time, the Falcon 1 had to work. And the kids knew it. Barely a year out of graduate school and just 26, Dunn nonetheless was a senior engineer over the rocket’s first stage. “It was tense. There was a lot of pressure.”
Omelek was a temporary facility; so small it's uninhabitable during a launch.  Omelek was a place where they lived dormitory style and worked tirelessly in preparation for the launch (as have generations of other folks at NASA, in Russia and the rest of the launch industry).  Before launch, everyone evacuated the smaller Omelek to go the control center on nearby Kwajalein - "Kwaj" - one of the best-known pieces of "downrange test facility" in the Pacific.

The pressure was intense. 
They bunked in a double-wide trailer, cramming inside on cots and sleeping bags, as many as a dozen at a time. In the mornings, they feasted on steaming plates of scrambled eggs. At night, beneath some of the darkest skies on Earth, they grilled steaks and wondered if the heavens above were beyond their reach. Kids, most of them, existed alone on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was the middle of nowhere, really.

And they worked. They worked desperately—tinkering, testing, and fixing—hoping that nothing would go wrong this time. Already, their small rocket had failed three times. One more launch anomaly likely meant the end of Space Exploration Technologies.
Today, it is difficult to imagine the world of aerospace without SpaceX. United Launch Alliance, Arianespace, the Russians, and the Chinese likely would still dominate the launch industry, with their prices a closely guarded secret. A decade ago, these industry titans saw in Elon Musk just another gnat to be swatted aside like so many who had come before. The idea of reusing an orbital rocket to lower the cost of access to space? Laughable. Mars?!? This funny sounding guy from South Africa couldn't even put a small, single-engine rocket into orbit.

This, and more, lay on the line September 28, 2008, when SpaceX sought to finally become the first company to privately develop a rocket that successfully reached orbit.

“That's something that only nations had done before, because the barriers to entry were so high,” Chad Anderson, of the Space Angels investment group, said about privately developing an orbital rocket. “Going from zero to one is really, really difficult. And that’s what SpaceX did. That guy and that company have been swimming upstream, and fighting, for so long to get that ball rolling.”
The video of the first successful flight in SpaceX history is still on YouTube, along with videos of less successful flights, like the oh-so-close third launch.

Falcon 1, vehicle 4, just prior to the first launch, on the pad on Omelek island.

It's hard to overestimate the importance of this successful launch.  Every engineer on the team was literally betting their futures on being able to do it.  Even Musk says that if they hadn't succeeded, it probably would have been the end.  Instead, they got a contract to launch the Malaysian RazakSAT satellite into orbit on the Falcon 1 in 2009.  Chad Anderson, of the Space Angels investment group, says that turned the launch business, which he termed "essentially a cartel", upside down.
“To launch a satellite before SpaceX, money had to be no object,” Anderson said. “It could be $90 million, or $170 million, or whatever they happened to want that day. These are incredibly formidable barriers to entry for a new venture.”

Price transparency, and SpaceX’s introduction of the Falcon 9 rocket in 2010 at a price of $60 million, helped bring down these barriers to entry. Over time, this unleashed a wave of innovation in satellites and brought spaceflight into the realm of wider entrepreneurship.

Anderson said that, before SpaceX began flying the Falcon 1 rocket, there were a few dozen privately funded companies, globally, engaged in spaceflight activities. Today, there are 350, and they have raised $15 billion in private capital.
Today, SpaceX is flying the 5th version of the Falcon 9, so named because it uses 9 of the Merlin engines that carried the Falcon 1 into orbit.  Many, though not all, Falcon 9 boosters can be recovered - it depends on the launch energy requirements (essentially the weight of the payload to orbit and the exact orbit required).  Just as it took them a few tries to get their first successful launches, it took a few before they successfully landed boosters.  Now they're making the recovery of the booster seem pretty routine.  Flying a recovered booster is cheaper for the customer, so several have flown and been recovered more than once.   

Engineer Zach Dunn with the Merlin first stage engine that later carried the Falcon 1 into orbit.  At the time, Dunn was 26 and just out of graduate school.  Within a year, he was in charge of the first stage.  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Do We Have Security in the Capital, or Kabuki?

My dominant thought when I saw Arizona Flake Jeff Senator cornered by a couple of left wing activists in an elevator is "why is there no security?"  "What did these twits have to do to get into the capital and harangue a senator? "  I can't visit a friend in the hospital without going through metal detectors, emptying my pockets, and getting photographed.  Did they? 
The women who confronted Flake were Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, sexual assault survivors who are now being hailed as activists who may be “changing the course of history.”

Archila, a Queens resident, is the co-executive director at the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), an organization that works toward creating an “inclusive, equitable society” by advocating for “communities of colour, immigrants, working families, youth, women and the LGBTQ community.”

Gallagher, a New York resident, isn’t linked to the CPD directly, but is “just a passionate person,” the Miami Herald reported.

She had been in Washington for a week demonstrating against Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Both, of course, are funded by Dr. Evil, George Soros (H/T - 90 Miles from Tyranny)

I think these two are too self-centered to do it, but think to yourself what if one of them is wearing a suicide vest?  Get close to the senator and go in blaze of glory?  I always thought the capital was too well protected, but if someone can get that close there are lots of options without firearms or explosives.  Remember when Korean Fat Man Dear Leader Kim Jong Un had his brother assassinated by a girl walking up and wiping nerve agent on his face?  Unless they get body cavity searched, they can get enough VX into the building to do this. 

I don't know what kind of security they have, but I suspect it's not as much as they need.  They'll find that out in due time. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

This Just In

Best running ever.

The trick is that it only starts up at room temperature, and then runs until it heats up too much.  It will run about a minute and stop.  After that, it tries to turn over, where it will run for a few seconds at a time.  It might be that the best position for that alcohol lamp flame is moving, but knowing where to put the fire is not exactly documented.  Nor is there anyway I know to calculate it.  It's pure trial and error. 

I frankly don't know how much more can be learned out of this.  It's possible a slightly bigger piston would get it to the state I've seen other videos, where the cylinder has to be preheated with the lamp or a torch, and then it runs solidly.  It's also possible the issue is something else (that I don't see or understand).  It might be time to finish the hardwood base it's going to be mounted to and call it an engine.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Cody Wilson Replaced at Defense Distributed

Thanks to a link at Shall Not Be Questioned, I find from the Austin Statesman that Cody Wilson has resigned from Defense Distributed.  Wilson has been replaced by Paloma Heindorff, who had been the company’s vice president of operations.
“I am extremely proud to say that over the past few days the entire team a Defense Distributed has recommitted to enabling the sharing and publication of CAD and 3D-printed firearms,’ Heindorff said at a news conference Tuesday. “This resilience, I truly believe to not only been characteristic of our company as a whole, but also the ideas that we have worked so hard to promote.”
I've been following Wilson, his printed Liberator and Defense Distributed since the earliest days. For those who haven't been following the story, the designs for the Liberator were first released to the world in 2013, and then DD was sued by the US State Department for violating the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).  The case was winding (? winding is too fast... what's the word for how snails move?) through the courts. 

Three years later, it was 2016 and the Trump administration took over.  DD argued they weren't exporting guns, they were publishing software describing something and publishing software has been recognized as free speech.  The DOJ advised the State Department to settle with DD, saying that "software is free speech" is settled law and they'd lose the case, so they offered to settle.  The settlement was set to go into effect at the end of July.   

Cody Wilson, of course, has recently been arrested and quickly extradited to the US for paying an underaged hooker.  Count me among those who think that whole thing transpired a little too quickly, a little too cleanly and smoothly to be convinced it's legit, but Heindorff made it clear that Wilson is on his own as far as his defense costs go, and that DD would continue their operation.
Heindorff said the company would not be paying for any of his legal expenses but would use the $400,000 it had raised so far from donations to fight the federal court case against it.
Heindorff said the company would continue on the same track to make its 3D-printed gun plans publicly available online, despite Wilson’s leaving the company.

“He’s been an incredibly powerful figurehead,” Heindorff said. “But this is about an idea.”

She said Defense Distributed had received about 3,000 orders for its weapons plans since the court order and that her team has been “shipping them out like crazy.”

“I cannot be more proud of my team right now,” she said. “We didn’t miss a beat. No one blinked. No one has missed a day at work. We’ve all come in. We’re still shipping. We have no intention of stopping.”
It seems where they are in the process now is as I described it at the end of last month.   A group of states decided it was too dangerous to let mere deplorables have access to the plans and sued to block their release. A judge agreed that unwashed normal people were a danger and ruled DD couldn't give the plans away.  So DD said, "OK, if we can't give them away, we'll sell them - for whatever you'd like to pay". 

It appears the DefCad fundraiser is still fund raising, with $54k left to go to get them reveal their second "new contract".  And, as before, you can go to the top level site, pick out the designs you want and get something for your bucks.  Either way, every time someone downloads or gets a file, a gun grabber cries.

Paloma Heindorff, new CEO of Defense Distributed.  The Austin Stateman says, "Heindorff previously worked in the creative industry in New York City before moving to Austin to work for the nonprofit Defense Distributed. She called its efforts to fight the federal government the “most elegant and effective activism” she had ever seen."  I noticed she has CEO-speak down in those statements from the press conference.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Can Blockchain Unscrew the Medical Records World?

Let me back up for a minute.  I may not know what I'm talking about, but my perspective as a patient is that the medical records associated with me are perpetually screwed up, so therefore I expect everyone's medical records are perpetually screwed up and by extension all medical records are screwed up to some degree.  Every doctor I see wants a complete list of everything I'm taking; easy peasy - there's not all that much.  Then they go through a list that they have, saying "are you still taking.. XXX" where XXX is prescription that I had for two weeks ten years ago, took them and never saw another one.  Or maybe it was one that a doctor said, "try this and see if it works for you"; it didn't and we tried another similar drug.  Repeat for maybe 20 entries in their list.

No matter what I say to the tech or person checking the list, it never seems to get fixed or get better.  I fully expect that if I end up in the hospital for some sort of emergency - like when I had my gall bladder out in June of '16 - they're going to read that I'm taking ... I don't know, something ... and treat whatever I have wrong because of that kind of lingering misinformation.

I'm not in that line of work, so maybe I'm talking out of my butt, but it's the case both for Mrs. Graybeard and I.  That sneaking suspicion that it's all wrong got my interest when I saw a headline, "Would You Trust an App to Protect Your Medical Records?" in Machine Design.  The emphasis, though, isn't unscrewing our records, it's securing their privacy.

Blockchain is most associated with cryptocurrencies; it's how they work.  Blockchain is an encrypted ledger of digital transactions, a group of these transactions is a block, distributed across a chain of multiple nodes through a peer-to-peer network.  Part of the distributed nature of the blockchain is that it leaves an auditable log trail of the events taking place.  Every entry in the ledger is irrevocable, tamper-proof, and shared among authorized parties in a transparent manner.  I can see the usefulness here, but in the case of my mangled history of prescriptions, the issue isn't things being added without authorization, it's inappropriate things being added - or appropriate things being added that shouldn't be permanent.

Machine Design adds this:
The technology allows every member that can submit information to have their own copy of the ledger, rather than having all the data hosted on one centralized location. Nevertheless, no new transaction can be input, or data committed, without the majority of nodes agreeing that it is indeed accurate.

This could impact the healthcare industry greatly, as often every such organization has its own version of a patient’s records, and it is common for these entities to have differences between each record without streamlined verification. Therefore it is often the case that if a patient visits several different healthcare providers, each and every record they have can be different from one another, which could create massive complications for their personal health. [Note: emphasis added - SiG]
Bingo!  Now you're talking.  This bold text is exactly what I'm talking about.  

The article then goes on to give a brief overview of a few companies trying to create this medical blockchain industry, MediBloc, Dentacoin and Medicalchain.
MediBloc aims at putting patients in charge of managing their own medical records, enabling them to exercise ownership and control over their data, as well as who has access to it. Users have full access to their data and can make a conscious choice over who is authorized to view and edit it—from individuals to research institutions and private corporations.
Dentacoin, as you might guess, is aimed at dental records. Dentacoin is a decentralized dental health database which stores patient data in a secure and reliable way. It is fully controlled by the users; only they can decide what to store in the database and who has access to it.
The database, developed by Medicalchain, allows users to give permission to medical professionals (doctors, hospitals, labs, pharmacists, insurers, and so on) to access the data they have entered on the platform. Each and every access of the data is logged—making it auditable, transparent, and secure—by having it recorded as a transaction on the Medicalchain’s distributed ledger. The patient’s privacy is protected throughout the entire duration of this process.

The article uses the rhetorical question, "would you trust an app to protect your medical records".  I can't say that I particularly trust the medical professionals that have custody of them now, but I don't know this is any better.  I also don't know if it's any worse (as always, the internet meme works here: "when I said 'how bad can it get', that wasn't meant as a challenge). 

The problem is that I don't see much in what they're talking about that specifically addresses the text I emphasized above
... if a patient visits several different healthcare providers, each and every record they have can be different from one another, which could create massive complications for their personal health.
The closest is Medicalchain allowing users to correct their records and allow the medical professionals to view their records.  The thing is, Blockchain and that whole system isn't needed for this.  We could do it now if the medical practices allowed patients to correct the information.  But the medical professionals always know more than you and won't allow you to modify your records. 

I'm going to swag that something like this might be coming.  If you have a personal issue with your medical records being on a computer on the network, that ship sailed long ago.  In principle, it's a really good idea that any doctor who sees you should get access to important things about you, especially should you be unconscious in an Emergency Room.  My biggest issue is that the information really needs to be right. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Remember "Paving Roads With Solar Cells"?

Remember a few years ago when people talked about using road and sidewalk surfaces for photovoltaic cells?  Well, a few experimental installations have been done and they really suck.

I know: what a surprise?  Who would have guessed? ... I mean besides the groups getting some gubmint money to install them.

A little thought by someone who has seen solar cells used properly will give a handful of reasons why it's a bad idea.   The most obvious one is dirt.  Roads get dirty, covered with snow drifts or wind driven sand, for example, and small amounts of light being cut off by dirt have large impacts on the efficiency of the cells.  Next most obvious is the mounting angle.  To be perpendicular to the light of the sun (max intensity and energy transfer), the cells should be mounted at the complement of the latitude.  In the areas where the sun is most intense, the cells would need to be 25, 30 or even 35 degrees from the vertical, or 55, 60 or 65 angles to the horizontal.  Cars can't drive on that.  Instead, they'll be at road grade, flat to within less than 20 degrees in most places.  Finally, they'll need to be mounted under glass strong enough to support the cars and trucks that travel that road.  Thick glass will further reduce the light converted to electricity. 

A study reported in the Herald Sun news from Australia goes over some results.  Warning for odd units ahead.
One of the first solar roads to be installed is in Tourouvre-au-Perche, northwest France. This has a maximum power output of 420kW, covers 2800sq m and cost €5 million ($8 million) to install. This implies a cost of €11,905 ($A19,230) per installed kW.

While the road is supposed to generate 800kWh/day (kilowatt hours per day), some recently released data indicates a yield closer to 409kWh/day, or 150,000kWh/yr.

....The road’s capacity factor — which measures the efficiency of the technology by dividing its average power output by its potential maximum power output — is just 4 per cent.
Oops.  For comparison, the Herald Sun reports on a solar panel installation in the Bordeaux region of France, in a place called Cestas.  This plant was designed with rows of solar panels carefully aligned at the proper angle towards the sun, not to be driven on.  It has a maximum power output of 300 Megawatts (300,000kW) and a capacity factor of 14 per cent.  At a cost of €360 million ($A581 million), or €1200 ($A1938) per installed kilowatt, one-tenth the cost of the solar roadway, it generates three times more power.

While it's not surprising that this insanity has spread to the US, it was a little surprising to me that a small pilot project was done in small town, Idaho, specifically Sandpoint, Idaho.
This is 13.9sq m in area, with an installed capacity of 1.529kW. The installation cost is given as $US48,734 (about $A67,000), which implies a cost per installed kilowatt of $A44,420 more than 20 times higher than the Cestas power plant. 
1.5 kW is a rather small project, so I'd have to guess some sort of "proof of concept", but at 20x the per-kW cost of the Cestas facility (and at a similar latitude as Cestas, 48N for Sandpoint vs. 45N for Cestas), clearly not a good use of funds.
And this is before we look at the actual data from the Sandpoint installation, which generated 52.397kWh in six months, or 104.8kWh over a year. From this we can estimate a capacity factor of just 0.782 per cent, which is 20 times less efficient than the Cestas power plant.
I should note that in the photo of the Sandpoint square road (and sidewalk!) you'll notice traffic lines, speed limits and other information from LEDs embedded in the roads.  While it's a nice touch, in the brutal reality of energy input/output they must be budgeted for.  It turns out the LEDs use 25% of the power the road generates. 

Final words to the Herald Sun:
That said, it should be pointed out that this panel is in a town square. If there is one thing we can conclude, it’s that a section of pavement surrounded by buildings in a snowy northern town is not the best place to locate a solar installation.

However, perhaps there’s a bigger point — solar roads on city streets are just not a great idea.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

It's a Running Story

It has been a week of continuous reading and experimenting on my little flame eater engine, since last Sunday's post about it not quite running.

A brief overview of things up to now.  I started out by researching how to make it sound like a "known good" engine sounds.  It didn't sound right and that seems to be caused by the piston itself.  I started coming to the conclusion my piston was too small and I wasn't getting enough compression.

Early in the week, I read comments to one of the many flame eater videos on YouTube.  One commenter said these engines either run hot or cold.  If they're running cold, they quickly warm up enough that the expansion of the cylinder due to the heat of the slurped up flame causes the cylinder to get too big to keep the compression.   If they're setup to run warm, they'll be so tight at room temperature that they just won't turn over.

That gave me the idea to get the cylinder cold, with  the idea that it would shrink up more than the graphite and give me better compression.   This would test the idea that the piston is too small.  It actually ran!  It got to running 10 seconds and I started fumbling with my phone to grab a video of it, whereupon it stopped running.

Now I decided to turn a new piston to be a tighter fit in the cylinder.  The first attempt at a new piston didn't work; I overshot the diameter I wanted.  This piston is the third one I've made for this engine.  All three have been graphite, but that's a suggestion from the forums.  The original book plans say cold rolled steel (CRS), bronze or cast iron.  I originally bought a bar of  CRS to turn the piston out of before going for the graphite.  Now I'm considering making a fourth piston, this time out of CRS.

A commenter on the forums tells me that the behavior I'm seeing is pretty common and it might really be OK now.  He says that if it's starting cold, the engine stops because as water from the combustion condenses inside the cylinder, and increases drag.  He says that once the temperature of the engine reaches its running temp, in 2-3 min, it will run indefinitely.

I will experiment more with that before I decide to make another piston.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Computer Difficulties

Not with this computer, but with my iPad that I use in place of a laptop for taking notes and light duty and light duty computing.  It lost all of my notes taken this year when I "upgraded" a few days ago.

While work on getting them back... something I saw that struck me funny. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

The King of Junk Food Science is Out

Last February, I ran a story about Brian Wansink, whom I called the King of Junk Food Science.  According to ARS Technica yesterday, Wansink is out at Cornell University.
Brian Wansink, the Cornell nutrition researcher who was world-renowned for his massively popular, commonsense-style dieting studies before ultimately going down in flames in a beefy statistics scandal, has now resigned—with a considerably slimmer publication record.

JAMA’s editorial board retracted six studies co-authored by Wansink from its network of prestigious publications on Wednesday, September 19. The latest retractions bring Wansink’s total retraction count to 13, [Note: that page shows 35 papers retracted at this time - SiG] according to a database compiled by watchdog publication Retraction Watch. Fifteen of Wansink’s other studies have also been formally corrected.

Amid this latest course in the scandal, Cornell reported today, September 20, that Wansink has resigned from his position, effective at the end of the current academic year. In a statement emailed to Ars, Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff said that an internal investigation by a faculty committee found that “Professor Wansink committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.”
The important part of the article last February is what ultimately got Wansink out of his job: he wasn't doing science, he was trying to find things that would catch public attention and go viral.  The way it's supposed to work is that a researcher comes up with a hypothesis and then does an experiment to determine if their hypothesis is true; more precisely, they evaluate the null hypothesis that the experimental results were random and not due to their hypothesis.  Wansink would collect gobs of data and then try to find hypotheses that are true based on that data.
But, in a November 2016 blog post, Wansink inadvertently sank his own fame by noting that he encouraged his graduate students to go on statistical fishing trips, pushing them to net unintended conclusions from otherwise null nutrition experiment results. This is a huge red flag to researchers because such statistical fishing is a well-established method for reeling in false positives and meaningless statistical blips, like finding a link between cabbage and innie belly buttons. Moreover, many researchers see the dubious approach as fueling a crisis in social sciences in which findings from key studies—like Wansink’s—are not reproducible by other researchers, calling into question their original validity.

The blogged confession led to several other researchers sifting through Wansink’s studies and stats. Prime among those researchers is education researcher and blogger Tim van der Zee of Leiden University in the Netherlands. By last year, van der Zee and colleagues had identified at least 42 Wansink studies with alleged issues ranging from minor to severe. Those studies had collectively been cited by other researchers 3,700 times, been published in over 25 journals and eight books, and spanned 20 years of research, van der Zee noted.
As I've talked about in these pages before, there are several serious crises going on in science these days.  The biggest is reflected in the August 2005 paper by John P. A. Ioannidis which has become one of the most downloaded papers ever, "Why Most Published Research Findings are False".  Ioannidis points out that the majority of scientific papers are wrong; as much as 70% of published science is wrong.  Not just biomedical but hard sciences like particle physics. 
But maximising a single figure of merit, such as statistical significance, is never enough: witness the “pentaquark” saga. Quarks are normally seen only two or three at a time, but in the mid-2000s various labs found evidence of bizarre five-quark composites. The analyses met the five-sigma test. But the data were not “blinded” properly; the analysts knew a lot about where the numbers were coming from. When an experiment is not blinded, the chances that the experimenters will see what they “should” see rise. This is why people analysing clinical-trials data should be blinded to whether data come from the “study group” or the control group. When looked for with proper blinding, the previously ubiquitous pentaquarks disappeared.
Simply, the peer review process is broken - perhaps irreparably.

Science itself, as it currently works, may well also be badly broken. In the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of the new journal The New Atlantis, some important points were brought up.  As I excerpted in August of 2016.
As WWII came to a close, there was an acknowledgement of how much that scientific teams had contributed to the victory and a deliberate effort to keep those teams together.  Vannevar Bush, the MIT engineer called the “General of Physics” by Time Magazine, was the public face behind this push.  He pushed a vision so appealing in its imagery that everyone bought into it.
Scientific progress on a broad front results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown.
Through example after example Sarewitz demonstrates that the progress of the late 20th century was virtually never, “free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice”, but instead was almost always science being managed, being driven on specific topics for specific applications.   Scientific knowledge advances most rapidly, and is of most value to society, when it is steered to solve problems — especially those related to technological innovation.  Could it be that the War on Cancer has floundered because there's nobody in charge; nobody driving toward a goal and asking specific people specific questions? 
The typical academic scientist in a university lab may bristle at the thought of being given an assignment by a boss somewhere, and being held accountable for results.  Nevertheless, a persuasive argument can be made that this might be the way to fix science.

Five Thirty Eight did an experiment to show the kinds of spurious correlations that arise from using the typical tools of dietary studies: food frequency questionnaires and recall studies.  Their study demonstrated that eating egg rolls was strongly associated with dog ownership, and that eating cabbage was strongly associated with having an "innie bellybutton".  That's some real Brian Wansink quality science there!

Brian Wansink in a publicity photo.  AP Photo by Mike Groll - from Buzz Feed