Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Least You Should Know - Stepper Motors pt. 2

If you want to control and drive stepper motors, you can either build a discrete transistor switching circuit or use one of the many off the shelf solutions.  There are integrated circuits that handle most of the nitty-gritty details for you.  For example, a part which has been around a long time, and used by both industry and hobbyists is the Allegro Microsystems A3977 (datasheet here).  The A3977 is designed to take two signals, a clock that times each step, and a logic line to tell it which way to turn, and make those into the analog signals (currents and voltages) to drive the motor.  These are usually called "step and direction" inputs, and a computer parallel port drives them - with some attention to details.  I will just give a couple of brief examples of the drive signals.

The essential way to drive a motor is to give it pulses 90 degrees out of phase to each other on the two windings of the motor.  The timing of this is shown here:

The motor will move one step when given a set of pulses like these.  If the phase lead reverses, so that winding 1 is behind winding 2, the motor steps in the other direction.  You can run a motor all day this way.  One of the tricks that controllers like the A3977 do is called microstepping, dividing each step into up to 8 steps.  The current driving the motor changes more smoothly, approaching a pure sine wave, like this:
Microstepping smooths the motor's motion, and helps with resonance issues, but you can't guarantee that the position is accurately 1/8 of the previous step - which would make the motor I showed last time give 1600 steps per revolution (.225 degree per step).  Wait - resonance?
At specific step rates stepper motors often experience an undesired reaction called resonance. The indications are a sudden loss of torque with possible skipped steps and loss of synchronization.  Resonance is inherent in the design and operation of all stepping motors. Slow stepping rates combined with high rotor inertia and elevated torque produce ringing as the rotor overshoots its desired angular displacement and is pulled back into position. Resonance arises when the step rate coincides with rotor ringing, typically about 100 to 200 steps/sec. Unable to overcome the combined effects of both load inertia and ringing, the motor skips steps and loses torque and synchronization.
If microstepping doesn't stop resonance issues, it has been found that changing the speed or the inertia, usually with some sort of extra load, will cure resonance.  I've seen washers stacked up, and even custom thingies.

You will find stepper motors specified by the current on the coils and small voltages.  A typical example might be 3 or 4 Volts at 2 amps.  The high voltage applied to the motor through a part like the A3977 is often 25V (it needs to be under 35 No Matter What Happens).  This is to allow the chip to hammer a leading edge spike into the motor to help overcome the back EMF and get the thing moving. The voltage settles to what the winding allows. 

Stepper motors can be very useful to have around.  They are the muscle moving all sorts of systems.  The biggest disadvantage is that once you send the command to move, you have no idea whether or not it really moved, and if it did move, if it moved the right number of steps.  Lost steps are the bane of stepper-based systems and can lead to ruined work or damaged systems. 

More as I try to figure out what else is a good "least you should know".

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Least You Should Know - Stepper Motors pt. 1

It has been a while since I've done anything in this series, so let's dive into a very useful subject.

A stepper motor is a type of DC motor that is driven by pulses rather than steady DC voltages.  Since what computers tend to "speak" inside is all pulses, this makes them a natural to add to a computer and stepper motors are used in computer applications, from disk drives to printers and more.  Driving with pulses brings problems because of the way the inductance of a motor's coils opposes current flow through the back emf.  In trade for developing circuits that will better drive current into inductors, you get a lot of good things.  Steppers allow precise control of motion: movements of less than a turn are simple to control, and accurate step size is a feature of these motors.  There's a few different types of stepper motors; you're likely to find motors referred to as Variable Reluctance (reluctance is resistance to movement of magnetic lines of force), Permanent Magnet and Hybrid motors.  There are also bipolar steppers and unipolar motors.  Here's a simplified diagram of how a bipolar stepper is built, as shown by Stepper World
As coils are alternatively pulsed, the rotor snaps to the next position.  The coils are built into the outside stator, and the rotor has a non-integer ratio of the number of magnets to these coils.  How many?  Here's a photograph looking into a relatively new, state of the art, small stepper motor; you'll count 48 stator poles ("teeth").  The rotor is visible at top right.   
Better view of the rotor:
There are 50 raised areas on the rotor magnet (by the way - if you ever take apart a stepper like this, chances are you'll never make it work right again.  This one was given to me in this state). 

This is a 1.7 inch on a side, square frame motor (NEMA 17 in the trade language) with 200 steps per rotation.  That gives (360/200 or 1.8 degrees per step).  A motor in this size will give a stall torque of about 60 in-oz.  A high torque motor that steps 200 times per rotation is extremely useful.  Say you attach this to a common 1/4-20 threaded rod to move a tool or work piece (not the best way to drive a tool, but certainly easy).  One turn advances the screw 1/20 of an inch, .050'.  One step of the motor moves by that .050'/200, allowing you to move something 250 millionths of an inch at a time.  How accurately?  The motor vendors will specify the accuracy of that position change and the rest depends on the screw's accuracy.

There's a handful of NEMA standard packages for stepper motors (NEMA is the National Electrical Manufacturers Association); in many cases, the NEMA standard motor you buy is just specifying the mounting interface and location of the holes.   That is, the mounting interface is the same, but the motor is a different length.  NEMA 23 is a common size for small machine tools, and torques of NEMA 23 motors may range from 80 in-oz up to over 400 in-oz with different length motors.

So "how do you cook it?" (as they used to say on Monty Python)  Stay tuned. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Almost everyone has published a somber reflection this weekend - I have not.  I've written on this day before, but not in a way that lends itself to just re-posting.  Let me use last year's post, with a few edits to reflect the intervening year.
There has been a lot of talk, including here, about the police state we are becoming, or that we are.  Can we agree to put this aside today and pay respect to those who gave their all?  This feeling isn't universal; I have seen references that those veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice didn't do that for us, they did it for the government.  They did what they were told.  And that observation was delivered in a way to diminish that sacrifice.

That war is "the extension of politics by other means" is credited to Clausewitz in  the 1800s.  It seems to me the author is right in assertion these men (almost invariably they are men) did what they were ordered to do but terribly wrong in overlooking the sacrifice.

Every week I'm personally torn up by some mis-deed I read about carried out by the police or corrupt governments.  Many are cataloged online, such as at this new home.  Others I stumble across; there are so many stories of injustice that they appear everywhere, not just on the news, but in comments to other pieces.  Many have been cataloged here on my pages (for example). 

But it's a simple act to pause, pay respect, remember the men of Omaha Beach, Chosin, and Operation Redwing - among hundreds of such places.  That these men were conductors of US foreign policy does nothing to diminish their honor.  They gave their all for the men there with them.  But they gave more.  They gave us the chance to represent them. 

I'm thankful for the sacrifices of the few. 

There are images that are icons of this day.  I refer you to one of the most haunting images printed.  It's easy to understand the palpable grief of this young widow.  But this one haunts me in ways I can't express (source)


Notice the rare use of triple exclamation points, which means Something Really Big Happened (SRBH). 

My all-time favorite writer on economic topics, The Mogambo Guru is back!  He has joined the blogosphere.  Although he's retired and only posting a couple of times a month, the world's supply of snarky, bizarre and side-splittingly funny (and accurate!) economic commentary has just gone up. 

The usefulness of Blogger's search utility is questionable, but it appears the first time I mentioned the Mogambo Guru was on May, 22, 2010 in "What's All This Gold and Weiner Stuff, Anyway?", a piece on how I came to realize we're screwed in the long term, a collapse is virtually guaranteed, and I needed to pay attention to commodity assets (gold, silver, oil, brass, lead...) Right Freaking Now.

Gotta run.  Mrs. Graybeard's laughter as she catches up on the old blog posts is tempting me to spend an hour or two catching up. 
Let me assure you the Mogambo Guru doesn't look like Clark Gable, Ava Gardner or Grace Kelly. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Survivalblog Is Under DoS Attack

If you haven't caught it, Survivalblog is under a DoS attack from an individual, or group of racists out of Texas.

Details here
Update from (Avalanche) Lily Rawles (21:48 MST):
Apparently  there's a racist in Texas that has threatened JWR's livelihood and attacked SurvivalBlog.  The following is a quoted excerpt from the threat as sent to me directly from Lily. She asked that I leave out the cursing and I will happily oblige.
"It appears to have been a "pinging" DOS attack, most likely instigated by the man in Texas that anonymously sent me this little missive, last week:
The whole point of a DoS attack is to keep the server so busy it can't post the page to legitimate users...
So DON'T reload or refresh the SurvivalBlog homepage or you'll be adding to the "traffic" which is crushing SB. Take a deep breath and come back tomorrow.
Rawles says they hope to have this fixed by Monday, although DNS fixes may take up to another day.  Worth reading the whole thing at Orange Jeep Dad.

Note: we are currently viewing  and it is working. 

Dear Graduates

"Dear Graduates: You're Screwed!" by Derek Hunter.  Go read. 

I feel for the recent graduates - I really do.  As he says, in different words, if you studied something that produces "marketable skills" (a phrase we don't hear as much as we used to), chances are you'll be OK.  You might not get a job right out of college, because it is tough out here, but chances are you will get a job in your chosen field.  If you're an excellent catch, even with a degree in an unrelated field, you'll be OK (my latest padewan learner as an engineer is a BS physicist - we hire good folks regardless of their formal background).  If you studied, well, anything that ends in "studies", so sorry.  Your future is not that rosy.  It's not "the man" oppressing you, it's that there just isn't a lot of people willing to pay for that. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

This is A Good Approach

A few weeks ago, I posted about a deep concealment and BUG that we picked up.  It is summer here, and the shorts/tee-shirt lifestyle of the Silicon Swamp makes concealment difficult.  The diminutive but deadly Mrs. Graybeard has been using that as her summertime carry.  A friend was telling me he uses a Ruger LCP for his everyday carry this time of year.  It is simply just there, all the time.  It inspired me to look around and find nice deal on this little package.  The Taurus TCP.

I've put a couple of hundred rounds through it from three brands and styles.  One brand of ammo (S&B FMJ) had two FTFs, but when I recycled them into the next magazine, they went bang.  I think the S&B primers must be harder than the other ammo I ran (Fiocchi and Federal).  I put 40 of the 50 JHPs I had through it, the remaining are in the magazine and gun. 

What's different about this guy is that when fully loaded it doesn't even weigh a pound: 12 3/8 ounces.  Because of that, I throw it in a pocket holster and it simply ... disappears.  It's the first time I've had a solution that went in my shorts pocket after work (shorts with no belt), and into my weekend wear with no effort and no thought.  It is the easiest carry I have.  I've worn it to movies, church, restaurants, everywhere I've gone. 

Yes, I know .380 Auto is not a potent round, just on the wimpy side of .38 special, but it's the old story: the .380 in your hand is better than the .45 back at home.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Convicted Terrorist Attacking Bloggers

Today is Everybody Blog About Brett Kimberlin Day, and this is my contribution.  That link is to a good piece at Michelle Malkin's blog.

Also up is the Blaze, with "Meet Soros-Funded Domestic Terrorist Brett Kimberlin Whose ‘Job’ Is Terrorizing Bloggers Into Silence"

Two bloggers he has apparently terrorized are Patterico's Pontification and Allergic2Bull.  Both of these guys have apparently been attacked by Kimberlin and offer chilling stories.  Patterico was "SWATed"; someone called the police (using an internet anonymizer and Skype) saying it was him and that he had just killed his wife.  The SWAT team arrived, yanked him out of his house and:
They ordered me to turn around and put my hands behind my back. They handcuffed me. They shouted questions at me: IS THERE ANYONE ELSE IN THE HOUSE? and WHERE ARE THEY? and ARE THEY ALIVE?

I told them: Yes, my wife and my children are in the house. They’re upstairs in their bedrooms, sleeping. Of course they’re alive.
Patterico could have been killed by the police.  The police came expecting an armed murderer and could have gone all Jose Guerena on him. 

The Other McCain joins in (that is, John Stacy McCain). with worthwhile information on comrade Kimberlin's fundraising;
Federal tax forms filed by convicted terrorist Brett Kimberlin’s tax-exempt non-profit Justice Through Music Project (JTMP) show that the 501(c)3 group collected $1.8 million in gifts, grants and other contributions during its first six years of operation. An analysis using database research indicates that more than $300,000 of that sum came in the form of grants from tax-exempt foundations, including the George Soros-connected Tides Foundation, the Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund, the Barbara Streisand Foundation, and the Heinz Family Foundation, connected to Democrat Sen. John Kerry’s wife.
McCain, by the way, had to leave his home for an undisclosed location after blogging about Kimberlin. "Someone" called McCain's wife's employer to complain that McCain was "harassing" him.  Since his location was known, prudent avoidance measures (Cooper's code orange) led him to find someplace else to stay.

Lots of bloggers are involved.  And more, including Chris Muir at Day by Day Cartoon
I am particularly incensed that Fidelity Investments has donated $90,000 to the 501(c)3 through "Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift", probably a corporate charitable contribution.  They run the 401k program where I work, so some of that money is mine.  Alright, maybe a dollar of it. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Cartoonists Get It

Chuck Assay at Townhall

As I always say, "don't worry; it's not that bad.... it's worse".  According to Katie Pavlich, editor at Townhall, if the followed the accounting rules all of the rest of us are required to, last year's deficit wouldn't be the $1.61 Trillion depicted here, it would be closer to $5 Trillion.
The big difference between the official deficit and standard accounting: Congress exempts itself from including the cost of promised retirement benefits. Yet companies, states and local governments must include retirement commitments in financial statements, as required by federal law and private boards that set accounting rules.
As Katie says to end this piece,
Math is hard when you're not adding all the numbers...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Different Type of High Tech

In the closing days of 1999, December 30th, Mrs. Graybeard and I were out for a bike ride as we had been perhaps a thousand days before.  It was very nice day weather wise; clear skies, light breeze, and  temperatures in the mid-50s.  There's a reason that's tourist season around here; people want to come here for the weather.

This particular ride was going to turn out to be a rather bad one.  About five miles from home, on a not-particularly busy road, we were run down from behind by a small pickup truck.  The driver, a young woman, had dropped something, taken her eyes off the road, and drifted out of her lane.  Our bikes were totaled, I shattered the little truck's windshield and was bounced onto the grassy shoulder; my wife ended up in the road.  To shorten the story, I was extremely lucky; my wife, less so.  I walked out of the hospital emergency room around four hours later.  She required massive surgery and was hospitalized for three weeks.  I had a broken tail bone, and a cracked vertebra (L1).  Her L1 vertebra was crushed, not just cracked, and required transplant of donor bone, stainless hardware, and growing bone around implanted hardware.  It was a four or five hour surgery, with a general surgeon involved to get access to front of the destroyed vertebra, and implantation of the donor bone (a section through a femur, actually); then opening her up through the back to add all the hardware to stabilize the injury. 
(source) A "typical" lumbar vertebra. The round portion had been pulverized and was replaced with donated bone.

This is one reason for my interest in high-tech medicine.  Design News this week reports on a new substrate for growing new bone in cases where bone is severely damaged or destroyed. The technique uses fibers of silk as the substrate to grow new bone upon.  This could potentially replace the piece of donated thigh bone implanted as replacement for the damaged body of the vertebra, but seems likely to replace a sort of mortar made from ground bone used to help the hardware fuse into place.  Donated bone brings with it the potential for infection and other problems if it is not well sterilized.  This approach could allow the factory growth of bone for such emergencies. 
The silk microfiber-protein composite matrices mimic the mechanical features of native bone. These include the stiffness of bone's interior matrix and the surface roughness that enable differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow to achieve bone formation. The team found that, combined with the inherent strength of silk fibers, the compressive properties inside the scaffolds were enhanced by the structure's compact fiber reinforcement.
By the way, did you notice that we both broke L1?  It turns out to be a common fracture in cyclists that get run down. 

Years ago, a co-worker who is a bit more of a sci-fi geek than I am, asked if I'd like to live forever.  Medical science would have to advance a lot more before I'd like to start down that road.  Here we are 12 years out from that accident, and I get a numb-to-painful feeling in my left thigh if I stand for more than a few minutes.  Walking isn't that bad, and can make the problem go away, but it's gradually getting worse and I don't know of a real treatment for this.  Living a long time wouldn't be bad if everyday didn't bring increasing pains.

I rush to add that I have little to complain about.  When I see folks returning from the sandbox missing arms and legs, the knowledge I have nothing to complain about gets reinforced.  Although I have a garage full of tools that will take off a finger without slowing down, I still have all 10 fingers - at the proper lengths.  Still, I have a dream.  My dream is that the emerging art of tissue engineering allows the regrowth of lost parts, and the healing of damaged ones.  People who have lost a limb should have a new one grown for them.  People with diabetes who have a non-working pancreas should have a new one grown.  Arthritis?  Grow new cartilage.  Lost your colon or bladder, liver or anything else due to cancer?  Grow a new one.  Then it would be more tempting to stick around and live on. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Police State and Property Seizures

(source) Meet Russ Caswell of Tewksbury, MA, owner of the Motel Caswell.  For the past three years, the state of Massachusetts and the hydra have been trying to ruin Russ and his wife Pat; to take their property, their source of income and their retirement plan.  I'm somewhat surprised at the source but columnist George Will at the Washington Post spins a tale of government simply trying to steal property because they want the money. 
This town’s police department is conniving with the federal government to circumvent Massachusetts law — which is less permissive than federal law — to seize his livelihood and retirement asset. In the lawsuit titled United States of America v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts, the government is suing an inanimate object, the motel Caswell’s father built in 1955. The U.S. Department of Justice intends to seize it, sell it for perhaps $1.5 million and give up to 80 percent of that to the Tewksbury Police Department, whose budget is just $5.5 million. The Caswells have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. They are being persecuted by two governments eager to profit from what is antiseptically called the “equitable sharing” of the fruits of civil forfeiture, a process of government enrichment that often is indistinguishable from robbery.
Wait...The government is suing an address?  They're suing an inanimate object?  How can an inanimate object be sued?  More to the point, why would they want to?   For the money, of course.  It appears the Tewksbury Police Department has the most to gain, so they must be the ones behind it.  They just managed to get a less scrupulous than average Federal Prosecutor to go along with them (and I suppose that's not a really high bar).  What's the justification?  Why, the War On Drugs, of course! 
Since 1994, about 30 motel customers have been arrested on drug-dealing charges. Even if those police figures are accurate — the police have a substantial monetary incentive to exaggerate — these 30 episodes involved less than 5/100ths of 1 percent of the 125,000 rooms Caswell has rented over those more than 6,700 days. Yet this is the government’s excuse for impoverishing the Caswells by seizing this property, which is their only significant source of income and all of their retirement security.
The Caswells are represented by the Institute for Justice,  a "libertarian public-interest law firm".  They add some details on the governmental attacks on private citizens.
The government does not allege that the Caswells have done anything illegal.  But under civil forfeiture laws, innocent people can lose their property—with no compensation whatsoever—if the government believes it was used to “facilitate a crime.”  So unless the Caswells can prove in court that they did everything they could do to prevent crime on their land, the motel—everything they have worked their lives for—will become the government’s property.  In short, civil forfeiture treats law abiding citizens worse than criminals, presuming them guilty until they can prove their innocence—a heavy burden for any property owner against the power and resources of the government.
Of course, the Motel Caswell is not the only property in Tewksbury that has had run ins with crime.  According to police logs, the Motel 6, the Fairfield Inn, and even the nearby Wal-Mart and Home Depot parking lots have similar problems.  But those properties are corporate-owned, which means the government would have to fight teams of lawyers to take them.  And, importantly, the Caswells own their property free and clear, which makes them the perfect target for a government interested in policing for profit: the Caswells are vulnerable and their property is valuable.
This is shades of the tales we hear elsewhere, like the California FTB going after any individuals they could find a bank account number on and raiding the account for "unpaid taxes".  They also bill people from several hundred dollars to a couple of hundred, assuming they'll just pay it, or think it's not worth getting a lawyer to fight.  They don't go after the corporations that will have teams of lawyers to fight.  Governments bully small guys who can't afford teams of high-powered lawyers.  They're easier to screw over. 

Civil forfeiture is not a new issue, it's just getting worse.  Around Daytona, Florida, in the 1990s, sheriff Bob Vogel was notorious for stopping cars on I-95.  If you had cash, you must be a drug dealer, so the cash was seized.  Drivers were virtually never charged with a crime, guilt was therefore never proven and the police made over $8 Million dollars for a department fund.  

In a way, this is a continuation of Fran Porretto's Sunday piece at Liberty's Torch  It is yet more evidence that the ruling class has declared war on the citizenry.  We are merely sheep to be shorn or cattle to be slaughtered for their need.  Merely this and nothing more.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Tin Foil Hat People Were Right!

Local governments are using our tax money to pay for anti-gun folks to try to take away our rights!  Hat tip to Robb at Sharp as a Marble for the link to Sean at All Nine Yards  The story concerns a pretty innocuous sounding piece of business in the city of Orlando
Back in March, while researching the repeal of some anti-gun ordinances, I stumbled across an Orlando City Council agenda item that grabbed my attention. It was, on its surface, just a mundane action item for the annual contract renewal of a city employee. But this city employee’s job title was, well, unique…

“Approving Employment Contract for the Grant-Funded Position of Mayors Against Illegal Guns Regional Coordinator.” City of Orlando Website
The job was filled by one Linda S. Vaughn. Ms. Vaughn is "paid a salary of at least $60,000 per year by the City of Orlando using grant funds provided by the Chicago based Joyce Foundation in collusion with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns. She also receives city medical, dental and leave accrual benefits at taxpayer expense".  Note that although the position was largely funded by the Joyce Foundation, the city did put up about $24,000 of taxpayer's money for the rest of her pay and expenses. As Sean puts it on All Nine Yards,
Even if the Illegal Mayors and the Brady Bunch provided 100% of the funds it would still be private/public collusion of the worst kind. Could you imagine the scathing editorials, cries of corruption, and the lawsuits that would be filed if the City of Orlando were to put Marion Hammer on staff as their NRA Regional Coordinator?
According to this thread on The High Road, Linda was known for trying to create illegal gun sales: I suppose she assumed she was a "junior detective" and could arrest the people she entrapped.  They include an ad she ran in Shotgun News where she claimed to be selling her deceased husbands guns and "...just wish to see them in the hand of his fellow enthusiasts:"
"Linda" was quickly outed as Linda S. Vaughn, the Southeast Region's Senior Associate Director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence United with the Million Mom March. The fact that the phone number she listed was her Brady/MMM office number didn't leave much doubt as to her identity.

Gloria Culver said, "It didn't take much to figure what this was, it was nothing but bait to get some guy to fall for 'maybe' an illegal weapons transfer. She underestimated experienced gun owners! BIG TIME!" Ms. Culver also made it a point to call Ms. Vaughn herself, and told her that she would be reporting her to the BATFE for posting a misleading ad. (As of this writing, no charges have been filed.)
So not only is the city of Orlando paying tax payers money to her, they're paying it to an unindicted criminal. 

Continuing from All Nine Yards:
Once I put these facts all together, I went in to my closet and put on my wookie suit. Then I took the red pill, locked and loaded, and dove in to the rabbit hole trying to see how far it goes.  On Friday I came screaming out of the other end flying at mach 3, pissed off, pissed on, and with my wookie suit in flames.
Go read. And if you live in Florida, consider clicking on that link to Florida Carry over on my right bar just below the blogrolls. It will take you to their website where you can join, like many of us have. Florida Carry is going to follow this and try to get the situation changed. All of us should look into this wherever we live, because it can't possibly just be in Orlando.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Weekend Catsup

Ketchup?  Catch up?

It was busy around Castle Graybeard this weekend, as usual.  Still catching up from last weekend's Tetris moving experience (thanks Elizabeth!).  The stuff that was moved with "just put it over there for now" is being put into better places, and some of the junk that should have been put in the trash is gone.

We took off to the range to try out a few things, shooting the smallest and largest caliber we have (in handguns, of course).
That's our North American .22 Magnum and Taurus Millenium .45 Subcompact (I call it that because it's virtually the same size as my XD subcompact).  I've only shot the Taurus a couple of times, but every time I pick it up, it's like I've never put it down.  I have the same experience with my XD subcompact.

The range we went to is the American Police Hall of Fame range near Titusville, Florida, on one of the entry roads to the Kennedy Space Center.   If you're ever near the Space Coast (or Silicon Swamp, as I call it), this is the best range I know of.  Large and "open" feeling, electrically positioned target holders, excellent staff, rentals of everything, and the best air conditioning.  They're quite a bit more user friendly than other ranges I've been to.  You can rapid fire, and you can bounce around in the lane (which has a movable "cover" to hide behind).  I'm not completely sure you can draw from a holster - I've seen it done, but the guys doing it were accompanied by trainers.  It's a bit of a drive for us, but worth it. If you're in Orlando for any reason, it's about a half hour from the airport (that's a bit of a guess - don't hold me to it).

And speaking of guns, IMAO has a piece on the Lego firearms that raised a stink in the San Francisco Chronicle's "Mommy Files".  As the NRA-ILA reported:
The Mommy Files does its best to provoke righteous indignation and gets some traction with a random British father, who in a rather un-English display of temper whines that "it's just wrong, wrong, wrong."  Yet even the developmental psychologist the blog consults cannot muster much concern.  "Play is play," the doctor states, adding that research has not shown that playing with toy guns can lead to aggression.  But, argues the blogger, these guns are realistic.  "They're not realistic," responds the doctor.  "They don't shoot. These guns are related to the impulse to create, not the impulse to kill."
Pretty bad to go into PSH over Legos, for cryin' out loud... but it's San Francisco.  What can you say?

We also took part of the afternoon off, after cleaning the guns, and went to see The Avengers.  I'll add my voice to the others who have seen it and said it was the best movie of the bunch. 

Think of it This Way

Less of an endorsement of Romney than as a commentary of Obama...
The extremely talented and witty Michael Ramirez.

(Edit 1259: Hit the publish button without adding a tag.  And, yes, there is a hyphen in anal-retentive, dammit!)

Friday, May 18, 2012

No Limit To What They'll Regulate

One of the most serious problems with letting the hydra take over the health care sector of the economy is that there is no limit to what they'll regulate, no freedom they won't take away.  Everything can be linked to risk of increased illness and higher health care costs.  The study doesn't have to be good, it just has to be quoted by the Jack Booted Thugs doing the regulating. 

Headlined on Drudge today was this gem from Indianapolis "Report: 'Fat Tax' Could Curb Nation's Obesity Problem".  They are seriously talking about a 20 % tax on foods deemed "unhealthy".  20%!!
A new study suggests that imposing a fat tax on unhealthy food and drinks could help slim down expanding waistlines....

Researchers said a fat tax could drop obesity rates by 3.5 percent and prevent 2,700 heart-related deaths a year. The study also urged subsidies for healthier foods and veggies to make them more affordable.
It. Is. None. Of. Their. F**king. Business!  I don't care if it untwists scoliosis, reverses hair loss, cures cancer, defeats the Nazis and puts men on Mars, it is none of their business what free people eat. 

But the part that probably irked me the most was this idiotic quote:
"I'd pay 20 percent. It's worth it,” one woman said. "I would eat a lot more healthy just to save more money.”
Listen, if you're so undisciplined that you need to pay the government 20% tax to keep you from eating things you believe you shouldn't, you shouldn't be allowed out of the house, or near sharp objects.  You obviously have no brain. (By the way, it's an old journalist tactic to make up unattributed quotes like this.  You should always consider a "some say" or this "one woman said" attribution to mean "this reporter said" or "the guy at the next desk said").

As I documented two years ago, the Feds argued in court that we have no fundamental right to choose what we want to eat.  Now the state of Indiana, and others, thinks it's perfectly within their purview to tax you for eating "unapproved" foods. 

While I've got a rant going, that article feeds nicely into this one in USA Today warning that "96% of Restaurant Entrees Exceed FDA Limits" - another adventure into the land of government over reach.  According to our insect overlords at the USDA:

How much is too much?

These USDA recommended limits were used to measure against main entrees:

No more than . . .

667 calories
35% of calories from fat
10% of calories from saturated fat
767 mg sodium
This is clearly derived by dividing the ubiquitous nutrition panel 2000 calories per day by three.  The fundamental problem with this is there isn't a single "fact" in this panel that's a fact.  As I published here last July:
The other big problem I have with this [note - removing obese children from their homes - GB] is the fact that medicine is exceptionally bad at treating obesity.  I (and many others) would suggest that the diet the doctors are recommending is probably the cause of the kids' obesity.  Would it surprise you to know that a leading researcher who has been studying obesity for decades believes dieting may be the cause of most obesity?  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece on some truths about diet and fitness that are hard to get out.  It's not a stretch to say that if you're like most people who haven't studied this, everything you think you know is probably wrong.  [emphasis added this time - GB]
For instance, in the book I'm reading now, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living,  (a fascinating read for those who like rock hard science) researcher Steven Phinney, M.D., Ph.D., reports that they've determined optimum sodium intake for adults on a very low carbohydrate diet is around 5 grams per day - over twice the USDA recommended maximum.  The 10% saturated fat number is no more than a guess.  Despite decades of bleating about restricting it, saturated fat is not associated with increased risk for heart attacks.  Saturated fat behaves very differently depending on which exact fat you're eating, and what else you're eating with it.  The 35% total calories from fat has no more hard data behind it than saying "eat three meals a day".  And calories certainly can't be the same for a small woman or an NFL lineman.  It's all a very worthless set of numbers, presented as a rigorously derived scientific standard that all meals should be measured against.

Besides, as I quoted in (admittedly, one of my favorite titles) "On European Mountain Goats and Michelle Obama" and "The Invasions Continue", the experts don't know that telling you to limit salt intake won't hurt you instead of help you:
Did you get that?  This Doctor, President of the American Society of Hypertension, said that we don't even know that if we tell the public to cut their salt consumption that it won't hurt them.  So the can't even say, "cut your sodium because even if it doesn't help blood pressure, at least it won't hurt you"; we don't know that.  But the FDA is going to do it anyway.   Michael Alderman, President of the American Society of Hypertension, Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Br Med J 1997; 315: 484-5  
The USDA limits on calories, sodium, fats and whatnot shouldn't be taken any more seriously than a random pile of numbers.  I find it ironic that as millions of people in Europe shift to an LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diet and are improving their health, so many people that there are butter shortages, our country wants to tax fat consumption. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Electric Cars, Hybrids and Batteries, Oh My!

Electric cars are the darling of the green movement, and have been as far back as I can remember (which varies randomly between 50-ish years and five minutes, but bear with me).  Electric motors are capable of much greater efficiency than internal combustion engines; motors can achieve over 90% efficiency while internal combustion engines run in the 25 to 30% range.

Efficiency can be stated as power delivered divided by power supplied; in the electric motor, you supply voltage and current to the motor and get RPMs and Torque at the shaft.  90% of the power you supply to the motor can come out on the rotating shaft.  Internal combustion engines, perhaps best called internal explosion engines, turn the chemical energy of exploding fuel air mixtures into rotating mechanical parts.  Turning intermittent explosions into smooth rotation involves a lot of moving parts, each with their own losses.  In addition, the explosions cause a mess of heat to be released.  Every place your car looses heat, such as the radiator, and especially the exhaust, is a loss.  To be truly efficient, your engine would be silent, and the exhaust would be a mixture of liquid air and carbon dioxide ice.  But there is no good technology for sucking that much heat out of an explosion and turning it into rotary motion.

I won't get into it here, but engine efficiency is a long way from the total system efficiency, which depends on aerodynamic drag (block-y vs. "slippery"), tire losses and transmission losses. 

The problem with electric cars is the batteries.  There's a simple inescapable fact that has to be faced: there is no battery that can store the amount of energy that a liquid fuel can.  Think of it this way: the electrical discharge of the battery is really a slower form of the combustion in the IC engine; electrons move back and forth between different compounds, what chemists call a Redox (reduction - oxidation) reaction.  The battery has to carry around its own oxidizer; the IC engine gets to suck its oxidizer in from the environment. 

What prompts this diatribe is some recent information I've come across on hybrids and electric cars. First, a recent study that shows most people who own hybrids are not likely to buy another. 
A new study by R.L. Polk & Co. shows that the overall percentage of hybrids sold into the new vehicle market has fallen from 2.9 percent to 2.4 percent over the past three years. Moreover, approximately two-thirds of hybrid owners who returned to the market in 2011 did not buy another hybrid.
The 33% who did buy a second hybrid ends up being a smaller number - 25% - if you take out the Toyota Prius.  Either the Prius is the best hybrid on the market, or they simply have the best brand loyalty.  Or both.  
Hybrids use their electric power plant for the low power regimes we spend most of our driving time in: when you're driving at constant speed, you're just overcoming air resistance and friction in the drive train.  They rely on gasoline for the times when they need more power. 

The market problem is that many people think that electric cars are trivial technology, and they're being killed off by greedy car companies who just want to keep selling the same old junk.  Witness the conspiratorial documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car", which has that tone.  The same team has released a sequel to that one, "Revenge of the Electric Car". 

Design News magazine looks at the movie as less of an exploration of the cars as of the people behind the technology.  Charles Murray, Senior Technical Editor, Electronics & Test, writes:
There's a moment in the movie Revenge of the Electric Car when a Popular Mechanics magazine editor says, "The scariest part is, can they get the cost of the batteries down?" If you watch the movie, that's about as close as you'll get to a real technical debate on the future of electric cars. 
And that's the problem.  There are two sides: engineers trying to bend the problem enough to come up with good solutions, and consumers who think the companies are holding back solutions.
At the film's end, we see a "good news" montage of successes for GM, Tesla, Nissan, and Abbott (the EV converter). Tesla's stock soars, and its massive DOE loan comes through. GM rolls out the Volt. Nissan gets a $1.4 billion loan to build Leafs, and Abbott's business recovers from a devastating fire.

Danny DeVito joins the montage long enough to remind us that we've left the Dark Ages. Another actor, Adrian Grenier, tells us that he can't wait for the electric car era. "The innovations are here now," Grenier says, smiling brightly. "Bring them to me. I want to play." The viewer is left to wonder what Grenier might think of today's paltry electric car sales figures.
Battery research is slow compared to the semiconductor "internet speed" we're used to.  Think of how a battery works: two different materials give and take electrons at a voltage potential determined by the way the universe was put together.  All of the simple combinations have been tried and new ones are being researched daily.  The limits, though, are imposed by the universe.  In semiconductor work, the same materials are always worked on, the techniques for putting down dopants and photoresistive masks is all that changes. 
Battery development is hard, slow work. Throwing loads of money at it will help, but it will not make it happen overnight, as so many EV proponents have predicted. "There are no specific moving parts in a battery, but it's one of the most complicated things to develop, in terms of all the things happening inside," Luis Ortiz, chief operating officer of Liquid Metal Battery Corp., told us. "You've got multiple materials trying to come together in one place. It's volatile. And there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong." Liquid Metal Battery, an MIT spinoff, builds grid storage systems.
One of the conclusions of the Revenge of the Electric Car is that we are heading in that direction.  Like it or not; ready or not, we're moving.  The first ones are likely to be, honestly, crap.  Those are on the road now and will be for some time to come.   They're the ones spontaneously catching fire that you read about.  Even if perfect batteries were available now, the conversion will take time, because the power grid will need to be expanded and industries adapt (as they always do). 

If you drive less than 40 miles a day, and just carry yourself or a small family, "someday" can be today.  If you just go to the local supermarket two miles away once or twice a week, heck, buy a golf cart.  If you need to haul a half ton, like an F-150 class pickup truck, or if you tow a moderate sized boat, or a camper, electric alternatives are probably more than 10 years out.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

More Tales From the Over Regulated State - A Series

Are you from the People's Republic of Massachusetts?  Do you vacation there?  (For God's sake, why, man?)  Then perhaps you've been to or heard of Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle, Mass.  Serious criminal activity has been taking place there.  You see, someone has modified their ice cream stand without the proper approvals from the Authoriteh and they had to be put in their place! (source
The park's popular ice-cream stand was unexpectedly shut down by state officials over the weekend, after the stand's operator made building improvements at the site without getting permission first.

Mark Duffy, who has operated the dairy farm at the state-owned park for 26 years and has a lease with the state to run the stand, said armed Environmental Police officers showed up at stand on Friday evening and stood guard throughout the weekend, turning away customers craving delectable sundaes and frappes. [emphasis mine - GB]
See, they discovered that Mr. Duffy had done "improvements" to the buildings without paying his tribute to the state for their blessings, so the state officials (in this case, properly referred to as "Mass-holes"), deprived of their licensing fees, responded in the only way they know: armed and in force.  I'm sure they would look at you as if you had the proverbial lobsters crawling out of your ears if you questioned what good this process did for anyone involved, other than the state.  And then they'd ask you if you had a permit for the lobsters in your ears out of season and fine you for not having it. 
I'm sure that PRM is such a paradise with so few problems that the crime of "unauthorized construction" simply must be top shelf.  I'm equally sure that if you said that to them, you'd get a rifle butt in the face.  Edward Lambert, commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said he is trying to protect the public's health and safety while tests are conducted at the site.  It's all about public safety.  You never can tell when shoddy work is going to hurt someone. 

I realize that most people would say they want building inspectors  and some sort of "independent body" (as if states ever are) to vouch that generally recognized building practices are used, but come on, Massachusetts, do you really need to shut down a business, send 13 kids home with no pay and remove a reason for visitors to go to the park?  Do you really need to stage an armed raid?  And why does the "Environmental Police" even have armed officers?  Jealous because the Department of Education had guns and you didn't? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Conversation With A Retired Friend

About 2004, I had the pleasure of working with an older engineer I knew who was much more experienced than I was, but who had retired around 1999 and came back to work as a technician.  He was assigned to be my technician because we were developing a very complex receiver, unlike anything our company had ever done before and the bosses wisely thought two guys would be better than one.  While we were both rather experienced, he started in electronics long before I did and in the fine-detailed circuit design, he was definitely my superior.  He retired a second time around '06, and has managed to remain retired this time, playing music for spare change/beer money around the Silicon Swamp area.

This was 2004/2005, ahead of the big crash of 2008, but we talked about how I thought a collapse was coming, and the problems with sub-prime mortgages.  We talked about inflation, gold, silver, and the possibility of bad times coming.  He told me he had believed for years that if there's another civil war in America, it will be between "the haves and the have nots".

We remain friends and swap emails now and then. Today, he sent me this video which started a bit of a conversation:

The video isn't very shocking; it's a collection of facts about how screwed up our economy is. I think I've gone over every one of these here on this blog, and more, but I don't think he reads me or the other blogs very often.

I responded by sending him to the Bill Whittle video in this post, and urged him to watch it.  After an email exchange, I asked him, "You're a smarter than average guy.  You're retired and need to know about this.  Have you heard that the CBO says the country will collapse in 15 years?"  His answer was no, that he had not. It never broke into the news in any source he follows. 

I think this is going to be a new thing.  I think I'm going to put together a list of a few things that seem like they're important enough that everyone should know and conduct a very non-scientific poll of what people really know about the economy and the state of things.  This is either going to be very interesting or very depressing.  Or both. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Get Ready - LOST is Coming

No, not that Lost - the Law of the Sea Treaty.  That second link, to a summary on the Heritage Foundation, gives a short overview of the LOST. 

The Law of the Sea Treaty has been around a long time: 30 years.  It was first conceived of by the United Nations in 1982.  In 1985, President Reagan refused to sign it, arguing it would take away US sovereignty.  In the '90s, Bill Clinton signed the US up to the (then) current version, but the Senate never ratified it, so the provisional acceptance of the treaty expired in 1998.

Much like the awful Kyoto treaty on global warming, LOST pretends to be saving the world from the perils of advanced civilizations while actually transferring vast amounts of power and wealth from the 1st world to the third world (which raises the question of whether we could benefit from it as we get driven further toward third world status as a nation). For example:
... the Treaty [is based on] the Principle of the "Common Heritage of Mankind," which dictates that oceanic resources should be shared among all mankind and cannot be claimed by any one nation or people. In order to achieve this goal, the Treaty creates the International Seabed Authority ("Authority") to regulate and exploit mineral resources. It requires a company to submit an application fee of $500,000 (now $250,000), as well as a bonus site for the Authority to utilize for its own mining efforts. Additionally, the corporation must pay an annual fee of $1 million, as well as a percentage of its profits (increasing annually up to 7%), and must agree to share mining and navigational technology--thereby ensuring that opportunities aren't restricted to more technologically advanced countries. The decision to grant or to withhold mining permits is decided by the Authority, which consists disproportionately of underdeveloped countries. [emphasis added - GB]
It appears to be coming back for a Senate vote on ratification.  It was reported that well known RINO Senator Dick Lugar wanted to bring it back for ratification, but didn't want to bring it up during the campaign, should it hurt his re-election chances.  Now that he's been dumped (oh frabjous day!) there's nothing to lose and the LOST is coming back like a vampire.

This is a complicated mess.  The US Navy has endorsed it - I don't understand why, but maybe it's part of that "Global Force for Good" ad campaign.  I'm sure I don't need to tell you that a trans-nationalist like Obama wants it, too.  Frank Gaffney, founder of the Center for Security Policy, says to beware that they are selling this thing under a false flag operation.
Amazingly, they are doing so under what intelligence professionals would dub a "false flag" operation - an initiative that presents itself as one thing, in this case "The American Sovereignty Campaign", when it is actually exactly the opposite. If ever there were an anti-sovereignty treaty it is LOST. It speaks volumes about the lengths to which this accord's proponents have to go to conceal that reality that they are masquerading as advocates of U.S. sovereignty, not what they really are: champions of an effort greatly to reduce it.
The campaign is being run by former Stupid party senator Trent Lott, a guy who opposed LOST as a senator, but is now a lobbyist for Shell Oil who apparently thinks they get more benefit than it costs. Personally, it reminds me too much of redistribution of US wealth to the rest of the world.  Remember, anyone in the US who earns over about $40,000 is in the richest 1% of the world, and it's a lot easier to take us down than make the rest of the world wealthy. When you add in that the treaty creates (Gaffney, again):

Of particular concern is the fact that LOST creates an international taxation regime. It does so by empowering the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to tax Americans for the purposes of meeting its own administrative costs and of globally redistributing revenue derived from the exploitation of seabed resources.
This one appears all bad to me, but I'm puzzled why the Navy would endorse it.  Maybe some aspect makes their mission easier.  If you need more information to decide, read those three articles I link to.  It's not "Agenda 21" level of bad, but it doesn't look positive for us in any way, either.   

When an international treaty is signed by the president and ratified by the senate, it acquires a level of permanency beyond mere federal laws.  It can't be cancelled by a future senate.  It stays until the treaty goes away, making it even less touchable than the constitution, which can be amended.  In my book, that's all the more reason to vote against it. 

My Favorite Post of the Day

Thanks to Robb at Sharp as a Marble, I learn those famous statues of heads on Easter Island are atop bodies
From the "well whaddaya know?" file.  More details

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Buggy Whip Makers Sue To Stop Horseless Carriage Sellers

Or Slide Rule Makers Charge Electronic Calculator Makers With Trade Law Violations.  Or Typewriter Makers Join DOJ to Attack Computer Makers.

Just like that.
In The Luddite-Statist Attacks on Amazon by Gen LaGreca the author delves into what appears to be Crony Capitalism at work yet again (what a surprise!).  (h/t Erne Lewis)  The New York Times has started a campaign against  First, they cheer on a small publisher who has refused to do business with Amazon.  Then they gush over the DOJ's attacks on Apple for their work with iBooks.

With Kindle books outselling paper and hardback books combined, this is a war the old technology folks have decided to fight.  I suppose if your only concern is keeping your position in life, it makes sense.  From any other economic or social standpoint, it's completely wrong.  You can't tell me it's wrong to save customers money, which they'll probably just spend somewhere else.  You can't tell me it's better for a small number of publishers to keep control over who gets published and what ideas get circulated.  Only if you're the "gatekeeper" who controls that and makes your living from it does artificially keeping prices high make sense.

e-Books are revolutionizing the distribution of books like nothing since Gutenberg's press.
... one novelist who was unable to find an agent or publisher has self-published two of her novels on Kindle. With her books priced at $2.99 and with a 70-percent royalty from Kindle, she earns approximately $2 per book. She is selling 55 books per day, or 20,000 books per year, which amounts to sales of $60,000 and royalties to her of $40,000. (As a simple comparison, without getting into the complexities of book contracts, this author might earn a royalty of approximately 10-percent from a traditional publisher, which would require her to achieve sales of $400,000 to earn as much money as she does self-publishing on Kindle.) Other authors are doing even better, including two self-published novelists who have become members of the Kindle Million Club in copies sold. These writers started with nothing—they were not among the favored few selected by agents and trade publishers, and they had no publicists or book tours—yet, thanks to electronic publishing, they are making a living, with some achieving stunning success.
There are dozens of low priced Kindle titles on Amazon, and many writers making some portion of their living this way.  The same sort of thing is going on in music, where independent bands are getting around the stranglehold the big music labels used to have.  I've bought a few Pomplamoose downloads and I've bought a few indie books, too.  With the direct channel available through iTunes, I'm sure Pomplamoose gets a much bigger percentage of the sale than they would from a record company album. 

Getting the tyrannical DOJ to fight the future for them shows the publishers to be greedy, stupid cowards only in it for themselves.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Play Time Might Be Short

Ever played with a 15 puzzle?  You know, 16 spaces and 15 tiles, like these: 
The idea is to put the 15 pieces in numerical order, 1 in the top left, 15 in the bottom right. As you can see, it takes thinking several moves in advance.  You almost always need to make many moves of the other pieces, to move the one you want.   In the words of the "Math in the Media" article:
When the puzzle appeared around the year 1880 "it created as big a craze as Rubik's Cube a hundred years later. The most popular version was due to the famous puzzler Sam Loyd, who presented all the tiles in order, except with the 14 and the 15 swapped. Loyd offered a prize of AUS$1000--worth about $20,000 today--to the first person to solve his puzzle. The prize was never collected." The authors go on to explain why.
It's not just the swap of 14 & 15; according to the Wiki article, in 1879, it was proven that half the starting positions are unsolvable, no matter how many moves are made.

So what's up with this puzzle?  I need to rearrange stuff in my garage shop to make an empty space.  This is a pretty good approximation of what my shop looks like and what the weekend holds. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Not Completely Useless

Out since (in?) 2007. I've never seen one, but it looks like impressive software.

I'm guessing it never caught on because it's not something kids can play with.  It's something to watch.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Challenge of Resilience

It's in the header of this page that I'm trying to increase our resilience - yours and mine - to the coming changes in society.  I also link to - and subscribe to - John Robb's Resilient Communities blog.  John's blog talks about many of the essentials of life: water, farming, obtaining and using energy.  I've focused on the more mundane but essential aspect of keeping what we have running and maybe building new things.

One of the trade magazines I read at work is called Mechatronics, devoted to the place where electronic and mechanical systems meet (like CNC tools).  That magazine linked to this one's story about an art major (of all things) who decided he wanted to learn how every single part of a common item came to be.  He chose a toaster.
When Thomas Thwaites was a second-year postgraduate design student at the Royal College of Art in London, he decided to build a toaster for his master's degree project. This was no ordinary quest involving trips to the hardware store. Instead, he embarked on a nine-month, 2,000-mile journey and spent $1,800 to build the appliance from scratch — literally from the ground up. Why? He wanted to discover where the “stuff” of our lives comes. He first dissected a $6 toaster into 157 parts and then attempted to create a working replica.
It describes how he decided he wanted to understand how to make every part of the toaster.  He went to a mine in Scotland to get the mica that insulating panels in the toaster are made of.  He even decided he needed to learn how to make his own steel.  From scratch.
I wanted to make a spring to pop up the toast, so I needed steel. I assumed steelmaking wouldn't be too hard, given the fact that it's ubiquitous in our civilization. Although steel was made several hundred years ago in certain places, and vast quantities are now produced industrially, making a small amount at home is extremely difficult. With my first attempt, I think I refined the ore to some degree, but the black, hard, metallic-tasting lump wasn't workable into toaster shapes. I assumed it'd be easy to smelt iron because “we” have been doing it for thousands of years. But I realized we're not innately smarter than our ancestors. In the end, I used a microwave to do the smelting by experimenting with different times, crucibles, charcoal mixtures, and partially refined or raw ore. I got workable iron in the end, but it was a long and dirty — and fun — process.
And there is a host of lessons in there for the resilient community.  He has written his adventure into a book.

Although I could argue (and have) that the universe was put together in a way that discovering steel is inevitable, it's a different thing to try to make it from iron ore.  That's just starting; there's still the complication of making specific steel alloys with specific properties.  The richest iron ore is hematite, found by the ton in the Michigan/Minnesota area, around 70% iron by weight.  Could you refine iron from hematite?  What if you don't have that microwave oven and crucibles he used?  In a high temperature vessel (ceramic? glass?) heat it over a charcoal or coal fire that you pump air over to obtain really high temperatures (2800 F)?  Copper melts at a lower temperature, 1984F.  Could you melt float copper nodules (still found in Michigan), or a stack of pre-1982 pennies, and make copper wire? 
The Ph.D.-level home made toaster

Mr. Thwaites said one of his prime conclusions is, "We're all connected to each other, and to vast numbers of people now dead, through the economy of things."  We are connected by enormous supply chains of things that have become very specialized, so much so that simple appliances will be hard to replace.  Our dependence is on more than just the "3 day, just in time" inventory you read about in so many places. There is an incredible flow of products going around the world that facilitates making the things we have.  A flow of steel, plastics, wire, and all the other components in your toaster, your furniture, your flat panel display, everything.  A flow of pharmaceuticals and foods.  A flow that 99% of the population doesn't even know is there, but that keeps us all alive.  If things "go south", where can you go to find refined steel or other materials to keep technology running?  Garbage dumps, and car junkyards.  They will be the mines of the future.  Although I understand the richest copper deposit in the world is the wiring underneath New York City's streets. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Just A Cool Story

A friend sent me an email story.  It's probably one of those that goes around periodically, but I've been online since about 1990, and I haven't heard it.  A story about an incredible character doing outrageous things.  It's about Art Lacey and his Bomber Texaco station, which has been a landmark south of Portland, Oregon since 1947.
Story from combined with the email version:  Art Lacey's daughter, Punky Scott, knows the story of her father's wild B-17 adventure well and recently sat down with KATU News to tell the famous tale. She said it all started at a party where her father, a local businessman, bragged that he was going to put a B-17 on top of his gas station.

"He was at his own birthday party in 1947 and he, I think, probably had a few adult beverages," Punky said with a laugh.

A friend promptly told Art he was absolutely out of his mind and could never pull it off. Art bet the man $5 he could do it and immediately ran with the idea."

And so he turns to his friend Bob and says 'You got any money on you Bob?' And Bob says 'Yeah, how much do you need?' (And my dad says) 'I need $15,000.' And the guy had it on him," Punky said. "I don't know how that translates into today's money, but it's got to be a lot."

So Art takes his 15,000 and goes to Oklahoma.  Makes friends with the officer in charge of the surplus B-17s and buys one.  He asked which one was his and they said take whichever you want because there were miles of them.  The first problem was that Art could fly a small plane, but didn't know how to fly a 4-engine B-17, so he read the manual while he taxied around by himself.  They said he couldn't take off alone so he put a mannequin in the co-pilot's seat and off he went.  Art might have been able to fake his way through it if the plane's landing gear didn't malfunction. He was trying to land back on the runway when he ran into trouble. "So he flew it around and finally he just had to bring it in. So he crash landed it and skidded in," said Punky. "He was flying it low and slow and skidded in and crashed it into another parked B-17."

Art wasn't hurt in the mishap but he did have to walk up to headquarters and admit that he really didn't know how to fly a B-17. Punky said the guy he talked to took pity on him.

"He turned to his secretary and said 'Have you written up the bill of sale yet on that B-17?' And she said 'No.' and he said 'Worst case of wind damage I've ever seen.' and replaced his B-17.

"So he called my mom and had her send down two of his friends," said Punky. "And one was the guy who had taught him to fly in the first place and the other one had been a crew chief on a B-17. And he told her to send them down with a case of whiskey."

The whiskey, Punky explained, was to be used to bribe the local fire department. Art didn't have any money left for gas and he wanted to use their fire truck pumps to siphon fuel out of the two crashed B-17s. Oklahoma was a dry state at the time and whiskey was a good enticement.

"And so that's what they did and they fueled up and took off the next morning," said Punky. "They flew to Palm Springs, California and then bought gas. But he didn't have the money for gas there either so he wrote a bad check for it and covered it when he got home."

Then they headed home for Oregon. They hit a snow storm and couldn't find their way, so they went down below 1,000 feet and followed the railroad tracks. His partner sat in the nose section and would yell, "TUNNEL" when he saw one and Lacey would climb over the mountain. They flew low enough to use street signs to guide them to Oregon.

But being on the ground in Oregon still wasn't all the way to his gas station. They dismantled the plane and loaded it up on trucks to take to the station, but couldn't get the city permits to take it onto the road. Art was too far into the project, and into debt, to give up at this point

"So he hired a motorcycle escort for funerals," said Punky. "And the guys are in black leather and they put him out in front in the middle of the night and had two teenagers ride along with him. And he told them 'now if the police show up you burn rubber in another direction and they'll follow you.' And he told the trucking drivers 'you just keep going. I'll pay any tickets, just keep on going and don't let them stop you.' "

"The Oregon Journal wrote up an article saying something to the effect of 'local government tries to keep bomber from final resting place.' This was right after World War II, so patriotism was running pretty high. So they ended up fining him $10 for doing what he shouldn't have done."

Art Lacey was one of those larger than life characters that came along in the America I grew up in.  There's more at the story, including an effort to rescue the old bomber, now falling apart with age.  It's a fun story to read. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Dark Night of Fascism

There's an old wag saying that goes (with variations) "the dark night of fascism is always descending on America, but landing first on Europe".  While it has happened before, it's a bit premature to assume it will always be that way.

This weekend, the modern Greek version of the Nazi party, The Golden Dawn, advanced in their power, claiming 21 seats in the Greek parliament.  A marginal party before the collapse began, they managed to get 0.29% of the vote in the 2009 election.  Some reports are putting their portion at over 10% of the vote - over 30 times bigger in 3 years.
“Nobody can stop 100,000 members of Golden Dawn,” he said, “and if they bring tanks, they should know they (the Greek military) will be with us.” As for the election results, he said the party actually won 10 percent, not 7. Then he predicted: “The 7 percent will become 17 percent, which will become 27 percent, and then the country will pass into our hands.”

Read more here:
Actually, when you roll up all of the Greek minor parties, like most of Europe, they are essentially different flavors of vanilla - where vanilla is Monster Government.  There's a variety of collectivists in there, but as with that jar of mixed nuts you buy, when you get down it, they're all nuts.  These particular folks are adamantly against the reforms and financial austerity imposed on Greece.  In other words, there is no such thing as real money, real worth, real trade, just keep giving us our benefits.  
(the Golden Dawn flag.  Not too derivative...)

Speaking of mixed nuts, another case in point is "socialist" Francoise Hollande who just won the presidency in France.  I think you and I would call him a communist, but in his context over there, he's a bit less extreme.  He has already declared his answers to be "tax the rich" (gee, where have I heard that before...) and I've heard the number "75% rate" going around.  Ambrose Evans Pritchard (UK Telegraph's Business editor) quotes: 
“They absolutely must cut public spending and control the debt,” said Marc Touati from Global Equities in Paris. “It will soon be clear that we are in deep recession. If they don’t act fast, interest rates will shoot up and we will have a catastrophe by September,” he said.
If you're a free market thinker, you're probably saying "75%?  That will kill their economy - knock it into severe recession".  At least, I'm thinking that.  If confiscatory taxing kills their economy, and they're one of the two remaining sticks holding the Eurozone together, the whole Eurozone collapses.

The Financial Times posts "The Analysts React" but the bottom line is that they probably don't have anybody who knows what's going to happen.  Still, let me drop a quote or two, from Kit Juckes at Societe Generale, if you can't read that piece.
The economics team have published a roadmap for the first hundred days of the Hollande Presidency. All assume he will open the debate with Merkel about slowing the austerity drive, most assume his policy bite won’t be as bad as his electioneering bark. Personally, I think we need to distinguish between the direction of policy and the macro impact of policy. What bothers many about French fiscal policy is the sheer size of the government in the economy overall. But the structural need to nurture the private sector and limit the power of the state isn’t at all the same as needing permanent austerity and economic misery. This is only important now because to argue for more austerity in Europe is just plain silly – the sort of silliness that could bring the whole thing crashing down. (emphasis in original - SiG)

The Greek result was no more of a surprise than the French one but is is a wilder card event. At the moment, it looks as though a coalition can be formed, but how long a new government could survive isn’t clear. The Greek people have spoken, but only to say they are disillusioned and angry. My bet for today is that the US, having sold risk off after payrolls that were soft but not soft to change anything, will bounce. If that happens, we will have an edgy day in which ranges hold. The catalyst for a decisive move lower by the euro remains absent, though the move is inevitable eventually.

Gang, we are talking about the collapse of the Euro.  While there is some encouraging talk to be found that says a growing number of Europeans see the EU as a disastrous mistake and want it gone before they all go down the tubes, there are still many billions of dollars/euros at stake and powerful interests who would gladly inflict incredible suffering on the people to get their way - which is to say, to get their money and power.  And in case you missed it, Peter Schiff, who's good enough at this stuff to do it for a living, says the US is not far behind and the dollar is headed for collapse, too.  The collapse of the Euro, or another Fed disaster like "The Mistake of 1937" could hasten the demise of the dollar. As CA at WSRA points out, even taken with a grain of salt, this article paints a pretty interesting picture incorporating these pieces.