Friday, February 15, 2019

Don't Call it the Green New Deal ...

Call it the Amish New Deal.  They live an agrarian, pre-industrial civilization, which is what the leftists and greenies want for us all.  True, they have too many farm animals in their lifestyle for the Democratic Socialists, but the rest of the Amish lifestyle seems like exactly what the DemSocs want.  I don't think there are any (or many) Amish vegans, but that seems what they want us all to become.

H. Payne at the Detroit News. 

I know that Evita Guevara Castro wants us to "invent technology that's never been invented yet", but getting rid of all your petroleum and nuclear power plants expecting the replacement that nobody has ever thought of to be invented and ready when you shut off the existing plants is a rather idiotic plan. 

Let me give a concrete example: high efficiency solar cells.  Because some influential "futurist" (cough) publicly said that Moore's law applies to solar cells so that they'll get better every generation, an idea has emerged that says, "the solar panels to power your house will be the size of a postage stamp in the mid '20s".  You might have heard this.  That violates the laws of thermodynamics at the very least.  The solar energy influx, called the "solar constant" is a bit over 1300 Watts per square meter.  Since square meters are bigger than square yards, and I like to have Nice Round Numbers to do mental calculations, I usually say 1000 Watts/sq yard, instead of the more realistic 1100 W/sq yard. 

A typical house is budgeted to have a 20 kW service.  That instantly tells you need 20 sq yards of solar cells; 25 kW service would require 25 sq yards, and so on.  Except that would only work if they're 100% efficient, which nothing ever is.  Assume they're 20% efficient, a conservative number to make up for times when the panels are dirty, or covered with bird crap and you find you need five times that area, 100 sq yards of solar cells.   It is physically impossible for a cell to put out more energy than it gets from the sun, so that means the smallest imaginable solar cell array to power a house would be 20 sq yards at 100% efficiency.  I stress that the 100 sq yard "budget" is the only realistic answer now.  Solar cells the size of a postage stamp delivering 20 kW - or even 1 kW - just aren't possible. 

I have no doubt that another company like a Solyndra would say they can do it to get grafted onto the Fed's infinite checkbook, but at least what the real Solyndra was selling didn't violate the laws of physics.

I've talked about fuel cell cars and I've talked about battery electric cars.  Fuel cell cars carry the threat of hydrogen explosion from their 10,000 PSI hydrogen tanks.  Both types have inadequate range and difficult charging problems.  The best batteries available for cars deliver about 5% of the specific energy (in Watt*hours per kilogram) of gasoline.  Or less.  Neither technology is within 20 years of being competitive.  Could someone "invent technology that's never been invented yet"?  Of course.  With every major university and every major car maker, along with a ton of startups working on the problem for years, why would anyone think it's just around the corner? 

Do you want to jump out of an airplane hoping someone invents a parachute before you hit the ground?  That's the essence of what they're asking for us to do. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

2nd Amendment Attack Via State Constitution

As you've undoubtedly been reading lately, the fight for gun rights has been moving to the states.  Apparently Michael Bloomberg realized he can buy state legislators at a very substantial discount over federal legislators.  You might be tempted to say, "he's a billionaire, why should he care?" but people don't get to be billionaires by being stupid about money.  Bloomberg might be the most dependable asshole in American politics, but don't think he's an idiot. 

Where this moves into Florida is a group has started an effort to amend the state constitution to ban so-called "assault weapons".

Florida has a bizarre mechanism for amending the constitution.  Anyone can start a petition drive (pdf warning) to get a proposed change on the ballot.  Once it's on the ballot, a supermajority pass of 60% amends the constitution.  The persistent, shining example of the problem lurking here is the 2002 pregnant pig amendment story, which was the passage of  an amendment to the state constitution to outlaw a practice that I've heard was used by only two farmers in the entire state.  Two.  I don't think it's necessary to amend the constitution, which is forever, to change something that's a simple act for the legislature.  It's what we have a legislature for.

BAWN Florida (like hell I'll link to them) is still trying to get the signatures to put this on the 2020 ballot, and the legislature already has assault weapons bans in committee this year.

Since there's no such thing as an assault weapon (I assume my readership has been around guns long enough that everyone knows that story), it all comes down to what they say they're banning.  The Truth About Guns' reporter Luis Valdes does a little digging for us.
First, let’s look at the broad definition of an “assault weapon” under this ballot initiative.
a) Assault Weapons – For purposes of this subsection, any semiautomatic rifle or shotgun capable of holding more than ten (10) rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device. This subsection does not apply to handguns.

b) Semiautomatic – For purposes of this subsection, any weapon which fires a single projectile or a number of ball shots through a rifled or smooth bore for each single function of the trigger without further manual action required.
So pretty much any semi-automatic rifle or shotgun that can take more than 10 rounds of ammunition would be banned.

Now let’s look at what they determine a magazine to be.
c) Ammunition-feeding device – For purposes of this subsection, any magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device for a firearm.
[bold added: SiG]
Banning anything "capable of holding" means any detachable magazine semi-automatic gun from a Ruger 10/22 to a Barret M107A1.  They're assuming voters will think of only AR-15s and perhaps AK-47s, but a lot of modern rifles fall in this ban.  Since the ban on magazine capacity says it applies to a fixed magazine gun, my 50 year old Nylon 66 (.22LR) first gun will be banned due to its 14 round tubular magazine built into the stock.

Ruger's 10/22 is often called "America's rifle" and there are more of them in the field than just about anything else.  The 10/22, the Marlin Model 60, Savage Mark II, Remington 597 or Mossber 702 are all similar in that they're semiautomatic, magazine fed guns that are often purchased for young shooters to learn with, for plinking, and fun.  All of these will make the owners third degree felons. 

A lot of us have said it a lot of times: "billionaire money gets this stuff passed", and I've almost worn out the bits that say, "money doesn't mean everything in politics".  I haven't see any commercials for BAWN, but I don't watch much TV and no "mass entertainment" TV at all.  No sitcoms, no reality shows, no singing competitions.  It's also very early for TV commercials about this.

While looking for the ballot initiative on the Division of Elections page, I found one for extending background checks that they're trying to get on the ballot.  
Extends the current 3-day waiting period between purchase and delivery at retail of a handgun to all purchases of all firearms. Requires that before delivery is made, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conduct a background check on the purchaser and the seller receive a response approving the transfer of the firearm. Defines background check. Deletes current exclusion for concealed weapons permit holders and trade-ins. [Bold added: SiG]
Keep your eyes open for this stuff. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Bullshit About Cattle Farts

If you pay attention to the Green New Deal and the incessant screaming from the vegan community, you'll think that cattle farts containing methane are the worst threat to the climate.  The UN has backed this lame idea before but their claims have some serious mistakes in them.  Mistakes or lies.  I have several good sources on that, but The BlazeTV released a short video of an interview with Dr. Sara Place, an academic researcher in animal science and sustainability.  This is only five minutes long and gives a good start.

First off, the methane from cows is 1.8% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US.  Second off, methane doesn't come from cattle farts, it comes from cattle burps.  I realize that might be a minor distinction, but the EPA, those high priests of junk science, jumped on the "regulate cattle farts" bandwagon under Obama.  The UN claims cattle create 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions - more than comes from transportation - but they're lumping in all livestock, not just cattle, to include poultry, lamb and all sources of meat.  They're also including the effects of animal feed production, feed harvesting, feeding the animals, the farm vehicles that tend to these animals and everything up to the emissions from the slaughterhouse.  A third of that 18% is blamed on deforestation specifically in Brazil.

Both of those summaries are dishonest.  First, it's not fair to blame methane production in chicken farming on cattle farming, and it's unfair to include everything that the goes into food production to just the tailpipe emissions of vehicles rather than the equivalent entire life cycle associated with transportation.  Second, the part about deforestation is dishonest for two reasons; the easiest being that there's no equivalent deforestation in the US, or in other parts of the world.  In the US the story is reforestation.  We have more trees today than a hundred years ago.  The other reason is that not all grassland could be forest and not all forest can convert to grasslands.  There is some relation between the two, but it's not simple subtraction.  Simply, much of the planet can't be dense forest and can only be grassland. 

One of the most interesting videos from Ted talks about science is a 2013 talk about desertification by Allan Savory.  Dr. Savory talks about discovering that large herds of grass eating animals restore grasslands and reverse the damages to the environment.  Yes, herds of life stock "save the Earth".  It's a story of how a hundred years of following the agricultural scientists' best recommendations and removing livestock converted lush grassland to wastelands, and how reintroducing livestock has restored millions of hectares of that wasteland to productive grassland.  The before and after pictures toward the last few minutes of the video are jaw-dropping. 

Dr. Savory recommends eating the livestock, which naturally makes the the vegans haaaate him with a white hot, burning hate.

An interesting guy I've heard talk on this subject several times is Dr. Peter Ballerstedt, who calls himself a leader of the Ruminati.  He's an infrequent blogger, and regular speaker at various conferences.  Here's a quick summary of the basis for a new video, We Need A Ruminant Revolution.
Human beings exist because of ruminants. Today’s societies rely upon them. Humanity’s future depends upon improvements in the productivity and efficiency of worldwide ruminant animal agriculture. Like the general public’s confusion of what constitutes a “healthy diet,” tremendous misunderstanding exists regarding the environmental role of ruminant animals. Human beings didn’t evolve to eat meat, they evolved because they ate meat - and because they learned to cook and process meat and other foodstuffs. Unsurprisingly then, diets rich in butter, meat and cheese have been shown to promote human health and development. Of significant worldwide impact, such diets can correct the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, offering hope in arresting the current worldwide epidemic of chronic diseases.
The dire predictions from Anorexia Pistachio Kotex and her Democratic Socialists of America comrades that say we need to end cattle farts would be laughable without the need for a single fart joke.  Except it's not funny, it would kill many people and make the planet worse off because the planet needs livestock.  The planet needs ruminants.  You can say they were designed for each other or you can say they co-evolved this way, but the result is the same.  Like everything they say, this argument is demonstrably wrong.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Another Major Anniversary Slips By

45 years ago last Thursday, February 7th, one of the greatest movies of all time was released.  I'm talking about Blazing Saddles.  It's regularly referred to as the greatest movie that couldn't be made today.

In 1974, most of us thought that the worst of the race problems we faced in the 1960s were over with.  To borrow the overworn expression, by that time we really did have friends of all races, creeds and colors.  Entertainment media became mandatorily diverse.  Blazing Saddles took advantage of that and poked fun at everybody, every racial, or cultural stereotype you can imagine.  I'm going to borrow a little from the PJ Media link (first one) because they quote movie reviewers from 1974 and it's worth seeing it through those eyes.
The Hollywood Reporter celebrated the occasion by republishing its original review of Blazing Saddles. Here is an excerpt:
The screenplay by Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger (from a story by Bergman) is totally irreverent, never passing up a chance to point up a cliche and sparing nothing or no one along the way. The language is definitely R-rated but it never becomes offensive. In fact, the incongruous pairing of the language and the characters accounts for a great deal of the boisterous humor.

Brooks' fast-paced direction is a masterpiece of comedy detail, filled with delightful and perfectly timed sight gags. The predominant style is one of the extremely broad burlesque but the film is also packed with more subtle touches, especially in Morey Hoffman's clever set decoration and in Peter Wooley's production design.
The line about "sparing nothing or no one along the way" is key. Blazing Saddles seems to send up almost everything. And it does it brilliantly. The humor employed is filled with what today would be known as triggers for the emotionally weak, politically correct, Social Justice Warrior crowd.

Ethnic jokes abound. There is enough juvenile sexual humor to keep a thousand generations of pubescent boys entertained. The movie also has the most memorable fart joke scene ever.
These jokes couldn't be written into a movie today.  In fact, there's probably not a scene in the movie that wouldn't trigger today's snowflake audiences.  The snowflakes haven't learned one of the most important lessons of life: when everything is offensive, nothing is offensive.  What Mel Brooks, Steinberg and the creators did was to offend everyone, so that nobody felt offended.  Instead, everybody laughed.

The problem with curing racism and getting people to not care is that there's no money in it, while there's tons of money in race-hustling.  When society started to get along better, that's trouble for those who want to tear it apart and rebuild it, or fundamentally transform it into some sort of dystopian horror story.  They need to always enforce on some that they're the victims of something, anything. 

Final thoughts to PJ Media's Stephen Kruiser:
It's almost sickening to think of the fact that we've gone from a society capable of creating and supporting something as masterful as Blazing Saddles to one filled with humorless youth who would protest it to death before it could get released in just forty-five years.

A humorless society that seeks to make words criminally offensive is a society in severe decline. Hopefully, we're just in a phase from which we'll soon emerge.

Should we be that lucky, maybe movie comedies will one day again be funny.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

New Green Deal, Same Old Lies and Distortions

The news is all abuzz over the Green New Deal that several Evil party presidential candidates are getting behind, but it's another example of Same Shit, Different Day.  New Deal, of course, is FDR speak from the '30s and adding the Green label shows you it's really watermelon socialists: green on the outside, red on the inside.  There's a copy of one of the originating documents on NPR (Document Cloud) from an interview, and it's being widely ripped apart.  This Tweet from Wall Street Journal columnist and TV pundit Kimberley Strassel is probably the best.

It is so stupid, it's a whole new level of world class stupid.  Let's start here.  The justification they claim for economically destroying us is to end climate change.  Nicolas Loris of the Heritage Foundation, writing in the Daily Signal points out that if you use the same numbers the IPCC is using to calculate the effects, we could shut down everything in the US, set carbon emissions to zero, and it wouldn't make a significant difference in the projected temperature in 2100. 
Using the same climate sensitivity (the warming effect of a doubling of carbon dioxide emissions) as the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assumes in its modeling, the world would be only 0.137 degree Celsius cooler by 2100. Even if we assumed every other industrialized country would be equally on board, this would merely avert warming by 0.278 degree Celsius by the turn of the century.
Occasional Cortex claims the world will end in 12 years if We Don't Do Something NOW!!!!  What isn't being mentioned is that NOBODY in the "climate science community" is saying that.  What she's referring to is an October UN report that demands the entire world totally replace all fossil fuel energy by 2050 to avert the climate crisis coming after 2100.  Neither 2050 or 2100 sounds much like 12 years away.

Those "ZOMG, we have only (insert number) of years left!!" predictions come out every couple of years and since the predictions are always wrong, they issue another warning and pretend they never issued the first one.  

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Passing of Another Rock Music Giant You Never Knew

I learned today that one of the giants of rock music died on Thursday the 7th: Jim Dunlop, founder of Dunlop Manufacturing.  Jim was 82.

If you grew up with electric guitar-driven rock music, you know Jim's inventions, you just don't know his story.  Jim invented the Wah pedal.  Their most generic product is called the Cry Baby, but they have customized and refined the design many times over the years, tagging them for musicians from Jimi Hendrix to Joe Bonamassa and dozens of more models that are sold by (arguably) small variations in tone.  Hendrix's Voodoo Child is unrecognizable without the Wah pedal, as is the guitar solo in Chicago's 25 or 6 to 4 and hundreds or thousands of more songs.  (BTW, I'd recommend you just listen to the sound track on Voodoo Child and not watch the random, disconnected video).

Dunlop's corporate page dedicated to Jim opens this way
Born in Scotland in 1936, Jim traveled to Canada as a young man looking for new opportunities. There he met his bride and mother of his children, Bernice, and the two of them headed to California for warmer weather. By the 1960s, he had started a family and was working as a machinist and then mechanical engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Off-hours, he turned his lifelong interest in music to creating accessories for guitar players.

Jim’s fearless, innovative spirit led him to turn his hobby into a livelihood, and in 1965, he founded Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc. Finding local success with handmade capos, he made the life-changing decision to become a maker of guitar picks when his obsession for precision drove him to design guitar picks gauged by their true thickness.
The big problem that guitarists thought they were facing at that time was that the preferred material for guitar picks, sea turtle shells, was disappearing as the harvest was starting to be restricted.  Jim invented a nylon pick he called Tortex.  It's still a very popular product.

It has been said that the sound of modern rock was invented by a handful of guys.
  • Les Paul for inventing the iconic guitar bearing his name.  It has almost become a class of guitars with kit makers referring to the body shape as an LP guitar
  • Leo Fender for inventing the Telescaster and Stratocaster guitars as well as vacuum tube amplifiers that are still sought after for their tone
  • Jim Marshall The Father of Loud, for his amplifiers.  Often informally called a Marshall Stack.
  • Seth Lover for inventing the "humbucker" pickup that overcame the horrible line frequency audio hums that haunted early electric stage performances.  
I find it easy to accept the argument that Jim Dunlop should be added for the Wah pedal.  With his passing, all five of these greats are no longer with us. 

I also acknowledge that whenever you see a list of the five most important people in any field, it says at least as much about the person who made the list as the people in the list. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Our Annual Orlando Hamcation

This weekend marks the annual Orlando Hamcation, marking 37 straight years we've been going  This time I wasn't looking for anything in particular and found it.  That is, I found nothing work buying.  A battery vendor I know and trust was selling over-rated 18650 batteries like I talked about last fall, so I passed on those and noted a decline in trust levels.  Other than a couple of LED incandescent bulbs, which were about half the price of the big box home improvement stores, I found nothing worth picking up. 

A table of old, vintage radios in one of the tailgate areas.  It's 100% certain some of those models of radios were on sale back in 1982 when we went to our first Orlando hamfest.  Heck, it's possible one or more of the radios on that table or others around the hamfest were on sale at Orlando back in 1982.  See those big black boxes in the left front?  Those are Collins Radios, a favorite among collectors, and the second one from the left says "75A-2 Receiver".  According to this site, the model was introduced in 1950 so one could have been sold many times.  

Table full of laptops and netbooks in one of the three buildings they use.

I honestly have to say it was an almost completely uninteresting hamfest, and that's a bit sad to say.   I rush to add that my interests in radio tend toward the unconventional, so it's not really surprising that I'd find the same old 40 or 50 (or 69) year old radios not particularly interesting. 

We ran into friends and catching up with several whom we see yearly or less was what the hamfest was mostly about. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Panera Bread's Socialist Restaurants Failing, Shutting Down

I know, right?  The headline that a restaurant which is socialist in concept is going out of business is probably the least surprising headline in the world.  For me, the only surprise was that Panera Bread had started the chain called Panera Cares in the first place.
...Therefore, it created Panera Cares. The cool and different restaurant’s MO? It offered food at a “suggested donation” price.

Doesn’t that sound nice? Let’s all join hands and sing “Imagine” and just pay what we can afford. Personally, I’ve had my eyes on the Mercedes-Benz Maybach Exelero, suggested retail $8 million. I appreciate their suggestion; I’d like to give $124.92 — I have that exact amount on a Kohl’s merchandise card. I hope they like (sorta) high-quality yet affordable clothing and jewelry.

Now here’s a shock to us all: Panera Cares’ll be officially closing on February 15th. As it turns out, when you don’t make people pay for stuff, people don’t pay for stuff. Though there’s no “I” in “team,” there’s a big one in “Incentive,” which the non-capitalist Panera Cares (initials = PC; coincidence?) failed to grasp.
Panera opened the first Panera Cares in 2010 in a suburb of St. Louis, the corporate home town, and eventually extended the chain to Chicago, Boston, Dearborn, and Portland.  When they started the chain, their initial model was that they'd make it if 60% of customers paid regular price and 20% paid somewhat more, allowing the remaining 20% to eat for little or nothing.  Founder Ron Shaich coordinated the launch of the first store with a Ted Talk, saying:
“In many ways, this whole experiment is ultimately a test of humanity. Would people pay for it? Would people come in and value it?”
To me, it's surprising the company kept the chain afloat but I guess the love of socialist ideals dies hard.  One of the capitals of fail was Portland, Oregon, a city apparently striving hard to win the coveted title of Most Dysfunctional City in America.  The Portland restaurant was recovering only 60% of its costs.
[S]ix months after opening in 2011, leaders saw things at the Oregon cafe they hadn’t seen in Missouri or Michigan. Grant High School students mobbed the cafe daily, ordering multiple meals and not paying for them. Homeless people came for every meal — every day — as if the cafe was a soup kitchen. Hollywood neighbors complained of an increase in crime and loitering.

Many problems came down to “a sense of entitlement,” said Panera spokeswoman Kate Antonacci. Though the cafes are an experiment, they must become self-sustaining to survive. The money coming into the Portland cafe was so far below meeting costs at one point that the cafe seemed poised to close.
Founder Ron Shaich delivered an empassioned message in which he tried to convince the Free Shit Army that colonized his store that it wasn't a hand out; it was a “a cafĂ© of shared responsibility”.  The response was what we've come to expect: “let someone else pay for it”.
By 2016, the Panera Cares experiment appeared to be winding down. The Dearborn restaurant shuttered in 2016, followed by the Chicago and Portland locations. Panera was sold to a private equity firm, JAB Holding Company in 2017. Shaich stepped down as CEO of the fast-casual chain in January 2018, around the same time that the pilot Panera Cares in St. Louis closed down. Shaich told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at that time that all the Panera Cares restaurants together served roughly 2 million meals during their operation, but “the nature of the economics did not make sense.” With only one location left in Boston, Fast Company rang the death knell of the pay-as-you-go experiment last June, with official confirmation of the final closure coming earlier this week.
The Boston Globe reports the story saying their store will be the last one to go dark on the 15th.
“Despite our commitment to this mission, it’s become clear that continued operation of the Boston Panera Cares is no longer viable,” Panera Bread said in an emailed statement. “We’re working with the current bakery-cafe associates affected by the closure to identify alternate employment opportunities within Panera and Au Bon Pain.”
Another stellar success for the root socialist concept: “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs”.  The concept has been flawless in its history, never having its perfect record of 100% failures ever marred by success. 

(Panera Cares' Boston location.  John Tlumacki/Boston Globe Staff photographer)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Use Before Date is Rapidly Approaching

The evening got a little busier than usual so you know what that means. 

Time to dig out some cartoons I've saved.  Since their "Best Before" date is rapidly approaching, I'd better use them while I can:

What?  They've expired already?  

I've been thinking about starting a "raw food" diet.  I know it must be healthy because a bunch of hot 20 or 30 something actresses are talking about it, right?  

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Remembering NASA's (and Our) Worst Week in Spaceflight

I let the actual worst week get by, due to distractions from other things and forgetting the last date, but I think it's worth spending a few minutes once a year to pay respects to those NASA astronauts who died in flight and flight training.

It's a peculiar coincidence that every accident that took the lives of the crew and destroyed the vehicle took place in the space of one calendar week, even though those accidents are separated by decades.

January 27th, was the 51st anniversary of 1967's hellish demise of Apollo 1 and her crew, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White, during a pad test, not a flight.  In that article, Ars Technica interviews key men associated with the mission and provides, for the first time I've seen, the audio of the test.  In the early days of the space program, one of the larger than life names we all came to recognize was Chris Kraft, who had become well known as the Flight Director who had directed all of the Mercury flights and many of the Gemini missions.  He was widely recognized for this masterful control.
Half a century later, the painful memories remain. “I was on console the day it burned,” he explained, sitting in his second-floor den, just a few miles from the control center that now bears his name at Johnson Space Center.

“I heard their screaming voices in the cockpit of the spacecraft,” Kraft recounted. “I heard them scream that they were on fire. I heard them scream get me out of here. And then there was dead silence on the pad. Within minutes we knew they were dead, and we were in deep, serious trouble. Nobody really said anything for 15 minutes, until they got the hatch open. We were sitting there, waiting for them to say what we knew they were going to say.”
There was plenty of blame to go around—for North American, for flight control in Houston, for technicians at Cape Canaveral, for Washington DC and its political pressure on the schedule and its increasingly bureaucratic approach to spaceflight. The reality is that the spacecraft was not flyable. It had too many faults. Had the Apollo 1 fire not occurred, it’s likely that additional problems would have delayed the launch.

“Unless the fire had happened, I think it’s very doubtful that we would have ever landed on the Moon,” Kraft said. “And I know damned well we wouldn’t have gotten there during the 1960s. There were just too many things wrong. Too many management problems, too many people problems, and too many hardware problems across the whole program.”
The ARS article is worth your time.

In 2018's biopic, "First Man", they depict the close friendship between Neil Armstrong and Ed White, and how losing Ed in that fire both shattered Ed White's family and deeply impacted Armstrong's.  It's a potent reminder of the day, and the human costs.

The next day, January 28, is the anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.  Shuttle Challenger was destroyed on January 28, 1986, a mere 73 seconds into mission 51-L.  A flaw in the starboard solid rocket booster allowed a torch-like secondary flame blasting out of the side of the booster to burn through supports and cause the external tank to explode.  It was the kind of cold day that we haven't had here in some years.  It has been reported that it was between 20 and 26 around the area on the morning of the launch and ice had been reported on the launch tower as well as the external tank.  O-rings that were used to seal the segments of the stackable solid rocket boosters were too cold to seal.  Launch wasn't until nearly noon and it had warmed somewhat, but the shuttle had never been launched at temperatures below 40 before that mission.  Richard Feynman famously demonstrated that cold was likely the cause during the televised Rogers Commission meetings, dropping a section of O ring compressed by a C-clamp into his iced water to demonstrate that it had lost its resilience at that temperature.


There's plenty of evidence that the crew of Challenger survived the explosion.  The crew cabin was specifically designed to be used as an escape pod, but after most of the design work, NASA decided to drop the other requirements to save weight.  The recovered cabin had clear evidence of activity: oxygen bottles being turned on, switches that require a few steps to activate being flipped.  It's doubtful they survived the impact with the ocean and some believe they passed out due to hypoxia before that. 

Finally, at the end of the worst week, Shuttle Columbia, the oldest surviving shuttle flying as mission STS-107, broke up on re-entry 16 years ago on February 1, 2003 scattering wreckage over the central southern tier of the country with most debris along the Texas/Louisiana line.  As details emerged about the flight, it turns out that Columbia and everyone on board had been sentenced to death at launch - they just didn't know it.  A chunk of foam had broken off the external tank during liftoff and hit the left wing's carbon composite leading edge, punching a hole in it.  There was no way a shuttle could reenter without exposing that wing to conditions that would destroy it.  They were either going to die on reentry or sit up there and run out of food, water and air.  During reentry, hot plasma worked its way into that hole, through the structure of the wing, burning through piece after piece, sensor after sensor, until the wing tore off the shuttle and tore the vehicle apart.  Local lore on this one is that the original foam recipe was changed due to environmental regulations, causing them to switch to a foam that didn't adhere to the tank or stand up to abuse as well. 

There's film from inside Columbia until the moment the vehicle is ripped apart by the aerodynamic forces.  I suspect the forces ripped apart their bodies just as fast.  

January 27 to February 1 is 6 days.  Not quite a full week.

On a personal note, I remember them all.  I was a kid living in Miami when Apollo 1 burned.  I was living here and watched Challenger live on satellite TV at work.  Instead of going outside to watch it as I usually did, I watched it on NASA Select off the satellite.  Mrs. Graybeard was working on the unmanned side on the Cape, next door to the facility that refurbished the SRB's between flights, and was outside watching the launch.  It took quite a while for the shock to ease up.  I saw those spreading contrails everywhere for a long time.  Columbia happened 17 years later, when it was feeling routine again.  Mom had fallen and was in the hospital; we were preparing to go down to South Florida to visit and I was watching the TV waiting to hear the double sonic booms shake the house as they always did.

I found out this year via Reddit that there's a memorial on the moon to the astronauts and cosmonauts who died in the line of duty trying to make it to the moon.  No person has seen it since the Apollo 15 crew left it in 1971 when this picture was taken.  Has it survived?  Most likely.  There well may be micrometeoroid impacts, but probably nothing big.  The moon gets a meteor impact big enough to be seen from Earth on occasion; I'll bet that if they knew the Apollo 15 site had been hit, we'd have been told.  Whether it's legible or not is a different question.  

The failure reports and investigations of all three of these disasters center on the same things: the problems with NASA's way of doing things.  They tended to rely on "well, it worked last time" when dealing with dangerous situations, or leaned too much toward, "schedule is king"; all as a way of gambling that someone else would be the one blamed for delaying a mission.  Spaceflight is inherently very risky, so some risk taking is inevitable, but NASA had taken stupid risks too often.  People playing Russian Roulette can say, "well, it worked last time", but that doesn't mean "it worked" reduced their odds of losing.

Edit: 020619 1919EST:  Revised sentences mentioning Flight Director Chris Kraft in the third paragraph.  Thanks to commenter Backwoods Engineer for the feedback.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Dawn of 4d Printing

That's the subject of an interesting, 6-year old TED talk and the subject is getting coverage in the technical press as well.

In common use, the fourth dimension usually refers to time and another term for four dimensional printing is prints that change (or can be changed) versus time.  That leads to the possibility of self-assembly or self-organization which is the hot topic.  Machine Design magazine puts it this way:
Think 3D printing, but with increasingly complex materials that will open doors for new product innovation possibilities. This emerging technology will allow the production of three-dimensional objects incorporating a fourth dimension: time. This exponential innovation has the ability to redefine how we design, manufacture, and interact with objects by using “smart” materials to create objects that can self-assemble, reshape themselves, or otherwise react to changing conditions.
Skylar Tibbits from MIT, in that TED talk, talks about things like pipes - infrastructure pipes.  You've probably seen water pipes run into a new neighborhood, or sewer pipes coming out of that neighborhood.  Those are sized for the amount of water they'll be carrying; by proxy, the number of people they'll be serving.  Trenches are dug, pipes are laid, and nobody thinks about them until something goes wrong.  Perhaps an earthquake and the ground moves, breaking the pipe.  More likely, perhaps the pipe isn't big enough for the second new neighborhood going in years after the pipe was originally laid.  Then the pipes need to be dug up and enlarged, or newer pipes put in bypassing the older ones.

Tibbits talks about pipes that can adapt; that can enlarge to allow more flow. 
In the medical field, doctors are incorporating 4D printing into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Doctors at the University of Michigan’s CS Mott Children’s Hospital have developed a 4D-printed airway splint that prevents infant windpipes from collapsing by automatically expanding as the child grows until the child is strong enough to support him or herself.

In the aviation field, Airbus is developing programmable carbon fiber into a fuel-saving air inlet component that will cool the engine by adjusting automatically to control airflow. This ability to control airflow also has the potential to transform the cabin experience by mediating pressure and making the space more breathable for passengers. These self-reacting mechanisms will eliminate the need for less-reliable, heavy mechanical control systems, further reducing fuel consumption.
This barely begins to touch on the possibilities here.  Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers developed a magnetic fluid they inject into 3D structures to reinforce them.  The fluid changes strength with the applied magnetic field, making structures with customizable strength.
Mancini notes that the technology could be useful for lessening the force of impacts. Automotive seats, for example, could have responsive metamaterials inside along with sensors to detect a crash. The seats would stiffen on impact, potentially reducing passenger motion and injuries. The technology could also be applied to next-generation helmets or neck braces, housings for optical components, and soft robotics, among many other applications.
By utilizing dynamic materials like this in 3D printed structures, 4D printing will create objects that are programmed to change strength, shape, or other properties when they encounter the proper stimulus: water, light, heat, electrical current, or magnetism, like this example. 
While the thought of producing self-assembling and self-reacting objects may sound whimsical to those who are just now getting a grip on 3D printing, the reality is that 4D printing is estimated to become a $64.5 million market this year, and it will be increasing at an impressive CAGR of 33.2% through 2025.

The LLNL magnetorheological fluid being injected into a hollow 3d printed lattice structure on the right.  These “field-responsive mechanical metamaterials” (FRMMs) are a viscous, magnetically responsive fluid (rheology, is the science of deformation and flow; magnetorheology magnetically controlled flow). 

It's interesting to see a whole new field being born as we watch.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

I'm Here for the Brisket

To the tune of "Here for the Party" by Gretchen Wilson 10 (!) years ago.

Almost exactly two months ago, I posted about some Barbecue 401 stuff I was starting into.  Most people just call it sous vide cooking, but the manufacturers like the term precision cooking.  (Intro from one of the big names in the business)

Since I rather inartfully let on that today's my birthday, and sous vide barbecue was the centerpiece of the day, I might was well update my Barbecue 401 piece.

So why sous vide cooking?  In virtually all cooking you actually want to cook the outside and the inside differently.  There are tricks to cook them effectively separately and sous vide is one way.  If you want a classic rare steak, you want a cool pink inside and a seared outside.  You control what the oven or grill turns out by controlling time.  You cook the outside and heat conducted deep inside cooks that to some point on the rare to well-done scale.  If you leave it on the flame too long, too much heat is conducted to the inside and you overcook the center and the converse is true if you don't leave it long enough.  With sous vide, your vacuum bagged steak is cooked top to bottom to that cool pink temperature (120 or 125F).  After 1 to 2 hours, or enough time to conduct that 120 to the center (and don't be alarmed, the outside does oxidize and turn browner/grayer), then you remove the steak from the vacuum bag and quickly sear the outside.

Take this sous vide T bone steak I cooked.  Medium rare top to bottom (130 I think) then seared on the outside briefly in a very hot frying pan.  It could have been seared darker, but it was my first attempt.  A very popular alternative is to use a torch instead of the frying pan or the charcoal grill. Seriously. 

Today I finally made a sous vide barbecue brisket.  It was the best brisket I've done.  There's still something I need to work on - more on that in a minute.

First, I used the Serious Eats sous vide brisket tutorial page.  Let's start with the obvious question of "why?"  Everyone cooks brisket in a regular smoker for 16 hours or so.  The famous restaurants in Austin have a night shift that put tomorrow night's briskets in the smoker during tonight's cleanup. I've done three that way.  They were good, but none of them were killer good because brisket is hard to do.  A full brisket, called a packer, is two distinct pieces of meat.  A fatty thicker portion called the point (or sometimes deckle) and leaner, tougher portion called the flat.  As Serious Eats puts it:
Two factors: It's tough, and it's lean. With traditional smoking methods, a pork shoulder will tenderize in a matter of hours, and it has tons of connective tissue and fat to help keep it moist as it slow-cooks. A brisket, with its tougher meat, needs to be cooked overnight to completely tenderize. Not only that, but there isn't as much fat or connective tissue to lubricate the dry meat when it's finally tender. Unless you have either the experience or the luck to nail every single step of the process, moist, tender brisket exists only in the realm of dreams.

Sous vide cooking changes all that by allowing even a novice to produce brisket that's as moist and tender as the very best stuff you'll find in Austin or Lockhart.
The question is how do you want your brisket?  Like the traditional Texas barbecue or more like a steak?  With the precision cooker it comes down to two combinations:
135°F for 36 to 72 hours Firm and meaty, like a tender steak
155°F for 24 to 36 hours Extra moist, with a traditional texture
I opted for the traditional texture, heating to 155 for 36 hours.  With intent to have smoked brisket for birthday lunch, that would mean leaving 3 to 4 hours for the smoker, so I put the brisket in the water at 6:30 Friday night.  Over the course of the couple of months I've been playing with this, I've gotten a couple of accessories that made this trivially easy compared to previous attempts.  A tank and a tank cover.  In 36 hours of heat, I might have lost a quart, but I'm not sure it was that much.

My local source doesn't carry packers, so I was left to use a flat. Serious Eats comments on this, saying to get the fattiest cut you can find with both marbling and a good fat cap.  I did what I could.  

Standard practice after a long soak like this is to put the vacuum bags in ice water.  This stops the cooking process so that it doesn't overcook in the smoker (Serious Eats shows how to finish in an oven, too).  Once that's done, you apply a second barbecue rub and then pop it into the smoker, keeping the chamber temperature at least 250.  This is the brisket at about 11:30 this morning, right after pulling from the smoker. 

What do I need to work on?  Getting a better bark. Around the front of the portion on the left, you can see a dark crust on the left edge and some on the top.  The rest of the top looks like granules of the salt and spices that haven't flowed into a bark.  The smoked barbecue source describes bark this way:
Bark is an incredibly tasty crust that forms on your smoked meat. It is actually the result of some complex chemical reactions that have happened throughout the cooking process. Specifically, the Maillard reaction and polymerization.

In basic terms, bark forms when the surface of the meat is exposed to heat and oxygen. When the meat is also exposed to smoke, the bark will become a dark, licorice color. Without exposure to smoke, the bark will be more of a dark red, mahogany color.
A persistent myth is that adding sugar helps with getting a bark, but sugar doesn't caramelize until heated beyond the temperature for the Maillard reaction.  300 vs 285. 

Late in the day, I looked at the bottom of the piece on the right and it had a good black bark on it.  A check of the other piece showed it also has a better bark on the bottom than the top.  Since the Maillard reaction depends on proteins, and the top of both of those pieces is the fat cap on the brisket, it makes sense that they may have less protein than the bottoms. 

While it's tempting to say that's why the bark isn't as good as I'd like, I've gotten better barks on the briskets I've cooked the conventional way. I still need to research this.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Living in a Sea of Lithium Ion Batteries

OK, "sea of Lithium Ion batteries" might be a bit of a stretch, but I'm living around a lot of them.  Within 6 feet of me there must be 10 of them.

For reasons that I don't recall, I was reading about electric bikes today and the topic of Li-Ion battery packs was being discussed, in particular keeping with the "polar vortex" cold weather this past week.  That led me to an article by Tesla on care and feeding of their batteries.

I was surprised by some of these, and figured since most of us use these batteries, it might be helpful to spread this around:
5. Leaving a battery pack at max charge for even relatively short periods of time can possibly affect its life. Lithium-ion batteries generally do best when they operate in the 30% to 90% range for state of charge.  In the context of an EV, if you're leaving on a road trip, you may charge your battery to 100%, but you should do that over the last hour before you leave so it doesn't stay at 100% charge for very long.  I can see no real equivalent for your phone, Kindle, or other smaller appliance, only a "sort of".  Perhaps you're going someplace where you expect to spend the day away from a charger and want to give the battery as much charge as you can.  Go ahead and charge it to 100%, just make sure you start using that charge in an hour, otherwise it might be better to just charge it to 90%.  More on that later. 

4. Conversely, leaving your battery in a discharged state for an extended period may also impact its life. What is a low state of charge?  Under 30% charge is generally considered low and thus you should not let your EV sit at that low state of charge for an extended period.   Similarly, you should not let your smaller devices go below 30% charge.

3. A lot of talk has been focusing on low temperature operation and how you should never try to charge a battery that's below freezing (0C, 32F)   The general rule of thumb for batteries of Lithium-ion composition is to keep the battery pack between 20F – 85F.   Both extreme hot and cold weather can impact performance for a battery with lithium-ion chemistry while lowering the discharge capacity.  Bayou Renaissance Man has a big article on this today, so more details there.

2. If you’re going away on vacation or for a business trip the best thing for your car is to set the charge level to 50% and leave it plugged in.  Still, leaving it at 90% is better for the battery (and you) than leaving it at 10% and coming back to find the battery completely discharged.  In the context of your personal electronics, I think this means to charge them to 90% and leave them unplugged from any charger.  If it has a real "off" mode, or lacking that an "airplane mode", use that to minimize battery drain and help keep the battery charge longer. 

1. Talking about their cars, which are much more complex than our small electronics, Tesla says a periodic max charge is helpful to your battery’s management system.  and they suggest doing this about once every 3 months or so.  I read it as the same might be true for our personal devices; charge them to 100% on the same schedule, and keep in mind that after you fully charge it you shouldn't let it sit; that would be a violation of battery management rule #5.
There's a trick question built in here: how do we know the % charge that our device shows is (1st) accurate and (2nd) the same percentage they're talking about?  Short answers for both (1) and (2): we don't  know.  A battery indicator in a phone is certainly a much simpler circuit than the battery management for the multi-thousand dollar battery in an electric car. 

Battery display on a Oukitel K6000 Android phone.  (Random phone chosen by image for that battery indicator in the corner)  Is that really 77% of the charge it can take or 77% of what they allow it to charge to?  Is it accurate within 5%? 

It's conceivable to me that a phone's software could already limit the charge to 90% of the possible capacity of the battery to help battery longevity, but tell you it's 100% charged to minimize "my phone doesn't charge all the way" trouble calls.  My gut feeling, though, is that the phone makers wouldn't do that because battery life is one of those things buyers weigh as important when buying a phone.  A look at some sample Android code doesn't seem to say they're doing anything other than reading the status as best they can and reporting it.

As I say, these bullet points were basically new to me, and I'm going to change my habits of how often I charge things.  I'm going to try to keep them in the 30 to 90% range and not let them go above or below that.  Both my 5 year old iPad and my two year old phone are acting like they need a new battery, and my tendency has been to throw the iPad on a full current charger and let it go to 100%.  It might be too late for these batteries, but it's something to try.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Watching the Dems Lurch Farther Left

As the Democratic field for the 2020 presidential race gets a little more crowded every day, the Democratic Socialists push a little harder and the whole party gets a little farther left with time.  Not so much a constant drift; more like an earthquake fault slipping.  Some friction keeps the fault from moving for a while, but when the stress gets high enough the fault slips and the platform lurches a bit farther left.

So it is that Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar, who has been almost a constant fountain of misinformation whenever she's in the press, said we should look at 90% income tax rates.

Of course, New York City crazy party representative Alopecia Pistachio Kotex advocated for a 70% income tax rate on "the tippy top" of the income levels.
Weeks after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., made headlines by calling for a top marginal income tax rate of 70 percent in an interview with “60 Minutes,” her fellow freshman congresswoman, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., suggested that the rich could pay even more.

“There are a few things that we can do,” Rep. Omar said in an interview with “Through Her Eyes.” “One of them, is that we can increase the taxes that people are paying who are the extremely wealthy in our communities. So, 70 percent, 80 percent, we’ve had it as high as 90 percent. So, that’s a place we can start.”
The reason this caught my attention is that 90% income tax is an internet meme that started back during the 2016 race.  As far as I can tell, it was started by either Bernie Sanders, Paul Krugman or perhaps Michael Moore.  Perhaps all of them got together, in which case I would assume a bong the size of King Kong's toilet bowl was involved, but that's speculation on my part. 

The meme is the fact that America was doing its best in the post WWII period when the top marginal tax rate was 90% wasn't a coincidence; America was doing great because of the 90% tax rate.  It had nothing to do with the fact that most of the industrialized world outside of the US had been bombed back to the stone age, and not only did we not have remotely as much competition for exports, we were helping to rebuild both our allies and our former enemies, Germany and Japan. 

Andrew Syrios at the Mises Institute does an extensive analysis of this.  He starts out by noting how different the tax structure was when the top rate was 90%.  Today, there are seven tax brackets. In 1989, there were only two. In 1955, there were an utterly ridiculous twenty-four different tax brackets.  In this chart, read the tax rate on the red curve and right scale, and the income it taxes to qualify for that rate on the left, in blue.  The year is on the bottom.  An effort was made to make this constant dollars (account for official inflation).

Picking 1959,  the top rate was 90%, but that was only paid on income over $3.2 Million.  Today, the top rate is indeed much lower (this chart stops at 2013 and I'll pretend it's the same today):  the top rate is 39.6%, but the threshold to pay that has dropped precipitously down to under $500,000.  The top tax rate dropped from 90% to 40%, a factor of 2.25 while the income that required paying that rate dropped by a factor of 6.4.  Many more people are paying it. 

It's also important to note that the top rate is just the rate on that last dollar earned.  A study from the Congressional Research Service concluded that the effective tax rate for the top 0.01 percent of income earners during the period of 91-percent income taxes was actually 45 percent.  (The effective rate is your total tax divided by your taxable income.  For example, if I make $20,000, I owe 10 percent under today’s tax code, but only on any income over $18,450 (filing jointly). So I only owe 10 percent of $1550, or $155. Yes, my marginal tax rate may be 10 percent, but my effective tax rate is 0.78 percent.)

Longtime readers around here will recall mention of Hauser's Law.  I'm still a little uncomfortable calling it a law because it's not a "law" in the sense of the laws of nature, but it's the handy observation that since the early 20th century, the tax revenue collected has remained rather constant despite those wild differences in tax rate shown above.  Simply, people adjust their lives to pay less tax.  Syrios shows another chart that very clearly demonstrates Hauser's Law:

Simple-minded people like Pistachio Kotex or Ilhan Omar Abdullah will believe that tax revenues will go up enormously in this change.  Data says that if they did raise the top rate to 90% that revenues wouldn't go up as much as they think.  Revenues can go down after tax rate hikes.  It has happened.

Regardless of all that, the fact remains that the rich never paid 90 percent of their income in taxes or anything even remotely close to that.  The idea that we'll punish the rich to pay for everything is simply hatred and class envy.  Unfortunately though, some memes die hard.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Balanced Look at Deep Fakes

Perhaps you've been exposed to some of the hype about so-called Deep Fakes (sometimes one word: deepfakes), which are computer generated videos of people that use software and AI to paste different faces onto bodies, or to make people apparently say things that they haven't said or do things they haven't done. 

The subject has come to higher-level attention in the last month, when YouTube channel VillainGuy posted this somewhat absurd video of Jennifer Lawrence answering questions at a press conference, except that he replaced her face with Steve Buscemi's.  The expressions, the mouth movements, and general believability are quite good.  If I didn't know this was supposed to be Jennifer Lawrence, just an actress at an interview, I'd have written it off as particularly homely actress getting attention for some reason.  In other words, I would have thought it was real.

From The Daily Dot, this "explanation"
Utilizing a free tool known as “faceswap,” VillainGuy proceeded to train the AI with high-quality media content of Buscemi. With the aid of a high-end graphics card and processor, “Jennifer Lawrence-Buscemi” was born. VillainGuy says the level of detail was achieved thanks to hours of coding and programming as well.
It might help to explain that this is close to the origins of the technology.  Deep Fakes was originally a Reddit subgroup that would take the faces of well known actresses and put them onto actresses in porn film clips.  This sparked public outrage over the more famous actresses rights to their images and at the end of 2017, Reddit banned the subgroup and deleted any of this involuntary porn from the site.

Today, nobody cares about that.  What everyone is spun up about is the potential for convincing voters some politician did something wrong; very wrong.
The video’s viral spread online Tuesday comes as numerous U.S. lawmakers sound the alarm over the potential of deepfakes to disrupt the 2020 election. A report from CNN indicates that the Department of Defense has begun commissioning researchers to find ways to detect when a video has been altered.

Late last year, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and other members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates to raise concerns over the possible use of the technology by foreign adversaries.
In particular, some people are all wrapped up about "you'll never be able to believe you eyes again", or "how can we ever trust our senses again".

My reaction was, "I think I read this exact same argument about photo editing in the 1980s".

That's the balanced look found in "Deep Fakes: Let's Not Go Off The Deep End" written by Jeffrey Westling on the website Tech Dirt.
Much of the fear of deep fakes stems from the assumption that this is a fundamentally new, game-changing technology that society has not faced before. But deep fakes are really nothing new; history is littered with deceptive practices — from Hannibal's fake war camp to Will Rogers' too-real impersonation of President Truman to Stalin's disappearing of enemies from photographs. And society's reaction to another recent technological tool of media deception — digital photo editing and Photoshop — teaches important lessons that provide insight into deep fakes’ likely impact on society.

In 1990, Adobe released the groundbreaking Adobe Photoshop to compete in the quickly-evolving digital photograph editing market. This technology, and myriad competitors that failed to reach the eventual popularity of Photoshop, allowed the user to digitally alter real photographs uploaded into the program. ...

With the new capabilities came new concerns. That same year, Newsweek published an article called, “When Photographs Lie. ...
The truth is that trust in photography has gone down, which is appropriate.  We used to say "the camera doesn't lie", but even in my early years playing with film cameras (50 years ago), we used to try to get the camera to lie, to make up scenes that weren't there.  Before Photoshop, we called it "trick photography".  Photoshop and digital cameras have multiplied how often "cameras lie" by millions of times.  

When was the last time you saw some picture on a website that was open to comment and someone didn't say it was 'shopped?  "Dude, I can tell by the pixels around her neck that's not Jennifer Lawrence" - or the equivalent. 
Now, however, the same “death of truth” claims — mainly in the context of fake news and disinformation — ring out in response to deep fakes as new artificial-intelligence and machine-learning technology enter the market. What if someone released a deep fake of a politician appearing to take a bribe right before an election? Or of the president of the United States announcing an imminent missile strike? As Andrew Grotto, International Security Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, predicts, “This technology … will be irresistible for nation states to use in disinformation campaigns to manipulate public opinion, deceive populations and undermine confidence in our institutions.” Perhaps even more problematic, if society has no means to distinguish a fake video from a real one, any person could have plausible deniability for anything they do or say on film: It’s all fake news.
A weekend ago, the country turned itself inside out over a badly edited video of some teens from a Catholic school nobody had ever heard of interacting with old drum-beating protestor nobody had ever heard of.  The deceptive video went viral (is there a stronger word?) and was widely viewed even though the original video was discredited in under 12 hours.  People still cling to the original video because it reinforces their mental preconceptions. 

The lesson here isn't that videos lie (or not), it's that people shouldn't jump to conclusions and just forward something.  People should care about the truth and not just whatever gives them a momentary pleasure.

My view is that the same phenomenon that took place with Photoshop will take place with these fake videos.  They're likely to become extremely common because to some extent they can be done on a smart phone (by which I mean I don't know if they'd be as good as "Jennifer Buscemi"), while to do convincing things with Photoshop requires some skills.  Given the large number of deep fakes that will be coming from anyone with a phone who wants to make one, it sounds like we're going to see huge numbers of fakes that are relatively easy to dismiss.  We shouldn't forget that there are going to be some professionals somewhere capable of making really good fakes.  

Final words to Westling:
However, we should not assume that society will fall into an abyss of deception and disinformation if we do not take steps to regulate the technology. There are many significant benefits that the technology can provide, such as aging photos of children missing for decades or creating lifelike versions of historical figures for children in class. Instead of rushing to draft legislation, lawmakers should look to the past and realize that deep fakes are not some unprecedented problem. Instead, deep fakes simply represent the newest technique in a long line of deceptive audiovisual practices that have been used throughout history. So long as we understand this fact, we can be confident that society will come up with ways of mitigating new harms or threats from deep fakes on its own.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

I Have to Agree

Cartoonist Tom Stiglich makes a comment on New York's new law making abortion fully legal up until the moment a mother would give birth at a full term.  The law also removed requirements that a doctor perform the procedure opening the possibility it could be done by midwife or anyone convenient.   

With all the cheerleading and enthusiasm in the coverage it's hard to get a succinct summary of what's in it.  The cheering is because New York's law used to end abortions at 24 weeks, and some news organizations just don't understand why anyone thinks this bill is anything but good.  The thing is, 24 weeks is more like the actual Roe vs Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the first trimester.  In general, the US is so far past Roe that we can't see it in the rear view mirror.  (We're also past what most other "enlightened" countries allow)   This summary from WQAD here:
Not only will the law preserve access to abortions, it also removes abortion from the state’s criminal code. This would protect doctors or medical professionals who perform abortions from criminal prosecution. The law also now allows medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions in New York.

“The old law had criminal penalties. It was written that the doctor or professional could be held criminally liable,” Cuomo said during an interview on WNYC Wednesday.

The law also addresses late-term abortions. Under New York’s Reproductive Health Act, they can be performed after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or when necessary to protect the life of the mother.
That OB/GYN in the first news article linked  above is not the first OB/GYN I've read who says there is no such thing as an abortion required in the final trimester to save the life of the mother.  Modern medicine is way past that.  The day after that law was passed, several commentators said that if a baby should survive an attempt at an abortion, rescue or resuscitation was not required.  The law allowed someone to simply kill the child.  .

Faced with this expansion of abortion up to the end of pregnancy (which will only be if the mother's health is endangered - including her mental attitude?) Virginia is apparently saying "hold ma beer" and working on a bill that goes farther.

From the Legal Insurrection Blog:
On Monday, Virginia Democratic Delegate Kathy Tran introduced the “The Repeal Act“, an extreme legislative proposal that would significantly loosen Virginia’s abortion restrictions, particularly in the third trimester:
Tran’s legislation would have loosened rules on the legality of third-term abortion, which is currently only allowed if three doctors conclude a woman’s life or health is at a severe risk. Tran’s bill would have significantly lowered those standards, allowing third-trimester abortion on the advice of one doctor who could allow an abortion by certifying a pregnancy would “impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”
The bill would also loosen second-trimester abortion safeguards by doing away with the requirement that a state-licensed hospital performs them.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) is a big supporter, and most of the news I've heard today involve this rather shocking quote:
“If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians & mother"
It's not exactly a long stretch to read that as,  "If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable.  Then if the mother and physician decide to terminate the process, the infant will be euthanized".  Perhaps they'd say "the infant will receive a post-natal abortion." 

Legal Insurrection points out that Tran’s proposal is part of a nationwide push.  Democrats seem to be terrified that the Supreme Court may be turning away from them, and their highest priority seems to be to ensure abortions are still available.  Elected Democrats in several states including Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Mexico are pushing to make “the right” to get a late-term abortion much easier.  Of course, we've already seen New York is involved, too.

I've recently heard that since Roe, the US alone has had 60 million abortions.  Five dozen million children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins and others who never had a chance at their "right to life".  What a different place this country would be with them.  Remember when the rallying cry used to be "safe, legal and rare"?  That cry apparently went out the window years ago. 

As Mark Steyn once put it, "If abortion were the respectable medical procedure its proponents insist it is, there would be no such thing as "Planned Parenthood", anymore than there is a Planned Hernia megacorp."  The fact there is a PP says there's something else going on. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Blast From the Past

The last few weeks have brought some on and off work on something I haven't been doing in years.

Telescope making.

I got interested in astronomy as a kid and had my first good telescope by junior high school (a 4" f10 reflector - good is a relative term).  In those days, we'd see stories about people who made their own telescopes complete from grinding a mirror through making a mount for it.  There was a Mars opposition at some time during my high school years, and I bought a kit to make a mirror.  I was going to do it!

Except without someone to guide you through the rough points, it's not necessarily easy.  In my case, I banged the mirror on my work stand (a 55 gallon drum, which my parents graciously allowed in my bedroom) and took a big chip out of it.  Instead of finishing the mirror and painting the chip flat black, the accepted wisdom of how to fix such things,  I tried to grind the chip out and, well, never did get that 8" mirror made.

Fast forward 20 years to about 1990, now an adult working for Major SE Defense Contractor, when I got the bug again.  This time, it was the information age and the internet offered this precursor to the web called Newsgroups.  Buoyed on by the folks on sci.astro.amateur, and with the help of a really great book, I made my first successful mirror and first good telescope.  For those who will understand this, it's a 6" f8 mirror; that is, 48" focal length, and a Newtonian Reflector.  It makes a good size, but like a lot of addictions, it leaves you wanting more.  (I rush to add that those newsgroups are still there today!)

I started a bigger mirror, 10" f6.  I missed the focal length; it came out f5.6 which is still perfectly usable.  This was a more difficult mirror, but a 10" mirror gives a serious advantage over the smaller mirror.  Area goes up as radius squared, so it has a little under 3 times the area as the 6" mirror.  I completed the 10", again with some help from people I met on the newsgroups.  I built the telescope as a Dobsonian, altitude-azimuth style mount.  This is actually the second iteration of the telescope, when I replaced the typical cardboard tube with a metal tube.

By extreme luck, I completed this telescope in early 1994, the year that Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter.  Nobody in all of human history had ever seen such a thing, and we saw the impact marks on Jupiter from our backyard through this telescope.  Armed with star charts and the old fashioned method of "star hopping" (going from landmark star to star in your finder scope until you find the object you're looking for), I spent several years exploring the sky with it. 

The story goes a bit sideways here.  These telescopes have a lot going for them but they have a serious drawback: they don't track an object so that you constantly have to reposition the scope while looking at a planet or other object to compensate for the apparent motion in the eyepiece.  On higher powers, say 300x or more, the earth's rotation can cause a planet to drift cross the field of view in perhaps ten seconds.  (As a side note, this is half the speed of a clock's hour hand.  A star on the celestial equator goes from east to west in 12 hours.  That's the same as going from 3 to 9 on a clock - only the clock does it twice as fast)

It's now in the early 2000s, and my career had gotten to the point where I had "more money than time" and with that the funds to buy a commercial telescope with a computerized tracking mount and a new feature called "GoTo".  With a GoTo system, you typically tell a handheld controller what object you want to view and it moves the telescope until it puts that object in your field of view.  I literally saw more deep sky objects in my first night with that scope than I used to see in a season without the GoTo feature. 

One night, we set up a test in the backyard.  We put the commercial telescope, an 11" compound reflector side by side with my 10" reflector.  We pushed the same magnification on both scopes.  Both Mrs. Graybeard and I thought the image in my telescope was better. 

This led to a plan to go back to using mine and getting a mount for it that allowed tracking and GoTo.   Much to my surprise, I don't have any pictures of the telescope at that time.  I repainted it blue because the original paint job chipped maddeningly (I bought the tube pre-painted inside and out) . 

This Christmas, I moved the telescope on the tripod out to the shop, as I've done every year, and one of the casters disintegrated - sort of a flat tire.  I had to put wheels on it.  I thought bigger casters would be better than the ones it had, so they got upgraded from 1-3/4" diameter to 4".  A little shop time was required to build mounting hardware for them.  Those are 4" casters simply because I had them.  They were for some project idea or other that got replaced. 

I had some generalized fixing that had to be done.  The mount was loose and I didn't recall how to tighten it.  I figured that out this week.  Finally, the telescope and mount could be reunited.  This isn't "done done" but is pretty close to it. 

The big telescope tube is 12" diameter and 60" long, for scale.  Oh, for closure, look to the right of the black mount and you'll see and odd-shaped blue structure with a white disk on its side.  That's my 6" f8 reflector that I started the story with.  (The black box with the orange strap on a cart is my smoker.)  It's in a square, plywood tube, but it's a Dobsonian style mount, too. 

I connected the controller computer to the mount and turned it on.  It acted like I'd turned it off the minute before.  Never missed a beat.  There's still a little bit of maintenance to do on things but it's usable.  The thing is, I haven't used it since the year was in single digits, like '08 or '09.  Our neighborhood trees (including my own) have grown up so much that it's difficult to see the sky, and what we can see is light polluted.  To use it now, the 4" casters won't cut it.  Those are fine for the porch, but to get it out to where it can see even a sliver of sky, I need 20 or 26" mountain bike tires on the mount.  Or garden cart wheels.  And that's another redesign and building project.