Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Law of Unintended Consequences And Suicidal Pilots

The Law has been on vivid display with the suicide plunge of the Germanwings A320 into a French mountainside.  It has been possible to see the heads of some of media types bulging under the pressure of trying to understand that there are no perfect decisions; that every decision involves compromise and needs to be based on trying to optimize conflicting outcomes.  "We reinforced cockpit doors and now we can't break them down when we need to!!"  "Someone has to DO something!!"  As always, when you the hear that, at a minimum put your hand on your wallet.  At worst, prepare to be railroaded "for safety". 

I don't know that it has reached its peak, but the insanity certainly cranked up to 11 today on Fox News' "Bulls and Bears" business program with the first segment debating whether or not every cockpit in every plane, should live stream video of what's going on in the cockpit to the ground.  The common argument was "it's cheap". 

No. It's. Not.  A single webcam is cheap.  The infrastructure they're suggesting to minimize the occurrence of an incredibly rare act is absolutely not. 

At any given moment, there are thousands of airplanes in the air.  I just grabbed this screen grab from Plane Finder, showing that at this moment, almost 12:30 EDT on a Saturday, there are over 8300 planes in the air. 
Actually, more than that; these are just flight positions reported by FAA, ground radars, which rely on aircraft transponder systems, and reports by ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast) systems on planes (shown in red).   Not every aircraft carries these systems, although all commercial Air Transport aircraft carry them.  The amount of video bandwidth required depends on the resolution and frame rate, but full motion low definition video (such as the old broadcast NTSC video) requires just over 4 MHz bandwidth.  There are no systems currently on an aircraft with this bandwidth freely available so that "all you gotta do" is add a webcam.  It would require new electronics installed on tens of thousands of aircraft.  Let's be generous and say for an Air Transport class avionics package, we can get new frequencies allocated, add an antenna and transceiver for $10,000 per plane onto 50,000 existing airplanes.  There's roughly $50 billion dollars in electronics to be made and installed (and I think I'm low-balling that); I'm sure my employer would love to take in a nice $50B, or some portion thereof. 

If there are 8300 aircraft in the airspace now, let's assume 10,000 during peak travel times - probably weekdays for business travel - sending video down, how many people need to be watching that video to see if something bad is happening?  10,000?  How much do you pay them?  It will be an exceptionally boring job, watching people who are typically just sitting and doing nothing actively for hours on end, so what kind of people will you get to work there?  How do you hire them? Where do they work?   Just for fun, let's figure in the course of a day you'll have 25,000 people working 24 hours.  At $15/hr, that's just over $13 Billion in pay.  How many more billions for the infrastructure? 

Even all of these questions are just the start.  Air Transport flights have what's called a Minimum Equipment List or MEL that details what equipment must be operating before it's allowed to take off.  Does the pilot monitor video cam need to be on the MEL?  Does the aircraft need redundant systems? If so double that $50B.  Systems don't just get put on airplanes; there are industry standardization forums that are created, and specifications agreed on by the airlines, the aircraft manufacturers and the electronics manufacturers. 

For perspective, FlightAware (another service that provides real time flight information) links to the Aviation Safety Network list of the total number of incidents tracked to "whack job" pilots.  There have been 12.  Most of them did not involve planes full of passengers; three incidents involved more than 100 casualties since 1976. 

And yet all of this begs the question, "so what?"  So what if we spend this few hundred billion dollars worldwide and put monitors in every cockpit?  What do we do with the information?  The video shows a fight in the cockpit, or just the copilot, so do we shoot the plane down?  Could we even reach the plane to shoot it down if we knew we had to?  We don't know the plane is a problem for itself or anyone on the ground, but let's kill everyone on board with an Air to Air Missile.  Or is it for postmortem; to try and figure out what happened when the plane went down? 

What a waste. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

World's Most Clever 3D Printer?

A few of the tech newsletters I get were abuzz this week about the Peachy Printer, a $100 3D printer that's based on a saltwater tank.  Yeah, that's what I said.  

The printer achieves its low cost, as a kit, by coming up with a way of eliminating the most expensive portion of a typical 3D printer, the structure including the XYZ motion control, motors and the large table which objects get printed on.

Most of you have seen something like the MakerBot, the Cube, or something from the open source RepRap project.  These printers produce their objects by applying a thin, molten layer of various plastics on the printer table.  The mechanics are quite similar to a CNC router, with an XY table, and a Z axis that raises and lowers the plastic heater/extruder.  The Peachy Printer is a stereolithography printer, which was really the first type of 3D printing and rapid prototyping developed.  In this approach, the object is  made by shining a laser on a fluid resin that polymerizes into a plastic where the laser hits.  A few thousandths of an inch below the top of the fluid was a platform that the plastic was formed on.  The platform is lowered and layer by layer the object is created.  The result was usually a thin, translucent, plastic shell model of your object. 

Peachy's first clever trick is to replace the large tank full of this fairly expensive material with a thin layer that floats on saltwater.  The next trick is that instead of precisely lowering the big table, they eliminate the table entirely, and raise the floating layer of resin higher as the part builds.  A saltwater drip system, like an IV, raises the level of the resin and allows the newly made object to hang down into the water.  The laser that polymerizes the plastic is directed by mirrors positioned magnetically by galvanometers, much like the coils in electric (analog) meters.  Instead of driving motors with a stepper motor controller, the mirrors are positioned with analog voltages - sounds - produced by the ubiquitous sound card in every computer.  The deflection (angle of the laser) depends on the sound level, which is usually pretty precisely controlled by the output DACs.  Check out this video and the one on their home page.

Peachy Printer has gone through capital raising with Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and BackerKit, raising the better part of a million bucks. 

Now for the bad parts, the "watch out for".  They haven't published any specs, yet, on how big an object it can print.  The website says nothing is shipping yet, and printers are expected to start shipping in July.  The Kickstarter fundraising started in September of 2013, 18 months ago, and they've already shipped out some beta test units.  I didn't dig very deep, but I think it's a safe conclusion that if early beta test went well in 2013, they'd be in full production by now.   The cheapest printers are $100 kits, there are also $400 and $1000 price points (different sizes).  The resins aren't exactly cheap, but you don't appear to go through a lot of it. 

One to keep your eye on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Machining Ultra Hard Materials - II

I missed something that I should have said last night

Grinding hard alloys is not new, and not limited to the lapidary equipment I mentioned last night.  Surface grinding machines have been around for ages, and that's just the start.  There are centerless grinders, cylindrical grinders, and more, to emphasize that grinding is an acceptable technique.  I steered away from those big tools because I just don't know of any hobby or small shop-sized grinders aside from a bench grinder or a hand held grinder.   

It turns out, I didn't double check.  Grizzly has a small (-ish) surface grinder at a price that falls in line with a lot of other home shop tools.  That probably means other people have them, too.  Griz doesn't have centerless or cylindrical grinders.  I don't think a surface grinder could do something like that bearing I was talking about. 

When I wanted to cut titanium on my Sherline milling machine, one of the retired machinists who uses one commented that I should grind it rather than machine it on the little milling machine.  Titanium is quite a bit more machinable than ceramics or superalloys; it handles quite a lot like stainless steel.  Still, this old machinist thought I'd be better off grinding than cutting.  I had no real trouble cutting it. 

I suppose I come at this from thinking of ceramics and other hard, brittle materials as being more like rocks and crystals, and grinding is the way to cut those.  There are millions of faceted stones on the market, including extremely hard ones like sapphire, rubies, and diamonds.  Every one of them was ground.  Despite the image we all have of the diamonds being cleaved with a hammer, probably from commercials, diamonds are "cut" by grinding the facets into them like every other type of stone.  Cleaving is only done on large, valuable stones, to make smaller, valuable stones out of them, which are then ground away to shape.   
A CNC lathe carving an ornamental angel in stone. Chances are, this is a softer stone like alabaster that can be cut with conventional steel or carbide cutters.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Machining Ultra Hard Materials

Inside many machines full of moving parts are bearings that facilitate that motion.  This 2010 video brought the subject to mind, especially the image of the large ceramic bearings they use in that engine (I believe the engineer called them Silicon Nitride).
Ceramics and other ultra hard materials are increasingly being pushed into this type of service because of their excellent wear resistance and light weight.  But how do you machine such a thing?  How would you machine a cylinder with a hole along its long axis in an ultra hard ceramic?  The basic design is pretty easy on your shop lathe if it's in metal.  I can imagine someone putting a piece of ceramic on a lathe or mill, trying to shape it with a conventional cutting tool and doing nothing but ruining their cutter.  The answer is grinding.

Metals cut very differently than hard, brittle materials like ceramics.  When seen under an electron microscope, the action of the metal under the cutting tool looks like putty flowing; the tool shears off a continuous curl of metal that looks like paste.   A brittle material won't cut like that.  Instead, you need to take a lesson from the lapidaries, people who cut and shape hard gemstones.

A lapidary will speak in terms of hardness, and they're probably using the Moh's hardness scale of minerals, which was derived as a comparison of which stones scratch each other.  The problem with this scale is that it has big gaps and not many direct comparisons to engineering materials.  Most ceramics used as bearings are clustered toward the upper end of the scale, and you'll need to be machining with diamond tools.  Diamond tools are much more common than they used to be, especially since the granite counters and tiles became commonplace and led to so many tools for working the rock.  Like the granite workers, cutting ceramics for bearings will be done wet to both cool the work and carry away the dust ground off the piece, in an abrasive slurry.  Diamonds are used to cut every type of stone there is, even other diamonds.   

Anyone out there with machine shop experience is probably in full pucker mode by now; cringing, maybe with the hair on their neck standing up.  You absolutely don't want the abrasive particles from the work falling on any machine tool, and you especially don't want the abrasive slurry on your machine!  Woodworkers will sand on their lathes, machinists usually don't.  The reason is simple:  your cuts depend on the accuracy of the machine's beds.  500 grit abrasive is a fine abrasive to even metal workers, but each particle is .002" diameter and having your work off .002" from those grains grinding on the beds is unacceptable.

Since my aim here is always "how to" with an eye toward rebuilding after the SHTF, here's what I have in mind.  To begin with, rock lathes for lapidaries exist, but to cut the outer diameter, a reasonable way would be on the machines that lapidaries use to facet stones into finished gems.  This is an example, but there are lots of models out there.  With a few diamond laps (the plates pictured on the machine) this could cut everything up to the hardest ceramics known.  This could be used to cut the outer diameter in a few steps, and get it reasonably smooth and symmetrical.  Lapidaries also cut circular stones on what are more like regular bench grinders, but that can handle being wet.  If there is a "standard" or most popular grinder, this one probably fits that description.  Another source for both types of machine is these guys.  A shop made fixture to hold the stone while it's being shaped to keep it circular could make it a one machine job.  

If I was looking to get something for shaping ceramics, I'd look for a used faceting machine.  They're already used in industry for some precision grinding - in fact, more are probably used for that than for gem cutting.  That would allow me to cut a number of facets, small flats, all around the diameter of the bearing I'm trying to make (faceters call this "girdling").  Then I could smooth between the facets manually and make it a smoother cylinder.  Drilling the hole axially is a simpler task with diamond drill bits available at Amazon and other places.  Seems like it would be easy on a drill press with work submerged in a water bath in a piece of Tupperware.  Getting it precisely on axis is tricky, and I think I'd do that first, before mounting it in some way to the other machines for grinding the outer diameter, which would act to center the bore in the diameter.

By the way, there are already companies that have made CNC milling machines for grinding ceramics, but they sell their services as product makers, not the machines.  That I can find.  So far. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

And They Vote

From the email today...
Probably best to offer this without comment... 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Couple More Weekend Shots

Before the Blue Angels took to the air today, an F-22, F-16, and P-51 took to the air together for several laps around the airport and over the house.
The weather was murkier today, so it was tough getting good exposures with blue sky in the background.   About as good as I could do was this:

This Sigma 70-300 zoom isn't the sharpest lens in the box, but 300mm on a small sensor really does reach out there.   I helped by putting the camera in manual focus, pre-focusing at infinity, setting the zoom to max, and ISO to 800 to get faster shutter speeds to reduce the impact of my moving around. 
Aside from standing outside for a while, I was extremely busy this weekend, so I haven't paid even the smallest bit of attention to the rest of the world.  Judging by a few minutes of exposure to news, it looks like same old same old. 

As Seen From My Yard

When you can't get all four of them in the frame, you know you're close.  Sigma 70-300 at 300mm on a Canon T3i, 1/800 sec at f16.  Image shrunk but not cropped in Gimp, light touch with unsharp masking tool. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Market Does What Markets Do - A Better Table Saw Safety

In the past couple of years, I've written a few times about the Saw Stop "flesh sensing" technology and the Fed.Gov's rush to make a previously unavailable safety feature from a boutique manufacturer into mandatory equipment.  A quick summary of the story (from here and here) for new readers follows:
In the beginning of the 2000s, an inventor developed a sensing technology that could potentially make table saws much safer. He shopped his idea to the major tool manufacturers, but it was untested, untried technology.  Saw makers were concerned about rolling it out into their products, as well as how durable it would be.  This is the kind of safety that could be there for 20 years before it gets called on to work, and the liability for it not working could be just as bad as not having it.  Since no tool maker would license the technology, the inventor started his own company: Saw Stop.
In 2010, a construction worker won a lawsuit against Ryobi tools' parent company for producing a "dangerous and defective" table saw.  The plaintiff was awarded $1.5 million when he sued for $250,000.  The defect?  It didn't include that option. 
The problem is the lawsuit was based the existence of Saw Stop's technology, which had only been available on large (cabinet) saws and had never been tried on a jobsite saw like the one in the lawsuit: in other words, Ryobi was punished for not including a safety device that never existed for their product
Just like guns, the real safety is in the operator's head.  This suit started when that worker had a really bad accident on a table saw.  His work was binding in the saw, so he did something stupid and pushed harder onto it, eventually seriously injuring his hand.  I can see him arguing he has a suit against his employer for insufficient training before having him use a dangerous tool, but not against Ryobi.  As I've said before, this isn't about safety and "the right to cut my finger off" as Steven Colbert puts it.  It's about how a manufacturer can be found to be producing a "dangerous and defective" product for not including a feature that didn't exist. 

Up until recently, there was only one saw on the market with a system that saves the user's hands, the one produced by Saw Stop.  Their system was self-sacrificial: when it fired, it damaged the aluminum piece that stopped the blade and both that piece and the mechanism had to be replaced.  It potentially damaged the blade and saw itself.  It's expensive, but cheap compared to ER costs and, one would argue, cheap compared to life without a finger or worse.  But the CPSC voted 5-0 to look into requiring some sort of blade stopping technology on all new table saws, virtually giving a monopoly on saw production to Saw Stop - should they rule it's mandatory.  

Markets, though, respond to competition by encouraging the competitors to develop a better system which outperforms the market leader.   Saw Stop's effective monopoly ends now with the introduction of the Bosch Active Response Technology™ System on their 10" portable contractors' saw, called a GTS1041A Reaxx Jobsite Tablesaw.  Unlike the Saw Stop system, the Bosch Reaxx doesn't grab the blade and have to be replaced after each stoppage.  Instead, a dual cartridge (possibly a CO2 cartridge) punches a release and the spinning blade is dropped below the table.  Should the system activate, it can be reset and work resumed in a minute.  The blade and saw remain undamaged.  Yes, you'll get nicked by the blade, just like with the Saw Stop, but you keep your fingers and your saw.  Sounds like a better trade to me.  The dual cartridge can be replaced after use and a trip to a factory service center is recommended after "a few dozen activations". Personally, I think if you activate this thing a few dozen times, you should take up a profession (or hobby) that doesn't involve sharp things. 

In my mind, it's a better system than Saw Stop's system.  Whether or not it's a better saw than Saw Stop's equivalent I don't know.  There are problems with Saw Stop's system working on damp wood, and since this isn't on the market, there are no reports at this time.  One commenter at Fine Woodworking said it'll be available in the fall, with an MSRP of just about $1500.  Since their saws seem to sell for half of MSRP at Amazon (convenience) figure street price will be $750-ish. Video here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

It Was Hard to Concentrate Today

These guys are in town for an air show this weekend.
Practicing a few hours today, overhead, low and loud.  The sound of Awesome.  I could hear them through the walls at work and meetings were rough.  Went outside at lunch to watch what I could but they weren't close.  Didn't see very much.

It will be worse tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Death of The Dollar By A Thousand Cuts

I've been covering news on the decline of the dollar as long as I've been here, so I should update you on the latest.

Last week, Britain announced it had decided to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a  new, China-led development bank for Asia.  By itself, it's not a major slap at the US and the Fed, but it adds to the increasing economic power in China and that power's movement away from the US. 
Membership by Britain, America’s closest ally and the first would-be member from the Group of 7 leading economies, would be a major step toward China’s goal of making the bank, which President Xi Jinping inaugurated last October, a global financial institution rivaling the World Bank.
That piece was dated March 13.  I say that because it didn't take long before other members of the G7 joined Britain; yesterday, Germany, France and Italy said they were joining Britain.
The concerted move to participate in Beijing’s flagship economic outreach project was a diplomatic blow to the United States, reflecting European eagerness to partner with China’s fast-growing economy, the world’s second largest.

The announcement comes amid prickly trade negotiations between Brussels and Washington, and at a time when EU and Asian governments are frustrated that the US Congress has held up a reform of voting rights in the International Monetary Fund, due to give China and other emerging powers more say in global economic governance.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble made the announcement at a joint news conference with visiting Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai, at which no questions were allowed. He said Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and a major trade partner of Beijing, would be a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
It's also being reported that this is just the start, with Australia, South Korea, and more European countries being rumored to be next to join.  The Obamanoids began by opposing, threatening and cajoling.  Now that other countries have acted in their own best interest, the 'noids are getting quieter.  The Chinese aren't missing the chance to gloat.

While it's easy to say this isn't important, I think that's short sighted.  Taken together, these all do seem to be another indicator of America's flagging strength as an economic power as economic activity floods from the West and the US to China and the East.  It has been widely said, (even here) that we're seeing the dawn of the Chinese century; this is just a little more evidence.  The rest of the world has been moving away from the dollar more and more.  We'd be in real trouble if the rest of the Western world wasn't in such bad shape.   

To say the world is in precarious mess is to understate it.  Germany and Sweden have started issuing bonds at negative interest rates; other countries are talking about doing it.  Negative interest means you are guaranteed to lose money when you buy them.  You're not getting paid to buy their debt; you're paying for the privilege of funding their debt, for the privilege of losing money.  So why would anyone buy bonds at negative interest?  I can think of only two reasons: either the buyers think it's the option in which they lose the least amount of money, that is, if they don't buy the negative rate they'll get something like a Greek haircut elsewhere, or they think one of the Central Banks will come to the rescue and buy up that debt, getting them positive interest.  The second one seems like a stretch.  Compared to negative interest, US bonds seem stellar with 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds yield about 2.03% and 20-year bonds yield at 2.33%.

Mark Hendrickson, an adjunct professor at Grove City College in Grove City, Penn., has an excellent observation on negative interest rates in an interesting read at Forbes.   
"We have the spectacle of widespread acceptance [by investors] of a nominally negative return on paper denominated in a currency that the relevant central bank is actively trying to depreciate," he writes in an article for Forbes.

"Negative interest rates are a weird and alarming symptom of profound economic dysfunction," Hendrickson states. "In a healthy economy, interest rates coordinate production between the present and the future according to people’s composite time preferences."
We're in an outright currency war, with nations in a race to the bottom to see how much they can devalue their currency.  The rates are rippling disruption through all the markets everywhere.  This is what you get when academics run the world.  Nothing is fixed, every currency is relative, so every currency wants to inflate and deflate when it's good for the ruling classes and too bad if they destroy savers (what kind of interest have you earned in this seven years of zero interest rates?).
BERLIN: German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and China’s Vice Premier Ma Kai smile at their news conference here on Tuesday.—Reuters

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Old Tech Doesn't Die; It Just Fades Away

A few weeks ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was doing an interview with ABC News and the News Babe asked him a set of "lightning round" questions.  One of the questions was "what piece of today's technology won't be around in 10 years".  After a moment of thought, he answered "a fountain pen".

A fountain pen?  A computer guy might think that writing is going away.  OK.  What replaces it?

While I can imagine not using a keyboard for entry into my computer, it's certainly more crowd-friendly in an open office environment to type than it is to use voice dictation.  Hand writing would slow me down terribly, unless handwriting recognition is a hundred times better than it is now.  The latest trend in corporate abuse of workers is "workplace effectiveness".  The idea is to eliminate private offices (for the little people, of course, not for them) and put everyone in big open spaces so that people can collaborate.  With meeting rooms and conference rooms sprinkled around the facility, so that they can get away from some of the audio din of a group of people working.  In short, a giant farm of wall-less or short-walled cubicles with some conference rooms around the outside. 

Because of all that, I don't see keyboards going away if cube farms are the way of the world.  Pen interfaces have a way to go to catch up with speed and feel of writing on paper.  Styluses on glass screens feel even worse.

Aside from the rare occupations that require penmanship, writing by hand is becoming a smaller part of most our days.  Schools are even dropping the teaching of cursive writing, prompting speculation that cursive writing is dead.  Maybe I'm being a bit conspiratorial here, but I can easily imagine some Bill Ayres-type educators somewhere deciding that if kids can't read cursive, they can't read our founding documents.  Heck, things I'd consider more tin-foil-hat-conspiratorial than that happen every day; two or three times on any given Friday.

The thing is, there is good correlation between being able to write cursively, attractively, and high wealth/status.  This is widely enough known that private schools are teaching their children penmanship from the earliest grades.  Is the reason you don't need to work on a beautiful John Hancock to sign important documents because you don't already have a beautiful John Hancock?  That it's too late to make a first impression with your signature once you're in the door?
(A $174,000 Caran d'Ache "1010" fountain pen)

Aside from the resurgence of popularity of high quality fountain pens, the idea they'd be gone just doesn't seem likely to me.  Things like that don't go away.  They're always there, just used more for the interesting hobby aspects.  There's an almost perpetual interest in operating older radio gear among hams, and there's no shortage of people looking for penny farthing or high wheel bikes, or other "obsolete tech".  There are collectors (and users) of slide rules.  Look at calligraphy: it's only used as an art form for writing on formal documents, and almost nowhere else, but it's not gone gone. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

This Week's Solar Eclipse Is Remarkably Rare

Total solar eclipses in general are remarkably rare events.  In the days before mass communications and fast transportation, the odds were essentially zero that any person would see one in their lifetime.  You have to be exceptionally lucky to live where a total solar eclipse goes through.  For much of the world, until the late 19th century, the odds were essentially zero that they had ever even heard of a solar eclipse. 

Today, they're widely reported and there's a specialty tour industry that takes interested people to see the Eclipse.  I keep telling myself I should sign up for one.  Bucket list and all. 

This Friday's eclipse is even more rare than usual.  To begin with, Friday's eclipse ends with the moons shadow touching the geographic North Pole at local noon.  But Friday also marks the Spring Equinox - the first day of spring.  Since the North Pole is the darkest point in the "Land of the Midnight Sun", Friday will be the first day with the sun above the horizon this year.  One site I saw said eclipses that hit the North Pole happen roughly every 100,000 years.  An eclipse expedition to the Norwegian island of Svalbard estimates that solar eclipses with this geometry happen every 500,000 years. If the first number is true, that seems low. 
In this NASA polar projection, the moon's shadow starts at the lower left end of that blue ring that shows the path of totality.  The shadow moves east (counterclockwise) before arcing north and touching off the planet at the pole. 

There's a bonus.  Two weeks after the solar eclipse, on the New Moon, there will be a lunar eclipse on the full moon.  (All solar eclipses, by definition, can only occur on the New Moon and all lunar eclipses on Full Moon).  Lunar eclipses, in contrast to solar, are visible over the entire moon-facing hemisphere at the time they line up for the eclipse.  This one will be visible to some degree from the US, but not from Europe. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Projects 'R Us

A busy weekend of projects, again.  One of them was a project for someone else that I can't talk about except to say that it took up 4 or 5 hours. 

The next big project was to continue finishing the guitar kit. I think I'm up to 8 coats of polyurethane on the front of the guitar's body.  But it seems we can't have triumph without a little tragedy.  Two little  tragedies.  First, I went to sand the back so I can apply more coats and ended up taking off stain, which meant I had to re-stain the back.  Second, after several polyurethane coats on the neck, I set it down and turned my back on it for one freaking second and the wind knocked my finishing box over, breaking a chunk off the headstock.  Nothing that can't be fixed - by cutting, sanding and starting the finish over.  One step forward, two steps back.

Got out for a few hours of fishing, or boat ride.  It has been really warm here; morning lows are about 15 degrees above average, like most of the winter.  Nice for riding around in an open boat, not as nice for cleaning up everything afterward at noon.   

Then there's this little collection of things that need attention.  Not this weekend, though.
You're not seeing things.  The three in front are the 80% lowers from the "3 fer sale" at Tactical Machining; the two in back are "0% lowers": just forgings.  They were all handy for this family photo while doing some straightening up in the shop. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pi Day of the Century: 3-14-15

Pi day is an American thing, countries that list the date before the month will never have one, and this one is the special, once-in-a-century time when the month, day and year contain the first 5 significant digits of pi.  It's virtually a dead lock bet that nobody reading this today will be alive to see the next one, unless some medical miracles occur.
I read the book around 30 years ago.  I recall it was pretty interesting history, written with less of a dry and dusty tone than you might think.  The author fled the communist Czechoslovakia to the US and has a distinct anti-authoritarian tone.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Awesomeness of the Week

From a fellow graybeard at work, and found in a few places online, Post-Apocalyptic Charlie Brown.
One of the comments on Boing Boing remarked that seeing Snoopy not as a beagle bothered them more than they thought it should.  The excellent reply was:
It's the 38th Snoopy. He stopped caring about numbers round about Snoopy the 15th and breeds at Snoopy the 23rd. Now any black/white hound is good enough.
From the article on IO9
After the end of everything, there'll still be one person who can never stay knocked over: Good Ol' Charlie Brown. And his bedraggled mutt, Snoopy. This awesome fan art by Max Dunbar features inks by Vitali Iakovlev and colors by Sean Ellery. Click through to see the whole thing.
Max Dunbar is a professional artist, as you might imagine.  He has a personal webpage as well as that Deviant Art link above.  Worth checking out. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Thought on the ATF Green Tip Ban

I know a lot of other folks have said this, but the BATFE didn't say, "we're not doing it" they said, "not now".
"plans more study"?  Hardly a no.  They went on to say,
“After the close of the comment period, ATF will process the comments received, further evaluate the issues raised therein, and provide additional open and transparent process (for example, through additional proposals and opportunities for comment) before proceeding with any framework,”
In the words of Bluto from Animal House, they're saying, "Over?  Nothing is over until we decide it is".  

What I'd like to add is that if I interpret this right, what Katie Pavlich posted last Friday says the exemption is gone now.  I don't care if they say it's an unintended "publishing error" and if they refer back to the '05 document, what's in that 2014 regulation bulletin is published law.  It means what it says and you can bet a bunch of judges would rule against it now.  The only argument we have is that regardless of that exemption, the M855/SS109 bullet doesn't meet the legal definition of armor piercing they provide in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(B). 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Techy Tuesday - The Next Great Tech Battle is For ...

The next great battle of the tech titans isn't over your phone, your tablet or your appliance computer.  It's for your car's dashboard. 

There has been a flurry of stories in the tech press lately about Apple going into the car business.  There have been rumors that the tech giant will buy Elon Musk's Tesla Motors.  Perhaps feeding that story is the Business Insider story that Apple has been hiring Tesla engineers, and the kind of folks with direct electric car experience.  Business Insider reports:
After writing about how the van could be used for a self-driving car, we got an unsolicited email from an employee at Apple about "vehicle development" at the company.

This person said Tesla employees were "jumping ship" to work at Apple.

"Apple's latest project is too exciting to pass up," the person said. "I think it will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money."
Add to the mix that Apple as also been reported to have "poached" battery experts from A123 Systems,, a company selling "game changing energy storage solutions". Batteries are key, of course, for electric cars, but they're also key for the smaller devices Apple is best known for.  The Financial Times reported that among the hires was the head of Mercedes-Benz's Silicon Valley R&D unit.

Apple building cars is a fun story.  The company is widely reported to be the richest in the world, and with $178 billion in cash reserves, more than twice the total $80 billion used to bail out the US auto industry in 2008, and enough to buy the entire US auto industry.  It’s now twice the size of ExxonMobil, and experts say that it could start rolling out production cars as soon as 2020 if it wants.

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole effort is to get better engineering input and data so they can target the auto dashboard.  Imagine every control on your dashboard replaced by a group of iPad-like devices with touchscreens, familiar gesture inputs and perhaps a Siri-like agent to help you do things.  I've kind of always wanted to tell my car, "set speed to 47" or something like that.  Business Insider's speculation almost supports that:
More likely, Apple is working on new iPhone-to-car experiences that will compete with what Tesla offers in its vehicles. Apple has an initiative called CarPlay that lets you control certain cars' entertainment and other systems with your smartphone. It was supposed to come out in 2014 but has been delayed, and it has only just started to emerge on cars like the 2015 Hyundai Sonata.

So perhaps this Apple employee is talking about things like using your iPhone to unlock and drive a CarPlay-partner car without needing a key — Tesla began offering this with its 6.0 system update last year. Or perhaps a much deeper set of integrated experiences with navigation, audio, and other systems.
Enter the Apple-Google rivalry.  To counter the Apple CarPlay, Google's Android OS puts up Android Auto.  The system is said to be a new dashboard system meant to let a smartphone power a car’s center screen. Tasks as varied as navigation, communication and music apps, all constantly talking to the cloud. And to the driver.  According to that Newsmax story:
"After years of being treated as an interesting side business, autos have become the latest obsession for Silicon Valley, with Apple assigning about 200 people to work on electric vehicle technology and Google saying it envisions the public using driverless cars within five years," write Aaron Kessler and Brian Chen of The New York Times.  
Both companies, of course, are being quiet about their strategies.  It's all about safety.
"We looked at what people do with their phones in the car, and it was scary," Andrew Brenner, lead project manager on Google’s Android Auto team, told The Times. "You want to say to them, ‘Yikes, no, don’t do that.’"
In the coming weeks and months, dealerships around the country will begin selling vehicles capable of running Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or both. The systems go far beyond currently available Bluetooth pairing for playing music or making a hands-free call, and allow for Google’s or Apple’s operating system to essentially take over the center screen and certain buttons within the car.

But driverless cars within five years?  I'd be less than surprised to hear that Apple, Google and some others have been pushing self-driving cars as a way to do research on all the things they don't know that they need to know before they can take over the dashboard.  On the other hand Mercedez Benz showed off a driverless car in San Francisco this week (I think it's still driving around out there) just to show it happening. Clearly the technology is developing quickly, but I hear that cars you can drive are only going to be on the market for a few more years.  After that, they'll be on the road until they're unfixable, or legislated off the roads.  This concerns me because in many ways, driving a car is considerably more complex than flying a plane, yet airplane autopilots get really serious amounts of money dumped into certifying them safe.  Even with that effort and expense, aircraft automatic control systems will still get confused and do the wrong things.  Pilots talk about trying to stay alert at all times should the autopilot hand control back, but one of the disadvantages of the modern autopilots is that they're so good pilots get out of practice flying.   Will self driving cars caught in a critical moment hand control off to someone reading a book on their tablet, listening to music or otherwise engaged with people in the car? 
(Apple's current CarPlay - NY Times and Apple)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Quite Possibly Obama's Stupidest Statement

Competition for the title of the Stupidest is tough, but quite possibly the stupidest thing the president has said was that "in certain neighborhoods it's easier to buy a gun than a book or fresh vegetable".
“As long as you can go in some neighborhoods and it is easier for you to buy a firearm than it is for you to buy a book, there are neighborhoods where it is easier for you to buy a handgun and clips than it is for you to buy a fresh vegetable, as long as that’s the case, we’re going to continue to see unnecessary violence,”
What could that possibly mean?  If a neighborhood has gun stores, book stores and grocery stores, it's always absolutely easier to buy the book or fresh vegetable.  I know of no stores that demand you be over 21 to buy veggies; maybe to buy certain books if there's still such a thing as obscenity in 2015.  Never heard of background or NICS checks or anything remotely like a 4473 to buy books or vegetables.  Never heard of a 3 day waiting period to buy a book or vegetable.  On the other hand, while I admit my experience is limited, I've never seen gun stores selling vegetables although many sell books and it's easier to buy a book than a gun in a gun store. So even if the neighborhood had nothing but gun stores, it's still not a true statement.  It's a lie being used to damage discussion in society. 

Always the man to resort to straw man arguments, assigning an argument no one has ever made to the other side so that he can make fun of it, the Douchebag continued
“In some places it goes the opposite direction. People say we should have firearms in kindergarten and have machine guns in bars. You think I’m exaggerating,”
Firearms in kindergarten and machine guns in bars?  Is anyone on record ever suggesting this? Personally, kindergarten teachers with guns don't bother me a bit, if they're mature adults and can legally own one.  But that's not the point.  It's the absurd arguments, the "say anything to get your way" that disgusts me. 

Their frustration with not being able to impose more controls through congress is pretty evident.  The arguments make sixth graders on the schoolyard seem like brilliant debaters in comparison.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Busy Busy

Projects are wrapping up (pun intended).  The MHX fishing rod is done, although it didn't need any more wrapping.  Put on the first coat of epoxy Friday night, the second last night.  It's ready to go fishing - and hopefully last much, much longer than the 15 minutes the first blank lasted.  

Worked a lot on the guitar.  The binding had needed cleaning; it was colored by the stains in a lot of places.  That's meticulous work scraping with a single edged razor blade, but I did that yesterday.  The neck and back were re-stained.  It began with my thinking that perhaps dissolving the Transtint dye in alcohol instead of water would bring the grain up less, and instead of re-staining with brown, I first mixed red, and then half red/half the "reddish-brown" from the bottle.  It definitely makes the red more noticeable, so I did the back of the body to make it match better.  You can see the contrast with the side in the original color here.

Took a cardboard box, cut out most of one side, lined it with a towel in attempt to capture overspray, and started spraying it with Minwax semi-gloss polyurethane.  Did two coats on the neck, two on the back and one on the front. 
The Minwax instructions say you can spray multiple coats within 2 hours between them, and if you go over that, let it sit 72 hours and then sand before spraying more.  That's the plan: to let it sit until next weekend, sand and start spraying again. 

The rest of the weekend was spent in study and planning for some other things I've got going on that needed attention.  And that I can't quite mention yet. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Wanna Build An 80% Lower AR?

SurvivalBlog linked to a sale on Tactical Machining.  80% lowers, unfinished, $29 each if you buy 3
I've griped before that 80% lowers are often twice what finished lowers cost, even when you add in the FFL fee.  Not this time.  This is a smokin' deal. 

They say that when they're out of stock, it's over.  SurvivalBlog gets a lot more readers than I do, so if you want to do a club build, Get Thee Hence!

EDIT 3/8 1845 EDT:  I emailed Tactical Machining to ask if this is a regular price, and folks can order them at the "3fer" price.  Yes!  Quoting here:
We have over 900 in de-burring right now and more in production.  We will still take phone orders at 386-490-4464 and will have all those back in stock in a few days too.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Law Breaking Continues - BATFE ALREADY Banned Green Tip

Hat tip to Bob Owens for the link to Katie Pavlich at Town Hall.  Katie did some real journalism research and dug into a document called the BATF Regulation Guides, which come out approximately every ten years.  These have to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, a time consuming process.  The 2014 Regulation Guides don't show the exemption for the M855/SS109 in these rules published in September 2014, six months before they asked for comment on reclassifying it.
Because of the lengthy amount of time it takes for OMB to approve a new ATF Regulation Guide, ATF's comment period is just for show. ATF officials and the White House have (and never did) no interest in actually listening to or considering comments that are currently being submitted. The exemption for the ammunition in question has already been stripped out of the regulation handbook moving forward and "green-tip" has been reclassified as "armor piercing." The rules have been changed. 
This is, yet again, another violation of the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946.  They are simply not allowed to change regulations without going through the process; it doesn't count if the rule is already published.
A review of the timeline:
January 2015: ATF published a new, OMB approved Regulation Guide stripping AR-15 "green-tip" from its armor piercing exemption list.
February 2015: ATF proposes a ban (which they've already put in place through their handbook published in January) on AR-15 "green-tip" ammunition and opens up a comment period.
March 16, 2015: The comment period about the proposed/already implemented ban on AR-15 "green-tip" ammunition closes, ATF ignores tens-of-thousands of comments because they were never going to consider them in the first place, and continues with the regulations outlined in the new 2014 Regulation Guide.
Reprint of the 2005 edition, with the exemption for SS109/M855 highlighted.  It's missing in the new version (pdf link page 109).

Offered as a thought experiment:  since the round is identified by its green tip, couldn't it be camouflaged by dipping every round in another color paint?  (Don't use black - that actually is armor piercing).  How about red, like M196 tracer rounds?  Or pink - like nothing?

Last night, Mrs Graybeard and I were talking about current situations.  I was saying the administration has gone into full court press or two minute drill mode.  They are going to flood ruling after ruling, completely ignoring the constitution, completely ignoring the legality of what they're doing and completely ignoring anyone attempting to stop them.  They've shown over and over that if they're even confronted they will stonewall, delay, and stonewall some more.  Did anyone in BATFE ever get in trouble for Fast and Furious?  Did anyone at State get in trouble for Benghazi?  Has anyone at Treasury even gotten talked to about stealing $3 Billion?  By the time they're stopped, if they're ever stopped, the damage will have been done.  On Wednesday, No Lawyers, Only Guns and Money posted about a "sternly worded letter" sent by 238 congressmen to BATFE over the M855/SS109 ban.  Do you honestly think a letter, a court ruling, or anything short of being arrested and physically confined will stop these guys? 

Just think:  two months down, 46 to go.  As WRSA says, "here we are; imagine where we'll be".

"I Love These Things!", Said the Lioness

Apparently, a woman on a south African trip to someplace she could see lions discovered that the lions know how to open car doors.  The lioness walks over to the car door, takes the handle in her mouth and calmly opens the door.  You can hear the woman in the video scream and say, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t know they could do that!”, which is remarkably calm. 

The lioness was later quoted as saying, "I love these things!  Hard and crunchy on the outside with a soft chewy center!"

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Recent Treasury Department Theft of $3 Billion

This story is just not getting enough coverage.  Lord knows the lame stream media hasn't covered it, and I've never heard a word of it on Fox, the Blaze or any of the stuff I come across.

Except alternative media like Hot Air and us blogs.  Bayou Renaissance Man, who links to Taxicab Depressions as did American Mercenary.  You should really read Taxicab Depressions; he makes some excellent points and brings up stuff that would just be too redundant for me to cover.  It concerns the Treasury Department giving some insurance companies Three Billion Dollars to keep the fetid mess of Obamacare solvent.
Just a few days ago, it was learned that the Treasury Department gave three billion dollars to several large insurance companies to keep them afloat, because no thinking person wants to sign up for this horseshit called ObamaCare, and the insurance companies will go bankrupt giving away “free” healthcare without total taxpayer compliance. There’s just one problem; THEY CAN’T DO THAT. Only Congress can authorize the spending of taxpayer money, and when Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, kind of a stickler when it comes to money, asked the Treasury about it, they basically told him to fuck off.

Sweet Jesus… can you imagine the uproar if George Bush illegally ordered the Treasury to give three billion taxpayer dollars to Exxon and Haliburton, and told the Congress to piss off? The Internet would be melting down and the Democrat Congress would be drafting impeachment documents before the sun went down. Dan Rather might have suffered a stroke on-camera.
With a President who happily claims to have a "pen and a phone" to declare any law he wants, and an amoeboid congress, having neither spines nor balls to challenge him or slap him down, this apparently doesn't even raise an eyebrow.  The entire administration, top to bottom (apparently) does whatever they feel like and doesn't respect laws at all.
“The U.S. Treasury Department has rebuffed a request by House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., to explain $3 billion in payments that were made to health insurers even though Congress never authorized the spending through annual appropriations,” The Washington Examiner’s Philp Klein reported on Thursday.

That’s right. The payments insurers receive, dubbed “cost –sharing subsidies,” are designed to offset the costs incurred when they pick up the out-of-pocket expenses for low-income individuals covered by Affordable Care Act plans. If insurers had to cover these costs themselves, Obamacare would be infeasible. So, the federal government picks up the tab for the newly insured as they go about receiving “free” health care.

There’s just one tiny, unconstitutional problem: Congress never authorized the distribution of those funds.
You can't put it any more bluntly than to say that some unelected bureaucrats in the Department of the Treasury stole $3 Billion of taxpayer money and gave it to someone not authorized to receive it.  If anyone in my company used a company account to take so much as $3000 and give it to someone, they'd be frog marched out the door to waiting police.  If anyone received stolen money they'd be frog marched out the door as well.  Yet in DC, they drop $3 Billion like turds falling out of a waddling toddler's diapers. 
“A second grader knows that only Congress can appropriate funds. And even though CMS apparently agrees with that, the managers at HHS don’t,” The American Thinker’s Rick Moran opined. “Unfortunately, unless both the House and Senate order the insurance companies to return the funds – and President Obama signs the bill – HHS is going to get away with this.”
The spineless senate couldn't get enough votes to override Obama's veto of the Keystone Pipeline, so I have no hope they could get enough votes to override the veto this would likely get.

House Ways and Means Committee, Paul Ryan (R-Wis) center right.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Seeing Net Neutrality Through A Glass Darkly

While they still haven't released the 330 page set of rules they voted on a week ago, the FCC has released a five page summary.  Consider this all propaganda or PR (same thing).  Glittering generalities that don't make any sense when you think about them. 

Short detour for the very newest readers.  My day job is as a radio design engineer.  While I'm currently designing weather radars, most of my 30 years as an engineer has been in systems that send and receive data.  I say that to point out that I know a bit about the technical side of getting data from place to place, and what bandwidth really means. 

Their "Bright Line Rules" say No Prioritization; the "all bits are equal" argument.  Given that bandwidth isn't infinite, and never will be, how can this make sense?  In reality, there are services that matter more than others.  For example, it doesn't really matter if an email takes a minute to assemble at the receiving end, and it doesn't really matter if your shopping cart or bank transfer takes a few seconds longer, or goes slower to allow a video to stream without buffering, but saying No Prioritization means forbidding slowing those to allow video to stream.  If nothing is higher priority, then that means your video will be slowed by making everything the same priority. 

Since no traffic can be prioritized over any other legal content, in my opinion, that makes ISP Spam filters illegal.  Spam is legal, after all.  Right now, around 2/3 of the Internet traffic is spam (one article I read measured 90.4%!).  The FCC Document says No Prioritization, and that "providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic".  Since spam is lawful traffic, it has to be treated like all other bits. I wouldn't be surprised if a big company sued to get their junk through. 

If all bits are truly bits, it's probably going to impact things you haven't thought of.  You probably don't consider your TV as internet traffic, but to your broadband provider's cable, fiber optic, or wireless link, it's all bits.  Those bits will be slowed by Internet traffic, too.  Let’s say a new service comes online; an Ultra HD video 24/7 streaming service that will use 75% of your ISPs bandwidth (not a bad comparison to Netflix coming online when providers weren't ready).  The ISPs are forbidden from charging them more, and they have to just let everything buffer at the exact same priority, so they’ll slow down everything else you do.

It seems to be based on the idea that we have infinite bandwidth, or that bandwidth will expand indefinitely.  That seems optimistic at best, if not stupid. 

The build out of the network capacity that has gone on for the last 20 to 30 years is nothing short of amazing.  My guess is that's going to end, or slow dramatically.  Gun Free Zone offers this perspective:
When I came into the internet, it was through American On Line.  It charged me (IRRC) $2.45 per hour of usage at 9,600 bps and I had to get a spare phone line so our main wasn’t blocked if I was online. If I got distracted and forgot to disconnect, that monthly bill got huge ensuing significant fights with SWMBO.

Right now I am with one of the big companies that according to the FCC need to be reigned in. I am paying $50 a month for 25 Mbps unlimited and I killed any phone land lines long ago.

Now a simple feat of math: If was still paying AOL prices and connected 100% of the time ($2.45 x 24 x 365) at the end of the year I would be paying $21,462 on a really slow connection. Right now on high-speed Internet unlimited, I am paying $600 a year. That is what? a forty-fold decrease in price with an almost thirty-fold increase in speed on an unregulated internet subject to the whims of the free market?
(Lisa Benson at Town Hall

Sunday, March 1, 2015

An Indoor Weekend

It was an indoors weekend here.  Messy weather.  Windy (small craft warnings), 60s, and rainy all day yesterday, with the rain stretching into mid morning today.  I think the sun finally started peaking out around 12:30 or 1 for the rest of the day and it warmed up.  Might have been 80 today. 

Being indoors means heading into the shop and playing with things all day.  Both days.  I completed wrapping the replacement rod for the broken one.  It was more straightforward this time (experience) and I believe it took about half the time.  Next step is to set up the rotisserie motor and do the epoxy coating. 
(yeah the bench is a mess with tools, plastic bags, scraps of thread, clamps and you-name-it scattered every which way)

Around that, I did some more work on the other project, the guitar.  That's approaching being ready to finish; all I need to do is some cleanup work on the trim and a few light details like that.  I still haven't picked up or ordered a finish.  I'm thinking a light matte finish polyurethane, instead of a glossy finish.  Spray would be better, and that probably would be best done outside. 

I couldn't resist puttering around with my mills and lathes.  Ran everything a bit, but just playing around.  Didn't make anything.  Turned on the CNC and ran an old file with no cutting bits and no workpiece.  Just to exercise everything. 

To My Friends In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York and Up NE

Eric Allie.  It's so old, I think it's from last winter.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy

It's funny how we feel we know these people, when all we do is watch them playing make believe for a living.  But Leonard Nimoy was part of my life and I'll miss him.  I think Miguel at Gun Free Zone has the most poignant tribute.  Few words, but ones any Trekie will recognize. 

I found this interview with Leonard describing the origin of the Vulcan greeting he's famous for.  Unfortunately, I'm unable to embed it, so go to this piece on Design News and watch the video at the bottom. Or watch it on the originating site, the New York Times and learn where the famous "V for Vulcan" comes from.  
Farewell, Leonard.  We'll miss you.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The FCC Broke The Law with "Net Neutrality" Ruling

I've been a ham since 1976, and I've been working with the FCC as an agency for the last 19 years.  IANAL, but I know a bit about the regulatory process, and the FCC did not follow the law.

The FCC process (and even with this process, it's often considered to be a railroad job and they'll pass what they damn well feel like) is outlined in the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 and proceeds like this:
  • The FCC issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, NPRM, when they publish the proposed regulations and invite comments. For example, back under the W, they went through this process for months, if not a full year, before ruling on Broadband Over Power Lines, (BPL), a contentiously fought issue opposed by every current user of the HF spectrum. 
  • In some situations, they even have a step before this, in which they issue a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) where they say they're considering regulating something and are asking for opinions and expert input. 
  • They collect input from interested parties, typically for 60 to 90 days.  
  • All comments are publicly available, and they usually allow another 30 days for commenters to comment about points others made. 
  • Once they reach a conclusion (even if it's a foregone conclusion), they issue a Report and Order (R&O) which incorporates the new sections of the FCC rules.  
As of close of business today, they still have not released the 330 pages of rules they approved.

While I get a bit of a shudder when I read Commissioner Ajit Pai quoting Star Wars' Emperor Palpatine, saying “Young fool … Only now, at the end, do you understand.” and Commissioner Mike O'Reilly saying, “When you see this document, it’s worse than you imagine,” nobody knows what's in those 330 page.  For all we know it could be as benign as fluffy kitty, or it could impose the harshest restrictions you can imagine.  The reality is that nobody knows the details of what's in those 330 pages, although there are persistent rumors that major Internet companies who will profit from it were in on writing it all. 

On the other hand, the fact that the concept has been a communist wet dream since the 1990s doesn't bode well for it in my mind.
"McChesney wrote in the Marxist journal Monthly Review that "any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself." Mr. McChesney told me in an interview that some of his comments have been "taken out of context." He acknowledged that he is a socialist and said he was "hesitant to say I'm not a Marxist.""
The resources I can access say that the FCC is required to follow this flow, including presenting the proposed rules early in the process.  The fact they didn't shows they broke the law.  Process is very important to these folks.  The fact they didn't follow it is very sloppy.  It shows no regard for the law.  Not that total disregard for the law is a surprise with Obama appointees (cough...Eric Holder) or Obama himself.

When I wrote my first piece on the coming Net Neutrality laws in 2010, I said it was a solution in search of a problem, and I still maintain that.  There is one case on record, ONE, of one service (Netflix) being throttled back by one ISP.  I've heard that one service was using almost 33% of the ISP's bandwidth, so it made sense to charge them more.  That was renegotiated and settled acceptably to all parties.
If Net Neutrality does even some of what I think it will do, people are going to be screaming they want their old Internet back as soon as they start feeling the pinch of the new rules.
I'm sure you've heard it said that the constitution was written to protect us from a president like Obama.  The Administrative Procedure Act was written to protect us from agencies like FCC and specifically commissioners like the three who voted this in: Chairman Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel.  Three commissioners voted themselves control of the Internet. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bombshell - State Department Terrorism Director in Child Sex Arrest

Just when you think you've heard the worst things about the bureaucrats, you get something disgustingly over the top. 

Daniel Rosen, the State Department's Director of Counter Terrorism was arrested in a sting operation in Fairfax County, Virginia, for soliciting a minor for sex.
Fox News reported that the juvenile was actually a female detective posing as a minor in an operation with the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Child Exploitation Unit. The unit conducted the investigation and made the arrest, Caldwell said.
This is no small player at State, no low-level flunky.  His LinkedIn page says he is “responsible for all Counter Terrorism Bureau strategic planning, policy planning, program and budget planning and oversight, and legislative relations and interaction.”   He adds that he “oversees $300 million per year in CT programs related to Countering Violent Extremism, Antiterrorism Assistance, Counterterrorism Financing, Counterterrorism Engagement and Regional Initiatives. Manages the Office of Plans and Policy including oversight of 20+ personnel.”

Like a large percentage of engineers, I spent some time in the "dark" world and have had my fair share of security clearances.  They'll tell you that one of the main purposes of the background investigation is not to find out if you're really friends with Boris and Natasha, but to see if there are things in your background you can be easily blackmailed with.  Do you think this guy could be compromised?  Anyone at State with the tiniest particle of brain lodged in their skull has so know that Russia, Iran, and anyone politically against us is working full time at trying to find someone just like Director Rosen.  How much of our counter terrorism defense has been compromised by having an evil perv in the office? 

Unfortunately, as I tend to say, "Don't worry.  It's not that bad.  It's worse".  Last year, The Blaze network's investigative reporting show, For The Record, ran an episode called "Honor Fight" about epic evil like this from top to bottom in the State Department. The episode featured whistle blowers who would only come forward to The Blaze after being assured the stories would really run (after proper checking of course; everyone knows that allegations like this against the will bring more lawyers than advertising your product with Mickey Mouse endorsing them).   Watch this teaser for the show.

After he revealed that high level state department employees were involved in hiring prostitutes, and hiring children for sex while out of the country, John Kerry sued whistle blower Rick Higbie.  If you're a whistle blower, as they say in the video, they will use every last lever at their disposal to break you and make your life miserable. 

State Department officials soliciting children for sex?  Ropes, rails and hot tar.  Then the lamp posts.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Techy Tuesday - DRM: When Protecting Your Assets Hurts Them

Most of you are familiar with the Keurig coffee makers.  Keurig introduced a convenient, easy (if not "brain dead") system for making coffee: single serving portions of coffee in plastic cups which drop into a coffee maker that does everything else for you.  It made making a cup of coffee and cleaning up after it easy for many folks.  The tire shop I go to has one for people waiting, and I'm sure it's cleaner and easier for them than running a drip coffee maker.

The knock on Keurig, though, was that those little packages of coffee, the K-cups, were expensive.  More than most people thought reasonable.  Plus coffee is more than a drink to many; it's a personal luxury, a personal diversion; part of their rituals.  Maybe there was no Keurig mix that tasted exactly the way people wanted it to.  This prompted a parallel industry creating second sources for way to get coffee into your machine.

I can imagine people in some meeting room at Keurig, sitting around a conference room table, going over numbers on how other companies were cutting into their revenue streams.  This is where Keurig screwed the pooch (to borrow the aviation phrase).  They decided to make sure no one else could put products in their machines.  They released the Keurig 2.0, which incorporated Digital Rights Management into the coffee making process.  Unless your K-cup was Genuine Keurig (it seems like the phrase has to be capitalized that way), your coffee maker won't recognize it.  Buyers were not happy.  Amazon reviews went thoroughly negative: more one star reviews than fours and fives combined. 
And it’s not just the Amazon reviews that are taking a hit — Keurig reported a 12% decrease in brewer sales last quarter. And while the vast majority of their profit comes from the cups, and not the brewers, a 12% hit is a big one. Keurig says that getting 2.0-compatible cups onto store shelves faster would’ve helped, but the consumer reaction is clear: “we hate DRM.”
From Keurig's viewpoint, though, this where they screwed the pooch a second time.  They took a bad idea and implemented it poorly making themselves look like idiots.  Tech bloggers MakeUseOf pick up the story with a good summary:
If you’re familiar with the story of the Keurig DRM, you’ll know that a workaround was found very quickly. Not only is it incredibly easy, but it also makes the DRM guys at Keurig look pretty stupid. All you have to do is tape a used K-cup cover over the sensor so it reads the 2.0-compatible code no matter which cup is in the brewer. Which means you can use the Keurig 2.0 with any cup you want, as long as you’ve used one 2.0 cup and saved the lid.
While this video shows a simple fix, there are more.  Many more.  Lots of folks are all over this.  
MakeUseOf is a tech blog and has more to say about DRM in general, so go there if you find that the most interesting aspect. 
Of course, Keurig isn’t the first company to anger its customers with DRM. Amazon’s Kindle books have been the target of a lot of vitriol over the past few years, and people have gotten really good at removing the DRM from Kindle books. Still, if you aren’t aware that it’s an option, you’ll likely be stuck with Kindle DRM. Printer companies have been doing it for a long time, too — they make a ton of money when you buy their ink, so they make it hard to refill cartridges and try to keep third-party ink producers from making compatible cartridges (with some success).
Kindle DRM, though pervasive, is a bit of a joke. The DRM originally used for Blu-Ray discs was cracked quickly. A number of people claim to have broken iTunes and Netflix rights management. And Keurig’s DRM has been countered with a single piece of tape.
The thing is, most people think that when they buy something, it's theirs.  For example, when TIVO first started selling their recorders, I remember running into articles where people said they wanted to upgrade the hard drive and TIVO wanted way more than the local computer shop; when they bought the cheaper drive and went to install them, TIVO said they were breaking their end user agreement and dropped their service.  People thought when they shelled out a few $hundred for the TIVO, it was theirs, not TIVO's.  Similarly, when folks buy a coffee maker and then buy an accessory for it, they  expect it to keep working.  When the company says, "no, you can't", people don't like to hear that and will try to find ways around it. 

We've done a couple of long discussions about patents here, and while I believe that intellectual property exists and inventors should be allowed to protect their invention for a while, I also pretty firmly believe that companies can be pretty stupid in how they conduct business.  In an attempt to recoup sales they thought they were losing, Keurig pissed off and alienated customers.   That's never a good business practice. 

(Obligatory coffee snob statement: I wouldn't have a Keurig.  Everything I've tasted out of one was swill.  I have a Mr. Coffee drip maker in my office.  I regularly have newcomers to the building stop by my office to inquire what the wonderful smell is.)