Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Repost - Anybody Else Ripped off by Iain Sinclair Design in the UK?

I very, very rarely re-post something in its entirety, but this one seems to warrant re-posting.  Last August, I posted the original, which I'm going to copy below, and then add a few thoughts after that:


Anybody Else Ripped Off By Iain Sinclair Design?

Back in February, somebody sent me an offer for a new Iain Sinclair design of a credit card knife (this one, I think).  I was taken by it as a nifty toy and eventually ordered two - one for each of us.  At $16 each, not a terrible expense.  Allow 4 to 8 weeks for delivery.  As we've now hit almost five months, 24 weeks, and nothing but repeated "so sorry, but we're delayed" responses, I think it's time to admit it's probably a ripoff and I'm out my $32. [Note: this was last August, it's now closer to 15 months and probably a dozen emails to them. - SiG]

In June I inquired again and was told they were on track to complete all the back orders by the end of July.  I asked about cancelling the order, and was then introduced to the grim reality of this particular situation.  See, my card was charged back in February.  The Sinclair Design rep says they've changed credit card systems and can't do a refund.  The card company says the deadline for that was a couple of months after purchase.  But the knives are available, they're just apparently not shipping to individuals.  You can buy packs of them on eBay.

In the intervening months, I've seen credit card knives at gun shows for $10 and they're not exactly hard to come by.  I didn't get one at the shows because of the long standing order. 

So I thought I'd ask you, dear readers.  Anyone else been ripped off by these guys?  Anyone else know anything else about the company?  It's hard to fathom why an honest seller with products to sell would take over five months to ship.  Could they have expected a few hundred sales and got a million?  Way more than they could handle?



Although this post is eight months old, it's unique in getting comments fairly regularly.  It received three comments in February, two in March and four since April 1. 

Iain Sinclair Design has a slick website, but judging by the feedback I've gotten, they're either rather incompetent at running a business or just plain petty criminals.  I'm assuming it's the second option: petty criminals.  After all, if you want to steal money, this is a pretty effective way to do it.  You sell something on the promise it will ship as soon as prototyping is done, charge the credit card number immediately and never ship.  If the customer inquires, politely explain you're having some delays and you'll be shipping Real Soon Now, all the while charging more credit cards.  By the time the customer decides it's fraud, they have a real problem.  Dealing with international payments, multiple credit card handling services, and other ways to tangle the trail makes it hard for the customer to do anything.  How much do you need to spend to get your $16 back?  Faced with large costs to recover a small loss, most people give up and swear never to buy from the company.  I'm not proud to say I gave up. 

Basically, it's easier to steal $10 1000 times than $10,000 once. If you get a supply of $10 bills, people are going to complain and post angry comments, but they're probably not going to make a big deal of it.  If you steal $100 or $1000, folks will probably call the police.

But all that is offset by the fact that there are dozens of entries for Iain Sinclair knives on eBay.  Clearly they sell to someone.  Do they just rip off small foreign orders, or only sell to bulk buyers, or what?  Is this number of complaints I can see just a small random sample and they're really just wonderful folks?  That doesn't make me feel any better about being out $35 for two of these.   The website shows a Cardsharp 4, a $90 version that looks as nice as can be.  Would I buy one?  Hell no. 

To keep a clear conscience, all I can say is DO NOT DO BUSINESS WITH THESE FOLKS!!   Or, at the very least, don't do business from outside the UK.  If you're in the UK, maybe even the EU (sorry, don't know exactly what that relationship is), it might be easier for you to get resolution.  If you're in the States or probably anywhere else: don't do it, man. 

There are always scammers and ripoff artists out there, and it's always wise for the buyer to beware - caveat emptor.  I should point out that my order was in response to an email offer from someplace in the gun culture, so I was inclined to trust them (but I don't remember whom it was or have records...).  So you can't necessarily trust a seller even if they come from a source you might trust. 

I'm blessed enough to host a thousand readers a day coming through here.  Perhaps there's someone coming here to read who can be a pain in the ass for Iain Sinclair Design in London.  In my opinion, they deserve it.



Saturday, May 2, 2015

About that Whole "Coming Economic Collapse" Thingy

James Rickards is a guy with an arm's length worth of credentials in the world of economics and high finance.  He's Chief Global Strategist at the West Shore Funds, and the Editor of Strategic Intelligence, a monthly newsletter.  He's also a lawyer, an economist, and has held senior positions at Citibank, Long-Term Capital Management, and Caxton Associates.  In 1998, he was the principal negotiator of the rescue of Long Term Capital Mangement sponsored by the Federal Reserve.  He's a visiting lecturer in globalization at the Johns Hopkins University and the School of Advanced International Studies, and has delivered papers on risk at Singularity University, the Applied Physics Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He's an advisor on capital markets to the U.S. intelligence community and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  He was involved in the first war gaming exercises held at the Pentagon that centered on financial attacks.  I could go on, but you can read his bio on his web page.  In summary, he has built a career on the inside, at the highest levels of the game. 

Rickards is the author of a few books that my readers might be interested in.  His first book (2011) was called "Currency Wars" (if you haven't noticed, we're in one now); the Financial Times reviewed it saying  "let’s hope he’s wrong". His response was, "I hope I’m wrong, too".  His most current book,  "The Death of Money" is currently on my Kindle, although I've just barely cracked the cover.

Rickards recently did a short, 20 minute-ish interview with Glenn Beck on the radio program.  A video and the transcript is available.  The interview was centered on what economic collapse looks like and what the world looks like after it happens.  I think what got Beck interested in interviewing him was an article he published on the Daily Reckoning:  "In the Year 2024".   The combination of that piece and the interview rate pretty high up on the pucker scale.

Rickards has some interesting things to say about where the various central banks are, since they've been creating money at a breakneck pace since 2008.  The central banks are insolvent.  Behind closed doors with one of their own, like Rickards, they'll admit they're insolvent and then claim it doesn't matter.  According to one standard definition ("a prolonged period of below-trend growth, which neither collapses nor gets back to trend"), we're in a depression now and have been for some time.
JAMES: ... People say - I say we’re in a depression. People go, you’re nuts. GDP is not going down. We’ve been recovering for six years. Where are the soup lines? Well, the soup lines are Whole Foods. Because now you get food stamps on a digital card. By the way, I’m not disparaging people. You can go into Whole Foods and get your soups. So we have the soup lines. They’re just at Whole Foods. We all know the only reason why unemployment is not higher is because labor participations collapsed.

The point is, this 2 percent growth that we’re chugging along. In some quarters, a little more. In some quarters, a little bit less. If we’re capable of three and a half, which we are, and in the short-run, maybe 5 percent, which we saw between ’83 and ’86, if we’re capable of that and you’re actually growing at two, it’s the gap between the three and two. Or the five and the two that’s depressed growth. That’s the definition of a depression. The problem is, we are Japan. We’ll be in this for 20 years, unless we make structural changes. A depression is structural. It’s not cyclical. You can’t solve a [structural] problem with a cyclical solution, which is money. Money printing, if you know, inflation is a little high and you want to dial down the money supply. Or unemployment is high, dial it up. That’s a cyclical solution. We need structural solutions. We’re not getting them.
He'll be among the first to tell you that financial collapse could happen this week or in a decade.  It's impossible to tell.  In many ways, it's like an avalanche: it's impossible to blame the avalanche on any particular snowflake, but any one of the continuing snowflakes could cause it.  What's it look like?  The only "bank" with any solvency left is the International Monetary Fund.  The IMF has Special Drawing Rights, SDRs, that would allow it to prop up the world when the collapse happens.  His most likely scenario would be that all banks around the world, all banks, would be shuttered.  After some time, perhaps a few days, perhaps a week, everyone would be able to withdraw 250 or $300 a day for food and energy expenses. 
GLENN: And all of a sudden we’re just out. This could happen in a three-day, four-day, five-day period where all of a sudden the world has changed. The banks are closed. You don’t have access to money. $300 out of the ATM. That’s all you can get.

JAMES: Right. Gas and grocery money. That’s about it.

GLENN: That can go on for?

JAMES: Weeks, months. Hey, if you have your gas and groceries, what else would you need? That would be the point. They wouldn’t steal your money. You just couldn’t get it. It’s not just stocks. It’s money market funds. You wouldn’t be able to redeem those. Close the stock exchange. Say, hey, we’re not stealing your equity. But we’ve converted it to private equity.

GLENN: You said they wouldn’t steal things. Well, they did in Cypress.

JAMES: It’s state power.

GLENN: The state comes in and says, everybody gets a 50 percent haircut. So whatever you have, you lose 50 percent of it. To me, that’s theft. This is all going on. The state starts to crock down. Everybody is kind of pinned into their own place. What does it — what does it look like afterwards?

JAMES: Well, now there are a couple of states to the world. So maybe everybody will just acquiesce. That’s actually a lot of history. When things get bad, people just say, hey, don’t bother me. I’ll go alone with this. But you could see the outbreak of money riots. You could see people in the streets, protesting not social conditions, but financial conditions. Of course, we have a heavy militarized police ready to respond to that with tear gas and flash bang grenades and they’re armored up with all this money from the federal government. So they’re ready.

The Daily Reckoning piece, In the Year 2024, is an interesting read, too. Yes, dystopian; yes, shocking, but reasonable.  It describes a future in which the collapse just described has happened.  The financial structure of the world has come down to three currencies: the dollar in the Americas; the Euro in Europe, Africa and Australia, and the "Ruasia", a new currency that combines the old Russian ruble, Chinese yuan and Japanese yen in a currency for Asia.  All the gold in the world has been confiscated and buried in a secure vault so that nobody ever tries to use it as money again, and no country can create a gold-based economy.  All G-20 nations contributed their national gold to the vault. All private gold was forcibly confiscated and added to the Swiss vault as well. All gold mining had been nationalized and suspended for "environmental reasons".  Land and personal property were not confiscated, because much of it was needed for living arrangements and agriculture. Personal property was too difficult to confiscate and of little use to the state. Fine art was lumped in with cheap art and mundane personal property and ignored.
I should point out that James Rickards is not really an advocate of gold-based currencies and not really a "gold bug" in the sense that he thinks we should have so much we're tripping over it; he just thinks it's prudent for people to have around 10% of their savings in hard assets like precious metals.   He outlines a scenario for why in the "In the Year 2024" piece.



Friday, May 1, 2015

Maybe This Is Too "Inside Florida" ...

I heard a little of the long diatribe from Baltimore's State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announcement that she's indicting six officers in the death that the city is ablaze over.  It seemed very political with her statement about "I [will] work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man".  If she had said "I will work to deliver justice", that would have been politically neutral; saying what she did implies that there was a gross injustice against him, and it doesn't seem to me that's proper for a prosecutor to say.  We expect a prosecutor to think they have a case, but they shouldn't be too political. 

Maybe this is too "inside Florida", but my first thought was, "Angela Corey?  Is that you?" 

Corey's name may be familiar to non-Floridians who are gun culture folks.  She's the prosecutor who zealously went after George Zimmerman, wasting tons of taxpayer money on a case that very few people thought she had any chance of winning.  It was widely considered pure politics, just trolling for stupid voters, but it wasn't the only anti-gunner prosecution she ran.

It's all just parts in a play.  All the rent-a-mob protesters, from Malik Zulu Shabazz to the Crips and Bloods, whoever went from Ferguson to Baltimore, and will move on to the next city, wherever that may be.  You hear the same comment from locals in both cities: those guy aren't from around here.  They were flown in to Baltimore.  What's the game?  As Al Sharpton said today, federalize local police forces.  To fulfill Obama's statement that we need "a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as our military.  And to get rid of those stupid, annoying little states rights and give all powers to the Fed.gov. 

If you're old enough, you'll remember the riots during the "long, hot, summers" of the 1960s.  Here we are again.



Thursday, April 30, 2015

The US Has Too Many Zombies

At least according to Bill Bonner.  Bill likens our perma-ruling class to other Nobility classes, whom he calls Zombies in Suits.  The Zombies are threatening to take down our society as has happened so many times before.   
Archaeologist Arthur Demarest explains that we’re not the first society to be brought low by zombies. They caused the decline of the Mayan civilization too:
Society had evolved too many elites, all demanding exotic baubles […] all needed quetzal feathers, jade, obsidian, fine chert, and animal furs. Nobility is expensive, non-productive and parasitic, siphoning away too much of society’s energy to satisfy its frivolous cravings.
But that was long ago and far away.  Surely things have gotten better in more cultured societies, right?
King Louis XVI of France must have been a decent fellow. But he was surrounded by zombies.

Almost the entire First and Second Estates – the clergy and the nobility – lived off of privileges, tariffs, taxes, grants, rents and other entitlements.

After they took their share, there was hardly enough national output left to support the working classes.

And you think America’s hedge fund managers have a nice tax deal with their “carried interest?”

France’s elite was practically exempt from taxes.

But with so many zombies, 18th-century France struggled to stay solvent. A couple of bad harvests… and people began to starve.
And so began the French Revolution.

I hear a lot of nasty speak about "banksters" and bankers in general.  Remember all the "Eat the Rich" talk from the Occupy Whatever pigs?  Banks are the obvious target; frankly they are getting a lot of special treatment from the Fed (bankers giving taxpayer money to other bankers?  Why, who woulda thunk?).  People seem to forget that the central bankers couldn't do a single freaking thing without the complicit allowance of the government.  Central Bankers couldn't be manipulating the world to the point where global collapse is a virtual certainty without government complicity.  The minute the government got so big that it was the place to get special treatments and special deals, all of what we see today became inevitable. 

I think the big quote in Bonner's column is this one, however:
Follow these easy, proven 13 steps to financial well-being…
1. Don’t get married to her
2. Use your mom’s address to get mail sent to
3. Guy buys a house
4. Guy rents out house to his girlfriend who has two of his kids
5. Section 8 will pay $900 a month for a three-bedroom home
6. Girlfriend signs up for Obamacare so guy doesn’t have to pay out the butt for family insurance
7. Girlfriend gets to go to college free for being a single mother
8. Girlfriend gets $600 a month for food stamps
9. Girlfriend gets free cellphone
10. Girlfriend gets free utilities
11. Guy moves into home but uses mom’s house to get mail sent to
12. Girlfriend claims one kid and guy claims one kid on taxes… now you both get to claim head of household at $1,800 credit
13. Girlfriend gets disability for being “bipolar” or having a “bad back” at $1,800 a month and never has to work again

This plan is perfectly legal and is being executed now by millions of people.
A married couple with a stay-at-home mom yields $0.00 dollars.
An unmarried couple with stay-at-home mom nets:
$21,600 disability +
$10,800 free housing +
$6,000 free Obamacare +
$6,000 free food +
$4,800 free utilities +
$6,000 Pell grant money to spend +
$12,000 a year in college tuition free from Pell grant +
$8,800 tax benefit for being a single mother
= $75,000 a year in benefits

We haven’t verified the details above… But if they’re correct… $75,000 a year is not chicken feed.
This incentivizing of broken families is the root that leads us to Baltimore, Ferguson, and so many before them. 


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Just How Wrong Were They About the BP Oil Spill?

H/T to Mike Miles at 90 Miles From Tyranny for this link to an article on how the dire predictions about the BP Deepwater Horizons spill never came to pass. The article is co-authored by one of my favorite economists, Stephen Moore. If you remember, the 2010 blowout released 3 million barrels of oil deep in the Gulf of Mexico.  I vividly recall watching the oil blowing out of the well and thinking the hydrostatic pressure at that depth is around 2200 pounds per square inch, so if the oil was at lower pressure, there would be no "spill".  The water would push down the bore and cap the oil by itself.  Instead, the oil was blowing out.  It had to be under more pressure than that; if it was a surface well oil would be coming out at incredible rates.  I was marveling at how much pressure the oil must be under in its rock. 
But the good news on this fifth anniversary is that the lasting ecological damage from the spill that was originally feared, has not happened. The dire predictions by the media and the major environmental groups proved wildly off base.
Why?  A combination of reasons.  Eco-groups always overestimate the sensitivity of the environment to disruptions.  In this case, the tremendous hydrostatic pressure helped.  The dispersants and skimming equipment helped.  The natural response helped.  It seems most people don't know the floor of the gulf of Mexico seeps oil all the time and has for geologic times.  Bacteria developed long ago that feed on that oil.  These bacteria were "fertilized" by the oil spill, and "bloomed" - increased in numbers greatly - digested the oil, and died off.
 
Go read.  The article is short but full of good news, for example:
Some of the apocalyptic damage estimated proved to be mere propaganda. The National Center for Atmospheric Research predicted at the time that oil would enter the so-called “loop current”, reaching Florida’s Atlantic coast within a week. Synte Peacock, a NCAR scientist, warned “the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida.” Not to be outdone, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers breathlessly reported that “there will be tar balls all the way up the East Coast, all the way to Europe.”

But the oil didn’t make it to Tampa—let alone Europe as the requisite combination of winds and current failed to materialize. By the end of July, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco admitted that “For southern Florida, the Florida Keys, and the Eastern Seaboard, the coast remains clear … ”
(Image from Fox News, late in the period before the well was finally capped).
Letting the article have the last words:
Most in the environmental movement portray the ecology of our planet as fragile and weak. No. The story of horrific accidents like this and natural ecological occurrences like Katrina, is that Mother Nature adapts and she has awesome healing powers.

The Gulf recovery has been swift and impressive and the doomsayers were thankfully wrong.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tech Tuesday - Solar Powered Spacecraft. No, Not That Kind!

If I say "solar powered space travel", chances are you'll think of solar sailing.  Solar sailing has been researched for a couple of decades and used in movies like this scene from one of the Star Wars second trilogy. It has even been tried a couple of times in the real world.  The large areas of thin, light material, catch the pressure of the solar wind and can accelerate spacecraft across solar system distances.  
There is another way.  Electric thrusters that get their power from the practically unlimited solar power available in space and large solar power arrays. 

Electric ion propulsion thrusters, such as the Hall Thruster, were first proposed and prototyped in the 1960s in both the US and the Soviet Union.  US researchers went on to another class of ion engine while the Soviets produced the first useful Hall thrusters, and launched their first flight carrying one aboard a Meteor spacecraft in December 1971. They were mainly used for satellite stabilization.  These engines were launched regularly and some are working on orbit now.

These engines are useful for tasks requiring small amounts of thrust, grams instead of pounds.  Things like small tweaks to the position of a satellite on orbit.  They're never going to replace a chemical engine for lifting rockets into space, but their potential is that they can apply small amounts of thrust for very long times.  In the drag-free environment of space, the acceleration is cumulative and can lead to impressive speeds:  
Hall thrusters have a specific impulse typically in the range 1,200 to 1,800 seconds – much higher than the 300 to 400 seconds of chemical rockets. However, they provide a much lower thrust. A modern Hall thruster can deliver up to 3 newtons (0.7 pounds) of thrust, which is equivalent to the force you would feel by holding 54 US quarters in your hand. The high specific impulse enables a spacecraft powered by a Hall thruster to reach a top speed of about 50,000 meters per second (112,000 mph). The low thrust, on the other hand, means that weeks or months are needed to attain this speed.
EngineeringTV, a video channel produced by one of the trade magazine publishers and aimed at the engineering market posted two videos on the subject: "How Do Hall Thrusters Work?" and "How Electric Propulsion Could Help NASA Capture an Asteroid".  Dave Manzella of NASA's Glenn Research Center explains how these engines work.  (NASA artist's conception of a Solar Electric Propulsion spacecraft) 
There's drawback (there's always a drawback): they don't just create electric charge from a power supply and use that to create thrust.  They ionize a gas which gets expelled to create the thrust; the noble gas Xenon is preferred for its low ionization energy and large atoms.  The gas produces an ion stream that leaves the vehicle creating that thrust, but then it's gone.  Once the Xenon tank is empty, no more fuel, no more ion propulsion. 


Monday, April 27, 2015

The War on Cash Keeps Spreading

The war on cash is developing new fronts.  At the end of March, I reported about bank requirements to flag Suspicious Activity Reports for withdrawing as little cash as $5000. 

Several reports are floating around the 'net about new policies at JP Morgan Chase.  A year ago, Chase changed their policy to say that they are no longer accepting cash payment on credit card accounts, if it's not your account that you are paying on.  At first glance, that may sound like something you'd never do, but what if you and your wife or another family member have separate accounts.  The wording is that you must be either the account owner or an authorized user on the account and provide ID to pay cash (remember the old joke about "cash accepted with 3 IDs"?).  You can, however, pay anyone's account if you use a check or other, more traceable payment. 

This April, Chase expanded the prohibition to cash put in safe deposit boxes. 
In a letter to its customers dated April 1, 2015 pertaining to its "Updated Safe Deposit Box Lease Agreement,"  one of the highlighted items reads:  "You agree not to store any cash or coins other than those found to have a collectible value."  Whether or not this pertains to gold and silver coins with no numismatic value is not explained. 
The problem here is that Chase is one of the biggest banks, one of the Too Big To Fail banks, so the policy of not allowing coins in your safe deposit box is likely to be picked up by other banks.

It works the other way, too.  ZeroHedge reports that this weekend, a Swiss hedge fund manager calculated that he could save his clients' money (remember Switzerland is charging interest on savings, not paying interest) by taking out the contents of the fund's deposits as cash and storing them in a vault.  He'd pay less to store piles of paper than the fees to keep it in the banks.  The bank refused.  They didn't have that much cash, nor could they see how they could get it in a timely fashion.
“We are sorry, that within the time period specified, no solution corresponding to your expectations could be found.”
While the bank wasn't named, the Swiss National Bank has expressed concerns about clients wanting to avoid the penalties of negative interest.  They've said on the record, “The National Bank has therefore recommended to the banks to approach withdrawal demands in a restrictive manner.” 
(The Swiss National Bank)

Central bankers have suggested that they'd be able to control the money supply so much better if we just eliminated cash.  In this case, granted that it was probably a very large amount of cash in this case, but the precedent that a major bank would refuse to let customers have their own money, based on some notion of "common good", is a terrifying precedent, indeed. 



Sunday, April 26, 2015

Strange Goings on in the Silver Market

In the email this morning was a link to a story that the banking giant JP Morgan Chase Bank is accumulating the biggest pile of silver in history.  How big? 
Since early 2012, JP Morgan’s stockpile has grown from less than 5 million ounces of physical silver to more than 55 million ounces of physical silver.
Over the course of seven business days in early April alone, they bought an average of over 1 million ounces per day:
Here’s a breakdown of the Comex’s most recent silver deliveries to JP Morgan:

April 7th: 1,110,000 ounces
April 8th: 1,280,000 ounces
April 9th:  893,037 ounces
April 10th: 1,200,224 ounces
April 14th: 1,073,000 ounces
April 15th: 1,191,275 ounces
April 16th: 1,183,777.295 ounces 
People talk about the breakeven price to mine silver and it obviously varies with the mine.  It's probably the key thing in the profitability of these mining operations.  When the cost at that mine goes above the spot silver price for too long, they will literally park the heavy equipment and send people elsewhere. 

It sure looks like someone at the big bank thinks silver is pretty smart investment.  Go read, and follow some links, too.    

Standard disclaimers apply: I'm just some dood with a blog on the vast Sargasso sea of the net.  YMMV.  Under penalty of law, do not remove mattress tag.  Professional drivers on closed course.  No animals were harmed during the writing of this blog (although one white cat was annoyed that I wasn't paying more attention to him).

I Just Don't Get It

Molly Schuyler, a 120 pound, 34 year old mother of four, made national headlines for winning an eating competition last week.  At a restaurant called the Big Texan in Amarillo, they have a challenge: eat a 72 ounce steak with all the sides (shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad and a dinner roll); do it under an hour and you get dinner free.  For the competition she ate three of those complete meals.  In 20 minutes. 
I just don't get it.  I can't see how a woman her size could eat that much.  She routinely beats football players and other big guys in these competitive eating events.  (This has to be the uniquely American sport).  

We once had a skinny little Siamese cat named Fourier.  I remember one holiday I carved turkey portions for both him and Mrs. Graybeard, and we decided to let him eat his fill.  This seven pound cat ate more than my wife - almost twice as much.  It's like that.  I've seen it, but I don't understand it. 


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nuts!!

While I've played my kit guitar a few times since I finished it a couple of weeks ago and I'm pleased with overall, it hasn't been entirely pleasant.  It was immediately (and somewhat painfully) obvious that the strings were much too high above the neck.  Those of you who are guitarists or know the basics can skip the next paragraph while I bring everyone else up to speed.
(from
A guitar, ukelele, bass guitar, mandolin, banjo; basically any stringed instrument changes the pitch it plays by pressing the string down onto a board to make the vibrating portion shorter.  If the string is not pressed at all, it's supported in two places: the top is called the nut and the bottom is called the bridge.  All of the above instruments have wires called frets on the board that help you get the exact length reduction you want; violins, cellos, and some others don't have frets and just rely on accurate positioning of your finger.  Narrowing the subject down to guitars, the height of the strings above the fretboard (neck) is generally lower on an electric guitar than an acoustic, because the acoustic guitar player has to hit the strings harder to get louder sounds.  The electric guitar can use less string motion and make up for it with watts out of the amplifier.  The combination of the height of the strings and the ease of playing is referred to as the "action", and lowering the strings or speeding the action is one of the most common reasons players bring their guitar into the shop.

My guitar's problem was that the nut was too high.  Comparing it to the nut on an easy to play electric, strings were much higher.  More than 1/16", .062" or so too high.  The bridge is adjustable, nuts are not adjustable.  Some research showed me the generally accepted way of lowering the strings is to file the slots in the nut deeper. 

Nuts are complicated.
The problem with filing the slots is that is that each string is a different diameter, and the slot width should match the diameter of the string (a few thousandths slop is acceptable).  I typically use strings with diameters that run from .010 for the highest down to .046" for the lowest, and you don't just go find flat files .010 or .012 thick at the corner hardware store.  Nut files are expensive; a set of six (or three double edged files) is going to run around $80 to $100.  The exact amount of filing you do is going to have to be measured and while the technology isn't exactly rocket surgery, you really need something like this. You need to ensure that the fingerboard-facing edge of the nut slot is the highest point, because if it's too much farther forward toward the tuning pegs, that effects the ratio of the lengths when you press the string down.  The frets are placed based on the distance from the very top edge of the fingerboard to the bridge, and if the end of the string is too far forward of that edge, say 1/16" past the fingerboard edge of the nut, the ratios of lengths are not as intended.  Guitarists worry about intonation of the guitar; that every note is on pitch, (so that they can bend the note off pitch); this would affect intonation.  The 12th fret is exactly half the distance from the nut to the bridge (this is called the scale length, and there are guitars with different scale lengths), and intonation is adjusted by ensuring that the note at the 12th fret is exactly one octave above the open string.  This is adjustable at the bridge on most electric guitars.  

If you know me, you know I'm not too reluctant to buy tools, but if it's something I'm only going to use once, that does make me pause to look for alternatives.  Here we are at nearly $150 and we haven't even really started. 

It turns out I'm good friends with another engineer whose long-term partner retired from work seven years ago.  I knew this guy somewhat; we worked together on a couple of jobs, but with three engineering buildings and being reassigned between them as needed, it's easy to lose contact.  We had never spent time hanging out together outside of work.  Some time ago, I had heard he had been working as a luthier after retiring.  I asked her to ask him if he had a set of nut files, and if he'd mind loaning me the set for a weekend.  What I got was far better than that, an invitation to come over to his place and act like an apprentice to him on setting up my guitar.  That's how I spent the day. 

The first thing we did was measure the neck to see if the truss rod was set properly.  I did this with no instruments at all; he pulled out a neck relief gauge.  I had over adjusted it: you want it a little concave, and if I recall correctly I was about .018 low and he readjusted the truss rod to .010" low.  Next was to measure the neck radius, and verify the understring radius along the neck, down to the bridge.  One string notch in my bridge needed to be deepened a bit to allow the strings to follow the proper radius all the way to the bridge.  We checked frets for flatness, and found several that needed to be hammered down. 

Finally it was on to the nut, the only part I expected to work on.  The strings were all quite high, and more so on the thin string end, so my friend recommended we pop the nut off the neck, remove most of the thickness from the bottom, and then use the files to adjust out the last 25 mils or so.  Why?  This is a cheap kit, not a high-end guitar and he realized that it was a plastic nut - hollow on the inside - and was concerned we might cut through the floor of the nut.  High end guitars are more likely to have a nut made of bone or other solid material.  I won't bore you with a play by play here, but we did that by working the nut over several sheets of sandpaper until we took off about .040 across the bottom.  Then on to the files to set the final string height.  Once that was set, the nut was pulled and the top of it filed down until the strings sit with a good part of their diameters above the nut, as seen in the graphic above.  Finally, I re-stringed the guitar with a fresh set of strings

The difference is night and day.  My kit guitar now plays as smoothly and comfortably as any electric I've touched in the last several years.  It does give me some pause in recommending these kits, though.  It's not a bad guitar but when I consider the price, the complete lack of instructions and needing to do this extensive work, it doesn't seem like quite as big a bargain.  Musician's Friend has the Epiphone version of this guitar for about twice what the kit cost when I include the money spent on finishing this one.  You can cut that down even more if you go for a different brand.  Is it worth it to build the kit?  If you're on a strict budget?  Maybe.  The more you're set up to do it yourself, the more of the tools you can borrow or get access to, the better it works out.  My real goal here was to learn some of the skills needed; to build the guitar just to build the guitar. 

Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go play it for a while!


Friday, April 24, 2015

The 100th Anniversary of the First Holocaust of the 20th Century

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of Armenian Genocide, which is becoming regarded as the first holocaust of the 20th Century.   

Generally, when people speak of The Holocaust, they mean Hitler's WWII mission to kill every Jew on the planet.  There are many Holocaust Museums across the world: the official US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC; a Holocaust Museum in Florida as well as other states; several in Germany and other countries.  I have visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel; in the Western outskirts of Jerusalem. 

In an eerie preview of Hitler's holocaust and its links to Islam, reference Hitler's alliance with Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Armenian Genocide was carried out by Turkish Muslims trying to drive every Christian out of their land.  Because of the size of such a wholesale murder operation, it requires a government to carry out a genocide, and (source):
The Armenian Genocide was centrally planned and administered by the Turkish government against the entire Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. It was carried out during W.W.I between the years 1915 and 1918. The Armenian people were subjected to deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre, and starvation. The great bulk of the Armenian population was forcibly removed from Armenia and Anatolia to Syria, where the vast majority was sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger. Large numbers of Armenians were methodically massacred throughout the Ottoman Empire. Women and children were abducted and horribly abused. The entire wealth of the Armenian people was expropriated. After only a little more than a year of calm at the end of W.W.I, the atrocities were renewed between 1920 and 1923, and the remaining Armenians were subjected to further massacres and expulsions. In 1915, thirty-three years before UN Genocide Convention was adopted, the Armenian Genocide was condemned by the international community as a crime against humanity.
An attempt to kill every person of some minority is too big a crime to be committed in one day.  April 24, 1915 is generally considered the starting day because 200 Armenian Christians were rounded up in Constantinople (Istanbul) and arrested that day, a task made easier by having disarmed the Armenians (again, a preview of Hitler's holocaust).  Most of the 200 were summarily executed immediately.

It's generally concluded that 1.5 million Armenians (out of a population of 2 million) were killed  between 1915 and 1923.  In addition to those people, 750,000 Assyrians, and 500,000 Greeks were murdered.  2.75 million Christians were killed in total by Muslims who could not bear to have Christians living in "their" territory.  Likewise, it's generally concluded that the Armenian genocide served as an example for Hitler.  He is quoted as having used the rationalization, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

Today, the Islamic State (or ISIS or whatever they call themselves) is in a campaign to bring back the idea of genocide of any non-Islamic groups.  They murder Christians whenever and wherever they can.  They massacre Yazidis, Kurds, anyone that isn't their version of Islam.  Not to mention their taking of women as sex slaves everywhere they go.  Christians and others fleeing the hell of north Africa into Europe are at the root of the migration crisis the EU is facing now. 

And so the 21st century begins as the 20th did: in the violence of a 7th century death cult's world view.  People tell me we have no need to be concerned about ISIS.  They say ISIS isn't here, or it's all made up, like some sort of Hollywood special effects blockbuster. 
(Armenian children on their way to "exile" and likely death).  Look at this long and hard.  This is what they do.  This what we'll get.  WWIII has already started, it's just taking time getting cranked up.  


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Stick a Fork In It - It's Done

The much vaunted US Army.
Overcome by political correctness, neutered commanders forced ROTC members at several Universities to walk across campus in red high heels.  The cause was “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes”, an event designed to raise awareness of sexual violence against women.  You know, that whole debunked "rape culture" idea that comes from a handful of made-up stories, like the Duke Lacrosse team or the fake UVA fraternity "gang rape" that just took place on the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.
“Attendance is mandatory and if we miss it we get a negative counseling and a ‘does not support the battalion sharp/EO mission’ on our CDT OER for getting the branch we want. So I just spent $16 on a pair of high heels that I have to spray paint red later on only to throw them in the trash after about 300 of us embarrass the U.S. Army tomorrow,” one anonymous cadet wrote on the social media sharing website Imgr, IJReview reported Monday.
This photo is tagged on the IJReview as being at Temple University; the PJ Tattler article (first link) refers to the same thing happening at Arizona State University.  It has been widely reported as being nationwide.  Borrowing from the PJ Tattler piece by Debra Heine:
During the Obama years, the military has become a hostile environment for Christian chaplains, and Christians in general. By the spring of 2013 — after Obama had been safely reelected — the hostility became palpable. That April, it was widely reported that an Army instructor in Pennsylvania had labeled evangelical Christians, Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Mormons “religious extremists” alongside Hamas and al Qaeda during an Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training brief on extremism. Later that month, an Army officer at Ft. Campbell, KY, sent an email to subordinates using similar descriptions to describe two mainstream Christian ministries that were put in the same category as Neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, white nationalists and the Ku Klux Klan. Shortly after that, the United States Army blocked the website of the Southern Baptist Convention from government computers.
It appears the "fundamental transformation" is complete.  I've heard from friends that the level of morale in the military is lower than it has been since the Clinton cutbacks in the '90s.  I know there are good guys out there in uniform, but I can just imagine regimes that might want to take our land, oil, and other treasures looking at this and saying the US is ripe for pushing over. 


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Catching Stingrays - The Cell Phone Monitor Kind

By now, the Stingray cellphone monitoring devices have been pretty well documented online.  Supposedly so secret that the FBI would prefer prosecutors drop a case rather than provide details on their Stingray operations, they are very well known about by the people who are targeted by them - or are concerned about being targeted by them. 

Stingrays are not the only problem out there.  There are malicious cellular base stations called "IMSI catchers", which use cellular phones' International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) as a way to identify a targeted phone.  Once targeted, the operators can execute a "man in the middle" attack against it, acting as an intermediary between the phone and a legitimate cell tower in order to intercept and record conversations.  There are other sorts of rouge towers, big ones, not temporary setups by a signal monitoring van, that gather cellphone traffic.   Just last summer ('14) there was a report by a crypto communications provider of finding "more than a dozen" rogue towers in the Washington DC area.  One has to wonder with 15 rogue towers in the DC area if they're foreign intelligence services.  One thing's for sure.  It's not just the NSA.  For example, if a company is trying to prevent personal cell phone usage within a facility through passive means, an employee might plug a femtocell base station in at their desk to make outbound calls that aren't through the company's call logging system. This also introduces the potential threat of cellular jamming by someone seeking to block service for malicious reasons.

Tonight we go back to ARS Technica, which reports:
At the RSA Conference in San Francisco today, the network penetration testing and monitoring tool company Pwnie Express will demonstrate its newest creation: a sensor that detects rogue cellular network transceivers, including "Stingray" devices and other hardware used by law enforcement to surreptitiously monitor and track cell phones and users.
The thing is, it doesn't require a Stingray or "law enforcement-grade" hardware.  Anyone with a HackRF  or other software-defined radio kit and open-source software can turn a laptop computer into a cellular network transceiver—or even a cellular jammer.

Pwnie Express'  technology isn't new; what's new is selling it to non-government groups.
"It's actually real easy to make something that can do this but can only be used by government or law enforcement," said Farina. "But so many people have these problems and no way to solve them. If you've got a good sized company, you're absolutely a target for somebody setting up a small base station and grabbing your data, pretty cheaply."

Pwnie's cellular threat detection capability is based on FCC-certified cellular transceiver hardware, and it will be integrated into the company's Pwn Pro network sensor line (the corporate version of the Pwn Plug). A 4G cellular transceiver is integrated directly into the device.

"What we're focusing on is the malicious use of cellular—a handful of specific things we can detect passively now," said Porcello. "And there will be a lot more by the time we ship." He added that the rule sets used for identifying some of the potentially malicious behaviors "are pretty rudimentary at this point," and additional work will be required to tune out false positive alerts.
There are already some alternatives out there to detect IMSI catchers such as SnoopSnitch, an Android application that can warn a phone user of suspicious cell tower signals that might indicate an IMSI catcher or rogue base station.   While it appears that Pwnie's Pulse with these features added won't be available real soon, it pays the technically inclined to dig into the ways this works.  It sounds like detecting Stingray and other malicious devices is not out of the realm of the determined home hobbyist.




Monday, April 20, 2015

Wisconsin's Organized Lawfare Raids

Wisconsin, the cradle of progressive politics, has lessons to teach us all about the horrors of the merger of state and unions.  Ed Morrisey at Hot Air summarizes the story, with links to David French's in-depth report of the terror of Wisconsin’s “John Doe” raids in a new report for National Review (you should RTWT):
Cindy Archer, one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill,” it limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions — was jolted awake by yelling, loud pounding at the door, and her dogs’ frantic barking. The entire house — the windows and walls — was shaking.

She looked outside to see up to a dozen police officers, yelling to open the door. They were carrying a battering ram.
...
“I begged and begged, ‘Please don’t shoot my dogs, please don’t shoot my dogs, just don’t shoot my dogs.’ I couldn’t get them to stop barking, and I couldn’t get them outside quick enough. I saw a gun and barking dogs. I was scared and knew this was a bad mix.”
Others noted by David French in that National Review article also participated in conservative politics and policy development, all of whom got raided in exactly the same manner — warned not to talk about it, warned not to get a lawyer, all while the government confiscated their papers and computers.  How can this be legal?

How does something like this start?  Politics.  How else?
In 2009, officials from the office of the Milwaukee County executive contacted the office of the Milwaukee district attorney, headed by John Chisholm, to investigate the disappearance of $11,242.24 from the Milwaukee chapter of the Order of the Purple Heart. The matter was routine, with witnesses willing and able to testify against the principal suspect, a man named Kevin Kavanaugh.

What followed, however, was anything but routine. Chisholm failed to act promptly on the report, and when he did act, he refused to conduct a conventional criminal investigation but instead petitioned, in May 2010, to open a “John Doe” investigation, a proceeding under Wisconsin law that permits Wisconsin officials to conduct extensive investigations while keeping the target’s identity secret (hence the designation “John Doe”).

John Doe investigations alter typical criminal procedure in two important ways: First, they remove grand juries from the investigative process, replacing the ordinary citizens of a grand jury with a supervising judge. Second, they can include strict secrecy requirements not just on the prosecution but also on the targets of the investigation...

Why would Chisholm seek such broad powers to investigate a year-old embezzlement claim with a known suspect? Because the Milwaukee County executive, Scott Walker, had by that time become the leading Republican candidate for governor. District Attorney Chisholm was a Democrat, a very partisan Democrat.
Of course, this was the point: to intimidate conservatives into not speaking, not organizing into a real political movement.  Wisconsin Club for Growth head Eric O'Keefe found that affiliates were cancelling meetings and refusing to talk with him.  They understandably thought being affiliated with someone who had gone through such investigation might lead to getting the early morning battering ram raids themselves.  O'Keefe had to abandon fundraising for the Club because he could no longer guarantee to donors that their identities would remain confidential, could not (due to the Secrecy Order) explain to potential donors the nature of the investigation, could not assuage donors’ fears that they might become targets themselves, and could not assure donors that their money would go to fund advocacy rather than legal expenses. As O'Keefe later said, "The process is the punishment".
In international law, the Western world has become familiar with a concept called “lawfare,” a process whereby rogue regimes or organizations abuse legal doctrines and processes to accomplish through sheer harassment and attrition what can’t be accomplished through legitimate diplomatic means. The Palestinian Authority and its defenders have become adept at lawfare, putting Israel under increasing pressure before the U.N. and other international bodies.

The John Doe investigations are a form of domestic lawfare, and our constitutional system is ill equipped to handle it. 
In the coming days, thanks to the gyrocopter idiot, you'll be hearing a lot of talk about campaign finance.  I've written many times that I think the role of money in politics is overblown: it's an easy excuse for rotten campaign managers or rotten candidates and we routinely see the underfunded candidate win.  The counter to that is the argument that big money controls everything.  I've already heard the arguments that Hildebeest has got "2.5 billion dollars" and will win.  The basis for the horrors people went through was the idea that money in politics is a greater evil than a government empowered to shut down political speech. 

The John Doe law in Wisconsin shows exactly why government intervention in political speech is worse than any corruption it attempts to prevent. The use of force in Wisconsin got applied to one side exclusively, and intended to shut down conservatives before they could exercise their legitimate political power. It’s even more egregious than the IRS targeting of conservatives between 2009-2013, but it’s the same kind of abuse of power, and it leverages the same kind of campaign-finance reform statutes that give government at state and federal levels entrĂ©e to control political speech.
(generic stock-ish photo of police seizing computers, as happened to so many conservatives in Wisconsin - from Metronews.ca)



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Vacations Must Come to an End

I've been out of work since the end of the day Thursday, 4/9, and tomorrow it's back to the grind.  (Well, I actually got called into a telephone conference for an hour on Wednesday, so I worked from home).  Anyway, it was a blissful 10 days.  Whenever the TV started talking about Madame Pantsuits, I changed the channel.  Yeah, normalcy bias; I mean there is nothing remotely abnormal about a Clinton wanting to dominate the country.  (Queue Tears for Fears).

Of course, if you read here at all, you know I spent last weekend at the Cabin Fever Expo.  I didn't come home with much, but I found a used Mitutoyo dial indicator for $10 and a few carbide cutting tools.  We flew from the Orlando area (Sanford, not the big Orlando airport) and were diverted on the way home - a severe thunderstorm was over the airport as we were approaching.  For a weather radar geek, it was an interesting fight but I would have really loved to have seen the displays.  We diverted to St. Petersburg and sat on the ground for over an hour.  We were eventually into the airport over two hours after our scheduled landing time.  Instead of being home by 8:30, it was 11PM.

For the rest of the time, I got to spend a lot of time in my shop, which is always sweet.  A few weeks ago, I started down the road of implementing a dust control system by adding a Horrible Freight system on a friend's recommendation.  Yeah, it's rated 2 HP, but I assume that like virtually everything on the market that's "rolling downhill with the wind at your back".  I tested it out in the shop with my miter saw (much like this one) and it did a respectable job at getting everything even without putting a hood behind it to help force all the dust toward the vacuum port.  The saw itself comes with a collection bag on the back that catches most (2/3 or 3/4) of the chunks but usually has to be thoroughly vacuumed after use to get lots of dust off the saw and its stand.  With the dust collector running, and the 4" hose just held next to the back of the cut, there was virtually no cleanup.  So, with a bit of guidance, Mrs. Graybeard made her first set of wood shelves, now proudly on the reloading bench.  Given the success with the dust collection experiments.  I ordered a few adapters to connect the 4" dust collection tubes to the smaller shop tools;  most things come with a 1-1/2 or 2-1/4" port to accept the hose from a Shop Vac, not a dust collection system.  If I had a 3D printer, I would have printed them.

And, yeah, I made some metal chips, too.  Nothing dramatic or exciting; in one case, a replacement for the latch a lock engages, and the other case an end mill holder for my small Sherline mill. 

But it's back to the usual tomorrow - actually, I expect it to be busier than usual.  All vacations are too short. 


Friday, April 17, 2015

On the 45th Anniversary of Apollo 13

Apollo 13 lifted off at 1313 CST on April 11, 1970 for the start of a planned mission to the lunar Fra Mauro highlands.  Of course, Apollo 13 suffered the worst inflight crisis that a US mission had ever faced, one that could have led to the loss of the vehicle and crew when an oxygen tank exploded two days en route to the moon during a routine mixing operation on one of the liquid oxygen tanks.  The mission returned 45 years ago today. 

Yesterday, Ars Technica posted an article on the mission including technical details I had never heard of.  The central question is why did the tank explode in the first place?  The best answer appears to be a combination of bad luck, bad mistakes, and insufficient design of the monitors used to determine the health of the tank.
Apollo 13’s big problem centered around the second of the two oxygen tanks—called, appropriately enough, "tank no. 2." The spherical tank had been manufactured years earlier by Beech Aircraft under contract to North American Rockwell, and it was originally fitted to the Apollo 10 service module in 1969. Some time before Apollo 10’s launch, the tank was removed from the Apollo 10 service module for maintenance or modification, and it was dropped. It fell from a height of about two inches.

Rather than re-use a potentially damaged tank, another was fitted to Apollo 10. Meanwhile, the dropped tank was inspected and no damage was found. However, the external inspection missed one red flag. Internally, a fill line suffered slight damage.

NASA assigned the seemingly undamaged tank to fly in Apollo 13’s service module. Extensive testing took place again prior to launch, and during one test, the tank couldn’t be properly purged of liquid oxygen (this was done by feeding gaseous oxygen into the tank to push the liquid oxygen out; the damaged fill line made that impossible). The testing team decided to empty the tank by heating it up and forcing the liquid oxygen to boil off.

Here, a significant mistake occurred.

The tank’s heater—normally used to keep the tank’s temperature and pressure elevated to facilitate the flow of oxygen—had been designed to accept power from the spacecraft’s 28-volt DC system, but it was connected to the ground’s 65-volt DC system for eight hours. The high-voltage current welded the (28V) heater switches closed, preventing automated shut-off, and the temperature in the tank rose to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The tank’s internal thermometer could display a maximum temperature of only 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Nothing external indicated a problem.

This overnight bake-in did the job of emptying the tank, but it also caused an unknown amount of damage to the tank’s internals. A NASA report suggests that "serious damage" was done to the Teflon insulation coating the tank’s internal wiring.  [Bold and reference to the switches being rated for 28V added: SiG]
The author, Lee Hutchinson, does a good job of looking into the major factors involved in the explosion and the recovery from the disaster.  Ground controllers had to make a large number of extremely complex, extremely difficult choices on what actions needed to be taken to save the crew, and it was all accomplished very quickly: within six hours of the explosion. 

I'm sure you've encountered the idea that children today, even high school age, can't imagine that we went to the moon; the technology is incomprehensibly primitive to today's kids who have almost had a smart phone in their hands since they were in utero.   That primitive technology contributed to the problems with determining how to save the crew.
The discrete steps that led to the Apollo 13 explosion were each minor mistakes—the tank drop, the lack of internal inspection, the botched propellant drain, and the disastrous high-temperature bake. Taken in total, the explosion caused so many simultaneous problems that the controllers on the ground at first had a hard time believing what they were seeing was real.  (Apollo flight controller Sy) Liebergot explained that the error reporting mechanisms available at the time were relatively primitive. Systems that went out of their normal operating boundaries would trigger warning lights on flight controllers’ consoles, but those lights wouldn’t stay illuminated when problems passed. Playing back recent telemetry from tapes wasn’t an instantaneous affair, and tracking problems often required pencil and paper. Troubleshooting multi-part failures was extremely complicated.

The thing that saved Apollo 13 more than anything else was the fact that the controllers and the crew had both conducted hundreds—literally hundreds—of simulated missions. Each controller, plus that controller’s support staff, had finely detailed knowledge of the systems in their area of expertise, typically down to the circuit level. The Apollo crews, in addition to knowing their mission plans forward and backward, were all brilliant test pilots trained to remain calm in crisis (or "dynamic situations," as they’re called). They trained to carry out difficult procedures even while under extreme emotional and physical stress.

For Apollo 13, keeping calm and working the problems as they appeared allowed three astronauts to escape unharmed from a complex failure. The NASA mindset of simulate, simulate, simulate meant that when things did go wrong, even something of the magnitude of the Apollo 13 explosion, there was always some kind of contingency plan worked out in advance. Controllers had a good gut-level feel for the limits of the spacecraft’s systems when trying to work through emergency problems.
Apollo 13 Service Module - NASA photo.  The crew cut loose of the SM five hours before reentry, as a normal mission profile would.  It provided the crew with their first and only opportunity to see the damage the explosion had caused.  Three and a half hours later, the Lunar Module Aquarius was also cut loose.  Aquarius had acted as a lifeboat for the crew, being pushed well beyond its design intentions to keep them alive for the 3 day journey back to Earth.  Even the steely-eyed missile men dropped their air of invincibility long enough to say, "Farewell, Aquarius, and we thank you." 

For 16 years, Apollo 13 was the worst disaster to hit a NASA mission in flight and it was actually a successful mission, at least in the sense that the crew survived and the mission ended with the same landing profile as was intended at liftoff.  Astronauts were lost in that interim, but the Challenger explosion in 1986 easily eclipsed Apollo 13 as a space disaster by taking out the vehicle and seven person crew.  It was an almost-identical 17 years (to the week) later than Challenger in 2003, when the Shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry, destroying the vehicle and killing all seven aboard.  I'd say that any Astronauts scheduled for a mission in 2019 or 2020 might want to be a bit more careful with checking things, but we don't fly manned missions any more. 


Thursday, April 16, 2015

All My Videos Are Up

All of the videos I took at Cabin Fever have been processed and posted to my YouTube account.  I took everything other than the two short ones I put up on Sunday with my Canon DSLR.  The resulting videos are way too big to put up in their native sizes - the big one was almost half a GB.  I was able to shrink them down to reasonable sizes and spent this evening doing that.


I think these "Flame Eater" engines are cool. Technically, they're called vacuum engines since the flame is outside the compression chamber and sucked into it by the vacuum from the moving piston.  Because the flame is outside, I prefer to call them external combustion engines.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I Hope They Didn't Pay Too Much

This is one of those studies you come across where you say, "I hope they didn't pay too much for that one".  You know, seems every week there's some news story about a study on something that everybody with a pulse and two brain cells ought to know.  In this case, maybe not that generally known, but I'm sure everyone in the industry knows it.  There is no widespread discrimination against women in STEM career fields. 
A new study by two Cornell professors suggests faculty in several different STEM fields actually favor women by a more than 2-to-1 margin over identically-qualified men.
As the Daily Caller article (first link) says, that women are discriminated against is doctrine to the left.  The two researchers approached this study by creating a group of resumes and randomly assigning male or female identities to the resumes, so that each resume was assigned to both males and females.  They then mailed out these as fictional job-seekers in four fields: Biology, economics, psychology and engineering.  They sent slates of job candidates to more than 800 faculty members at 371 colleges in all 50 states, asking them to rank them in order of hiring preference.
We ran five national experiments with these otherwise-identical female and male candidates, systematically varying their personal attributes and lifestyles in a counterbalanced design. Every time we sent a given slate of candidates to a male faculty member, we sent the same slate with sexes reversed to another male faculty member, as well as sending both slates to two female faculty members. Then we compared the faculty members' rankings to see how hirable each candidate was, overall.

What we found shocked us. Women had an overall 2-to-1 advantage in being ranked first for the job in all fields studied....In some conditions, women's advantage reached 4-to-1.
While this was specifically aimed at college professorships, it applies everywhere I know of.  Maybe it's only in companies that have some government contract hiring, but every Technology company I know wants the diversity points so badly they would hire a woman over a marginally more qualified man any day of the week.  I get both Electrical and Mechanical engineering news magazines and the annual salary surveys in both fields have said for years that when adjusted for age and experience, there is no wage gap between men and women.  In general, when pay rates are looked at in any field, this is the case.  The old sound bite about women earning 77 cents for ever dollar a man earns is based on studies that didn't compare men and women doing the same jobs with the same experience.  They end up comparing completely unequal jobs, like entry level day care workers vs. entry level oil field workers; of course the pay rates aren't the same. 

(source

And just as a point of interest, while electrical engineering has quite a lot of women in it, the percentage of circuit designers who are women is extremely small (in my observation, of course).   And I've met only three women in my specialty (RF design) over the last 35 years.  I currently don't work with any women who are circuit designers at all. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My Pick of the Show

I don't have to think long and hard to pick the model I was most impressed with from the show.  It's this small block V8, about a foot long (half-sized?).  It's a fully running V8 engine.  Even sounded a lot like a full-sized engine.  It ran on gasoline and has an oil pump (on the opposite side of the block is a small oil filter), so it's a full four stroke.  The radiator is working.  On his bench alongside this, he had a model differential he's working on and a transmission.  He was under a banner for this forum, where I assume he hangs out.
There were lots of IC engines on display.  This guy said he took around 2500 hours to build this; which is more than a work year for a typical full time job (right around 2050 hours where I've worked).  Another guy, when asked how long it took, answered, "I don't even want to think about it". 

A model a lot more people around here would appreciate is this one.  Yes, it works, too.  I didn't include the other side where you can see the little cloth belt for the feed, but those looked like .17 Mach 2 rounds to me; about as long as .22, but a side by side with the Hornady bullets you see in the diagram, down the page here.
This small collection of models caught my eye:
For scale, look up on the back box.  On the left, there's a 2 cylinder engine, then a single, sideways cylinder with a large flywheel.  That shiny thing between them is a quarter.  That replica revolver in front has a trigger guard about the size of that quarter.  Also, note the miniature gattling gun pointing at you on the left.

Finally, I've seen these before, but they're always fun to see.  I didn't ask if it worked, but they usually do. 



Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Preview from Cabin Fever

Just a couple of short cellphone videos from Cabin Fever 2015.  Pardon the vertical format in this.   This set of models is just one section from one table out of an arena with perhaps a hundred such tables.

This one is landscape mode.  It's a meta model shop; that is, a model of a model shop.

The weather was a nice break for us.  Upper 30s in the morning and 60s for the highs.  We fly back into the Silicon Swamp and mid-80s tomorrow.   Given some time to go through pictures and videos, and then process them, I probably won't have anything for you until Tuesday.

It turns out, next year's show goes back to being in January and will not be held in York.  It will be in Lebanon, PA, a place it has been held before.  I hesitate to say this will be the last Cabin Fever Expo in York, PA, but it won't be here next year.  Given the size of the show, it probably has a healthy future no matter where it ends up.  



Friday, April 10, 2015

While The NRA Convention Is Going

While the NRA convention is going on in Nashville this weekend, the cool place for tool geeks to hang out is the Cabin Fever Expo in York, PA.  It's generally called the biggest model engineering expo in the country.  

There are two big shows for home machine shop nerds: Cabin Fever and a show called the NAMES Expo, which will be held next weekend in Wyandotte, Michigan.  NAMES is the North American Model Engineering Society.  Mrs. Graybeard and I attended NAMES in '08, the only year I'm aware of when it was held in Toledo, Ohio, and while I meant to plan a trip to Cabin Fever a few times, I always remembered too late to do anything about it.   

Until this year, that is.  I'm in York tonight and will be at the show both days.  I've got my DSLR and a 32 gig card, so there will be lots of pictures.

Two shows in a week?  It hasn't always been this way.  A few years ago, NAMES was in April and Cabin Fever was in February.  That's a better name for a mid-winter show than one in the spring, after all.  They changed to the spring schedule in 2013.  It's probably easier on the exhibitors; most of whom are small businesses scattered across the country.  One trip to central PA followed by a couple of day drive to Detroit area is probably easier on them than two trips across country. 

So what do these shows feature?  As the name implies, they feature models.  Not models like the plastic or balsa kits we've all played with but machined engines, model ships, cars, railroads, steam engines, stirling engines, and more.  The kinds of things you see at the Craftsmanship Museum that Sherline hosts.  Guys build fully operational internal combustion engines that they run at the shows.  There were some rather amazing things to see at NAMES the year we went.  There will also be tool vendors from the big names to small, along with books, plans, you name it. 

While there will be pictures, not tonight.  I'm posting from my iPad, and Blogger isn't really full featured.  We'll see if this even works.  



Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Wooden Studebaker

But first a word:  Bloggus Interruptus.  Some circumstances have come up that require a bit more attention in the evenings.  I'm afraid blogging is likely to be very spotty for the next few days, perhaps a week.

So lacking time to do a story, I'll link to one about a pretty amazing recreation of a 1951 Studebaker, hand crafted out of quilted maple and sapele, by Jim Gray
"The trickiest joinery was the long corner rails that run from the windshield to the bumper. "When you're working with 2 boards that cost $4000, you have to get the best grain consistency you can... and I had to do it using stock that was already less than 2" thick."
Photos mercilessly copied from Jim Gray's website.  


Monday, April 6, 2015

Observations

Now that the dust has settled a little bit, at least the biggest particles, let me tell you what's been on my mind about the sudden outrage over Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).   The Gormogons posted the first thing I'd read about it and the excitement was just starting to spin up:
1993 Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

“Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

2015 Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

“A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
Anybody over the age of about 12 ought to be able to read those two passages and recognize them as essentially the same.  (Lawyers, as a group, are more like 4 year olds in their delight at finding minor differences and making A Big Deal about them, but then they turn around and write laws that would give a Logic professor a brain aneurysm).   Further, our 12 year old could tell you that the 1993 Federal Law came before the 2015 Indiana Law and because of that, would generally be considered the source the 2015 Indiana Law was derived from. 

Now there may be other differences in the text of those laws, but at this level they're identical.  Further, as everyone has pointed out, the Federal law was passed under Bill Clinton, and as everyone has also pointed out, 19 other states (at the time of Indiana's bill passing) had RFRA laws that are substantially identical to the Federal law.  And, now, all of a sudden, the very same senators and sycophants who cooed with approval at Bill Clinton signing the most wonderful piece of legislation in history have suddenly decided it is the most heinous piece of legislation in history. 

WTF?  What's going on here? 

The way I see to answer this is to completely ignore the talk about bakers and florists and pizza shops (oh, my!).  Why?  Since the law is identical to the wonderful Federal Law and doesn't do anything the Federal Law doesn't do, it can't be about the law.  If it's not about the law, it must be about politics.  That means it's really about either (1) the state, or (2) somebody prominent involved.  

Let's take (1) first.  Is the whole flail about trying to turn Indiana into a Democratic stronghold?  I find a large number of search engine hits (over 140 Million) on the phrase "turn Indiana blue".  The gist of those sites is that Indiana has been considered a red state, but is bordered on the west by the reliably socialist blue Illinois and on the east by Ohio - you've probably heard pundits echo the wisdom that "Republicans have to win Ohio to win the presidency".  In '08, Indiana went for Obama, before returning to give Romney the edge in '12.  It was widely reported that in the 2012 election, Obama got 100% of the vote in some Cleveland districts, along with other oddities:  
In at least two counties in Ohio, the number of registered voters exceeded the number of eligible adults who are of voting age. In northwestern Ohio's Wood County, there are 109 registered voters for every 100 people eligible to vote. An additional 31 of Ohio's 88 counties have voter registration rates over 90%, which most voting experts regard as suspicious. Obama miraculously won 100% of the vote in 21 districts in Cleveland, and received over 99% of the vote where GOP inspectors were illegally removed.
Going to (2), who could be a target?  The only name I've heard is Governor Mike Pence.  Today, I heard that Pence was considered to be a potential GOP presidential candidate although I certainly haven't heard as much good buzz about him as I have about Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.  No, that doesn't seem likely. 

Now I admit that I may be all wrong here, but the screaming, vitriolic, reaction - nothing short of a full-tilt hissy fit - over something as innocuous as a state passing a law that doesn't seem to do anything (except mirror the Federal law) just doesn't make sense.  It doesn't seem that it's worth it to go after Pence on this, so maybe it's a "turn Indiana blue" attack.   And maybe it's just a bunch of a**holes going off over nothing. 
It simply makes no sense to me.