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 Fed.gov 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 Fed.gov 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.)


Monday, February 23, 2015

Joe Biden Has Become Uncle Pervy

You saw that picture of him hanging all over Aston Carter's wife, right?  Hope n' Change Cartoons for the win:
The real story.  Could you imagine if anyone other than a Democrat did this?


Sunday, February 22, 2015

The M855 Ammo Ban: What's In The Other Hand?

So the BATFE dropped a Friday afternoon document bomb on the 13th proposing to ban M855 ammo on the basis that it's armor piercing.  Which it isn't.  Either in practice or by the legal definition of armor piercing.  Basically, they dropped a 17 page PDF justifying how they make up new law out thin air.  Loosely translated, let me boil their 17 pages down to one sentence: "Fuck you, because we can".

Hat Tip to Bob Owens for this link to Twang and Bang's video.  He makes the excellent point that the cartridge on the left here, 223 green tip, is being defined as armor piercing while it won't, whereas the 300 Win Mag cartridge in his other hand, which will blow through plate armor through the body and through the armor on the back side, is not being ruled armor piercing.  According to the new BATFE definitions.
Of course we should all send comments to that BATFE-EI-EI-O, as well as our Senators and Congresscritters.
Send your comments to the ATF before the March 16th deadline:
APAComments@atf.gov
Fax- (202)648-9741
Mail- Denise Brown, Mailstop 6N-602, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Enforcement Programs and Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 99 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20226: ATTN: AP Ammo Comments
I emailed BATFE on Friday and filled out both Senator Rubio's and my representative's online contact forms.  I recommend you do the same.

But I can't help but wonder, why this, why now?  Is it just because they can?  Try to get more money into the political pig troughs by getting people to contribute more?  To me, this is a pretty open and shut case.  This should be overruled by any judge who reads the law as it was written.  To be armor piercing, the bullet must be:
a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper or depleted uranium; ...
Green tip is a conventional lead bullet with some steel added at the tip.  Therefore, if you read laws logically, M855 falls out at this step and isn't considered armor piercing.  Case closed, all hand waving aside. 

So why bother?  Just to see who they get mad?  See who writes?  Or are they pushing something else through with the other hand?  I looked around other places and didn't see anything else mentioned.  I mean, everyone knows about the Internet takeover vote coming, so they're not distracting from that.  Since any BATFE ruling and writing our representatives brings up the chance, I made sure to bring up Fast and Furious with both my senator and congressman.  I reminded them this was the agency that thought running guns to the most vicious drug cartels in Mexico - with no way to trace or track them - was a good idea, and that didn't imply they had much in the way of good judgement.   Did they think we wouldn't bring up F&F?  Or do they just not care? 

Keep an eye out.  If there's more than one of us looking for whatever else they might be doing, bring a link here!



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Five


Today is my fifth year blogiversary.  Last year, I said four years old must be 100 in blog years, and I was going to say that five must be something like 75, so one of those can't be right.  I don't know what the conversion to blog years is, but it's a lot.  This week on the local talk radio, I heard the host and his editorial-columnist guest commenting that everything in life is show prep.  Everything that happens to you or that you see becomes fodder for the gaping hole of the content you must always fill in.  While they get paid and I obviously don't, and their content is therefore that much more important, I understand.  

Blogger tells me this is my 1677th post and I've had 1,232,519 page views.  On average day, around 1100 of you stop by to see what I'm up to.  Thank you!!  You can tell by that widget in the lower right column that my most read post was an almost-nothing post about Russia drilling for oil off the Florida Keys, and it's most read because it got picked up by Reddit for the picture of the skittles-pooping unicorn that I lifted from someone else and used in other places.  For perspective, that post has had 7778 views, but my most viewed post of all time was the series on making an AR from an 80% lower.  That page has gotten 12888 views, 65% more and over twice as many views as my "real" most popular post, second on that list, about the size of the economic problem we face.  Seems folks must like the idea of making ARs with no FFL involved.  Imagine that!  

I never thought of myself as a writer, and I don't really care about writing fiction like Peter, Old NFO, Marko, and some others do.  I don't care about writing fiction because I don't really read much of it.  If anything, I think of myself more as mentor/teacher; the old guy you can always go to for advice, or ask any question of.  Still, if you're a writer, somehow the words force themselves out.  It seems that must be what's going on.

As I've said before my overall approach to this blog reflects the deep truth I've written about many times: really, really bad times are coming.  Survival is for cockroaches; let's thrive.  Someone has to know how to make things.  My goal is to post something worth your time to read, even if it isn't epic.  I'd be lyin' like a rug if I didn't acknowledge that sometimes I'm too pressed for time and just have a hard time getting an idea together in the few minutes I have on work nights.  I promise to "phone it in" less and try harder to either post something worthwhile or not waste your time.

Speaking of making things, I have a guitar neck and body to stain, and a rod that needs to be made.  While they aren't really important after the crash, they both might help you survive; one by helping your sanity and the other by putting a little protein on the table.


Friday, February 20, 2015

50 Years Ago Today

At 9:34:32 UT, 4:34:32 AM EST, on February 20, 1965, the first probe to take closeup pictures of the moon, Ranger 8, began taking photos.  Launched on February 17 atop an Atlas Agena rocket, the satellite had traveled for almost 65 hours at this point.  In the next 23 minutes, Ranger 8 would take 7137 photos, and then smash into the moon's surface.  Those photos and the ones from following missions were used to scout landing sites for the following Surveyor probes, the first probes to soft land on the moon, and ultimately for the Apollo landers.    
Taken two and a half minutes before impact, this Ranger 8 image shows the Ritter and Sabine craters. The Apollo 11 landing site is just off the right edge of the image.  The total research, development, launch, and support costs for the Ranger series of spacecraft (Rangers 1 through 9) was approximately $170 million.  It's worth noting that Ranger 7 was the first of the series to actually complete its mission successfully.  The list of missions with descriptions of what failed is on this page.  That tenacity and willingness to experiment to see what works is something I admire.
         



Thursday, February 19, 2015

Little Buddy Had A Rough Day

My little cat buddy Mojo had a rough day today.  He had two teeth extracted during what we thought was going to be a routine cleaning.  I don't know anyone who successfully brushes their cat's teeth, although they say it can happen.  Maybe I need to broach that subject with Moe after he's done healing.  He has a tendency to build up tartar and hard plaque on his teeth (strangely, just like I do).  I think it's from his allergies (strangely, just like I have, although we're not blood relatives)

Mojo in a favorite place: on top of some dark colored pants where his white fur really shows up.  On an armoir shelf that's about 5 1/2 feet up and hard to get to.

He's a bit sore, hasn't really talked all night (very strange) but isn't wobbly from the anesthesia like he was a few hours ago when I got home.  The doctor's visit led to this conversation via email:
MrsGraybeard:  The doctor said they had to remove two teeth that were bad.  He'll be knocked out a few hours before I can go pick him up.
Me:  My God that's rough! The poor little guy. Get him some whipped cream or beluga caviar or WHATEVER HE WANTS
MrsGB: How do you get get eggs from those whales, anyway?
Me: It's really rough. The tampons to catch an egg are the size of baseball bat, but bigger around. And dragging them through the water in SCUBA gear?  That was rough.  Not to mention that they don't particularly like it when you try to collect their eggs.  I'm not trying that again!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Anchoring the Internet

Follow up to yesterday's post.  May be a little weak as an analogy, but it's a good concept. 
Nate Beeler from Townhall.com


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Net Neutrality Isn't

As always, when politicians talk about something with a catchy name, you can bet the reality will have nothing to do with the name.  Anything patriotic about the PATRIOT Act?  Has your medical care gotten more affordable since the Affordable Care Act?  If we sat around we'd come up with dozens of more examples.  That should be your first thought when you hear the term "Net Neutrality".  In reality, it's best to think of it as the Federal Department of the Internet. 

I don't know about you, but in my life the thing I use and interact with that gives me the least problems is the Internet.  I'm not talking about individual companies on the 'net, be it Blogger, forums, or any e-tailer; I'm talking about the ability of the net to route packets where they need to go absolutely routinely.  But even there, every web site I need is up and running way, way more often than not, including volunteer-supported sites.  And the worst web site in modern memory, the Obamacare Signup site, was run by the same people who want to take over control of everything.  It's the least broken aspect of society precisely because the Fed.gov has kept its hands off it.

Government is going to screw it up like they screw up everything else and we all know it.  Honestly, given these choices, which do you prefer?  Which do you think the majority of people would choose?  Be honest:
Private schools or public schools?
Private pools or public pools?
Private bathrooms or public bathrooms?
Private housing or public housing?
Stu Burguiere, Glenn Beck's co-host and someone I always thought was the "brains of the outfit", put together this pretty good set of arguments against net neutrality,  pointing out some of the most common arguments and where they fall apart. 

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai (one of the two minority party Republicans on the Commission) has come out publicly against the proposal, and did an interview with Sean Hannity, audio (self-starting) here.  
Earlier, after criticizing the plan’s secrecy Pai stated “the details of the plan itself are very intrusive, it’s a massive shift in favor of government control of the Internet. Everything from your wireless service plan, to your wire line connection at home. And I think ultimately it’s going to lead to higher prices, slower speeds for consumers on broadband services, it’s going to be government rate regulation and second-guessing of the private sector, and it’s going to be a bonanza for trial lawyers. We specifically invite all the trial lawyers to sue, class-actions across the country for any and all Internet practices.” 
Again, you have to admire the way the left controls the message.  Ask any ill-informed person (low information voter) and they'll reflexively say the idea is wonderful because the providers are screwing us and want to slow all our net feeds down because they're evil.  Not a thought that the market brought them the continuously improving and faster computers, tablets and everything else, and that the same market is also continuously trying to build out faster and faster internet infrastructure, and that regulation could grind that to a halt.  No recognition of that at all.

(Chip Bok) 


Monday, February 16, 2015

Fundamental Transformation

A little while ago, I wrote that raising the minimum wage to the (often talked about) $15/ hour level would almost certainly wreak havoc on our economy.  There are many, many jobs at pay levels between the current minimum wage and $15, but all of them will have to be compressed into $15/hr.  Consider someone making $13/hr now; perhaps they've worked long and hard to get to that level, or took some classes in a new job field or otherwise busted hump to get there.  Suddenly, a swipe of the pen, and they make the same as someone with no experience and no skills.  A bit of social outrage, perhaps? 

Political Calculations shows just one of the effects of minimum wage increases in the last 10 years; a sharp drop in employment of 18-19 and 16-17 year olds.  How much more job loss would a $15 wage create? 
This is a busy chart, but the vertical lines mark minimum wage increases in California in January '07, followed by a Federal increase in July of '07, followed by state increases again in January of '08, Federal raises in July of '08 and '09.  Before the '06 increase, 18-19 year old workers had an employment rate of close to 47%.  After the minimum wage increases, that dropped to 37%.  A similar pattern applies to the 16-17 year old workers who went from 27 to 28% down to 16 to 17%.

The not-so-hidden complication to this chart is that people who were 16-17 at one year move into the 18-19 group in a couple of years and 18-19 year olds move into a completely different group over the same interval.  Political Calculations gets all into the demographics on that. 
Curiously, the percentage decline in the population of Age 16-17 and Age 18-19 teens with jobs is nearly the same - with about 10% fewer of the population of each subgroup counted as having jobs in the aftermath of the implementation of the minimum wage hikes/recession. Coincidentally, even though teens represent up to one quarter of all those who actually earn the minimum wage in the U.S., only about 10% of teens actually earn wages that fall within the range that would be directly affected by the minimum wage hikes that occurred.

As we see in the chart, the practical effect of all the minimum wage hikes that occurred from 2007 through 2009 was to remove the jobs available for this portion of the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized labor force.
You might have noticed a little uptick of the employment rates over the last six months.  This is probably an effect of the drop in oil prices, which had the some of the same effects on the economy as a tax break.   It's really the only factor to offset the negative impact of the minimum wage hike in California just last summer: July 2014. We should note however that unlike teens elsewhere in the U.S., California teens have seen no significant gains in employment. 

This is what fundamental transformation and social justice look like.  More unemployment and more misery for everyone, but especially those demographics they say they're trying to help.   


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nice Weekend

It was a thoroughly nice weekend here.  Weather was on the cool side, but drop-dead gorgeous.  Clear blue skies, breezy, (too breezy for a small boat) high for the day in mid-60s yesterday and almost 70 today.  It was about 40 when I got up yesterday, and that's the coolest morning of the year so far.  We ordinarily have a few days every winter in the low-30s if not upper 20s.  Not this year. 

Yesterday was the Orlando Hamcation, which we go to every year.  Didn't get much, but I ran into a guy selling a Canon 35 film camera with a lens I'm interested in, and Speedlite flash.  I got the outfit for $25; the "nifty fifty" (50mm f1.8) lenses are going on eBay for $80-ish.  I don't know if the camera is any good, since it needs a special lithium battery, but the Speedlite didn't power up.  I don't have much interest in going down that film road again so I don't know if I'll even get a battery to try it.  Aside from that, a few little odds and ends; LR44 batteries, some heat shrink tubing.  In other words, not much.    

Today, I got to spend the day in the shop.  I built the new butt/handle for the replacement fishing rod, taking the chance to use the new lathe to make it a bit easier on myself.   That linked article has a picture of the rod butt and while it's hard to see it in that pic, the handle is three pieces of EVA foam with the reel seat in the middle.  The rod is tapering over its entire length, but the bottom end is about 1/2" in diameter, while the top of the handle is around 0.475.  The EVA comes with a 1/4" bore in it, and pushing a half inch rod blank through that hole is neither easy, pleasant, or a good thing to do.  Most guys enlarge the hole with a round wood rasp (file); I enlarge the holes on the lathe with appropriate undersized drill bits.  The reel seat is mounted on top of a plastic foam that's very delicate, and ends up getting a nearly half inch hole down it's length until what's left is a tube about 4" long and maybe 1/16" thick.  While the EVA will stretch a bit, this stuff snaps if you look at it funny.  I broke the one on the original rod badly and made the effort to make sure this one survived the machining, which it did.  By now, the epoxy is set and it's a permanent bond. 

Finally, I got to stain the guitar body.  I got Honey Amber and Red TransTint dyes from Luthier's Mercantile, and while you can use those as alcohol based or water based, I went with water.  I'm not sure I'm done with it  The red came out looking too orange-y, (and to make matters worse, the colors in this picture match pretty poorly). 
The flame maple on this kit is pretty good.  My thought was that if the kit was good as a guitar body and the wood was pretty, I can always put a different set of pickups in it.  The back and neck of this kit are mahogany, so I'm going to stain it a reddish brown.  You can see the blue painters tape I masked around the sides with in this picture. 

Any day I get to spend in the shop making things is a good day. 


Some Guys Make Fun of Desert Eagle

Some guys parody them.  You don't have to be reading the gun culture blogs long to come across the name "Deagle". 

I don't make fun of them.  I think they do a good enough job of being self-parodying that I don't want to hurt their effectiveness.
Their new "Cheetah Print" finish.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Guest Post - Economic Life After the Collapse

I'm pretty sure that in the life of this blog, I've never run a guest post.  With the exception of comments and quotations, every word has been mine.  Tonight, that changes.

A couple of months, I got into a discussion with someone I've known for 10 years or so about how economic cooperation could exist after it hits the fan.  I think most of us agree that the prospects for the collapse of the dollar have never been greater, which would render our current dollars useless. Then what?  Many people think of pure barter, but barter has an immediate issue.  Both parties have to own something the other wants.  If I want to trade my tomatoes for your chicken, but you don't want tomatoes, no deal.  I can hear some folks asking "what about silver or gold?".  A reasonable agreement for the value of the metals has to exist.  Chances are, there will be a need to a way to make change.  These are among the reasons paper money got started in the first place. 

Of course, anything larger in scale than barter or help between two friends or neighbors requires a stable social environment.  You can't have a flea market if wide scale social disruption is happening; that's time to be locked up in your hidey hole.  But if the society is stable enough for a weekend flea market, my correspondent proposes an interesting model.

He suggested I post this under my name, but I'd rather he get the credit.  On the other hand, he didn't say I could use his name.  Consequently, I'll post this anonymously, and if he tells me how to identify him, I'll do that.

The Casino Model For Barter

When the currency collapses there will still be a need for something that can be used for commerce. Plain barter is a problem for many reasons. A new currency will be needed. A big problem with any new currency is that it is hard to trust. The Casino model is partly a way around this problem.  This will work for a small town or for a market place in a larger city. An exchangeable local scrip has the property of goods preference, you don't have to find a person who has what you want that wants what you have. The scrip also has the time preference, if you don't spend it you can convert it back to something stable. A scrip also preserves the price/value concept. An item can be priced at so much silver.

Money is a measure of value and a store of value. Money is a general medium of exchange. It is often used as a store of value because it is relatively stable. If the store of value property is separated from the exchange property it is easier to replace the dollars that are used now. The Casino model is a way to separate these two features. The value is stored in physical metal or in goods. The exchange is done with tokens or paper scrip. It can be done as a low trust activity.

When a person comes to a Casino to gamble, they trade their dollars for chips. When the person leaves the Casino they trade their chips for dollars. The chips are easy to use in the Casino but have no value outside of it. The local function is done with the chips and the longer term is done with dollars. The chips are only good in the Casino that issued them.  The goal of using the scrip is to allow a goods or service preference. Also the paper scrip is easier to use than big coins. Because the life time of the scrip is short it doesn't have to be as secure as a normal currency. Every night the scrip is exchanged back to metal and becomes scrap paper with no value.

When a person arrives at a trade area they may have goods to sell or they may have gold or silver to spend.  If the person has silver they exchange the silver for local trade scrip. If they have goods they sell the good for trade scrip. Some of the trade scrip is used to buy goods. When they leave the exchange they trade any remaining trade scrip for silver. The local fractional values are handled with the scrip. The long term store of value is done with the silver or other goods 

Value can also be stored with other commodities. Anything with a reasonable shelf life and low storage costs will work. It can be brass or guns or lumber. The local exchange operator can buy and sell silver or gold or foreign currencies. There can also be the equivalent of a pawn broker who is ready to buy and sell anything.

When a new currency is created there is a problem of counterfeiting. For a local trade scrip the problem is handled like a cryptography problem. Any code can be broken but it will take time. If it takes more time to break the code then the info is worth, the code is effectively secure. A local trade scrip doesn't need super security. It is intended to last for only a day or two and will be converted to a different more secure money. Each day or week the exchange can use a slightly different scrip. Each trade day a notice is given to the local venders which scrip is valid for the day.  A local market can have supplies of several different scrips. A different color or pattern is used each day. Some local merchants can get a discount on the exchange of scrip.

For fractions of a dollar, local coins can be used. These can be copper or steel and there can be a big variety of them. The current coins in use can continue to be used as long as someone is willing to convert then to gold or silver scrip or take them in exchange.

Robbery is also less of a problem because the scrip has no value outside of the local market. Inside the market it only has value for the day it was issued. This makes it almost valueless except to the local owner. If some scrip is stolen from the money changer over night it will not get redeemed and as such it will be worthless. During non business hours the scrip has no value.

The money changer can also act as a bank for larger amounts. The amount of scrip is entered into an account that the person can write checks on for larger amounts. Again the value is in the scrip for only a short time.  A merchant can leave his gold or silver with the money changer to make it easy to change.

Because the scrip is converted back to another form within a day, the local bank cannot inflate the value. Because the time span is short there is no fractional reserve banking. Everything turns into something other than money every night. The scrip has no intrinsic value except for the promise to trade back into something else at the end of the day. There is no need to keep track of how much gold or silver is exchanged each day to prevent too much gold from coming in or going out. This is not  a problem because what is exchanged into scrip is exchanged out of scrip the same day. The daily conversion also means that there is no practical limit on how much scrip can be issued. The only requirement is to exchange out every thing that was exchanged in.

A bi-metal standard is hard to work with. The local scrip should be either gold or silver. The metal that is not used can fluctuate. There can also be two scrips, one gold and one silver.  The ratio of gold to silver will probably change over time.  Different towns will probably have different exchange ratios for gold  to silver. The people who use the scrip will work out the local ratio.

The same pieces of silver will probably get converted by local merchants each day. This will make it easier for the money changer to spot bad coins. An area will need a supply of silver or gold but not that much is needed since it is recycled each day. An example would be a gun dealer who converts an ounce of gold into scrip in the morning and then buys a gun. The person who sold the gun then buys some food. The person who sold the food buys some clothes. The single ounce of gold can support trades that would otherwise involve 10 or 20 ounces. At night, the gun dealer's store of value is gold or the guns he has.

Different other value stores can be used but they cause more trouble. For simplicity the scrip should be in terms of a single item like silver or gold. The money changer can exchange the different currencies like Euros, Pesos, Dollars, Yen, Silver, Gold. if the scrip is in terms of more than one item there might be a case where a person changes silver for scrip but wants to get gold when the scrip is changed back. There is also the problem of what kind of silver coin. Bullion coins don't sell for as much as US silver dollars.

They money changer or a local dealer can also use non money items for exchange. There can be a dealer near the entrance to the market that buys and sells things the region is noted for like grain or lumber. For transport to other areas there is still the need to change to some other form. A dealer can stock up on things by trading silver for scrip that is then exchanged for goods. Of course a person is still able to bypass the scrip if they find a person who wants to do a direct trade.

A trade scrip like this will allow a town to have a well functioning market place even if there is no valid local currency.  A person can save part of their wealth in dollars or gold or silver or many other forms. A person can also store wealth in goods like grain or copper or guns. Each day the local merchant for that good sets the value.

If a local entity tries to use a local scrip for long term storage of value it becomes more difficult.  The longer the scrip is in circulation, the more secure it needs to be from counterfeiting. There is always the temptation to inflate the value a little. If the scrip is converted back to silver every day this is not a problem. There might need to be some kind of tradable object that can be used for the scrip that is less than an ounce of silver or whatever size coin is available. In a pinch the person can be given a receipt for a fractional amount of silver. The receipt can be converted to scrip within a few days.

The money changers will get 2% or 5% for the service of changing silver for scrip or scrip for silver. The service charge can also be partly a sales tax to support the market place. It can pay for physical security of the market place. If the market has enough of an advantage over simple barter or bad currencies the market will still be popular. Towns or cities can compete on how well their markets function. The money changer that issues scrip can turn a profit from having a place where commerce can take place.

The scrip people can also do a banking service. If the person has less than an ounce of silver, they can start an account with the money changer. The fractional ounce can then be converted back to scrip when needed. Because it is on deposit, there is still the ability to change the scrip each day to prevent counterfeiting.

A pawn shop operator can also be an important part. If a person has something to trade but it is big they sell it to the pawn shop and get scrip to buy things with. Other people will buy the item from the pawn shop for scrip. The pawn shop gets some scrip in the morning by changing gold or silver for scrip. The pawn shop converts its scrip back to gold or silver at night. When there is a long term relationship between the pawn shop and the money changer, the pawn shop might take a paper promise of some gold/silver instead of the physical metal. The paper promise can be fractional ounces.

If there is an active pawn shop or a few used property dealers then not as much gold or silver is needed. The scrip is for the daily use but other things are used to store value. Because value can be stored in different forms there might not be a big inflation in terms of gold.

There might be a virtual dollar that is used as the nominal measure of value. The virtual dollar can be pegged at $1000/oz. The price of gold in US dollars can change. The price of silver in virtual dollars can also change. The prices of items might go up or down depending on supply or demand. The ratio of silver to gold might change. The money changer can also issue silver based money. The only important thing is to be able to completely convert back at the end of each day.

Different towns will have their own barter setups. Different towns will also have different preferred stores of value. Some big bars of copper or aluminum might as as value stores.

When a big item is bought or sold the value is converted to a variety of items. A car, thru the use of scrip, might get changed into some gold, a few guns, and even some cases of food.

A manufacturing operation that sells to a big area will have more trouble. An intermediary will be needed to get the requested amount of value. This creates an opportunity for traders.

A gun company wants $500 for a gun. It sells it to a dealer who gives the company $500 in scrip for it that the company can convert to gold in the local market. The dealer takes the gun to the remote market and trades it for some furniture. The dealer brings the furniture back and sells it for scrip that can then be converted back to gold.

Every town will need a few big merchants that can trade a package that is worth many thousands of dollars in goods or services.  The goods travel between towns, the scrip does not.

An example would be a farming town. The farmers bring their produce to town and sell it for scrip. They use the scrip to buy clothes or tools. The dealer who buys the produce takes it to a city where it is sold for their kind of scrip and that scrip is used to buy clothes and tools and things for the farming town. There can be two way trade or three way or four way trade. The trade can be direct or indirect. A merchant can do all the links of the trade or only one of them.

As things become more stable a barter scrip can evolve into a new stable currency.

The money changers need to get better known. The idea of using something other than money for a store of value needs to be accepted.

It is possible that after using a service like this, people will get used to storing value in something other than money. Either trade goods or metal will be the store of value. Furniture or works of art can store larger amounts of value. A business can grow up that buys and sells value items. The items are not intended to be used for anything other than storing value. Guns have a very big value to size/weight ratio. Jewelery also has a very high value to size ratio.

If a person has a big enough storage place, almost anything can be a store of value. Even tons of scrap iron can store value. There will be specialists in different kinds of things. Some dealers will buy/sell guns. Some will buy and sell canned food. Many different things are possible.

After there is more trust, merchants can have goods in warehouses and trade warehouse receipts. This requires that there is a warehouse that can be trusted. it is possible to do a virtual exchange between towns if a merchant is active in both places, he buys in one place and sells in the other place.

A consignment shop is also possible. The merchant gets possesion of the item. The owner gets a promise of so much gold or silver or the item back after a period of time. The payment can be specified as so much scrip to be paid when the item sells or when the time is expired. Some small groups of merchants will trust each other more and will trade their own promises to deliver goods or gold or silver.

Surpluses or shortages do not affect the Casino model as much because the money is only a unit of exchange and not a unit of stored value. The value is stored in something else.

In some ways people are already adopting part of this model. The local currency is good for trade but not for storing value. In many countries there is an effort to keep from getting hurt when the currency is devalued like in Argentina or Venezuela.  In many countries they use the local currency for trade but they use US dollars for storing value. Many people in India and China use gold or silver to store value. Preppers are buying physical gold and silver and some trade goods. A large number of recent gun sales might be an effort to get something that has value to store.

There are many things besides gold and silver that are worth storing. The goods can be sold directly or through a middle man when the time comes. Anything with a long shelf life will work.

A larger town has an advantage because it is more likely that there is a buyer for a large valuable item.

Big companies look at how to avoid being hurt when a bank defaults. In some countries they try to keep their reserves in the form of commodities that they sell when they need cash.

Real Money is
a medium of exchange
a store of value
a measure of value
a standard of value
no one else's liability
redeemable
moves purchasing power through time and space

A trade scrip in a barter Casino is not perfect but it is better than simple barter.
yes - a medium of exchange
no - a store of value
yes - a measure of value
yes - a standard of value
yes - no one else's liability
yes - redeemable
no - moves purchasing power through time and space



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Time to Put On Some Popcorn

And watch the fight that's starting to break out.   It seems the Hacktivist group that calls itself Anonymous has decided to attack ISIS and cut off their net usage.  (H/T Doug Ross@ Journal) At first thought, that makes sense.  Anonymous appears to be an anarchistic group dedicated to complete open freedom on the net while ISIS is only slightly more oppressive than Kim Jong Un.  Submit to them totally and be 100% compliant with their vision of Islam or die.  ISIS depends heavily on social media and their slickly produced execution videos (snuff pr0n films for Jihadi wannabes).  Cut ISIS off from those things and maybe they whither?  At the least, it can't hurt.

According to Watchdog.Org,
In a series of posts on the website Pastebin over the weekend, purported members of Anonymous vow to continue “Operation Ice ISIS,” taking down websites and social media accounts of groups who assist in terrorist activities.

This new round of online attacks is meant to target individuals who are directly involved with planning and recruiting for attacks against civilians in Iraq and Syria.

“We will hunt you, take down your sites, accounts, emails, and expose you,” said the group in a YouTube video released over the weekend. “From now on, no safe place for you online…you will be treated like a virus, and we are the cure.” The post goes on to list hundreds of links to social media accounts in Arabic, classifying them by their “priority” status.
You're the virus and I'm the cure?  Didn't Ahnold say that in one of his movies?  Big talk.  Still, Watchdog.org says they've made at least a cursory glance at the list and find that most, if not all, the Twitter and Facebook accounts mentioned by Anonymous have indeed been suspended.  Watchdog continues:
And by attacking the Islamic terror group at its central nervous system, that of social media, Anonymous has dealt a more devastating blow to ISIS than the 21 countries currently spending millions of dollars dropping bombs and stationing troops in parts of Iraq and Syria could ever hope to do. Where the military strategists are lacking, the computer hackivists are gaining ground.
Personally, I think ISIS needs to be destroyed and this won't do that ... but it's a good start.  Especially if they could really get their hands on Jihadi John, a man with an obvious and severe plumbous deficiency, like they depict in their Twitter post.   The whole organization is suffering from that deficiency, though. 
I think this would make an entertaining thing to watch, if we actually could. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Techy Tuesday - When Your TV Watches You

For some reason, I haven't been able to shake an image of Yakov Smirnoff saying, "In Soviet Russia, TV watches you!" since I first saw the stories about the Samsung Smart TV.   In case you missed it, buried deep in the disclaimers that virtually nobody reads anyway is this rather alarming little statement.
Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.
Whut?  I need to watch what I say in my own house?  I can't talk about "personal or other sensitive" things in my own living room?  And how many people have a TV in their bedroom? Does it have cameras to watch me - so it will recognize faces and which programs they like?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume most people know Apple's Siri "digital assistant".  To invoke Siri, you need to take a positive action.  The default is to press a large button and hold it until you get a tone that acknowledges the app is now running.  Now Siri doesn't live entirely on the iPhone.  Once you've engaged the app and asked a question, Siri can connect with servers online to help interpret your speech.  Still, if you don't press the button, Siri never turns on and never listens. 

Samsung's TV is the opposite of that.  Their usage model centers on you speaking commands to the TV.  If you're just going to command it, speaking in your best Jean Luc Picard voice, "TV, change to channel 1035", it has to be listening all the time.  It has to actually be continuously parsing what everyone it can hear is saying and deciding if it's a command or not.  If you yell "turn off that noise" to your kids in the other room, it has to decide what that means, and whether or not it needs to respond.  Samsung says that the microphone in the TV only responds to simple commands and does not pipe the speech out over the Internet.  

The use of the "third party" to process speech only happens when you press a button on the remote, perhaps asking the TV to recommend a movie (I don't know about you, but I always think about asking my TV what it thinks).  Since you're pressing a button, it is similar to how Siri and Google Now work on smartphones.  No button press; no threat of eavesdropping.  Says Samsung.  Users will see a microphone icon on the screen when it is on.  Samsung says it's easy to cope with this if you don't want a voice activated TV (then why did you buy one?) by going into the Settings and disabling it.  Then they say,
"While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it,"
And, of course, if you turn off the voice activation features, those features you paid for aren't going to be working.  I suppose collecting usage data isn't that bad, especially if anonymized.  It's probably data that doesn't cross over into the extremely personal category.

The problem is Samsung really stepped in it.  They put in a bunch of features they thought people will want in a TV and then weren't really up front about sending much of what the TV hears to a remote processor.  When people were upset about it, it was as much how they found out as it was the actual discovery.  Samsung could only say they use "industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use", but now it's a question of whether or not you truly believe them. 

Besides, didn't Anthem and Sony and all the other cyber attack victims use "industry-standard security safeguards and practices"?


Monday, February 9, 2015

Searching For Bottoms

Going over a few charts the last few days, it's looking to me like gold, silver and oil have bottomed and are done with their down trends.  For the foreseeable future.

Oil is simple: an almost constant, smooth decline in price until last month, followed by a V shaped bottom coming out of the minimum.  Since about Jan. 26, it's been higher highs and lows. 
Light sweet crude from StockCharts; the dark red lines are mine.  Around here, regular gas went from $2.03 to $2.17 between the Saturday, Jan. 31 and Saturday, Feb. 7.  I have no reason to think gas will go that low again for quite a while. 

Gold also looks like it has hit a bottom and started to recover.
I could draw the upper bounds differently, but the important thing to notice is that since early November, the trend has been higher highs, with a healthy amount of retracing, to test those.  We could be coming to a flag pattern in the next few weeks.  This one bears watching.

Silver is the most difficult of these, but, again, since about the same time in early November, the white metal has been recovering.  The channel it's riding in is pretty consistent.  Both silver and gold showed a dip on June 3rd of last year.  Silver's bounce back was more dramatic than gold's and it was harder to draw an upper boundary.
In all these cases if you wanted to buy on the bottom, you missed it. 

Let me give a little perspective on all of these things.  The earliest prices I can recall for a gallon of gas were around 20 cents a gallon: "19 and 9" because Florida prices always ended in that 9/10 of a cent.  Today's silver price of $17.05 says one of today's greenbacks is worth about 8.11 cents of 1964 silver.  In other words, one of today's dollars isn't worth a 1964 dime.  Today's gas price of about $2.15/gallon would cost 17 1/2 cents back in 1964.  Maybe the prices I remember weren't from 1964; but gas is basically the same price it was in 1964, measured against a standard.  Higher gas prices aren't from "peak oil", they're from worthless dollars. 

My standard disclaimers:
  1. Prediction is difficult - especially about the future. 
  2. My definition of "Technical Analysis" is drawing random lines on financial plots and pretending they mean something.  
  3. If you're taking financial advice from some random internet dood, you deserve to lose everything.   


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Do You Share This with Obama?

Over the last few years, I've been coming to realize virtually everything I came away from high school and the first years of college knowing - with the precious exceptions of some science and math - was utter bullshit.

One of the worst was my knowledge of the crusades, where I must admit to being as tragically uninformed as the president.  I had previously thought the only thing I had in common was Obama was bipedalism. 

For starters, get yourself over to Sense of Events to read "Not Every Christian is Perfect"; a link to this.  "Not every Christian is perfect. Jesus was. Not every Muslim is a terrorist. Muhammad was."
To borrow a quote,
The crusades were completely defensive, reactionary response to CENTURIES of a Muslim onslaught by jihadists. The purpose of the crusades were to free Christians. The purpose of jihad (Islam’s march) was to conquer and kill the kaffir (non-muslims).

There is absolutely no moral equivalence between the two.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Making Metal Parts With a 3D Plastic Printer

I had been putting together ideas for a post on making metal parts from 3D printed plastic versions for a few days, and see Come and Make It ran a piece on the same idea today, linking to a 34 minute video on the subject.   I suppose it's one of those "convergence of thought" things, where more than one person comes up with an idea at the same time. 

While I don't have experience with casting aluminum or steel, I do have a fair amount of experience with lost wax casting metals.  Lost wax casting, also called investment casting, is one of the standard ways of mass producing metal parts, and it's used for an incredibly wide range of products from dental appliances through literally tons of jewelry every year (anything that isn't hand made), delicate metal parts of all kinds, as well as large objects.  A lot of bronze sculptures are made this way. 

The name "lost wax" comes from the basic way the system works.  You create a model in wax of the item you want, pour a liquid plaster-like mixture called investment over it and let it harden.  This can be done in a metal flask or directly, as in this video.  This mixture looks like plaster of Paris, but is a specially designed for casting.  The hardened investment is then put into a kiln, where it's heated to a high enough temperature to turn the investment into a ceramic, and in the process, the wax melts and burns out of the ceramic creating a negative mold of the original model.  The disappearance of the wax in that stage is where the name comes from.  The mold is then generally reduced in temperature for casting the particular metal or alloy, and held there.  The metal to be cast is heated until it's hot enough to flow like water, the mold removed from the kiln, and the metal is cast.  Getting metal into the fine details of a small part requires either a centrifugal sling or a vacuum casting, but bigger parts tend to just be made by pouring the metal into the mold.

The main point here is that lost wax casting doesn't have to use wax models as the starting point.  Jewelers sometimes use "organics" as their models, typically a bug.  They often stink while they're burning out, but lots of folks do it.  I think that a plastic model out of a 3D printer could be used directly, if the plastic burns cleanly and not leave a lot of residue.  That's not the only way, though;  a 3D printed object could be used as a master to make a mold by pouring a silicone mold making gel over it.  Once the silicone hardens, it's cut away from the model and then used as a mold for hot wax. 
Pouring large objects in lost wax molds.  Never lose sight of the fact that the properties you get out of the metal you cast this way are set by the way you heat treat the metal after the pour. 

Even if you have a printer that doesn't print metal parts, with some additional time and effort you can make metal parts from the plastic ones your printer makes.  There are hours of video, acres of text and hundreds of pounds of books written on the process of lost wax casting.  I hope this serves to whet your appetite for learning more about it.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Department of Labor Website Launched Cyber Attack on Visitors

I have to admit, every so often I hear about something the government did which surprises even me.  I was shocked to read that in 2013, visitors to the Department of Labor "nuclear related" pages had malware downloaded onto their computers by the DOL.  I didn't even know the DOL had anything to do with nuclear things.  I thought that was all Department of Energy, and DOD, but apparently DOL has programs related to benefits for nuclear weapon and nuclear energy workers.
DOL’s “nuclear-related” web pages sent out a “Watering Hole” attack in April 2013. In a “Watering Hole” attack, the bad guys target a specific group of people and set malware traps on web pages that the group is likely to visit. So when visitors went on DOL’s nuclear pages, they received malware from the rogue Internet domain “dol.nso1.us.”
This was all openly discussed in computer security circles back 2013, on a Cisco Systems blog, which has details that someone at Borepatch's level could understand, but I don't.
   
It's a truism that we should "never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity", and it may be stupidity that's going on here.  May be.  To borrow a key phrase (I think!) from the Cisco coverage,
An nmap TCP connection scan of the IP indicates a Windows box, it is interesting that the MSRPC service is not being firewalled. MSRPC is a very rich attack surface on unpatched/unmaintained machines. It is possible that this could be a compromised machine.
Which means that DOL may have just been idiots about handling their computers and the group that put it on their computer is someone else.  Why?  Again, Cisco:
AlienVault has reported that the web page hosting the exploit contained advanced reconnaissance techniques designed to gather information about the targeted systems which visited the page. This included antivirus and various browser plug-in information. This information will likely be used to facilitate and ensure the success of future attacks. Despite initial reports, CrowdStrike has not yet come to the conclusion that the command and control is related to DeepPanda. If it is, this could mean this is part of an advanced exploit kit.
The code name DeepPanda is used for a so-called, "known Chinese actor", and they're saying they hadn't concluded it was DeepPanda.  Checking the CrowdStrike page tonight shows no updates since 3 May 2013.  What if it was?  Does that mean the Chinese are interested in who is looking at the US Department of Labor computers?

I think it's the nature of this sort of report that we may never know.  The malicious domain that dropped the malware payload dol.ns01.us may look official, but in reality it belongs to a company named changeip.org. Changeip.org offers “Free Dynamic DNS” among other services. Essentially, a changeip.org customer pays for a base domain name, then if the third-level name is available, it’s included for free.  The "burner cellphone" of cyber attackers? 

  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Economatrix Problems Deepening

From an email today, I see that Baltic Dry Index is setting up for a record low,
And the collapse just keeps going… since Thanksgiving, The Baltic Dry has fallen on 43 of the 47 days, down over 60% from the “China growth is back and all-is-well” hope-filled days of late October (when Jim Cramer “stressed the importance of watching the Baltic Dry Freight Index,” as his bullish thesis confirmation)At 569, The Baltic Dry is inching ever closer to what will be the lowest level ever (554 on 7/31/1986) for the global shipping cost indicator…

One or two more days like this and it will be the all-time low…
The Baltic Dry is an index I try to look at now and then.  It's used by many as a "leading indicator"; an indicator of things to come.  It measures the amount of ocean-going freighters being booked to move freight around the world,
What makes this particular measurement so distinct from others, according to economist Howard Simmons, is that the BDI “is totally devoid of speculative content” because “people don’t book freighters unless they have cargo to move.”
Taking a look at the BDI chart's last few months in more detail, that doesn't appear to be a gentle decline.  With exceptions for a couple of weeks in December and then in January, it's been dropping  since the first of November.  I'm not quite sure how the impending West coast longshoreman's strike is going to affect this, but I can't see how it helps. 

I'll add this to the end of my post from two weeks ago on some of the signs of the approaching Really Bad Times I see.  As a guest contributor to ZeroHedge put it
The Big Crisis, the one in which entire countries go bust, has begun. It will not unfold in a matter of weeks; these sorts of things take months to complete. But it has begun.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Take 3 Capsules and Call Me in the Morning

From a connection with one of the big contractors on the Cape
Boeing's summary page.

SpaceX's summary page.  Be sure to watch this video to see the bold concept they're working on. 

If we can just avoid World War III plunging the world into chaos and destruction, there are some neat things coming.  Unfortunately, it's looking like that ship may have already sailed.



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Techy Tuesday - The One Thing From CES You'll End Up Owning

I wrote a little about the CES 2015 (Consumer Electronics Show) three weeks ago, but hadn't read in all the hype about the innovation that I think is going to end up everywhere within a few years.  When you look at all the personal devices, home medical electronics, drones, Ultra HD television and all the rest, I don't think any will penetrate the market as well as the new USB Type C will.  The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) demonstrated USB Type-C at CES 2015, and industry leaders are expected to start launching USB Type-C-enabled products within a few months.  My bet is that this new USB incarnation will take off more rapidly than anything else at the show.

USB, the Universal Serial Bus, has been with us since the late 1990s.  While the specifications were complete by 1994, it didn't start showing up in earnest until about 1996, and I think my own first USB devices were added after that when Windows 95 started supporting it.  That means if you're about 21 or younger, you may have never seen an RS-232C port, or more importantly, had to go through the hassles of configuring one.  Likewise you've never had to go through the agony of setting switches, juggling interrupt numbers and assigning port numbers to get something as simple as a phone line modem to work.  (Go ask your parents).

The one constant in the development of computers is the ever increasing "need for speed".   The original USB 1.0 ran at up to 1.5 Mbps in Low Speed mode and 12 Mbps at Full Speed.  USB 2.0 in 2001 implemented a higher data transfer rate of 480 Mbps (High Speed),  a full 40x faster than the Full Speed maximum bandwidth offered by the original USB 1.0.   USB 3.0 followed by November of 2008, and added SuperSpeed mode of 5 Gbps.  In July 2013, the USB 3.1 specification was released and doubled the maximum bandwidth to 10 Gbps, almost 7,000x faster than USB 1.0 Low Speed. This new transfer mode is officially referred to as "SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps" or "SuperSpeed+" for short.  I would hazard a guess that the majority of computer systems in use today have USB 2 connections. 

I've always thought the standard flat rectangle USB connector we use the most, the "A" connector, is the worst connector in the world.  The running joke in industry is that you always have to try it  3 times to plug it in successfully.  The other end has a few different sizes.  The A size shrank as speeds went up, but the B ends were small because makers of small things like digital cameras wanted their end smaller. 
With all that history out of the way, let's meet USB C.  To begin with, the connector gets much easier.  It's a 24-pin connector, which is both small (3mm high and 8mm wide) and robust (it's rated for 10,000 mate/de-mate cycles), but the best part of it from the user standpoint is that the connector can be plugged in either way, like Apple's Lightning connector.  No more fumbling with turning the connector over a few times.  The connecter is small enough that the same connector can be used everywhere -- on workstations, tablet computers, MP3 players, smartphones, digital cameras, etc., and both ends will have the same connector, allowing the devices to negotiate which end is doing what.

Another thing users will like is that the current that can be handled goes to 100W.  USB 2.0 can supply at most 500mA per port, (2.5W) while USB 3.x boosted this up to 900mA per port (4W).  100 Watts, supplied as 20V at 5A, can run a lot of things, including whole computers or big tablets.
Notice in the pin-out diagram (source) there are two sets of high-speed TX/RX signals. Each of these is capable of supporting the USB 3.1 SuperSpeed+ standard of 10 Gbps, which means USB Type-C can support up to 20 Gbps of raw data.  Furthermore, these signals can be configured to support alternative modes and convey various flavors of non-USB data, such as video.

This is a challenging specification.  Data streams at 20Gbps are really microwave signals and this cable will probably be several micro-diameter coaxial cables, the same concept as the cable TV or satellite dish TV cables.  It is absolutely not trivial to do the things they're proposing and having it embedded in cheap consumer electronics within a year is frankly mind-blowing. 


Monday, February 2, 2015

Like A Broken Record

The same thing over and over and over again.  Obama "won't accept" a budget that doesn't increase spending and doesn't penalize the people who pay taxes.
(Gary Varvel)

He proposes a $4 trillion budget for one year, proposes taxes that raise $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years and thinks this is not only a good thing, but will "not accept" anything that doesn't do what he wants.  If you're a new reader, let me say I'm always extremely skeptical of numbers stated like that.  There's simply no way to know what "$1.5 Trillion over 10 years" really means.  How much per year?  How much economic growth is expected?  It's virtually guaranteed to be a static estimate, meaning it will be wrong as soon as the people being taxed change their behavior even slightly to avoid the taxes.  Probably as soon as the bill passes.  As for expecting to know precisely how much money goes to the treasury in 10 years, just go look up the 2004 budgets and tell me how accurately they predicted last year. 

If he can't see how his own policies are hurting the groups he says he's trying to help, he's hopelessly deluded.   What else can you expect from Alinsky-ite community dis-organizer?


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Solar Cycle News Update - It's Downhill From Here

I try to do these every 6 months and my last was in mid-June, so January is the update to post.  Just missed getting this in during January (I forgot!). 
It looks like the second peak of the cycle has ended, with the smoothed number (blue) heading down and the monthly values reducing the range they run over.  It appears the absolute peak of this cycle was just about a year ago and we'll be in the declining side of the cycle for the next few years.  From my experience, the downside of the solar cycle has tended to have more disruptions from solar flares and to decline in activity slower than the cycle peaked.  We haven't had an x-class flare (the strongest class) since October, though, from what I can find.   

As I've posted before, this is the weakest solar cycle in 100 years, which means no living solar scientist has seen a cycle this weak, and our records of what the sun was doing back then are more sparse than what's available now.  Since no living scientist has seen a cycle this week, expect all predictions, including my little one above, to be even less accurate than usual. 

My interest in solar activity grew out of the shortwave radio listening hobby I started at about 13 years old.  That was in the cycle right after the strongest one on record, the peak from the late 50s.  Solar activity acts to increase the density of the ionosphere, which raises the frequency at which radio waves are bent back to Earth.  Following the highest frequency that will propagate between two points, the Maximum Usable Frequency or MUF, is generally the way to hear (or talk with) the farthest points with the lowest loss of signal.  If you're a radio listener or ham it gives you the best shot at those far points.

More recently, I became interested in the sunspot cycle and how it affects the non-radio aspects of life.  The link between solar minima, like the Maunder Minimum, and the little Ice Ages is pretty well known.  Despite what the alarmists say about Global Warmening (or whatever they call it this week), mankind has done better in warm periods than in the cold periods in our history (huge pdf alert - but fascinating reading).