Thursday, October 30, 2014

Drug Delivery Systems Go Sci Fi

According to an article in industry magazine Microwaves & RF, drug delivery systems which seem like they're out of a Sci Fi movie are landing on the market now.
Drug-delivery methods have achieved science fiction status following news of two breakthroughs: A wirelessly controlled contraceptive chip that can be implanted in women, and pills that are able to text medical professionals and caregivers that patients have taken their medicine. Whereas this may sound like a storyline from an episode of “Star Trek,” what we are talking about are here-and-now realities.
Let's tease those apart.  Wirelessly controlled contraceptives?  It's a system that's implanted in a woman's body and can be turned off or on under control of a wireless link (the new topic of Body Area Networks is pretty actively researched these days).
A computerized contraceptive chip implanted below a woman’s skin could be wirelessly activated or deactivated for up to 16 years. The chip, which is about the size of a thumbnail, releases a 30 microgram dose of the hormone levonorgestrel—commonly used as an oral contraception.
This one is a year or two away, and raises more questions than answers.  Strangely, its development was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  There are no known studies that can tell what 16 years of being housed in the human body might do to the chip, and no known tests to emulate that.  Dispense 30 micrograms daily?  Seems like a pretty precise measurement to be made every day in this hostile environment for 16 years.  And why 16 years?  If a young woman starts on a contraceptive at 16, that covers her to 32.  Is that enough?  Perhaps they should try for a shorter service life and refill or replace the device more often.  Finally, like all wireless systems, someone better pay attention to the idea of malicious software or undesired parties turning the contraceptive on or off against the desires of the woman.

The texting pill is a bit of a misnomer; it doesn't actually send the text.  These are devices made by Proteus Digital Health.  The idea is that a small exposed silicon chip is in or on the pill.  The exposed chip has a pair of dissimilar metal pads that will become a battery when an electrolyte - stomach acid - fills the space between them.  That powers the pill long enough to send a message to a patch that the patient is wearing to say the medication has been taken, and the patch then does the communication.  There are no details on exactly what the chip in the pill sends; from a big picture view, it could be a simple signal that tells the patch "I've been swallowed", but that only works if it's the only pill that has been taken.  If the person is taking multiple drugs, it might be good to send the drug name and dosage.
While I've heard the often-cited statistics that large numbers of seniors forget to take their medications (their memory is addled by the medications they're taking), this goes from Sci Fi to Twilight Zone for me.  Or even creepier.  I can only approve of this sort of thing if its voluntary and the person taking the pills wants the reminder.   If our liberty begins with the idea that we own ourselves, putting monitors into our bodies to report when we've done something is about as serious an attack on liberty as there is.  If you want to take the smart pill, be my guest; I just don't want it legislated or mandated.  


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Climate Scientists and Gun Control Nuts Use This Tactic

(I suppose the "twenty teens" way of saying that should be One Weird Trick Loved By Climate Scientists and Gun Control Groups)

Miguel at Gun Free Zone posts a link to Reason, where Grant Duwe, a well respected researcher on mass shootings, fisks a much-quoted study on mass shootings from Mother Jones (sorry, mama, no linkies).  It turns out they use the same basic trick climate scientists use to adjust temperatures.  They understate the number of shootings in previous decades to make the recent ones look worse. 
The first problem with the Mother Jones list, which contains 67 cases, is that it significantly underreports the incidents occurring between 1982 and 2013 that meet its definitional requirements. The data I've collected show there were 114 mass public shootings, which means the Mother Jones list missed more than 40 percent of the cases that took place in the U.S. during this 32-year period.
The warmists do the same sort of thing in their data adjustments.  This story is about Australia, but the execrable James Hansen of NASA has done the same thing to the US.  And a little more

Manipulation looks like this.  I combined the two graphics in that Reason article.  The top is actual numbers,  the bottom is what Mother Jones reported.   They make it look almost hockey stick-like. 
I'd say, "I wonder where they got that idea", but, well, you know.






Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Last Vacuum Tubes Just Got Put on the Endangered List

If you're "of a certain age", say above 45 as a rough guess, you probably know what vacuum tubes are even if you're not an electronics geek.  Chances are you remember the TV or radio warming up for 20 seconds before the program started.  If you were a child in the 60s, you might have even taken vacuum tubes from a TV set that wasn't working up to the store to test those tubes on a drugstore tube tester.  I actually still have two tube-based radios in the ham shack, and run them from time to time, although my "everyday" operation is on modern, feature-rich, solid state radios. Mrs. Graybeard has a prized collection of several tube-based Zenith Transoceanic radios. 

Solid state: transistors, silicon diodes, FETs, integrated circuits, and other devices, have been replacing vacuum tubes in electronics since at least the time of that first transistor radio I wrote about last week.  Today, the only places they're used is in industrial and military electronics that are both operating at extremely high frequency and extremely high powers.  While there are a couple of niche markets where vacuum tubes are still strongly used: high end audio and instrument (like guitar) amplifiers, and there's a very active vintage radio market, where they're referred to as "boatanchors".
 
If you're not active in those areas, I'd bet that the only vacuum tube in your house is the power amplifier in your microwave oven.  The only other one you're most likely to have is a CRT. 

Microwave ovens use a tube called a magnetron, an invention that dates back to WWII.  The ovens work in a frequency band close to the WiFI band at 2.45 GHz, and generate thousands of watts of power; your microwave is probably around 1000 Watts output.  On the other hand, aircraft have used solid state transmitters for Collision Avoidance Systems just below that frequency, around 1000 MHz, since the 1980s.  The last TCAS system I worked on generated 1000W and used just three power transistors.    

You probably have gathered where I'm going: semiconductor maker Freescale (formerly Motorola Semiconductor) has announced a line of transistors designed to produce solid state microwave ovens.
The product of interest is Freescale’s new MHT1003N, a 250 watt LDMOS transistor for 2.45 GHz that provides a power-added efficiency (PAE) of 58%.  ...  Using the MHT1003N, manufacturers can use from one to eight of these 250 W units to build a microwave oven with the desired power level.  And the magnetron’s 4 kV power supply goes away in place of a supply of 28 to 50 volts.  Furthermore, the crude on-off control of the magnetron can be replaced with full variable power control.  Using multiple antennas, one per amplifier, provides better coverage of the cooking chamber.  This allows food to be cooked more precisely while the unit operates more efficiently.  And the product lifetime is significantly greater.
LDMOS - Laterally Diffused Metal Oxide Semiconductors - are a type of silicon transistor construction first developed in the 1990s.  They're falling out of favor in the last couple of years, being replaced by GaN - Gallium Nitride - which offers better efficiencies and better microwave performance.   Changing the power supply from that 4000V supply to a 28 or 50V supply will take the largest weight in a microwave oven out; its power transformer.  Going solid state with several amplifiers, each running its own antenna promises better, more even cooking, better power control, fewer issues with hot spots and power loss as the oven ages as benefits to the user. 

You can be sure these will be quite a bit more expensive for the early adopters, but historically, it looks like the handwriting is on the wall for vacuum tube microwave ovens. 

I'm not sure it's actually on the market, but a company called Midea has previewed the first consumer microwave oven based on the Freescale transistors, back in June.    
Cutaway view of a magnetron - old RF guys call them a Maggie.  Wikipedia photo.


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Fed IS The Recovery and The Economy

Came across an interesting chart today with a good video explanation of what it all means.  First, the chart:
The raw data here is from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, which has a nifty web site for extracting and plotting your own data.  This plots the Wilshire 5000, the adjusted Fed monetary base and effective Federal Funds rate.  The Adjusted monetary base, in red, is the amount of cash in circulation, in Billions of $.  The Wilshire 5000, plotted in dark blue, is another one of those indices of the stock market; this time the 5000 biggest companies on the NY Stock exchange, so 10x the size of the S&P500, and a really broad measure of the market.  In order to scale it so that it's proporitonal to the monetary base, the value of the index is multiplied by 46.  Finally, in a greenish color is the effective Federal Funds rate; and to scale it so that it looks like it's in basis points, it's multiplied by 250.  Are you good and confused? 

All of the recessions since about 1950 are shown as vertical gray bars, and you can see that the Fed tried to lower the funds rate and stimulate the economy after each one - although they were always badly timed. 

The point of this is most easily seen on the right side of the chart, after about 1990.  The bull market run up of the stock market and burgeoning economy are traced by the Whilshire 5000 (blue).  The adjusted monetary base is increasing, but slowly perking along.  The Fed funds rate hovers around 1000, dipping below in the recession of 1990 and then going to around 1500 (1 1/2%) through most of the decade.  Then comes the tech bubble pop, which leads into the recession of 2000 and the Fed dropping the funds rate to try to stimulate the economy.  Leading to the bubble/boom cycle starting in '02 and ending in the crash of '08. 

That sets the stage.  Around late '08 to '09, you can see a dramatic change in the patterns of the chart.  The adjusted monetary base goes from poking along (at too high a rate for sane people!) to going vertical, an incredibly fast, almost infinite, rate of change.  Likewise you see the Fed rate drop to essentially zero, their famous ZIRP or Zero Interest Rate Policy, where it has stayed ever since.  And you can see the Wilshire 5000 and the monetary base going up in lock step.  In fact, the author says those two curves' correlation coefficient is 0.97.  A correlation coefficient of 1 is perfect and you basically never see that. I don't think I've ever seen one as big as 0.97. 

Now notice the spacing between the gray bars.  Notice that they're always less than a decade apart?  Some of them are only two years apart (1980 and '82).  Now, they've been telling us that the recession has been over since '09, which says we should be running a really healthy economy right now.  Instead, what we see is that the Fed is creating money and that money is being used to pump prices: although this only shows the stock prices, the same seems to be happening for real estate prices.  Further, if the recession really ended in '09, we're five years out and therefore either midway, or less!, from the next recession.

Go watch that video.  You know how many of keep saying this isn't going to continue, that a really bad collapse is coming?  Look at that chart again: the Fed has already run interest rates to zero, what are they going to do next time?  They've already created about $3 1/2 Trillion.  What can they do next time?  Create 10 trillion?  $20 Trillion?  Direct deposit a million dollars in everyone's bank account? 

It's nothing less than the death of the dollar. 



Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Police State Can't Exist Without...

I think it's an obviously true statement that the police state can't exist without the full cooperation of the judicial branch.  If the judicial branch would start restricting things like Civil Forfeiture, those would start to go away.  If they would start getting involved in the excessive use of SWAT raids and the increasing rise of warrior cops, that would decrease. 

With that in mind, it's interesting to read about the Supreme Court's refusal to hear a case this session which had the potential to restrain what seems to me (and IANAL) to be an egregious violation of civil rights.  Perhaps the most unique aspect of this is that the dissent against the judgement was filed by conservatives Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and statist Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

The case is called Jones vs. The United States, and centers around a trio of drug dealers: Joseph Jones, Desmond Thurston, and Antwuan Ball.  The three were tried for distributing cocaine and also conspiracy to distribute drugs (I have to assume this is another example of prosecutors stacking charges so they can be sure to get a conviction).  The jury convicted them of the lesser charge of distributing, but acquitted them of the conspiracy charge, which brings a harsher sentence.  Here's where it goes bizarre in my view: the judge then, despite the acquittal, sentenced them to that harsher sentence from conspiracy. 

Got that?  They were sentenced for a crime a jury had found them not guilty of!  The Supreme Court, refused to hear the case.  It seems to set the absurd precedent of someone being charged with a crime, tried by jury, declared not guilty, but then being put in prison regardless of the jury trial's outcome. Why bother with the show trial? 

The dissent in pdf format is here, and the important part is on pages 14-16.  Justice Scalia says, in my words, that the court has previously ruled that this sort of sentencing based on a judge's determination of fact is illegal and must be put aside, but they had always promised to clarify the law when an appropriate case got to the court.
We thus left for another day the question whether the Sixth Amendment is violated when courts impose sentences that, but for a judge-found fact, would be reversed for substantive unreasonableness. 551U.S., at 353; see also id., at 366 (Stevens, J., joined in
part by GINSBURG, J., concurring)  (“Such a hypothetical case should be decided if and when it arises”)...

Then Justice Scalia goes on to say...

This has gone on long enough. The present petition presents the nonhypothetical case the Court claimed to have been waiting for. And it is a particularly appealing case, because not only did no jury convict these defendants of the offense the sentencing judge thought them guilty of, but a jury acquitted them of that offense.
A dissenting opinion, even from the supreme court, is just that.  It's an opinion written on paper that has no effect on how laws are prosecuted or not.  They left in place the apparatus of the police state, that anyone tried of a crime and found innocent may still be subject to a harsh penalty on the whim of the judge. 

Many of us are voting for judges right now.  If only we could find where they stand on issues like this!



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bright Days, Range Days

It was what I call chamber of commerce weather today: the kind of weather they like to brag about.  Beautiful blue skies and pleasant temperature; roughly 65 at daybreak and 85 for the high.  To be honest, we can get this kind of day from now until April or May, most years. 

So off to the range to knock off a little rust - from us, not the guns!  We hadn't taken the shotguns down in long enough that neither of us could remember, so that was first order of business, followed by running a box of 50 through the EDC guns.  It's actually been since early summer that we did that, too.

Our club suffered severe flooding a few weeks ago, and the waters haven't fully receded.  My favorite place, the 200 yard rifle range, was still closed due to standing water.  There's a 50 yard generic use range, that tends to be used for long guns, although handguns are allowed.  I've never tried to shoot rifled slugs 50 yards from my smooth bore Mossberg before, so I tried a box.
That's the last 3 of 5, as I started to get used to the sights.  No rear sight.  A small fiber optic dot front sight like this.  Not bad out of an 18" barrel; I could get get used to these.  Oh, and the "measles" are from a few rounds of Wally World bird shot from that box in the foreground. 
(Mrs. Graybeard insisted on the clown nose)

You know, every time we go shooting, I always leave with a smile on my face and saying, "That was fun!  We should do this more often."



Friday, October 24, 2014

'tis The Season

Not that season, the Halloween season.

I can't say I'm much of a Halloween freak, like the guys down the block with spiderwebs, ghosts, and all sorts of things in front of their house.  I didn't even know they had Halloween lights to hang outside!  Obviously, I can't say I pay much attention to it at all.  If some adults want to dress up funny once a year, who am I to object?  I have to admit, dressing up your preschool-age daughters as little prostit-tots fills the air over my head with Looney Tunes-style question marks, but if an adult wants to dress the part for a party, that's entirely different. 

To me, a highlight of the season is that I get to see the fresh work from Jon Neill at the Neill Studios.  Without a doubt, year in and year out, he carves the most amazing pumpkins I get to see.
If you’ve never given any thought to where your Halloween pumpkin carving skills might take you, you might not have heard of Jon Neill, a famous sculptor and pumpkin carving master who creates some of the best Halloween pumpkin carvings we’ve ever seen.

Neill, who is now a member of the Laguna College of Art and Design, began his career in movies as an artist for clients like Michael Jackson, Jurassic Park, and Universal Studios.
Neill does some amazing work.  Take this one, which is kind of plain for Jon:
There's a video of him carving one of his scarier looking pumpkins here.  Jon's work is a highlight of the year.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Note In Passing

I note in passing that it's turning into fall for most of the country.  Well, it's turning into fall here, too, but you'd never notice it.  Fall just means the humidity is a bit lower, and it's not fully Crematoria.  It's averaging low to mid 70s at daybreak to mid 80s for the high.  We've had a couple of days where the low approached 60, but nothing you'd consider a "chill". 

And I note that the outdoors shops are running a flannel sale.  If we have a "flannel season" in the Silicon Swamp, it's a week or two in January but probably not two consecutive weeks.  I think there have been stretches of maybe a full five days where it was called for.  I have a flannel chamois shirt I bought a few years ago; I'd be surprised if I've worn it 5 days. 

Meanwhile, since I was overcome with some busy today, my favorite cartoon of the week:
 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Remember the Biolite Kickstarter? Did You Buy In?

Back in Mid-June, I did a post about a Kickstarter campaign I found for a Biolite BaseCamp stove.  I took the bait and bought one, knowing I wouldn't get it until late September or early October.

Well, it's here, and so far I'm underwhelmed.

The attraction of the Biolite stove isn't that it's a nice little woodburning stove to cook on - I have at least two of those - the attraction is that it has a thermoelectric generator that will charge things you would charge with a USB charger: 5V at 1A.  The stove has a little panel on it with status LEDs that tell you the charge state on its internal 5V 2.2 AH battery, and the intensity of your fire.  This is the only picture of it I could find (and didn't think to take my own).  (Biolite photo you can see lots of other pictures of it at their place.)
The battery status is on the left (four LEDs) while the fire is a 2 LED fire.  My issue is that I've never been able to charge the internal battery and get it to go past the second LED.  We've run the thing more than three hours spread over two occasions and have yet to see the internal battery charge.   Most of that time, I've run it at fire levels I'd never want to grill on.  We've connected the charger to an iPhone and a Kindle and neither one charged.  The charger would only turn on briefly, when the battery was at the second LED, then turn back off. 

My impression is that it's defective and I've initiated contact with their Customer Support folks, who asked for some more details. 

Did any of you guys also get in on this kickstarter?  If so, is yours working better than mine?  If there's interest, I'll let you know what's up with it. 

 

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Three Gun Meme

I don't know about y'all, but I found the discussion of grail guns on Borepatch's place to be an interesting diversion.  I didn't really start out having a grail gun, just a handful of guns I'd like to shoot, but there was a lot for my imagination there.  I'd like to shoot a Barret M82A1, but I'd also like to try an Armalite AR-30A1 in .338 Lapua Magnum, and a high zoot Palma rifle (.308) like the one at the bottom of this page.  Since those are current production guns, I guess I just don't dream big enough. 

This meme came from Cheaper than Dirt over the weekend.  If you could only have three guns and 300 rounds of ammo for each one, which ones would they be?  Their staff roundly chose a Glock 19 in 9mm, an AR-15 and then the pattern got a little spread going.  Of course, my reaction was to ask what the scenario is: is this for urban survival, an African hunting trip, or just what?  Is that 300 rounds for each forever?  No such information was given.  So here's my take on it.  None of these are grail guns; they're pretty ordinary.

  • Handgun: a Springfield XD Subcompact in 9mm.  Figure in the wide availability of 9 mm and it's a natural.  This is Springfield Armory's equivalent of the G19, but it fits my hands better.  For me, it's a natural shooter.  Conceptually, it's a "ho-hum".  Same as most of their staff. 
  • All purpose:  Mossberg 500 and a couple of barrels.  A longer barrel for hunting and a shorter one for self-defense or "social work".  My 300 shells would need to include some rifled slugs as well as buckshot and birdshot, say 50 slugs, 100 buckshot, and 150 assorted bird shot.  Again, a ho-hum.  Several staff chose 12 ga. pump guns, but they all went with Remingtons. 
  • Rifle: Remington 700 in .30-06 or .308.  This was tough one for me.  AR or bolt action?  I like my ARs, but I went with the bolt action thinking of the Scout Rifle concept, a rifle equally adept at hunting and as a battle rifle, capable of taking down pretty much any North American predator, four or two legged.  
My 30 year old Remington 700 in .30-06, as currently modified.



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Watching the Markets and Twitching

Me twitching?  No, no, no.  But many people are.

Bill Bonner's free newsletter opened the other day with the subject, "The Most Dangerous Market Since 2008" - and this was early Thursday before the market recovered slightly on Friday.  But a single day or week doesn't make a bull market, no matter how bad it looked.  The problem is that the Federal Reserve Bank is running the market by supplying virtually unlimited amounts of money to the TBTF (Too Big To Fail) banks, who get it first.  The US stock market is absurdly over priced!  As Bonner says:
First, as we have been warning in these pages, it is overpriced. Ned Davis Research puts the Shiller P/E or CAPE (cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio) of the US market at 23 – well over our limit of 20. Mebane Faber calculates it differently, and comes up with 25. Robert Shiller, who popularized the metric, puts it at just over 24.

By way of comparison, that makes US stocks about twice as expensive as shares in Britain. The CAPE for the British stock market is about 12.

And compared to Russia, US stocks are four to five times more expensive, per dollar of cyclically adjusted earnings. The Russian stock market trades on a CAPE of just 5.
Sell US, buy Russia?  If you're chasing yield, it may not be a bad idea.  Since the flow of the really big money is what moves the market, it's worth looking at an index of the "Core Holdings" of these big investing corporations.  These are the ones that they rely on the most.  This chart, from the daily Stocktiming.com newsletter, shows the climb in the prices remaining in a well defined channel until about August, when it started going largely sideways.  You might remember the Dow hitting it's nominal peak (not adjusted for inflation) back in Early September. 
The drastic drop below its lower (or support) line is a red flag warning.  This was Thursday's data, so not 100% up to date, but it's unlikely Friday's rally changed it much.  So if these banks are getting out of their core holdings, where are they putting their money?  Russia?  Europe? 

From MarketWatch, we get this comment:
Facts are hard to dispute but easy to spin. Already, the Russell 2000 is in a 10% correction. Judging by history, the Dow Jones Industrial Average shouldn't be far behind. A major correction or crash would be definitive proof this market is wearing no clothes.

Failed rallies are extremely significant. Previously, whenever there were major or minor selloffs, buy-on-the-dippers would come in and change the market's direction. On a chart, you'd see a distinctive "V" pattern as buyers overwhelmed sellers. This pattern has continued for months – until recently.

On the market's worst days, the Fed would conveniently appear with a new QE program or a promise to keep interest rates low for a considerable time (that's getting old). Soon, though, these bandages will not work. Failed rallies mean the party is almost over and a bear market is getting closer (and may even have arrived).
Is this a bear market or just a correction?  It's only down around 7%.  It has been argued (and reported here) that we're well overdue for a big correction.  A target DJIA number tossed around is 6000, which can be seen on the charts at that post, and that would mean the market goes down by over 60%.   Blood in the streets.

Scared of the market?  I am.  But what's the alternative?  Bonds?  From Zerohedge:
  •   IRELAND SELLS 10-YEAR BONDS AT RECORD-LOW YIELD OF 1.63%
  •   GERMAN 10-YEAR BUNDS RISE; YIELD FALLS 2 BASIS POINTS TO 0.88%
  •   DUTCH 10-YEAR GOVERNMENT BOND YIELD DROPS TO RECORD-LOW 1.021%
  •   PORTUGUESE 10-YEAR BOND YIELD DROPS TO RECORD-LOW 2.942%
  •   FRENCH 10-YEAR GOVERNMENT BOND YIELDS DROP TO RECORD-LOW 1.214%
  •   U.S. 10-YEAR NOTE YIELD DROPS TO 2.296%, LOWEST SINCE JUNE 2013
  •   SPANISH 10-YEAR BOND YIELD DROPS TO RECORD-LOW 2.038%
  •   FINNISH 10-YEAR YIELD DROPS TO 1% FOR FIRST TIME ON RECORD
Anyone who would be buying government bonds denominated in dollars from a central bank committed to devaluing that currency needs to have their head examined - but that's what's happening.  In the last month, two of the last remaining inflation hawks in the Federal Reserve governing committee have retired (or been drummed out).  Janet Yellen now has nobody trying to tie her hands back except herself.  While these two governors had been arguing to continue tapering the Quantitative Easing (money creation) at $10 Billion per month, the board voted to reduce the tapering to $5 Billion/month.  In plainer English, they're not arguing to not create money out of thin air, they're arguing to create $10 billion less per month, and that's too radical for the Fed!  In fact, there are those on the Fed who think we need to drop interest rates even further, and since they're essentially zero, that means more QE. 

So here we are in the mildest of corrections (if that's what this is) and already Fed member James Bullard (head of the St. Louis bank) said we need to extend QE.  QE4?  And that's what propped the market back up on Friday.

Tell me the Fed doesn't completely own the US market.  

Time will tell if this was a minor burp in the market due to concerns over Europe or Ebola or "... an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato..."(to quote Scrooge), or if it's the beginning of the snap back that the market patterns predict.  Jim Rogers, who's a pretty good investor appears to think it's the snap back.  He says, "It's time to sell everything and run for your lives". 

(Usual disclaimer: I'm just some dood on the intertubes with a blog; if you're listening to me for financial advise, you're really stoopid).


Saturday, October 18, 2014

"You Never Want to Let a Crisis Go To Waste" - Ebola Edition

Everyone knows the Rahm Emmanuel quote, and I'm sure it popped into everyone's heads with the lunatic fringe left saying Ebola is all the Republicans' fault because if they just let us have a surgeon general, this wouldn't happen.  Along with all the usual suspects (cough... CNN... cough MSNBC) chiming in chorus. The president, showing his usual approach, nominated an "Ebola czar" without a medical background, and no relevant experience: Ron Klain, whose only experience has been political, having been Chief of Staff to both Joe Biden and Al Gore.  Yeah, that's some qualifications right there. Plus, we're treated to the head of the NIH saying if those mean old Republicans hadn't cut his funding, why he'd have had an Ebola vaccine on the shelf and ready to use.  Riiiiiigghht.

There's a lot wrong about this stuff; in fact there's absolutely nothing right in any of that.

Let's start at the top.  Yo!  CNN, in answer to your "We need a surgeon general right now" piece.  We already have a surgeon general right freaking now.  Meet Acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H.  RADM Dr. Lushniak served as Deputy Surgeon General from November 2010, until July 17, 2013, when he assumed the duties of Acting Surgeon General.  RADM Lushniak started working in the National Health system in 1983, right after getting his M.D degree and about the time controversial Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy was going into first grade (Murthy was born in 1977).  To say RADM Dr. Lushniak has much more experience than Murthy is a gross understatement; he has been an MD pretty much as long as Murthy has been capable of organized thought. 

The problems with Murthy, though, only start with him being too young.  First, he hasn't really done anything noteworthy in his career (my interpretation of his background here);  he's just not distinguished enough to be Surgeon General at 37.  There's no "Murthy procedure" known by surgeons far and wide; there's no "Murthy test" that internists use to diagnose something.  He was never "Dean Murthy" of Prestigious Medical School (or Ordinary Medical School); he was never department head of any hospital, or chief surgeon or chief anything.  With the exception of being a little too far to the "Quackademic" side of medicine, he comes across as really ordinary.  He doesn't appear (to me) any more qualified than my own Family Practitioner to be Surgeon General, and probably not more qualified than my cat's veterinarian.

Murthy's really big problem is that he started down the "guns are a public health menace" rabbit trail and keeps pushing it.  That, naturally (and thankfully) got the NRA, the NAGR, and everybody else on our side against him.  Which, as night follows day, turns the narrative into "that nasty old NRA is getting another godlike Obama appointee blocked!", and "those evil Tea Party zealots like Rand Paul are keeping us from having a surgeon general!" - totally ignorant of the fact that we have a surgeon general.

So how does a rather ordinary guy like Murthy  get picked to be nominated at all?  Of course it's a trick question!  This is Obama: Murthy was picked for his political activity.  He was picked for starting Doctors For America, a money bundling, pro-Democrat/pro ACA group that helped lobby to get the ten pound turd of Obamacare passed!   

Which brings us to the newly-appointed Ebola czar and former chief of staff for numbnuts Biden and "even numb-er nuts" Gore.  Because we absolutely need an Ebola czar.

Guess what?  We already have an Ebola czar, too!

Not ten years ago, the federal government created and funded a brand new office in the Health and Human Services Department specifically to coordinate preparation for and response to public health threats like Ebola. The head of that department is Dr. Nicole Lurie, who is still very much on the job - despite the fact that no one has mentioned her, no one has interviewed her and no one has brought her forward as the doctor in charge of the "emerging diseases branch" of the NIH.
As National Journal rather glowingly puts it, “Lurie’s job is to plan for the unthinkable. A global flu pandemic? She has a plan. A bioterror attack? She’s on it. Massive earthquake? Yep. Her responsibilities as assistant secretary span public health, global health, and homeland security.” A profile of Lurie quoted her as saying, “I have responsibility for getting the nation prepared for public health emergencies—whether naturally occurring disasters or man-made, as well as for helping it respond and recover. It’s a pretty significant undertaking.” Still another refers to her as “the highest-ranking federal official in charge of preparing the nation to face such health crises as earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and pandemic influenza.”
So why doesn't everybody know about Dr. Lurie?  You'll have to ask Obama about that.  Maybe his Top Men don't even know her office exists.  And maybe it has to do with corruption her office has been involved with (this is the Obama administration, after all):
There are a few interesting things about the scandal Lurie was embroiled in years ago. You can—and should—read all about it in the Los Angeles Times‘ excellent front-page expose from November 2011, headlined: “Cost, need questioned in $433-million smallpox drug deal: A company controlled by a longtime political donor gets a no-bid contract to supply an experimental remedy for a threat that may not exist.” This Forbes piece is also interesting.

The donor is billionaire Ron Perelman, who was controlling shareholder of Siga. He’s a huge Democratic donor but he also gets Republicans to play for his team, of course. Siga was under scrutiny even back in October 2010 when The Huffington Post reported that it had named labor leader Andy Stern to its board and “compensated him with stock options that would become dramatically more valuable if the company managed to win the contract it sought with HHS—an agency where Stern has deep connections, having helped lead the year-plus fight for health care reform as then head of the Service Employees International Union.”

The award was controversial from almost every angle—including disputes about need, efficacy, and extremely high costs. There were also complaints about awarding a company of its size and structure a small business award as well as the negotiations involved in granting the award. It was so controversial that even Democrats in tight election races were calling for investigations.

Last month, Siga filed for bankruptcy after it was found liable for breaching a licensing contract. The drug it’s been trying to develop, which was projected to have limited utility, has not really panned out—yet the feds have continued to give valuable funds to the company even though the law would permit them to recoup some of their costs or to simply stop any further funding.

The Los Angeles Times revealed that, during the fight over the grant, Lurie wrote to Siga’s chief executive, Dr. Eric A. Rose, to tell him that someone new would be taking over the negotiations with the company. She wrote, “I trust this will be satisfactory to you.” Later she denied that she’d had any contact with Rose regarding the contract, saying such contact would have been inappropriate.
So, let's review:  we don't need a surgeon general right now because we have one in the job.  The current nominee isn't being held up because "rethuglicans are mean", it's because he's not really qualified.  We don't need a new Ebola czar because we have one already, and while the one we have is only marginally qualified (largely by her experience), the one Obama nominated is completely unqualified.

The other big lie you hear now is that the NIH is underfunded.  This is the quote you'll come across:
“Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”- Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The slide, such that there is one, is caused entirely by the inflation the government is trying to create (through the Federal Reserve's QE).  I read that the NIH’s budget has increased from $29 billion in 2007 to $30 billion this year, which we'll call a cut because of the inflation caused by the Fed.  But that's overlooking an important fact:  vaccines don't just happen;  you don't just pour federal dollars in a blender and out pops a vaccine.  It's difficult, slow work.  In the last decade, the NIH has prioritized other diseases, principally AIDS, over Ebola; it's only natural when all the Ebola outbreaks in history have killed 1/1000 of the number killed by AIDS in 2012.  If you don't have infinite resources (which you never have) do you go after the big killer or the little one?  And don't forget all the insane stuff NIH has spent their money on:
  • $702,558 grant for the study of the impact of televisions and gas generators on villages in Vietnam.
  • $175,587 to the University of Kentucky to study the impact of cocaine on the sex drive of Japanese quail.
  • $55,382 to study hookah smoking in Jordan.
  • $592,527 to study why chimpanzees throw objects.
  • Last year there were news reports about a $509,840 grant from NIH to pay for a study that will send text messages in “gay lingo” to meth-heads.
  • And who can forget the money spent on the study of why lesbians tend to be fatter than gay men
It looks like the NIH isn't underfunded so much as they're really poorly managed.

But looking at that list, does anybody else get the impression the NIH is full of fat, older lesbians having problems with hot flashes? 



On This Day In History - October 18. 1954

Texas Instruments announced the Regency TR-1, the first commercial consumer transistor radio.

Today, transistors that would be used in an AM radio are silicon, but in the early 1950s (and for another 15 to 20 years) another element, germanium was used in making most transistors.  TI had been making germanium transistors but the market had been slow to respond, comfortable with vacuum tubes.  A vacuum tube portable radio was a large thing to lug around.  The typical portable tube radio of the 1950s was about the size and weight of a lunchbox, and was powered by several heavy, non-rechargeable batteries. A transistor radio could fit in a pocket, weigh half a pound, and be powered by a single, small, 9V battery.
With these pros in mind, TI’s executive vice president Pat Haggerty “decided that the electronics industry needed a transistor wake-up call and that a small radio would provide it,” according to TI’s Web site

TI started down the path to the TR-1 in the spring of 1954.  Although they had made transistors for a few years, individual transistors were hand made(!) and radios made with them frequently needed manually selected parts, due to the varying parameters in the production transistors.  TI partnered with Regency Electronics, where engineer Richard Koch developed a feedback circuit that accommodated the variation in the transistors.  With this circuit, it was possible to open the floodgates of manufacturing, stuffing printed wiring boards with miniature parts to make the pocket-sized receiver.

The new transistor radio would be introduced in New York and Los Angeles by mid-October to take advantage of holiday sales. The 5×3×1¼-inch radio used four TI transistors and a TI subminiature output transformer.  When it went on sale on November 1, the Regency TR-1 cost $49.95. Although its price was high in terms of 1950s dollars, nearly 100,000 of the pocket radios were sold in a year.

Transistor radios were more than a new market, they became a cultural icon and gave rise to much of the music-centered culture of the 50s and 60s, from Elvis to the Beach Party movies of the late 50s/early 60s to the Beatles, the Beach Boys and beyond.  It has been estimated that over seven billion transistor radios have been manufactured.  


Friday, October 17, 2014

Ham Radio - Antennas 2

This started out in comments to previous comments, but I pretty quickly ran out of space in the comments form.

Multiband vertical antennas are common good compromise, but they have a reputation for being noisier than horizontal antennas.  It's true because electrical fields have to intersect the ground at 90 degrees, making the fields from noise sources become vertically polarized near the ground. They are ideal for tiny yards, though, since they take up little horizontal space.  A true 1/4 wave vertical is close to 35 ohms impedance, and requires another quarter wave worth of wire extending out from its base to create the "ground plane" the radiating part works against.  A lot of effort has gone into making "no ground radials needed" verticals.  I had one.  It worked, but my replacement antenna with ground radials has worked better.  

Wheelgun commented "I have considered buying one of the All-in-one verticals. Hygain, and MFJ (or whatever part of MFJ) and a few others sell them. Just not sure I trust the reviews or not."  I understand.  My first antenna in 1976 (the Novice class had privileges only on 80, 40, 15 and 10m) was a Gotham vertical (a good honest critique).  These were advertised in QST as "all band, 80 to 6 meters".  What they were was about 20' of aluminum tube with poor joints and a B&W Miniductor at the base.  The hidden problem is that as the antenna went from being too short to too long when you used it above 40 meters, the loading element needed to switch from a coil to a capacitor.

It was essentially useless as sold, being as much an "all band, 80 to 6 meters" antenna as any other 20 feet of tubing from the hardware store.  After I fixed the joints and changed it from a segmented arch to actually being vertical, I used it as a support for wires on 15 and then 10m.  

So while I know from friends that the Cushcraft R8 is a good multiband vertical, I'm still concerned about ads vs. reality.  I've owned a GAP Titan, and they really are good on the rated bands.  My current 80 to 30m antenna is a Cushcraft MA8040V.  I was scratch designing an antenna for 80 and stumbled across this one, which looked so much like my design, with 40m added, that it was almost a kit for my design.  Another standby for small spaces is the 5BTV (5 Band Trapped Vertical) by Hustler and its 6 Band sibling.  In short, HyGain, Cushcraft, GAP, or Butternut (and probably more) all produce good antennas I'd trust.  I also echo Weetabix' comment that eHam or other review sites (including the ARRL) should be in your reading.

Making antennas isn't hard.  Measuring their performance can be pulling-your-hair-out hard because they interact so strongly with the environment - it's their job!  (Which I tend to believe is what's behind the Crossed Field Antenna's mixed history).  It's especially hard below VHF frequencies because of the sizes of everything needed. Simply getting a list of what someone worked is pretty useless; any antenna might work anyplace if the conditions are good.  The best way to evaluate an antenna without a lot of test equipment is to A/B switch it vs. a standard; pretty prohibitive in cost and area to do at home.  If you can switch antennas during a contact you can quickly see if one works better; if you take the old one down and use the new one, you can't get that immediate comparison.   

BTW, Wheelgun, you also commented on Software Defined Radios for HF.   The Flex 6000 series is an almost identical block diagram to one I did a few years ago (and published).  Unless they did something really stupid, that will outperform any conventional radio around.  

NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave) is a local HF mode created by forcing the fields from the antenna up by running the wires close to the ground.  I've seen articles on field expedient antennas simply say to mount the antenna a foot or so above the ground.  The permanent or semi-permanent installations say to mount it between 1/8 and 1/4 wave up, and some say to use a wire director under the radiating dipole, like a beam would use.  Any horizontal antenna mounted close to the ground has a significant high angle radiation. NVIS systems optimize this.  

Weetabix, it sounds like you've got it made.  You just need to hoist the center of that "Maple Leaf Mini" up on a TV mast or something to get it up in the air.  Shoot for 1/8 wave or higher on the lowest frequency of interest, and don't be afraid if it's not perfectly straight and level.  You can drape the ends down, or slope the whole antenna down.   I ran a 15m dipole sloper off the eaves of my house in the late '70s for a while.  It got me contacts until I could put up a better antenna.
Any antenna put outside like this will outperform one left in its box. Guaranteed.  It's also pretty stealthy; the only thing conspicuous is the coax running to it, which can be the small RG-58 if you're running 100W. 

My current antennas are the MA8040V vertical (with radials) for 80, 40 and 30.  For 20 to 10, I have a Tennadyne T6 Log Periodic and for 6m, a small log periodic called a KMA5054 which also works well on 2m and puts out something on 432 - KMA Antennas seems to be out of business.  The two LPDAs are mounted on a short Aluma tower - which used to be called something like a "ham's special".  It cranks over with a steel post and boat winch rig  which I designed myself.  The T6 is at tower top height, about 25', and the KMA is at the top of the mast, about 30'.  This is a pretty low end station, but represents itself pretty well. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ham Radio - Antennas

Thanks to some comments on my Monday post, I got thinking about collecting some thoughts on antennas.  I've been a ham since 1976 and an RF (radio frequency) engineer (but not an antenna designer) since 1986, and along the way have used various antennas, both full size and smaller.  I hope this is useful.  For lots more about antennas than you can imagine, the ARRL Antenna Book is the standard ham's book. 

Let's start at the beginning: why do you need to care about antennas?  We're surrounded by radios that don't seem to care what we use.  An FM radio with a whip antenna doesn't seem to care if the whip is fully extended or not, and a lot of folks will clip or twist a wire onto the end of it to try and get more distant stations.  If you're old enough, you remember putting aluminum foil flags on your rabbit ears - the TV antenna.  Our smartphones or cellphones are radios, and they don't have bulky obvious antennas (at least, not anymore). 

It's the difference between receiving and transmitting.  Transmitting is about getting power out over the air over to a receiver.   A receiver cares about getting something into the first amplifier it can amplify.  In the case of your car radio, an AM broadcast radio or that FM radio, just getting some voltage is all it needs, and almost paradoxically, they don't need power, just voltage.  Those radios are designed with antennas as voltage probes to get a small amount of voltage (millionths of a volt will do) out of that miniscule radio frequency power going by. To get the most power out of a transmitter, antennas need to have the same impedance the transmitter was designed for, and just about all transmitters are designed for 50 ohm antennas.

The problem with saying you want a 50 ohm antenna is that they're only 50 ohms at one frequency, and you probably want to transmit in many places.  The reference 50 ohm antenna is a half-wavelength long dipole, usually made of wires.  (In theory, they're closer to 75 ohms, but in our environments  and the way we usually mount them, that value comes down.)  The length of a half wave dipole in feet is 468/f with f = frequency in MHz.  If you want a 40m dipole, then it's 468/7 or around 66 feet tip to tip.  You can do that for the 40m SSB and find a shorter antenna, so the procedure is to cut it for the part of the band you want.  You can also make a shorter antenna and tune it on frequency with electrical components. 

All of which doesn't answer the question of how you'd transmit on any HF ham band with one antenna. The most direct answer is either an antenna with empirically found dimensions - I've heard good things about the "Carolina Windom" - or a simpler design with an antenna tuning unit. 

I've personally used an off-center fed dipole with a 4:1 transformer in it for years, and the tuner built-in to my HF rigs (I think all Icoms with a tuner use the same basic design) allows it to cover the entire HF spectrum and even up to 6m.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this approach.  My 40m OFCD is 66 feet of wire, but instead of being attached to the transmitter in the exact middle, 33' and 33', it's fed at half of 33' (16'6") from one end, so that the long side is 49'6" long.  (Don't get hung up over exact dimensions: 17 and 49 will work just as well).  The feedpoint was hung from the side of my tower at about 18' up, and each end tied off after sloping down toward the ground.  Impedances ranged from 4 ohms on 80m up to over 100 ohms on 6m; the rig was perfectly happy tuning it and running full power.  An antenna analyzer plot of impedance magnitude, angle and SWR looks like this.  Ain't nothing 50 ohms about this antenna!  I've had literally hundreds (thousands?) of contacts with this antenna, including some pretty exotic DX on 40 and 30m. 
On a road trip playing QRP portable, I made a 17m dipole (18.1 MHz), about 12 1/2 feet on a side, and with an LDG Z-11 autotuner, I was able to operate all HF bands.  Even smaller than the home OCFD for easy packing.  I'm sure if you cut a dipole for a lower frequency it would work just as well for you with an autotuner. 

The ARRL has plans for a parallel set of dipoles which works well on the "old" ham bands, 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10, due to their harmonic relationships.  A set of wires cut for 40, 20 and 10 will work on 40, 20, 15, and 10.  I ran one of those for a year while in a rental apartment, the midpoint held up by a TV antenna pole (15'? 20?) and the ends drooping off to the ground. I was shocked at how well that worked. 

Of course, there are lots of commercial options and while I've emphasized antennas I've built, you can pay someone to make the wire antennas for you.  I've bought some baluns so I'm not A/R about doing everything myself.  The point is not to over complicate things.  These simple, wire antennas will usually work very well if you get them in the clear. 


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Will New Cars Have Radios in 2020?

According to the electronics trade magazine website Planet Analog, there's talk in the industry that cars may not have AM or FM radios in the not-too-distant future. 
These are difficult times for the commercial broadcast-radio business, both AM and FM. According to various articles, such as this one from The Los Angeles Times, listener ratings are continuing to fall, and some carmakers -- where most radio listening is done, apparently -- are considering eliminating radios in the car completely, and not even offering it as an available option. Today’s drivers don’t need old-time radio (a.k.a. "terrestrial radio") for music, weather, traffic, news, or whatever, as they have smartphone connectivity, MP3 players, satellite radio, and much more.
The linked LA Times article about format changes at KFWB AM in El Lay talks about dwindling numbers of listeners for AM radio.  It includes this line:
KFWB has been particularly hard hit as listeners have abandoned AM radio at a steady rate.

The station drew 172,000 listeners a week in July, a small sum considering that it broadcasts to a region that has millions of potential listeners. Top-rated music station KBIG-FM (104.3) pulled in nearly 3.5 million during the same time frame.
The Wall St. Journal, though, presents this graph of what audio sources car owners are using:
Survey respondents still said they tended to get their new music from AM/FM radio.  Some 75% say they listen to the radio to stay up to date, while 66% get new music from friends and family. YouTube and Pandora come in third and fourth with 59% and 48%, respectively.  That varied with age, though.  Younger people are more likely to use digital sources. YouTube takes the top spot among 12-24 year olds, with 83% using the site to keep up with new music. Friends/Family and Pandora are tied for the second spot with 71%.  But even among young people, 65% still use radio to stay up to date.

Buried in all that data is a statistic that surely has an effect on all this.  The average age of cars on the road is 11.4 years - the oldest ever.  That was in the infancy of digital music.  The iPhone has only been around for about seven years, with the first Android phones hitting the market six years ago.  MP3 players existed then, but services like Pandora, I Heart Radio, and other streaming audio services didn't exist.  What else are you going to listen to in a car that doesn't have the most modern services?  Someone did this image depicting the change in car radios we're talking about: 

Like all good humor, there's a kernel of truth in there.

Personally, I find it hard to imagine not having radio services in the car, but I've been a radio geek since I was a tiny kid.  One of my earliest memories is sitting with a cousin on the sand of Miami Beach at night listening to this marvelous thing he had called a short wave radio.  I don't even remember how old I was, just that I was old enough to know that England was a long way away and hearing the BBC was magical.  Years later, in 5th or 6th grade, my parents got me a clock radio so that they didn't have to wake me up for school.  I learned that if you tuned carefully across the AM dial, you'd hear stations from far away.  WABC in New York City or WCKY in Cincinnati?  Easy catches any winter night when the thunderstorms were gone.

I had Sirius satellite radio for a while but when most of your driving is 15 minute commutes, it doesn't make much sense.  On long trips lately, I've just plugged my phone into that aux jack and a USB charger, listening to streaming radio.  It's music or programming I want to listen to, but it doesn't have the local flavor of the local stations; the local talk show that discusses the goings on around town.  Homogenizing the country so that everyone listens to same programs is great, to a point, and there are FCC appointees (at least one) dedicated to killing off local broadcasting; the better to quell dissent with.   We still live in our communities, and local stations can reflect that.  

What do you think?  Is local broadcasting so dead that car makers shouldn't even provide the radio as an option? 


Monday, October 13, 2014

Weekend Find

Saturday was the annual hamfest here in the Silicon Swamp.  I report on hamfests regularly because Mrs. Graybeard and I go to a couple regularly.  Not every one within a few hundred miles, but a couple.  For those unfamiliar with the term, a hamfest is a generally a swap meet with a lot of other interactions - a place where hams meet in person, catch up with old friends, share new stories and just be social.  Some fests have a full schedule of meetings and technical talks; some are simple swap meets.  Amateur radio is a social hobby, by and large, and is full of guys who can talk for hours on many things.  The granddaddy fest is held every year in Dayton, Ohio, the Hamvention.  If you're a ham, you should go to Dayton at least once.

For the first time in several years, I found something I wanted to take home.  A radio called an Icom IC-703 in a complete station.  Here's the illustration from their brochure. 
The '703 is not currently in production, but I consider it a good SHTF radio, and it frequently gets mentioned in places like Arfcom.  It covers all of the HF ham bands from 1.8 to 30 MHz and the 50 MHz 6 meter band.  The radio I found came with that microphone and backpack you see, along with too much to list.  It included the 9.6V BP-288 NiCad battery pack Icom sold for the radio.  The radio is a low power (also called QRP) transmitter, 5W off that 9.6V battery, but 10W off a car battery (or my 35 AH AGM battery from my solar panel).  It didn't come with that antenna, though! 

The Icom specifications page shows the transmit current draw to be 2 amps with unsquelched audio from the receiver around 350 to 400 mA.  Most commercial radios are rated for about 20% transmit, which would equate to 0.72 Amps average (20% 2 and 80% of 0.4).  That 9.6V battery pack's 2800 mAH will power around 4 hours of operation at that current drain.  My 35AH battery will power it for over 38 hours (and it will transmit at twice the power output). 

The radio was in excellent shape, the subject of an estate sale.  The ex-owner's widow was selling it and said she thought he had never used it.  Regardless if that's true, it looks mint and had virtually everything that comes with the new radio along with a good assortment of accessories.  I had it on the air long enough to verify the major functions are working.  The antenna tuner was happy with my antennas (it should be: they're all full-sized, good antennas), the DSP worked, it had an optional narrow filter for CW (Morse code) operation, and an hour of poking around with it showed no problems. 



Sunday, October 12, 2014

Taking "Business Class" To Absurd Levels of Opulence

When Airbus announced the A380, my first thought was that it was going to be a cattle car.  A double decker aircraft with a capacity between 525 and 853, depending on version, it just seems like the emphasis was reducing passenger cost per mile. You'll want to moo while boarding. 

It turns out that with all that space, some airlines thought there was a market for business class that went beyond the generous business class ordinarily available to new levels of opulence and decadence.  Singapore Airlines introduced their Suites Class in 2008 for their flagship A380 service.  They go beyond the "pods" that US airlines feature (I've seen Delta's) which offer a seat that reclines into a flat bed all the way to private cabins with sliding doors and a level of luxury that blows my mind.

A young guy named Derek Low was somehow able to do a photo shoot of a flight in Suites class from Singapore to New York and posted his photo blog here.  He calls it "What It's Like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class". 
This is a whole 'nother world from anything I've ever seen or experienced.  Unless you're extraordinarily wealthy, you probably haven't either.  But interesting to see. 


Saturday, October 11, 2014

We Have Chips

Made the almost-ceremonial first cut with my mill today; deliberately chosen to be something I never would have tried on my CNC Sherline:  0.2 deep slot across a 1" steel bar.  12L14 or Ledloy for you cognoscenti ;-)
The mill did just fine.  I, on the other hand, did less than 100%.  I hadn't tightened down the vise holding that bar all the way and had some rude shaking.  Nothing that slowing down didn't fix. 

In this past week, I've gotten some familiarity with the machine, evaluated it somewhat and made some measurements of run-out on an end mill in a collet and on a couple of drill chucks.  The 3/8 end mill had less than .001"; that is, a dial indicator contacting the part doesn't change by more than .001 as the cutting tool's shaft rotates once.  The drill chuck, advertised as .004, showed .009.  The R8 adapter arbor it was on had less than .001.  I emailed the seller, Little Machine Shop, on Wednesday and had the replacement via Priority Mail today.  This one comes in at .004.  (Yeah, that's an endorsement.  They treated me well and I'll keep going back to them.  FTC - they don't give me anything.  I buy it).  By the way, the Grizzly chuck that comes with the mill had almost .015 run-out.  Maybe that's acceptable for a drill chuck.  Precision machinists don't use drill bits except for very rough operations.  But I prefer the .004" run-out. 


Friday, October 10, 2014

Stupid iPad ... Stupid Apple

Just a gripe.  Like most owners, I went to OS8.02 last week when Apple released it.  Since then, my iPad has awful WiFi performance.   If I reboot, my first attempt to use the internet works fine.  The next attempt is slower, and the third or fourth is so slow I give up.  I tried to load Bayou Renaissance Man and gave up after two minutes with no movement of the progress bar at all. 

Rebooting after every attempt to read a page is the only thing that works, and that's no way to live. 

The user community is filled with people complaining about this.  I restored my iPad to factory settings and then reloaded my backup with no success.  Right now I'm restoring it to factory new, and install everything manually. 

Meanwhile, a cartoon that tickled my funny bone. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Things Are Turning Nasty in Texas

The death of Liberian Ebola victim and border crasher Thomas Duncan isn't the nasty turn - that was pretty much expected with a disease that has death rates as high as Ebola does - the nasty turn is that Sheriff's Deputy Michael Monnig is being hospitalized with symptoms consistent with Ebola.

As soon as I heard the story of how Duncan was treated in the ER - being sent home and going back days later when he was bleeding out - I started doing the multiplication in my head.  Everyone in the ER when he was admitted is at risk.  Everyone in the ambulance that carried him to the hospital.  Everyone who rode in that ambulance with that crew or any other crew is at risk.  Add to those all the people who went through the ER or the public areas of his apartment building until (if?) they fumigated with chlorine.  Those family members under armed quarantine?  Chances are they're dead already, they just don't know it.  Deputy Monnig was there for a short time.  The family was in close contact for days, before being evacuated to the luxury place they're staying.  From there, the chances are harder to figure.  What about people who were in contact with people who were in the ambulance?  It's hard to know

It appears that this virus is transmitting faster and easier than the authorities are saying it will/should/ordinarily does.  No one quite knows how they get a virus, after all, but the spread in Spain is perplexing the experts.   Deputy Monnig's son said, “He was in the apartment for 30 minutes, which we were told is no chance to contact the virus”.  Reports out of Spain are saying people who were around the first nurse, Teresa Romero Ramos, are now showing symptoms.

In response to my light hearted cartoon post Monday, an anonymous commenter left this (minor edits, so errors are mine):
Here is the imminent threat: Ebola or some other disease will spread. It will get to Mexico and the rest of Central America. Their health care is inadequate for the challenge and the disease will be certain death if you catch it. They will choose the only logical choice and head North where health care is exceptional and "free". As such they will be considered "refugees" and our laws are so mucked up that we will be forced to allow them in. Our once outstanding and capable healthcare system will be over run and become ineffective. Millions may die. [make that will die - SiG]

A few months ago this would seem unlikely. Today it is more likely then not. Consider how our government choose to respond to Ebola and people coming here from West Africa. The system doesn't work. They will only take the correct steps to save Americans AFTER a lot of Americans die and after the disease is established here. They tell you "we got this".  Our health care system is second to none.  But think about it.  How many health care workers does it take to manage one Ebola patient 24 hours a day 7 days a week? That number is 108. How many total beds in the entire U.S. are their for level 4 quarantine patients? less then 30. It will take less then 30 Ebola patients to overwhelm our system. After that you will be sent home and your friends and family must care for you. Then everyone who touches you or anything contaminated by you becomes sick. The progression is exponential. Does it sound unbelievable to you? Fair enough that is the nature of human nature. On Sept 10 2001 flying passenger jets into the WTC sounded unbelievable too. Sadly by the time you and the CDC and the president "believe" it then it will be too late and we will be subject to the reality of a fast spreading disease. Will it happen this time with Ebola? I don't know but it could and if we get lucky and it doesn't, what next?
Ebola burns out quickly.  If you're exposed to it, you're either dead within 30 days or you're recovering from the fight of your life.  Because of that, quarantine is possible.  It's a shame our CDC is doing exactly what Anonymous said, and is just telling us "we got this".   But in a nearly 100% incompetent administration, what would you expect?
Dr.  Gil Mobley did a one man demonstration at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport last week.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Techy Tuesday - New Fiber Optic Speed Record

It will take a while to make it down to the commercial sector, but a new world record for speed in a fiber optic link has been set. The High-Speed Optical Communications (HSOC) team at Denmark Technical University (DTU) has announced a new fiber-optic technology that transmits at 43 Terabits per second (Tbits/s) using a single laser source.  The team broke the existing 26-Tbit/s record set by researchers at Germany's Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie.

The details are a bit esoteric and I need to talk a little about how data is sent over fiber optics.  To begin with, most fiber optic lines are capable of carrying many different colors of light.  They are optically big compared to the wavelength of light, so light bounces around in there without regard to color (and optical guys always refer to wavelength, not color).  It's literally like wire; you can put many frequencies on it and they propagate down the fiber just as easily.  Electromagnetic field guys would say that the light's EM field can take on many different patterns, making it a multi-mode fiber.  In contrast, there are also single mode fibers which are more selective in what they transmit, only allowing certain frequencies.  It's intended for single wavelengths and one mode of transmission, but other wavelengths can fit in there, too.  Usually shorter wavelengths/higher frequencies; in light a green wave can fit in a red single mode fiber, or blue in green single mode fiber. 

Radio guys will note the analogy to coax and waveguide.  Multimode fibers are more like coax while single mode fibers behave more like waveguide.  The data transmission in multi-mode fiber tends toward the simpler types: on off keying; simple codes.  The data sent in single mode fiber is often more like other data communications at radio frequencies. 

What's novel about this is not just the speed, but the approach.  The DTU team used an optical fiber with seven single mode fibers in it, an idea from NTT.  One of the fiber paths was used to synchronize the other six, and each of the six carrying a 320 Giga-baud (billion baud) channels on a different color light (called Wavelength Domain Multiplexing).  The six WDM channels were then polarization-multiplexed (that is, one set of data are polarized in one direction, while the other set of data takes an opposite polarization) with each optical pulse carrying two bits of information in quadrature using the differential quad phase shift keying (DQPSK) format.

(generic artsy picture of optical fibers that don't have anything to do with this news - source

How much data is 43 Terabytes?  In the last ten years or so, someone coined the phrase Library Of Congress for large amount of data.  One LOC is 10 Terabytes or 10,000 gigabytes.  This system would transmit 4.3 LOCs in one second. At 50 GB in a Blu-Ray DVD, 43 Terabytes is 860 Blu-Ray DVDs per second.  Look at it this way, that 5 Zettabyte data center the NSA just built in Utah?  It would take 116,279,070 seconds to fill it with this data hose.  1346 days.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Isis Comes to America

Florida, Texas, Alaska or pretty much any one of the free states.  Just not California, New Jersey or those gunfree sewers like New York City or Chicago.
Really pretty simple, after all.  Chip Bok at Townhall.com


Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Global Warming Pause Reaches Voting Age

The period over which no statistical test can distinguish warming is now old enough to vote: 18 years and 1 month.  During that time CO2 levels have continued to rise.  

First, satellite temperature data:

and now the Mauna Loa CO2 levels - the ones typically used as the global sample.
It's pretty easy to see that CO2 levels have continued to climb since 1997, but the temperature has not.  

In my world, that marks two uncorrelated variables.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Mostly Done

I had said with some luck I'd have the machine in place and checked out by now.
The mill is in place, the heavy shipping grease (like cosmoline) removed and all I have left to do is do the motor checkout.  The manual describes an hour test, running the motor at 600, 1000 and 2000 RPM for 10 minutes each, forward and reverse.  It says not to leave the room. 

Everything went as planned, with really only one snag.  Assembled the crane, rolled it into the garage, lifted the mill out of the shipping crate, put it on the garden cart, rolled the mill over to near the stand, rolled the crane over to it, lifted and put it in place.

The snag was that the mill had four metric bolts of unknown size to mount it to the stand, and one of the holes in the stand wouldn't accept its bolt.  I thought it was misalignment - the threads on the bolt were boogered up and I thought it was from cross threading.  Lifted the mill again, repositioned everything and it still wouldn't thread.  Cleaned up the threads with a triangle file (I don't have metric taps and dies) - still wouldn't work.  I pulled a mounting bolt from the shipping crate, verified it was the same, and it wouldn't thread in.  Aha!  That meant the nut in the stand was the bad part!  The closest tap I had was 3/8-16.  Its threads would overlay the unknown bolt for almost half an inch.  With nothing to lose, I tried it.  Gently threaded it in a few turns past the part that wasn't smooth.  Voila, the mounting bolt now worked and I have the regulation four mounting bolts holding it down.

Not a bad day's work.  I think tomorrow we'll smoke a pork butt and make some pulled pork to celebrate. 


My Ghost Guns Are Ghostier Than Your Ghost Guns

I haven't said anything about Defense Distributed's new CNC machine Ghost Gunner.  It's cool.  By all means, check it out if you haven't.

The selling point, IMO, is the open source hardware and open source software behind this.  It claims to take the expertise out of the process and make it a turnkey operation.
Ghost Gunner is a miniature CNC machine designed to automatically manufacture publicly created designs with nearly zero user interaction. No prior CNC knowledge or experience is required to manufacture from design files. Defense Distributed's first design is the venerable AR-15 lower receiver. Ghost Gunner automatically finds and aligns your 80% lower receiver to the machine, with simple installation instructions, point and click software and all required tools. Just follow a few simple instructions to mount your 80% lower receiver, tighten a couple screws (with simple tools we provide), and on day one, Ghost Gunner can help you legally manufacture unserialized firearms in the comfort of your own home.
Finding and aligning to your part automagically is fantastic!  Further down the webpage it says that auto alignment only works on metal, but that manual alignment, for plastics, is designed to be easy, too.  But, again, it's more.  They've developed a file format, their "open source Physibles Development SDK (pDev)" files in a new '.dd' file format.  The new format contains all installation and assembly instructions, any required jig files to hold the part in place (that users can print with a 3D printer), and all machine definitions and code to physically manufacture a particular design. Slick!
A single file can contain specific code and installation instructions for any number of machines. A user with both a Ghost Gunner and a Tormach P1100 could manufacture a particular .dd file on either machine and manufacture the same physible with zero additional user knowledge, as only the instructions required for a particular machine are revealed to the end user. The .dd file format is a CNC response to 3D printing's universal .stl file format.
So don't think of this as a device for making only guns. Think of it as a new universal 3-axis CNC machine capable of making anything in its envelope.  DD promises AR-10s and 1911s will follow, but beyond that, expect users to start making files for anything useful that fits in its work envelope (~6.75 x 2.95 x 2.35").  The world of CNC opens for the non-specialist.  Plop it on the desk, and within a few minutes, it's milling a lower receiver for you.

Bob Owens at Bearing Arms says that making guns isn't really the point and the machine is expensive for that.  Using nothing more than a $70-100 drill press or even a hand drill with jigs, people have been completing perfectly functional AR-15 lower receivers since at least the 1990s.  Likewise, you can buy all the equipment necessary to build a small factory churning out AKMs (the correct name for AK-series rifles that the media continues to call AK-47s, even though the original Ak-47 series hasn’t been made since 1960) from parts kits and receiver flats for less than $700.

Bob rhetorically asks, "Is the “Ghost Gunner” worth it?"  and concludes with:
If your goal is to terrify and infuriate the agents of an ever-more-intrusive government, however, the Ghost Gunner serves its purpose well, and that is precisely the role of everything produced by Defense Distributed, which exists for the explicit purpose of ticking off all the right people.
If I knew buying this would personally tick off all the right people, I'd sign up for two!  The feeling must be widespread: Wired reports DD sold out the first level in 36 hours.  The first 10 sold for $99, the next 200 for $1199, and according to their webpage right now, they're at 97 left of the third group that sell for $1299.