Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Are You Ready for the Shortage of 2012?

I'm sure it's not going out on a limb here to say that readers of this blog probably share my interest in guns, shooting, and reloading.  I wonder if we all get the same email newsletters?

First off, did you all see this? It's an infographic put together by Ammo.net showing gun and ammo sales statistics.  I can put a small version here, but it will be hard to read.  Go to that link to see it full sized.
There's a side to the numbers that's a bit foreboding.   Everybody talks with some happiness about the record gun sales on "Black Friday", breaking a single day, all time sales record.  And we talk about the record Christmas surge in sales.  There's only a couple of publicly traded companies in the industry, and both Ruger (up 510% since Obama took office) and S&W are reporting very nice growth. And for some time now, there have been many reports that women shooters are increasing in numbers at a faster rate than men.  I don't want to speak for everyone, but I see all of this as fantastic news.

The other side of that is the word out of Shot was that manufacturers of both guns and ammo are running at capacity and can't keep up.  In the Brownells newsletter, they reported:
Quantities of .223 and 5.56 that seemed to manufacturers at the SHOT Show like they should be plenty for the year are depleted already. Another great friend of ours had an entire warehouse of 5.56 go out in ONE purchase order!
An email from Buds Gunshop said they have broken their single day sales records three times in February.  That was last week, so three times in three weeks?    

Now consider that a few weeks ago, Keads ran a review of a Dry Fire Tools, including a Laserlyte trainer.  I think I caught it on a link a few days later, and by the time I decided to shop for one, every place I tried was out of them.  I did an "email me when they get in" option, and it all arrived yesterday, but is the traffic from our group of gun bloggers big enough to clean stock out of all the dealers? What does that say about how deep inventories are?

Shades of the '08/'09 shortage?  I was one of the '09 newbies so I'm hardly one to talk, but it's widely said that the increase in sales really picked up in the summer of '08, once folks saw the turd running against "the chosen one" and saw the handwriting on the wall.  Don't know about you, but I'll be keeping an eye on gun sales as we go through the campaigns.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that all of the folks who sent me these emails are businesses and they stand to benefit if we all say, "gee, I'd better stock up before it gets really hard to find again".   On the other hand, as far as I can see, their prices are not being jacked up - in fact, a lot of it is "on sale" - and the fact that prices aren't what they were six years ago can be adequately explained by the devaluation of the dollar/inflation thanks to our glorious Fed.gov.  

I think a reasonable approach is that if there's something you've had your eye on, you ought to seriously consider grabbing it while it's available.  I'm not saying to make up a list of every gun you might ever want, not that there's anything wrong with that, just any particular gun you might have been watching the prices on.  Any holes in the ammo supply are worth a look, too.  Finally, I really see no way we don't keep seeing serious inflation, same as now (11%) or worse, going forward, so nothing is going to be getting much cheaper for a while.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Big Stuff

The solar power project (more coming on that topic) and the energy it represents is one of the big needs as we try to rebuild after the coming collapse.  The others are water, and the things we tend to think of as the "four Bs" or the "five Gs".  Beans, bullets, band-aids and bullion, or grub, ground, gold, gas and guns.

I remember hearing around 2005 or so that "water is the next oil" and noticed the headlines yesterday that we can expect our water prices to triple by 2050.  I take a dim view of linear predictions like that, so while the details are a bunch of crap, I think the trend is valid.  The world may be 2/3 ocean, but not much of it is drinkable.  After the system goes down, water is imperative.  Remember the rule of 3s from first aid: you can go 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food.  Well, personally, I have enough fat storage to walk to Anchorage without eating, and could probably roll the first thousand miles, but you get the point. 

So I urge you to start considering ways to keep water around.  Collect rainwater (it's actually illegal in places, so be careful with local authorities) in a rain barrel, or perhaps underground cistern.  John Robb over at Resilient Communities has run a series on saving rain water - this link is just to one article.  If you live in a desert, you probably already pay a lot more attention to rainwater than those of us in the swamps do. The rule of thumb is a gallon of water per person per day, but I prefer to think of 2.  We live in a hot place, and I expect to loose more to perspiration than a northern tier resident.  If you're in the desert Southwest, where heat and low humidity dry you out quickly, you might want even more.  When you get down to it, the only time you can have too much water is if you need to carry it somewhere.

Purification is the next concern and there are many options for filters and treatments today.  Katadyn is a well respected filter brand and they have a lot of options; we have a couple.  There are limited use filter straws, ("it really does work for giardia. But not for typhoid infested water in the Ganges. The Frontier Water Survival Straw It's great for North America, though"), various kinds of filter bottles, and various projects to make them at home.  I have friends who have made simple filter systems and travel to Haiti to teach how to make them, and to get them into widespread use.  A little chlorine bleach, or calcium hypochlorite (pool shock) is a nice thing to have around, too. 

And from the strange occurrences file; I started thinking about writing on this topic fairly early today, and was pretty convinced I wanted to - at least - brush over it, even though I figure if any group of people pay attention to this, it's you guys.  Then Mrs. Graybeard got this email today from Preparedness Pro.  Called, "Is There a A Water Disaster Coming Your Way?", it has a few stories in there that certainly make you go hmmm.   Kinda spooky, really, but I was never big on that synchronicity stuff.  Go read.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

These Were Predictable

I.  Remember my musings "Is It Immoral To Kill Bioethicists?"  Following in the downhill slide of Peter Singer at Princeton, these researchers believe infanticide is perfectly acceptable:
Alberto Giubilini with Monash University in Melbourne and Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne write that in “circumstances occur[ing] after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.”
So if you don't like the looks of that little bundle of not-quite-joyful enough, or perhaps they cry too much, or they're defective in some way, real or imagined, you may kill them.  Note they prefer the term "after-birth abortion" over "infanticide" because it emphasizes their view, which is what's the big deal over the little time between being inside the womb, when abortion is fine, and outside the womb when those pesky moralist say you shouldn't kill them? They're just a drier fetus, that's all.  What's a few hours between friends?  Or weeks.  Or months.

You might ask "how long do I have the right to kill my child?":
The authors do not tackle the issue of what age an infant would be considered a person.
Singer says two years, but I'll cut to the chase.   There was a joke going around that went:
Grandmother 1:  At  what  age is a fetus viable? 
Grandmother 2:  When they receive their M.D.. 
In this case, only when they receive their Bioethics Ph.D. would they say killing them should not be allowed.  Maybe not today, but eventually.  I'm sure.  

II.  Occupy protesters, funded and driven by all the usual suspects are announcing their spring rallies and protests, as I predicted last night.
So just who exactly is behind this? The letter contains “signers” that will be familiar to you. Or at least their organizations will. And it’s a buffet of far leftists, unions, and even the communist group Working Families Party. Oh, and of course Van Jones:
  • Sarita Gupta - Jobs With Justice
  • Bob King - United Auto Workers
  • George Goehl - National Peoples Action
  • Ai-jen Poo - National Domestic Workers Alliance
  • Justin Ruben - MoveOn.org
  • Mary Kay Henry - Service Employees International Union
  • Van Jones and Natalie Foster - Rebuild the Dream
  • Phil Radford - Greenpeace
  • Leo Gerard - United Steel Workers
  • Daniel Cantor - Working Families Party
  • Bruce Klipple - United Electrical Workers Union
But while Bob King of the United Auto Workers (UAW) is a signer of the letter, might the union be behind it more than it’s letting on? It would seem so. The Daily Caller was able to download a cache of files from the UAW website last week that point to a high level of organizing:
H/T to Forbes as well as that link to the Blaze.

III.  A user on the Occupy Wall St. web page posted what they think the organizations demands should be.  I think it's educational.  I'm not going to add emphasis because I just don't know where to start.  The whole thing would be bold italics saying "did you see what they just said?!?!?" Instead, I just lifted in its entirety:  
Admin Note: This is not an official list of demands. The user "bchang1987" who posted this speaks only for themself, not the movement. This website would never in a million years endorse a list of demands of the 1%.

Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act. Unionize ALL workers immediately.
Raise the minimum wage immediately to $18/hr. Create a maximum wage of $90/hr to eliminate inequality.
Institute a 6 hour workday, and 6 weeks of paid vacation.
Institute a moratorium on all foreclosures and layoffs immediately.
Repeal racist and xenophobic English-only laws.
Open the borders to all immigrants, legal or illegal. Offer immediate, unconditional amnesty, to all undocumented residents of the US.
Create a single-payer, universal health care system.
Pass stricter campaign finance reform laws. Ban all private donations. All campaigns will receive equal funding, provided by the taxpayers.
Institute a negative income tax, and tax the very rich at rates up to 90%.
Pass far stricter environmental protection and animal rights laws.
Allow workers to elect their supervisors.
Lower the retirement age to 55. Increase Social Security benefits.
Create a 5% annual wealth tax for the very rich.
Ban the private ownership of land.
Make homeschooling illegal. Religious fanatics use it to feed their children propaganda.
Reduce the age of majority to 16.
Abolish the death penalty and life in prison. We call for the immediate release of all death row inmates from death row and transferred to regular prisons.
Release all political prisoners immediately.
Immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Abolish the debt limit.
Ban private gun ownership.
Strengthen the separation of church and state.
Immediate debt forgiveness for all.
End the 'War on Drugs'.
It's just kind of hard to know where to start with that.  The density of that brain would embarrass a black hole.  Yes, it's "welcome to the USSR" or "Welcome to the Peoples Republic of Korea".  It shows simply amazing ignorance of the way our country is supposed to work.  But compared even to that stunning ignorance, the stupidity about economics is going to make my brain explode.  It shows amazing ignorance of how any country could possibly work.  It shows stunning ignorance of pretty much everything. 

If that were to be implemented, society would be over as soon as it became clear it was coming.  Such things always are accompanied by death camps and purges.  
(stolen mercilessly from BS Footprint)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Econo-Matrix Update

Today, Ann Barnhardt linked to an excellent video by Karl Denninger (link to the video on YouTube) and another frequent stop on my visits along the inter-toobs, Bayou Renaissance Man had an excellent summary of much of the economic situation which is well complemented by that video. 

My new header specifically talks about living after the collapse - which obviously means I'm certain a collapse of some kind is coming.  BRM quotes analyst John Mauldin who believes "the government will rein in spending, either rapidly or over time, but in such a way that it begins to reduce the debt. This will mean years, perhaps decades, of real economic pain, but will restore the budget and the public purse to a healthier state."

I wish I could be that optimistic about it.  Look around - do you see any statesman-like leaders who will be willing to be unpopular, one-term leaders to get us out of trouble?  Do you see any evidence we can get compromise?  Look no farther than last fall's "super committee".  Here's a group tasked with cutting an absolutely trivial amount - 3% - out of our spending and they couldn't do it.  They were tasked with cutting 1.2 Trillion dollars over 10 years: that's 120 billion in this year if you just divide by 10 (and I bet they don't: I bet it was stacked toward the end of that 10 years).  Our revenue is about 2.2 Trillion so it's 5.5% of the revenue; but less than 3% of spending!  Most people could handle a 3% cut in their spending if they had to, by tightening their belts enough, and they probably have in the last year.  The fed.gov probably looses that much without even noticing it, like a toddler dribbling turds out of Pampers. 

The fact is, we need to cut more like that $1.2 trillion this year, not over 10 years, and even that won't balance the budget.  The recently submitted Obama budget - which will never see the light of day because Harry Reid in the senate refuses to pass a budget - had a $1.33T deficit this year.  We need to run surpluses as far as the eye can see to pay off our deficit.  We need a government that is structurally fundamentally different. 

The fact is, we may not have 10 years; I don't believe we have more than a couple.  As was pointed out earlier this week, our per capita debt is 114% of Greece's as well as that of all of the PIIGS.  BRM's post shows a chart from Zerohedge showing the Chinese have been getting out of US debt since last summer, but really slowed their buying in the last quarter.  I've pointed out many times before that China is using their mountains of dollars to buy mines, commodities, everything they think they need.  Russia has dropped their amount of US debt by 50% since October 2010.  In the last year, the buyer with the biggest increase in their buying of US debt has been the Federal Reserve Bank.  Simply put, we are writing checks to ourselves to deposit so that we can write bigger checks. 

(source)
How can this go on?  How is this different from the old joke T-shirts that said, "what do you mean I'm broke - I still have checks?"  Or the belief that as long as our credit cards haven't been revoked we're still fine?  Now, it's possible that if we started acting like world leaders instead of pigs (note the missing "I"), and cut our budget by the $1T Ron Paul says he'd cut, these countries might decide that we're safe to invest in, and would be willing to buy bonds again.  Analogies to alcoholics or druggies swearing to be better if we'd give them "just one more chance" come to mind.

Earlier in the week, I heard an NPR program that, as always, confuses tax rates with tax revenues as if they're the same thing and raising rates automatically raises revenues.  Almost as a bonus, today on TownHall.com, the Political Calculations blog posted a cool analysis of Hauser's law and put it all on one nice graph. 
With a few short-lived exceptions, it's obviously true that tax revenues are essentially constant (as % of GDP), regardless of tax rates.  That can only mean that when taxes are higher, the GDP contracts.  The government doesn't collect any more money because there's less to take a portion of.  When taxes are lower, they take a smaller percentage of a bigger pie, giving the same percent of GDP as tax.  Empirically true based on measured data.  Given that, why would one choose higher rates over lower rates?  Higher rates are punishing, if not outright confiscatory, so if the Evil party really wants to jerk up rates on taxpayers (and they are doing it January 2013, unless it's revoked) it can only mean "I want to punish those rich people so badly, I'm willing to hurt myself to hurt them".  That's only makes sense if your aim is to grow government no matter how many people you hurt. Frankly, it's psychotic.

Hauser's Law presents a natural limit to the size of the Fed.gov hydra.  Maybe it would be 18% of GDP in the long run, but for the foreseeable future, spending should be limited to 15% of GDP, so that a surplus could start to work its magic.  Note that's bigger cuts than a balanced budget requires - and you know how even talking about not increasing payouts, let alone cutting them, causes the Free Sh*t Army to howl like they're being fed into a chipper/shredder.  Seen any pol with the guts to do that?

I don't hear a popular call for this sort of spending reduction.  The TEA parties did, for a while, but I think they've been cowed into not gathering and expressing their views anymore, letting the media's howling about how racist and terrible they are win the argument.  Seen any TEA party demonstrations lately?  For every one of us who says, "I always thought social security would not be there for me and I saved for my own retirement", I hear a larger number saying, "that's my money!  I paid that and you said it would be there!"  I hear some talk about it among stupid party voters, but the fact that Romney still appears to be in the catbird seat for the nomination tells me it's not serious, yet. 

As a country, we don't seem to be willing to face our problems.  As I've said before, here's what I think is coming. 
A marriage of convenience between zero-government anarchists and total-government socialists, [occupy] seems to go back to a talk by an SEIU vice-president last spring, but was not predicted.  Occupy got enough good will from the Evil party - and even some III patriots - that you can expect them back when the weather warms a little.  The potential I see is for them to act up so badly that the (bankrupt) cities can't handle the expenses.  Perhaps they assassinate a politician they don't like, or duplicate the Chicago 1968 DNC riots (they call for it here).  The (bankrupt) cities beg the (bankrupt) feds for help, and the National Guard is called up.  Martial law is enacted, giving the fascists the chance to surround the white house with tanks and address the (right wing) domestic terrorism problem.  This could make the last presidential election The Last Presidential Election. 
A self-identified occupy protester is already writing publicly about shooting up Wall Street.  Goes with the above, doesn't it?  A recipe for blood in the streets and the collapse by next Fall?  I report, you decide.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Solar Cell Backup Power System - 3

If you're just coming across this series, we've had some truly great comments to the other parts, so make sure to read it all as you catch up. 

Battery Basics 

Unless you're using the power output from your solar panel in real time, a really inefficient thing to do, you'll need to store the output from the panel in a storage system of some kind.  The most common way is with a bank of batteries.  A bank of batteries can be a big portion of the total cost of your solar power system. Without proper care, it will have to be replaced too soon resulting in even more expense.  It's worthwhile to research this topic in depth. 

Keeping your world going after a grid-down event is an energy storage problem.  Energy can be stored in a few mechanical forms, such as running a flywheel, or pumping water up to higher levels so that it can fall and turn a generator.  Energy can be stored in gasoline, propane, alcohol or diesel fuel, but batteries are at the heart of every solar power system I've seen. 

At the moment, the most cost effective form of storage is a lead acid battery, of the type called a Deep Cycle battery.  Briefly, all lead acid batteries use the same chemistry, but a hundred years of engineering has optimized them for different applications and it's best not to substitute types.  A good overview of how they work is here.  All lead acid batteries have lead plates immersed in  sulfuric acid (more shortly) and the chemical combination gives a cell voltage of around 2.25 V when fully charged.  The battery that starts a car requires a large surge of current, but doesn't do much else until the next time you need to start it.  Since the current that can be drawn from a battery is related to the surface area of the lead plates, starting batteries have their plates made in a process that creates a spongy metal - lots of surface area.  They get a vigorous discharge, but it's not usually a large portion of the battery's charge, so that they are dis- and re- charged only 5% or so. That article on batteries at Cambridge provides this diagram:

In an RV or boat with a trolling motor or a solar power system, the load is more of a sustained heavy current drain, so these plates are made more solid.  This is called a deep cycle battery and is what you're looking for.  These can be discharged to very deep discharges, perhaps 80% of their capacity.  The exact amount to discharge in your system is a little controversial, but most authors seem to say while they can be discharged to that sort of level occasionally, shallower discharges extend their lives. 

Because of the common use in boats, deep cycle batteries are sometimes just labeled "Marine", but be careful.  The battery industry has come out with a hybrid of the two in which the plates are not as spongy as a starting battery, but not as solid as a deep cycle battery.  These will run the trolling motor or electronics on your boat better than a pure starting battery, while still giving a good surge for starting, but they shouldn't be discharged as heavily as a true deep cycle battery.  Make sure it says it's a deep cycle battery, not just a marine battery.   Batteries are rated in a variety of ways and starting batteries are rated differently than deep cycle batteries.  The key is to look for amp-hour ratings.  If the battery is rated in CCA (cold cranking amps) or MCA (marine cranking amps), it's being rated for starting service. 

Northern Arizona Wind & Sun has an excellent deep cycle battery FAQ here with the emphasis on solar backup.  A more generalized deep cycle battery FAQ is here.

A fairly recent innovation is the AGM or absorbed glass mat lead acid battery.  These batteries use less acid and don't require attention to the water level - in fact, they're permanently sealed and it's said they don't leak, even if the case breaks.  Rather than a flooded structure, like most batteries, the fiberglass mat is really just wet. 

The other very popular structure is a gell-cell, a permanently-sealed lead acid battery with a gelled acid electrolyte.  The trick here is that most of the batteries you'll find are really designed for float service, such as a UPS, attached to a charger for the vast majority of their life.  They can last up to 20 years in this service, although I've never had an APC UPS last more than a few years.

With the preliminaries out of the way, time to look at some practical aspects.  There are online calculators to help you figure out many of the details.

How big?

The best way to answer this is to really determine the power needs you have.  An anonymous commenter to part 2 recommended the "Kill A Watt" meter to help you determine true loads, and it's great advice.  I've been modelling a system based on providing 1800 W 24/7, so let's run some numbers based on that.  YMMV.  1800 W at 12V is 150A, and I need a battery that will deliver 150 A every hour for at least 12 hours (night).  Because I don't want to discharge this battery past 50%, I want to get a battery with twice this capacity. Beware that when a battery says it's 250 A-Hr, for example, that's at the 20 hour rate, so divide that by 20 to determine how many amps it can deliver per hour for that 20 hours (in this case 12.5 A).  A battery bank with 12 of these 250 AH batteries in parallel would deliver 150A for 20 hours or slightly more than 150A for 10 hours.  Congratulations: that's $5484 - not including shipping for 1800 pounds.  Ouch.  But as a reminder: this is more power than I bought from my power company last month, including running a central air conditioner and cooking on electric appliances without efforts to conserve. 

Voltage: 12 or 24?

For historical reasons, the vast majority of lead acid batteries are sold as 12V, (six cell) batteries.  Older cars use 6V batteries and some are still around, but systems that run on 24V usually just put two 12V batteries in series.  If you put two batteries in series, you double the voltage at the same current; if you put two batteries in parallel, you keep the same voltage and double the current.  In both cases you have twice the power of a single battery (voltage times current), so the higher voltage battery can possibly save you some wire cost, since the current is lower and losses in the wires are proportional to the current squared (twice the current gives four times the power loss in the same piece of wire).  Copper is expensive these days.

A simple example of a series connection is when you drop batteries into a flashlight positive on the second connecting with negative on the first.  You get 3 volts (instead of 1.5) with a pair of alkaline batteries this way.  Parallel is how you use one car's battery to jump a car with a weak battery.  Positive to positive, negative to the chassis ground of the car being jumped. 

Charging

Deep cycle batteries also differ from starting batteries in how they should be charged.  Solar panel output varies with temperature, the amount of sunlight, clouds, and some minor factors.  The optimum chargers are now said to be MPPT (maximum power point tracking).  The MPP varies, so the electronics community is grappling with different algorithms to find the optimum without wasting precious watts.  This plot shows how the maximum power point might move around from minute to minute.
 (source is a long semi-technical article at one of the EE trade magazines)
Some MPPT chargers actually have a microprocessor in them that's more powerful than early PCs just to do these relatively simple calculations.

Inverters 

I'm not exactly sure why switching power supplies that convert DC into AC output are called inverters while switching power supplies that convert DC to DC or AC to DC are just called power supplies, but I suppose as long as we all use the same vocabulary, any word will do.  The efficiency and cost of these supplies have been coming down as the industry refines the approaches.  In the most recent versions, the large transformers are gone, replaced by solid state switches, and electrical noise has been addressed better in the design.  The so-called "true sine wave" inverters are no longer a lot more expensive than the "modified sine wave" and worth the extra cost, should you find out something you depend on doesn't play well with the ugly waveform the modified sine wave inverters supply.

More important is the whole 12 VDC vs 120 VAC question.  It is obviously more efficient to not go through the switcher, but as RegT pointed out, 12V versions of a lot of things are quite a bit more expensive, and you kind of go with what you've got.  The whole comment is excellent - go read. In my case, I intend to get more 12V things, especially those things that might take in house AC and then use an internal supply to drop it down to 12V.   Most of the ham gear I'd want to run is 12V now, anyway. 

This is just a light brush over everything, but gives an idea of the various factors.  A little more practical stuff will follow in the days ahead. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Matt Bracken's Plan


Just in case you haven't heard, I want to highlight Matt Bracken's plan to "Amazon-blitz" Enemies Foreign and Domestic. Let me quote from his "day one" post:
On next Thursday, March 1, Enemies Foreign And Domestic will be put into Amazon Kindle's free library.

Where EFAD's free download promotion will be different from those of the thousands of fantasy/romance/vampire novels currently offered on Kindle, is that I'm simultaneously coordinating a mass plan to ensure that Operation EFAD goes hyper-viral on all constitutionally-oriented, freedom-loving, and Second Amendment websites and blogs at the same time.

Or on at least on as many as I can reach, and that is where you come in. There are literally hundreds of patriotic websites and blogs, and I can only reach a few. You can reach them all, every last one. And then some. More about this in the next communiquĂ© on D Minus Six. 
The purpose is to try and make EFAD the #1 book on Amazon, or at least to attract media attention to this "dangerous" book: 
The idea is to force open a long overdue national conversation that the elite MSM very much wants to ignore. In large strokes, it is about our federal government morphing into a socialist tyranny before our eyes, a tyranny that is no longer soft, but getting harder with every passing month. Which is it to be: freedom, or tyranny?
with the point of all this being:
In 2012, the fictional premise of Enemies Foreign And Domestic, that a small clique of senior BATFE officials might conspire to arrange a mass shooting into a packed football stadium (also with the intention of discrediting our Right to Keep and Bear Arms), suddenly seems much less far-fetched.

So here's the plan: on Thursday, March 1, we will engineer a stratospheric spike in the number of free Kindle downloads of Enemies Foreign And Domestic, and continue this operation for up to five days, the max allowable under the terms of the free download program. Then we will sit back and watch the bewildered and alarmed MSM explore this sudden and frightening phenomenon erupting among the unwashed gun nuts and wild-eyed Constitution fanatics. You know, us. Real Americans, out here in fly-over country.

And when they predictably condemn EFAD for its fictional assassinations of government officials, and the rest of the story that they will pretend to find so abhorrent, we will shine their own spotlight right back on them, and yell Fast And Furious in their faces!

"Really? Enemies Foreign And Domestic is a terrorist manual? Well, I'll see your fictional stadium massacre, and raise you a real-world conspiracy to murder hundreds of Mexicans for political purposes. If you would ever cover the story, instead of covering it up!" 
I haven't read this book simply because I don't read much fiction, but I will be getting the Kindle version next Thursday without a doubt.  Be there, or be trapezoidal. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Solar Cell Backup Power System - 2

The purpose behind yesterday's post was to start thinking about how big the problem is and how to solve it.  In engineering and the sciences it's called finding the boundary conditions or "bounding the problem".  We set a high end size and cost for a system by doing some simple calculations.  The next level is to look at the problem in terms of, as the Rolling Stones famously said, "You can't always get what you want, but if try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need". 

Costs are dropping on these systems, and like computers, the best approach is always to get the least you can get by with now, and add on to it with cheaper upgrades as time goes by.  The prices you actually pay on the market are usually set less than the real costs by tax incentives and rebates that the fed.gov and your local utility give.  These, of course, are real costs - you're just getting all of the taxpayers in the country and the customers of that utility to pick up parts of the bill.  There is a type of system called a "grid tie", where you sell electricity back to the power company - who is required by law to buy it from you.  I'm not going to emphasize that because I'm talking about a SHTF power supply.  There just might not be anyone left to sell to. 

Among the approximations built into yesterday's analysis was that you actually use the full 1800 Watts 24/7 from your 120V 15A outlets, and I don't have to tell you that you don't.  Your electric utility doesn't sell you power (Watts), it sells you energy (Watt-hours, and our bills are expressed in kilowatt hours; thousands of W-hr).  The system that we outlined yesterday was actually a 3600 Watt-hour system, and it's probably best to start thinking in terms of Watt-hours, understanding that 250W solar panels are specified to deliver that all the time, as long as the sun is bright and sky is clear.  Over the course of a month, should you really run it at full output, that would be 3600 Watt-hours, 24 hours a day for 30 days.  That's 2592 kW hrs (kWh). 

One reason to start thinking this way is that it makes choosing batteries easier.  Since a watt is the product of voltage and current, 120V at 15 amps equals 12V at 150A.  Batteries are sold by the amp-hr, and 150 A-hr is not an extremely big battery. 

Enter the world of planning.  My house is an 1980-era house and the electric panel has never been upgraded.  We have about 20 kW service here.  That essentially means 20kW every hour, or  480kWh a day, and 14,400 kWh in a month.  My electric bill just came, and it said we used around 1/10th of that last month.  The important point is: you may need some extra capacity to run other things, and you may need extra capacity for starting some motors, but you don't need to build out the full fuse panel in your house.  That first number I threw around (for a 20 kW house - that 14,400 kWh system at over $100,000 -based on the last time I looked at prices, a few years ago) is not the way to approach this question.  The system we looked at yesterday, instead of being one circuit in my house, would provide more power than I bought last month. 

The way to calculate how much capacity you need is to list the loads you need to run and determine how many watt hours are there.   People that live on small boats or live in trailers are good at this.  If you are going to use electricity to cook, you don't need the thousands of watts the stove uses all the time, but you need to bank those watt hours in batteries somewhere.  Better yet, cook on gas, or wood, or a microwave if you must use electricity.  If you're going to run some nights at light, you need to bank those watt hours into the battery during the day. 

This is probably a good time to introduce the first law, or golden rule or whatever you want to call the most important thing to remember:
The cheapest watt in a solar power system is the one you don't need.  Conservation is cheaper than solar panels.  
Admittedly, you can go a little nuts this way, but if you want to run a lot of lights, for example, LEDs are expensive but extremely low energy consumption compared to incandescent bulbs. 

This is boring work, looking at the power consumption on everything and entering it into a spreadsheet, but probably essential.  An example for the communications backup might look like this:
 
Load       Amps @ 12.5V           hours/day      Needed A-Hr
HF Radio - RX 1.3 6 7.8
TX at 50 W 10 0.2 2
TX 100W 20 0.05 1


This tells me that I only need about 11 A-hrs to run my Emergency Communications station.  And I could get by with less. 

More to come...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Solar Cell Backup Power System - 1

Solar electric power is the stuff of liberal dreams.  Free power from the sun, that's non-polluting and doesn't affect the environment at all! (Not bloody likely, but ...some other time).  It's almost as good as those magic unicorn farts!

On the other hand, a lot of us look at the solar power constant - the sun delivers about 1100 Watts per square yard at the earth's surface - and say "how do I get me some of that?"  It's not that it's "green" - it's more like "free money" - how much better does it get?

The price of photovoltaics is coming down, but just isn't competitive with grid power except in the remotest places.  A modest home typically has a 20 kW electric supply distribution (the fuse panel) and wiring.  Such a solar photovoltaic system would cost well over $100,000.  If it's going to cost you even half that to get power lines run to your remote house, it's a no-brainer to go with solar.  After you pay to bring the power lines to your house, you pay the electric company every month.  After you buy the solar power system, the largest parts of the expense are over.  Yes, you'll have to do upkeep on the system, but let's ignore that for now - everything in a house needs upkeep.

Everyone on the power grid has experienced periods when the grid goes down.  Although the longest period we have ever lost power in 28 years here at Castle Graybeard was just over 30 hours, after the first of the '04 hurricanes, it sure isn't guaranteed to stay that way.  Between the two storms, most of our neighbors must have gotten "window rattler" generators, judging by the increase in noise.  Those rely on gasoline, and a continuous cycle of filling the gas tank, driving around town to find an open gas stations to fill the source of gas for the generator, and repeating.  What if things are down long enough for the local gas supply to get scarce, like after a Katrina or big quake?  Wouldn't a solar powered system that could run a modest amount of stuff be a tremendous thing to have in a long blackout? 

Your house (in the US) probably contains five or more identically rated circuits: 120V at 15 Amps.  In power, that's 1800 Watts (120V * 15A).  If you had 1800 Watts in this situation, you'd probably come close to using every watt you could get out of it.  A refrigerator would run long enough to get everything cold, and then you could unplug it for a while to run something else, if needed.  Refrigerators are pretty efficient, generally using a couple of hundred watts for a while, then idling back down to less than 50.  Maybe you'd make ice for your neighbors (you'd have enough for yourself).  You couldn't use your electric oven or range, but you could run a microwave oven which typically uses less than 1000W.  Chances are you'd be recharging batteries continually.  Let's see what it would take to design a solar electric system to deliver 1800W. 
(Typical standalone or off grid system)

How big a set of panels would be required?  Since the sun beats down at 1200 W/sq. yard, isn't the cell area just 1800 watts, divided by that number, or 1 1/2 square yards?  Not really - that's only true if turning light into electricity was 100% efficient.  The efficiency of the cells varies, but one of the best types, monocrystalline Silicon, is 16% efficient.  That means you'll only get 16% of your potential 1800 watts, 288W, from 1 1/2 sq. yards.  Divide the 1 1/2 by 16% (.16) and you see you need 9.38 square yards - over six times bigger.  Since one square yard is 9 square feet, that's an 84.38 square foot panel, just over 9 feet on a side (if square).  Unfortunately, that's still going to be too small.  A panel rated for 1800 watts is only going to produce 1800 Watts on a cloudless day, if it's perpendicular to the sun's rays at all times - which means tracking the sun with the solar panel mounts.  Add another 30% or more to the size of that panel to make up for not steering it.  Now it's gone from 9.38 square yards up to 12.2, or 109.7 square feet.  Getting pretty big, isn't it?  And that's just the solar cell area; any construction material, a frame, and so on, makes them bigger.

Hold on a minute, though.  Your panel will only provide power when the sun is up, and to get 1800W usable 24/7, you'll need to store power in banks of batteries.  Even worse, to store 1800W while you're using 1800 W means you need even more area dedicated to solar panels. If you really want to store 1800W and use 1800W every hour, it has to be twice the size.

It turns out that to create a single circuit that will run 1800 watts 24/7 is a big deal with photovoltaics, and that's one reason that the technology isn't very widely used, yet.  It's well over 220 square feet of solar cells.  Do you really have enough room to duplicate this five or six times over, to match the circuits in your AC breaker (fuse) box?  This is why, if you have access to gasoline, diesel, propane or natural gas, an internal combustion engine driving a generator is a far more practical way to power things.

Finally, did you notice that solar cells are less efficient than gasoline engines (typically around 20-25%)?

Next time, planning...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Blogiversary

Today is the second birthday of this blog.  Well, by date, it's Tuesday the 21st, but the first post was on this Sunday two years ago.  This is my 655th post.
(inappropriately borrowed from here)

As we go forward, I've decided to get back closer to my original ideas: tech-y, science-y, and shooty with more how-to-do stuff, and do less economic/political crisis stuff.  There's a large number of folks writing on that topic and I'm just not sure that I add much value to places like Denninger, The Economic Collapse Blog, and Zerohedge.  I think it's the obligation of anyone who sees what's coming to point it out to those who don't; I have and I will continue to.  I'm not going to stop on those topics, I'll just be more selective about what I can contribute.  I have a special interest in how the "Tales from the Over-Regulated State" affect our lives and livelihoods, and I'll continue to be on that like Oprah on a baked ham. 

My new approach reflects something I've said before: there's going to be bad times coming.  Survival is for cockroaches; let's thrive.  Someone has to know how to rebuild. 

Last year, I made a vow to try and post something every day.  Those of you who do that on your own blogs know it can be trying and sometimes there just isn't anything there.  Every now and then my muse goes and does her hair or something.  This year I aim to post worthwhile reading, even if it isn't every day.  The folks who put up the most everyday tend to put up shorter things than I seem to be capable of writing. 

I've got a subject that I'm going to go into in the coming weeks, in more or less real time as I do my project.  That means there will be a post then nothing on it for a while as I gather parts or research some more.  I'll cover the research, too.  The subject is building solar cell back up power systems.  Not with the aim of selling power back to the grid, but with the aim of having power should the grid go down.  I have a garage full of things that will take off a finger or five, and it might be good to go over some of that, too.  Woodworking, metal working, electronics, there's plenty to cover. 

In keeping with the new beginnings, I've changed the layout here.  The previous layout was came inspired by my amateur astronomy hobby, so the background picture was somewhat like a nebula or starfield with some nebulosity. This is canned Blogspot theme with some customization. 

To borrow from my first "Hello World" posting:
What will you find here? Like everyone, I will tend to write on the things that interest me. They might be current events, current conditions, technical looks at various electronics topics, ham radio, and making things of various kinds.

I have no idea how long I'll be here, but here's to the ride!

Pardon the Dust

But we're under construction today.

If you read here regularly, you'll see some changes today as I try out some different things.  It's 2 PM eastern right now, and I'll post more later - probably tonight.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Colbert on Table Saws

No, not fed across the table and the blade - although that has occurred to me - but on the topic of the Saw Stop and Fed.gov mandates that all saws must have this technology.  Warnings for crude, juvenile humor, imagery and speech (it is Colbert, after all).  Also note the very peculiar attitude Colbert takes and the strange perspective on the question.

For background: (from here):
The woodworking tool industry is in crisis right now.  A few months ago, a lawsuit was won against Ryobi tools' parent company, for producing a "defective" table saw.  The plaintiff was awarded $1.5 million when he sued for $250,000.  The defect?  It did not include an expensive safety option that was invented around year 2000; (the modern tilt-arbor table saw was invented in 1939; the basic idea goes back to 1813).  In 2000, an inventor produced a technology called a Saw Stop that senses when flesh touches the blade and stops the blade in milliseconds.  In the process of stopping the saw as fast as it does, it destroys the saw blade, and possibly other parts of the saw.  The user still gets cut, but typically will require stitches instead of having a body part cut off.  He shopped this invention to the major tool makers and none of them agreed to license his invention.  Their major concern was that the idea was untested; they had no idea how durable it would be (contractors' tools live a rough life); they had no idea if it could be added to existing products (were they rugged enough to survive the abrupt energy dump that destroys the blade?), or how to roll it out across their product lines.  The inventor started his own company, and sells table saws with this feature.  

This suit will end the production of low-priced and bench top table saws, seriously impacting hobbyist woodworkers as well as the tool industry.  Professionals will buy the more expensive saws and raise their prices to you and me.  
For the record, I have a table saw in my garage, and it's an old Ryobi without any such safety mechanisms.  I have all 10 fingers still intact and couldn't tell you how many thousands of feet of wood I've cut on it.  (On particularly bad days, I have considered using it to cut off the end of an arthritic finger, figuring it's a few hours with very intense pain instead of years of annoying low level pain, but that's another story for another day).  The inventor and owner of Saw Stop says table saws send 40,000 people per year to emergency rooms, and 4000 partial amputations (the rest presumably from kickback - all saws have anti-kickback devices on them, that are routinely defeated by their owners).  By rough WAG, there must be millions of uses of a table saw in a year in the US. 
(the Saw Stop mechanism)
The question here isn't "the right to cut my finger off" as Colbert puts it, the question is whether the government should force this onto the market and cut off (pun intended) hobbyist-priced saws.  For a quick check, note the prices on Amazon (they're convenient) for a Saw Stop saw vs. the competition.  You can get into a good beginner's table saw for about a quarter of the price of a Saw Stop saw.  You would expect that a beginner would be more likely to hurt themselves on a saw than a professional (which isn't necessarily right), so that they would want to pay for the protection, but should that be their choice?  Likewise, a cabinet shop might decide that a few thousand spent on Saw Stop saws might head off hundreds of thousands in liability from a few moments of inattention - and their insurance companies might not even allow them to buy any saw but the ones with Saw Stop technology.  As you expect (well, I do) other designers have hopped into the fray and are offering technology to compete with Saw Stop.

Is the Saw Stop a good idea?  Heck no, it's a great idea.  But I think the Whirlwind that stops the saw without contact from your fingers is an even better idea.  If it would be possible to stop the blade without destroying it, destroying the Saw Stop and maybe the saw itself, it would be even better.  The point is, it shouldn't be someone else's decision, it should be the buyer's.  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Did The FCC Just Grow a Pair?

Long time readers of these rants will remember that I spent a couple of posts writing about a company called Lightsquared and how much corruption is involved in what they're doing.  I'll do the "executive summary" in a second, but if you want deep background, the posts in order are here (1), here (2), and the really big one.  There was even more that I didn't cover. 

The executive summary on Lightsquared is a story of the same sort of corrupt, crony socialism that the Obama administration seems to be setting new records in.  Think Solyndra in broadband instead of solar cells.  Lightsquared got the idea that they could use spectrum allocated to satellite services for a terrestrial broadband service.  The satellite spectrum they wanted to use was the spectrum that GPS uses.  For a couple of technical reasons, this an exceptionally bad idea - for the GPS users.  With about a billion and six cheap GPS receivers in use now; embedded in smart phones, car navigation systems, runner's and cyclist's computers and everything down to and including cereal boxes, Lightsquared could render them all useless as they roll out their money making scheme. 

A key part of this story is that the FCC allowed Lightsquared unusual (some would say illegal) access to people and then spectrum, to keep this dream going.  They granted them special waivers to run system tests "to see if there's harmful interference".  This was totally unnecessary; I routinely give problems like this to new grads and junior engineers; the signal levels can be calculated with straightforward models and you can easily see that the GPS receivers would be unable to process the satellites (although you do need to know some details about GPS receivers and how they work). 

Yesterday, I got an email from a long time friend, one of our top GPS and navigation gurus, that says the FCC has "Moved to Kill Off Lightsquared".
On Tuesday, Lawrence Strickling, the assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department, said government testing showed LightSquared's network would cause widespread problems with GPS devices, including ones used by pilots to prevent their airplanes from crashing.

"We conclude at this time that there are no mitigation strategies that both solve the interference issues and provide LightSquared with an adequate commercial network deployment," Strickling wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
Lawrence Strickling is the head of the Nation Telecommunication and Information Administration, the NTIA, a group chartered to provide technical guidance.  Their judgement was that it would take too much money and time to modify GPS receivers for everyone else in America so that Lightsquared could build their service out. 

With an expected market in the "many billion$", you should not be surprised to learn that Lightsquared has vowed to fight the FCC ruling.  They didn't get this far by not spreading money around to get their preferential treatment, so you can expect more "lobbying". 

I'm a receiver designer, and I can think of ways that should make a GPS receiver work in the presence of those Lightsquared signals.  The first big problem is what the NTIA said: there's the previously mentioned billion and six GPS-enabled devices out there that would have to be retrofitted.  Who pays for it?  How long would it take to design modifications and get modification supplies out?  Everything from military and commercial aircraft down to hikers, boaters and smartphones would need expensive, bulky modifications.  I suspect you'd find some receivers just too hard to modify that became useless.  Some receivers wouldn't fit in their current boxes.  New receivers would cost way too much and the market for GPS-enabled devices would be killed off because of the added costs. 

There's a reason why the spectrum was allocated as it was, with a low power service like GPS in a big swath relatively empty of nearby, loud signals.  You simply can't add a service like Lightsquared's in with an incompatible service that's already there - it's like adding the Broadband over Power Lines in the HF spectrum; the existing users are going to suffer.  It's nice to see the FCC man up for a change. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cassandra I Ain't, But Here's What I See Coming

Warning - serious wild-ass speculation ahead.  May not be suitable for those under 18.  May not be suitable for those over 18.  May not be suitable for those without a luxuriant, plush Wookiee suit. Do not remove this tag until after sale.

There are many in the liberty sphere of bloggers who claim to stand by Israel.  I have made no secret of my support.  Joe Huffman's View From North Central Idaho pre-dates me online by a long time, and is famous for his "Jews in the Attic Test", for an easy example.  Many other bloggers have talked about the subject and expressed support in varying ways.

And then there's the other side that blames all the troubles in the region or the whole world on the Jews.  Incidentally, I don't believe it's possible to separate support for Israel from support for the Jews, and attempts to label the perceived problem as Zionism are dishonest at best.  Israel as a nation state has many peculiarities: it has a lot of the same secular attributes seen here, for example, and is not strictly a Jewish population.  I have seen many Israeli Arabs who say they prefer living under the Jews than under Arab leadership.  I have friends who have been there and seen how good a place it is. 

It seems to be widely believed that Israel is going to involve us in a war against Iran.  I don't believe this.  I think Israel is trying to make sure we don't fight on Iran's side if they get into a ruckus.  In '09 Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said we should shoot down Israeli planes if they enter Iraqi air space.  We seem to have decided (by default) not to do that, but the situation got really weird when the Saudis granted Israel permission to overfly the Kingdom to attack Iran (think this just affects Israel?).  As I tell my wife, in the event of trouble, she has my back and I'd appreciate her not shooting me in it.  I think that's what Israel wants out of us - not to shoot her in the back. 

I think Iran's most logical gambit is to attack us first, not Israel.  I'll get back to this later.  There's a lot of talk about a war in that region coming as part of the general historical trend: when countries get as desperately screwed up as about 2/3 of the world is now, wars often follow. 

Let's pick up the story here: did Iranian agents assassinate Israeli diplomats?  Almost certainly, based on the Iranians that were captured.  Did Israeli agents assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists?  Almost certainly.  In fact, I darn well hope so!  Is either party pure and innocent?  Not a chance.  No country on earth is perfect, not them, not us; not one".

It's silly to argue about whether or not Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons.  Of course they are.  You only need so many centrifuges to refine fuel for a power station, and they reached that number years ago.  The question is whether or not they are going to make good on their fiery speeches and attempt to wipe Israel out.  The real question is: do they want a nuke for deterrence or to attack someone? 

Let's put it in terms of analogy.   As a group, we are all very conscious of self-defense, and most of us probably carry a weapon regularly, if not daily.  Most of us have had training.   If someone frequently threatened to kill you and your family, and you saw them laying in bombs or bomb making supplies, or perhaps getting cases of ammo, or other supplies that could be used against you, what would you do?  Perhaps you wouldn't go kill your neighbor but you sure would try to find out what he was up to, and do your best to make sure your place was secured, right?  Would you take a bullet before you did something?  Would you let your wife, your child, or your parent take a bullet?  What if that neighbor was the grandchild of someone who had killed someone in your grandparents' family? What if that first strike could take out your whole house,  your whole family, and everyone you know?  Would that raise the stakes?

One of the best papers ever put on the net was put up by Marko at Munchkin Wrangler.  It begins
Human beings only have two ways to deal with one another: reason and force. If you want me to do something for you, you have a choice of either convincing me via argument, or force me to do your bidding under threat of force. Every human interaction falls into one of those two categories, without exception. Reason or force, that's it.
The same basically applies here.  In political terms, it's diplomacy or war (war is diplomacy by other means).  Much like the situation of trying to reason with someone bent on killing you, or raping you, your adversary might not respond to diplomacy.  That leaves war, either a wide open full "dogs of war" rampage leaving many dead, or - perhaps - the "third option"; covert operations.  Stuxnet is the first thing I think of, but selectively killing the head scientists on the project could be another example.  Is that "fair"; is assassination of scientists a valid tactic?  Why is that different from a sniper taking out an enemy commander?  Why is it somehow OK to bomb a building from 30,000 feet and kill more or less randomly, but it gives people the "heebie jeebies" to target someone? 


What does supporting Israel mean?  Start with an easy one: I'm not going to condemn them for doing what any other nation would do in the same situation.  I'm not going to condemn them in the UN.  The next one is obvious: Israel has a right to exist and a right to the land they've been on since they took it in the 1967 war.  They have tried to exchange "land for peace" over and over again and given back a lot of territory they took; it will never work if the other side doesn't want peace.  The other side doesn't want a "two state solution", they want Israel gone.  It's plainly there in their writings.

I said I think Iran would attack us first; here's why.  Taking them literally at their words, they want "the Great Satan" gone (that would be you, if you're American).  They want Israel gone.  They want an Islamic flag over the White House.  They want hegemony over the Middle East.  The answer to all of those is to get rid of us, or at least get us out of the way.  They could do that with a big enough attack on our soil to get us to call all troops home to try and keep order. One example would be like the TV show Jericho; a dozen nukes go off in a dozen US cities.  That would be hard and risk detection.  Far easier would be to set off an EMP bomb.  Only one, small device is needed.  It could be launched from a ship or from Venezuela, where they are working on missile launch sites.  Once we're out of the region, they could take over the Mideast at their own pace.  Annihilating Israel would be an early step.  I don't see the Iranians have much risk; what are we going to do?  Our country is in the stone age, millions are dying and we're going to start a land war in Iran without a re-supply chain?  The only option we'd have would be to nuke them, and hasn't China said they'd take that as an attack on them?  I think it would be a decapitation strike that would effectively end the US. 

But there's another way; we could be gotten rid of by economic collapse.  If they can mess up the world financial markets enough to start the dominoes falling, they might be able to achieve the same goals.  Our economy wouldn't be able to pay the forces overseas, and we'd have to bring them home.  On to taking out Israel.  Plus, we seem to be doing a pretty good job of collapsing our economy on our own. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Musings

One major problem with wookie suits is that they often come with aluminum foil deflector beanies.

Which is not to say they're not right, and there's not a determined campaign to get rid of non-democrats - excuse me, get rid of domestic terrorists

Or, as the old saying goes, sure you're paranoid - but are you paranoid enough?
...not your humble correspondent...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

While Greece Burns, the Middle Class Dumpster Dives

The New York Times did a report this Monday "The Way Greeks Live Now", a profile of life in Greece today.  Written by Russell Shorto of the John Adams Institute (unexpectedly, in the Netherlands), it paints some striking images:
By many indicators, Greece is devolving into something unprecedented in modern Western experience. A quarter of all Greek companies have gone out of business since 2009, and half of all small businesses in the country say they are unable to meet payroll. The suicide rate increased by 40 percent in the first half of 2011. A barter economy has sprung up, as people try to work around a broken financial system. Nearly half the population under 25 is unemployed. Last September, organizers of a government-sponsored seminar on emigrating to Australia, an event that drew 42 people a year earlier, were overwhelmed when 12,000 people signed up. Greek bankers told me that people had taken about one-third of their money out of their accounts; many, it seems, were keeping what savings they had under their beds or buried in their backyards. One banker, part of whose job these days is persuading people to keep their money in the bank, said to me, “Who would trust a Greek bank?”
.....
Yet spending time in Greece presents a complicated picture of what is going on. There is certainly anger and belt-tightening and dark clouds of depression. It’s not uncommon to see decently dressed Greeks discreetly rummaging through garbage bins for food. A new book about how the country survived the Nazi occupation — “Starvation Recipes” — has become a surprise hit. But there are also success stories that fly fully in the face of the turmoil. Most surprising, there is a pervasive sense of relief over the crisis that is upon them, as if a long, strange dream is at last over. [emphasis added - GB]
While there might be debate among observers about how long it takes us to reach a Greek-style collapse, virtually everyone agrees we are headed there, and the President's latest budget proposal does nothing to head it off.  The Greeks have a higher percentage debt to GDP than we do, but we have many times their debt. In absolute terms, we are the brokest nation in the history of the world. Which leads to this:
Anastasia Tsangarli, a family friend who showed up to take part in our discussion, agreed that cuts were necessary, saying, “The Greek way of life is to spend and then overspend.” She and her husband are also from Giannitsa but lived for a long time in Jersey City, where she worked in a factory making fake fur coats. When the factory closed, they moved back, only to find life far more difficult than it used to be. Her husband, an electrician, is out of work. She does some baby-sitting. “We are afraid of the future, so we don’t spend anything without having a good reason,” she said. But the couple have an escape plan. They became American citizens while living in the United States. Her husband is 60. When he is 62, they can return so he can claim Social Security benefits. [emphasis added - GB]
I'm sure moving from one bankrupt country to another is going to work out well for them.  One more reason why even folks in their fifties will never live on social security. 

The Times article is long and meandering, but it ends with more of  a feeling of optimism than you might think.  The hope that Greek families and communities are getting them through this.  Think resilient communities. Think the well-worn idea of tribes.  If you go to a church, are you in a small group or home group?  Do you have a network of friends - preferably with skills?
From the Washington Post

Meanwhile, beans, bullets, band-aids and bullion, people.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Fed's Plan to Bankrupt You and Me

Saving for retirement?  The Fed has just promised to set you back.  According to Forbes magazine, in a statement after last week's Federal Open Market Committee meeting, they announced plans to devalue the dollar by 33% over the next 20 years.  That means if you intend to retire in 20 years (or live 20 years after retiring this year), you need to get well over 40% yield on your money just to grow your savings a little.  Under their plan, a dollar in 2032 will buy at least 33% less in 2032 than this year.

That's if they don't exceed their 2% inflation goal, and they are wildly wrong at that number.  The real inflation rate is closer to 12%, if you include food and energy, and calculate the number the way it was originally calculated.   This is something I write about regularly, here for example.  Borepatch did the same today.  Why do they want 2% inflation?  Quoth the oracles:
“The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) judges that inflation at the rate of 2 percent (as measured by the annual change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures, or PCE) is most consistent over the longer run with the Federal Reserve’s mandate for price stability and maximum employment. Over time, a higher inflation rate would reduce the public’s ability to make accurate longer-term economic and financial decisions. On the other hand, a lower inflation rate would be associated with an elevated probability of falling into deflation, which means prices and perhaps wages, on average, are falling–a phenomenon associated with very weak economic conditions. Having at least a small level of inflation makes it less likely that the economy will experience harmful deflation if economic conditions weaken. The FOMC implements monetary policy to help maintain an inflation rate of 2 percent over the medium term.”
This inflation rate has already sapped most of the value out of the dollar.  Over at Washington's Blog, there are a couple of plots of the decrease in the value of the dollar.  We've done it here, too, and you can see some charts I constructed in my article: could we return to a gold standard in the US.  
By coincidence, I'm reading Robert Kiyosaki's latest book "Unfair Advantage" and this is one of his main topics.  The "debt is money" system is set up to destroy savers.  He says if you're going to save, don't save dollars: save gold and silver.  The only asset in the last decade to come close to matching the yields we need is the precious metals.  Forget the idea of buying and holding stocks in a 401k.  That ship wrecked and is in pieces on the rocks. 

Savings?  Give me a break!  The Banks that run America (Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan) have demanded an end to zero interest.  They want negative interest!  They demand that you pay them for the privilege of buying bonds. Forget getting a return on investment.  In the quote of the day,  commenter Chuck Bone on that Zerohedge article says,
In Soviet America, government debt earns interest from you!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blogrolling and Such

I've been behind in keeping up my blog list and letting you know of the changes. 

New addition is Every Blade of Grass from the famous quote credited to Admiral Yamomoto.  Blog host DrJim is a brother RF Engineer geek with a taste for "shooty goodness".  His topics are a blend I like.  We have a lot of overlap in interest.

New Florida blog is Confessions of a Street Pharmacist hosted by Dive Medic.  The blog used to focus on his career in Emergency Medical Services, but when he decided to go back to school to get a Masters and become a Physician's Assistant, the emphasis shifted to stories from that part of life.  One story got linked by Borepatch which led me there.

I moved Florida Carry from the "Florida Gun Blogs" area - where it didn't belong (it's not a blog) - to a separate link below that list of Gunshine State bloggers. 

Finally, if you link to me and I haven't given a reciprocal link, it's not that I'm disrespecting you, I just don't know.  If you would like a link back, just let me know.  I don't mean to be rude, but as I tell my kids, "Sorry, but I'm an engineer.  I'm not antisocial, I'm asocial. I'm without social skills". 

Dilbert for September 30, 1995.  Amazingly, I remembered it almost word-for-word.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

When Is It Your Responsibility?

In last night's kind of long comment thread on the President's "compromise", commenter Doug Indeap asks an interesting and kind of deep question:
How long do you suppose a dollar remains Catholic after a religious employer uses it to pay others and they use it to pay others, etc? At some point, some might rightfully regard that dollar as theirs to do with as they will--without regard to the religious views of others who once had it in their hands a transaction or two earlier.
By analogy, let's say Fat Tony thinks Joey Bagadonuts needs to be whacked, but doesn't want to do it himself.  Instead, he pays Guido the Neck to kill him.  Is Tony responsible?  Our legal system would say that Tony is a murderer.  If a bunch of mafia Dons thought Joey needed to be whacked and they all kicked in money, would Tony still be responsible?  I believe the answer is yes.

This is one level away.

Now, let's say that the money Fat Tony paid came from his honest dealings as a concrete overshoe contractor.  Is the person who paid Tony for concrete work culpable in any way?  I believe the answer is no.  If they paid Tony with no knowledge the money would be used to whack Joey, and didn't intend for it to be used that way, the trail of responsibility stops with Tony.  

So it stops at one level.  Usually.  If someone paid Tony knowing and intending for him to use the money to put a contract on Joey, then I think they're responsible, too.  But I don't know of any examples of something like that.
So the culpability for paying someone to perform a criminal act for you probably depends more on your intent than a simple transaction count. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

The President's Lying About that Contraceptive Thing

Well, either he's lying or he's stupid and doesn't understand the first things about business.  In the ruling today, quoted from the White House Press fact sheet,  he said,
Under the new policy to be announced today, women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she [sic] works.  The policy also ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge.
Two things here: the obvious one is that the religious employer will pay for the contraception coverage because they pay for the insurance.  There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.  Requiring the insurance company to "directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge" doesn't come without costs, and I don't care that it's $5 a month, there's a real cost that goes into a real premium that the company really pays. 

The second one is the president, or anyone in the Federal government has no right to tell the insurance company, the employer, or anyone else, what they must pay for.   They have no right to order anyone to buy anything.  Their "ruling" has just as much constitutional justification as if I came up to you and told you that you had to provide something.  
TANSTAAFL

I Know When I've Been Beaten

Go see In a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World for the ultimate in Madonna jokes.

Just sayin'...

Meanwhile, I have the Mother of All Stiff Necks today.  Worst "crick in my neck" I've ever had.  Typing hurts. 

See ya.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Looked Like This To Me

(Nate Beeler at TownHall.)

Unfortunately, I have to say Madonna is several years younger than I am...

Confidential to the current crop of entertainers: if you get asked to be the half time act at the Super Bowl, it pretty much means your career is over. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why Hit the Catholics Now? Part II

Perhaps it's best summed up by a story most of us have heard:
 
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion says, "Because if I do, I will die too."

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp "Why?"

Replies the scorpion: "Its my nature..."
"We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power." - George Orwell

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Turn

Today is my turn to be honored by one of my virtual friends, Quizikle, who tagged my blog today.  The way this meme works is;

The Rules:
    1. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
    2. Link back to the blogger who gave the award
    3. Pick five favorite blogs with less than 200 followers, and leave a comment on their blog to let them know they have received the award.
    4. Hope that the five blogs chosen will keep spreading the love and pass it on to five more blogs. 
I've done #2 already, and Quizikle would have been one of my five.  200 followers is really a lot.  Only a few that I visit have that many, and to be honest, I'm not a follower on anyone's blog so I'm not sure what that number really means.   Seems like a reason to stick with folks with lower numbers of followers.  Here's my list of some favorite reads, in no particular order:
  1. Improved Clinch - John, the erudite submariner, a guy with some very interesting perspectives. 
  2. No Lawyers, Only Guns and Money - as you might gather, tends to track legal 2A issues the most.
  3. Gun Free Zone - Miquel down the state in South Florida.  I really admire Miquel because he goes after the crazy anti-gun folks relentlessly.  It takes a lot of dedication.  
  4. American Mercenary - currently home, but just back from Afghanistan. Real insights to that area, and good instructive articles on defense and other tactics.  
  5. Borepatch - he has the most followers of these five, but I visit several times a day.  Great security insights (he's a pro, after all), and historical insights on a wide variety of things.  Not to mention the weekly country music. 
I read a lot of blogs every now and then, but only a few every day. I have an acute time problem.  Even a simple post like this is going over an hour to think about and put down.