Thursday, October 31, 2013

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

You know the story going around that gubmints want to put black boxes on cars, so they can tax by the mile?  Turns out the guy behind that used to work for the Moscow Metro Corporation, and was a transportation planner in the former USSR.  Imagine that.

Hasan Ikhrata, is now the Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).  A communist in California government?  Now, that's really easy to imagine.
(source - apparently a greenie web site)  Why black boxes?  Drivers are using more fuel efficient cars, and driving them fewer miles, so the gas tax isn't raising the revenues it once did.  Why not raise the gas taxes?  I'd think raising taxes on gas would tend to cut consumption.  Then, again, taxing driving would tend to limit that behavior.  It sounds like they want to limit driving, but still keep drivers in conventional cars. 




Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Century Old Tech - The 1906 Adams-Farwell

In contrast to yesterday's 21st Century Technology with a $25 SDR, the email today was this really unique car from 1906, the Adams Farwell.  Watch it in full screen. 



The email read:
This is the ONLY 'Adams-Farwell' automobile left in existence. They were made in Dubuque, Iowa, between 1890-1913. This one uses a 50 HP rotary engine similar to engines in old airplanes but the pistons are still and the cylinders move. With 50 HP... it probably really scooted down the roads back then !!
During the video, the guy exhibiting the car said they have one spare engine, and the Smithsonian has another.  They only know of these three engines are left in existence.

The only engines remotely like this that I've ever seen operating were made by home machinists.  They're fun to watch.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Techy Tuesday: Software Defined Radio

H/T to WRSA who links to a cheap little SDR from Adafruit. So what's an SDR?  What makes it different than a regular radio?  Are they better? 

Before we start, I'm going to try to limit myself to explaining terms that aren't in my Least You Should Know series, especially AC Electricity and Basic Electronics.  I'll try to use those terms and define new ones.

A Software Defined Radio is one in which the major functions of the radio are performed by software.  That's a pretty broad description and exactly where a radio crosses the line into officially being an SDR is more often determined by marketing than technology.  In the beginning when DSPs (Digital Signal Processors - a type of microprocessor optimized for math operations) were slow, only demodulation - extracting the intelligence from a signal - was done in software.  As DSPs and other parts have gotten faster, more and more functions are done digitally, with pure numbers.  That's the main difference between an SDR and a conventional radio, like the radios you grew up with.

The heart of any SDR today is the ADC, or Analog to Digital Converter.  These convert the smoothly varying analog voltage from the antenna, or a lower, internally generated signal in the radio, to numbers.  One of the most important things to know about converting any signal to digits is how fast you have to sample it, and the most important relationship is the Nyquist limit, which simply says you must sample the signal at least twice as fast as the frequency of the signal.  In the case of that little Adafruit radio, since it says it receives 24 MHz to 1850 MHz, that implies you would need to sample it at 3700 MHz.  I can guarantee that you won't be able to find an ADC that fast that you can put into a $25 receiver!  I'm not even aware of one on the market that would work that fast. 

So how can an SDR receive a frequency way above their clock?  An aspect of Nyquist's limit that is often overlooked is that the ADC only needs to be clocked at twice the rate of the modulation.  Since most modulation in radios is slow - think voice systems at 5 kHz or less; FM broadcasters that are 100 kHz wide, and digital modulations at less than a few MHz, a clock need only be twice the modulation frequency.  If an ADC clocks at 10 MHz, for example, how can it receive 115 MHz?  ADCs are subject to a phenomenon called aliasing. An example of aliasing everyone has seen is in movies or TV when a car's wheels appear to be turning the wrong direction or slowing and reversing as the car speeds up.  The sampling of the video or movie film shutter is aliasing with the image of the moving spokes. 
In a sampled radio, aliasing causes the sampled bandwidth to repeat over and over, almost forever, like this picture.  In this example, imagine we're sampling at 10 MHz.  The first band, on the far left, is DC to 5MHz.  But a signal just over 5 MHz is indistinguishable from one just under 5 MHz, and as you tune higher, the signal goes down from almost 5 down toward zero.  A signal at 11 MHz is indistinguishable from one at 1 MHz.  Same for 21, 31, 41 and so on, forever.  The alternating slopes on those bands in the picture is intended to convey that they tune opposite each other.  (In this case, "forever" means until the ADC stops "hearing" the signal.  I tested a converter rated for a 60 MHz clock once, or DC to 30 MHz.  I started at 15 MHz and kept increasing the frequency by 30 MHz to find when I couldn't see the signal on the software that decoded the ADC.  I never found the limit on the ADC.  I ran out of signal generators at almost 10,000 MHz - 10 GHz.  The recovered signal was weak but it was the 166th alias.)  In a "professional grade" SDR, there are many filters to prevent aliases from causing problems. 

If you follow the links on that Adafruit page, you'll find these systems were initially intended for TV reception and some folks found they could be used for other things.  Their input clock appears to be 28.8 MHz.  These radios, achieve their range through a combination of tuning in the TV chip with aliasing, so they're quite a bit better than just an ADC with an antenna on the front.  Unfortunately, they aren't capable of the performance you'd need in good receiver because they weren't designed for this use.  This user, for example, writes about local paging systems wreaking havoc on the receiver, and includes a plot that shows their effects.  The pagers are essentially aliasing throughout the range of the receiver.  When that happens, you won't know what frequency you're receiving because of the aliases.  Still, they will allow you to listen to a wide spectrum with a simple, cheap receiver. 

Naturally, a software defined radio isn't going to be much good without software.  This piece appears to allow you to tune and choose your demodulator.  There appear to be other applications out there, including ham radio apps, that allow you to demodulate and tune.    

Are SDRs better than conventional radios?  They have strong points and weak points (like the alias issue, and that they often consume more power for the same performance as a conventional radio).  The answer to "is it better?" should always be, "better for what?"

I'm going to grab one to experiment with, but I'm a radio geek.  If I looked hard, I could probably find 3 or 4 radios around the house that tune that range. 


Monday, October 28, 2013

Think of the Obamacare Website Mess This Way

Acres of coverage has been written about how bad the government website for Obamacare is.  From the brilliantly insightful (Borepatch on the inevitable failure of the "Surge" to fix it) to the completely asinine (some moron on the Book of Faces who said, "The reason Republicans are so upset about the Obamacare website is because they're used to how easy it is to buy a gun").  I won't try to match the sublime or the ridiculous.  I'll just say this.

The flowchart to getting the website done was probably three or four steps.  Executive orders HHS to do it.  HHS signs the crony contract with CGI (what?) (and look! The crony loves terrorists, too!).  CGI creates web site.  Maybe another step for auditing. 

Since they couldn't get that flow right, what chance do you think there is they can get this flow right?
(Source - This is a bit dated, so I don't know if it's accurate.  It dates back to 2010, when the law was fresh, so chances are there are some errors in it, but the complexity is approximately right.)


Sunday, October 27, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

There's a new barbecue joint that opened up a few blocks (about a mile) away.  Since the four basic food groups in my mind are:  (1) barbecue,  (2) barbecue,  (3) barbecue and (4) FruitsAndVeggiesAndNuts, they basically had me as soon as they got out the first syllable.  Mrs. Graybeard and I hit it Friday night. 

They did something I've never seen in a restaurant: when they found out it was our first visit, they brought out samples of their side dishes in little one ounce plastic cups.  They even brought a little pulled pork.  Great way to give new customers an idea what to expect. 

We both had pulled pork and beef brisket plate, and everything was good.  They finished off by bringing another sampler of their desserts.  Nice idea.

Mrs. Graybeard is quite a bit smaller than me, so while I was stuffed, she didn't have a prayer of finishing and we came home with a large leftover portion of the pork and brisket.  This morning, I had an idea for breakfast.  Took the left over barbecue, heated it in some coconut oil, then beat in four whole eggs.  Added a couple of ounces of cheddar and called it an omelet.  It was a brunch with staying power.  Ate around 11AM, didn't get hungry again until about 6PM. Try it, you'll like it.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Income Inequality?

A friend sent me a link to this video, a 6:24 look at the perception of income inequality in the US, and asked me what I thought of the arguments.  I'll wait while you go watch, I don't want to insert it inline...

As you may gather from things I've written here before, I don't particularly care very much  about whether 1% of the population has a really large portion of the wealth in the country - or if it's just a handful of exceedingly rich people like Gates or Zuckerberg or the rest of the Forbes 400.  There are many reasons, but the biggest reason is that they're just irrelevant to me.  They have no power over me.  My local county commission can make my life miserable with crazy new laws or taxes, and we all know how simply saying "No" to your local government always ends with your dogs (and often you) getting shot, but there is no way on God's Green Earth that Bill Gates or Michael Dell or the Mars family can make me buy anything they sell that I don't want. 

But let's say you care, or you're talking with a family member, coworker or neighbor who are all upset about the CEO earning around 400x what the guy in the factory earns.  What do you say?  Where do you start?

A good starting point is a reply video by Learn Liberty, emphasizing income mobility.  When we look at these pictures, what we're seeing is a snapshot of the income distribution, and much like the snapshots you take with your camera, it's a moment in time.  I've read several papers that say that the income inequality, and large number of people in the bottom quintile is from immigration.  Without a constant influx of dirt poor immigrants we'd see steady growth, because of the steady move up through the quintiles of people working their way up.  

But there's a more fundamental question: is the first video even right?  Is the income inequality he talks about even real?  A year and a half ago, I posted some research into a term called the Gini coefficient or Gini factor:
The Gini Coefficient is a measure of how much distribution there is in a variable.  If one person (or a tiny group) had all of the income in the US, the value would be 1.0.  If everyone had exactly the same income (socialist paradise), the Gini value would be 0.  The tiny change (I don't know if it's really statistically significant) is in the direction opposite of what we hear all the time; toward more equal incomes.  What about before 1994?  Ivan Kitof has done a similar analysis that goes back to 1947 (rather dense and chunky pdf here) that shows very similar trends.
Clearly, the Gini coefficient chart (below) is relatively constant, and nowhere near 1.0, so a tiny portion can't have all of the income.  That contradicts the income inequality video.  Among the interesting conclusions of the column on the Gini was that  "It implies that the difference is due to lower income households, and a very reasonable explanation is the increase in single parent households.  For an example, consider a two parent household with each making $50,000.  If they divorce, the two household/family incomes go down, while individual income stays the same (notice that if they stayed married and one became unemployed, the household/family and individual incomes would both go down). "  Instead of one household income in the second to top quintile, you have two in the lower one.  Bang: twice as many people making lower incomes. 
The social policies that lead to the destruction of families can explain changes in income distribution to more low income families.

But beyond all that, it's just such a weird thing to argue about.  We don't have "fair", uniform distributions of virtually anything in life.  We don't have uniform distributions of virtually any physical characteristic of people: height, weight, intelligence, hair color, eye color - anything.  We don't have uniform distributions of potable water, farmable land, mineral deposits or anything in the natural world.  Why should we have a uniform distribution of "wealth"?  (Which, BTW, isn't as crisply defined as many of these other things). So who decides what's fair?  A giant, fascistic government who is always happy to rob Peter to pay Paul, and get Paul's vote?  I'll go with the market. 

I would suggest, though, that anyone who agonizes over what percentage of the wealth anyone else has is suffering from some envy problems and could use some quality time with a trained counselor. 



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Size of the Problem

Excellent graphics from FreedomWorks which shows the problem quite nicely:
And this is without the extra couple of trillion in expenses coming from Obamacare.  There are many reasons to oppose the law, but don't overlook the cost.  The CBO currently estimates it at $2.5 to $3 Trillion for the first decade, instead of the "under $1 Trillion" figure they paraded around.  We simply can't afford this.  We need to be running surpluses, not deficits.  Putting Obamacare in place is adding pressure to the coming collapse.  With a debt total pushing over $17 trillion, by the time of the 2017 inauguration, the debt will be well over $20 trillion. 

Pressure is mounting on the dollar these days.  You and I weren't the only people who noticed how the Fed.gov debt instantly popped over the $17 trillion debt line when the debt ceiling deal was made; our creditors noticed it too.  That's their money the Federal Reserve is devaluing.  The Saudis are actually breaking diplomatic relations with us, over our refusal to fight the Syrians for them, and that's causing pressure on that odd conglomerate: the Petrodollar.   The move to remove the "reserve currency" status from the dollar gathers steam.  To borrow a quote from that link (CNBC):
The Tea Party was formed to prevent runaway inflation and an economic depression resulting from a crumbling currency and devalued debt. It appears by the absolute and universal vilification of its members by both Republicans and Democrats that U.S. citizens are not yet ready to undergo the pain associated with the removal of our pernicious addictions.
Indeed.  Marc Faber, the famous analyst from the Gloom, Doom and Boom Report, probably had it right when he said,  "The question is not 'tapering', the question is at what point will they increase the asset purchases to say $150 billion, $200 billion, or a trillion dollars a month."  Except it won't get that far.  At some point, other nations will abandon us and leave us for dead - which will lead to many of us achieving that status.  Of course the hard question is just when.  I wish I could answer that. 

On October 14th, Megan Ahrens went to Mt. Rushmore for her first visit, in the morning fog.  Her picture - which she swears was not shopped - went viral, because it appears that Washington and Jefferson are crying. 
If they were alive today, that's probably exactly how Washington and Jefferson would feel.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Techy Tuesday - Aluminum Armor

I was going to pass on this story, but it ties so nicely to previous posts on universal assemblers making everything for us.  Alcoa has announced that its latest ArmX aluminum armor has been specified for use in US Army vehicles. 
DAVENPORT, Iowa--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Alcoa (NYSE: AA) today announced its latest armor product is now specified for use by the U.S. Army Research Lab (ARL) for use in U.S. military vehicles. Alcoa’s ArmX® 5456-H151 armor plate meets the U.S. military’s highest performance standards for strength, blast absorption, and ballistics resistance for armored combat vehicles where weldability is a material requirement. Alcoa aluminum and armor have been used by the military for decades in vehicles ranging from the Bradley Fighting Vehicle to the Humvee.
Design News reports that the armor has been tested on the Army's (experimental) Fuel Efficient Ground Vehicle Demonstrator (FED) vehicle (pictured).  The Army's lab found it stronger than baseline weldable armor plate with better blast and ballistic performance. 
The product has been around for a while (backgrounder video here); this is a milestone in the performance they get out of it, though. 

Now most of us think of the term aluminum armor as a contradiction in terms, like fiscally responsible Democrat.  Aluminum is soft.  You can cut so-called aircraft aluminum (typically alloy 6061-T6) on a woodcutting bandsaw you'd use for softwoods like pine, and that's the hard stuff.  Pure aluminum - I've seen some in shower curtain rods - is quite a bit softer and literally gums up a saw blade like putty.  This stuff is hard, weldable, and withstands explosions.  As they used to say where I grew up, "how yo did dat?". 

That is certainly a trade secret.  They referred to the alloy as 5456-H151 and that tells us something.  5456 is the series, which Charleston Aluminum (a marine industry supplier) tells us 
This alloy is primarily used in areas where high strength and better welding parameters are required in a marine vessel or other engineering applications. ... [T]his alloy has higher tensile strength than other marine alloys such as 5083 or 5086, and good corrosion resistance in a sea water environment, but not always the formability and corrosion performance of some of the other alloys.
Azom lists its chemical composition.  Now you know virtually everything about it, except that tricky part.  The tricky part is the H151 designation which encodes some information about how its treated and processed to give it the "better blast and ballistic performance".  That's where the trade secrets lie.  And that's the part where your nano assemblers will need to do extremely sophisticated things to all the atoms in the crystal matrices to get those special physical properties without the heat treating and other things they do.  All those things that nobody on earth knows how to do now. 

I think a fair place to end this is the simple question, "Would you trust it?"   I'd like a lot more data.  See, in addition to being kind of soft, aluminum melts at pretty moderate temperatures. Like about 1220F.  That means that if the vehicle should ever catch fire, the aluminum will either melt (which is a really bad thing) or the heat treatment will start to reverse and the aluminum armor will revert to an untreated state (which might be an even worse thing).  For example, with 6061, another alloy designed to be weldable, it starts to lose its special properties as low as about 400 F.  Which tells me the armor will become much easier to shoot through.  Just when anyone behind it in a vehicle that was just attacked may need it the most. 


Monday, October 21, 2013

A Little More on Manufacturing and Nanobots

Commenter SinEater dropped by from Og's place to leave some of his arguments here.  As I'm wont to do on occasion, let me post the comment and my responses.
When you can accumulate static electricity from water pipes and kinetic energy from blades of grass moving and thermal energy from the difference in temperature between a swimming pool and the hot concrete around it energy is everywhere.
We are making massive improvements in capacitors and batteries.
Let's take some current military projects as examples. There are wearable garments and boots that are designed to generate electricity from the movement of a given soldier to charge suit electronics and recharge batteries.
Take that and apply it to the idea that you can program nannites to form electrical conductors along tree branches and then form whatever type of electrical generator you would like at the base of the stem of each leaf on each tree in a forest. When the wind blows you could generate a moderate amount of electricity from each tree. You could accumulate all of the electricity from a tree in a capacitor at the base. Then you could have the nannites form conductors from each capacitor to a larger capacitor near where the electrical energy is to be used. As far as powering each individual nannite, you could use inductive charging with really small and really efficient batteries on each nannite and for every 20 nannites have a handful that collect static electricity or solar energy or thermal energy based on the environment and time of day and season. The energy collectors would have inductive chargers that would be used to charge the worker bee nannites.

And I truly believe that the people who worked in industries supporting the first computers would never have dreamed that you could pick one up and carry it in a pocket and run it for eight or more hours off of a battery the size of a deck of cards.
And I truly believe that the people who worked in industries supporting the space industries in the fifties and sixties would never have believed that commercial space launches would become viable without an entire nation's resources to back the process.
And I truly believe that the people watching the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk would never have envisioned a Boeing 787 or an SR-71 Blackbird.
Let me start by saying that whenever someone tells today's version of the Wright Brothers "it'll never fly", it's easy to find stupid things to say about them.  I get that.  There's also a saying by Arthur C. Clarke, "If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong."  I may be hitting elderly but I'm certainly not distinguished, and I'm reluctant to say it's impossible.  It just isn't going to happen in our lifetimes and probably not in this century.

The comment that the people at Kitty Hawk would never have envisioned the 787 is particularly apt because there was about 100 years between them.  The kind of things you're imagining seem to be 100 years away from the first tentative steps we're making now.  The robots you posted about on Og's page are light years from where we need to be.  "Scientists want to build mechanical nanobots on the bacteria model."?  Bacteria are several orders of magnitude bigger than what you want.  Assuming we just get from these crude first robots to universal assemblers reminds me of the famous Sidney Harris cartoon where a scientist is doing a derivation of equations on a blackboard, stops, adds, "then a miracle occurs", and resumes.  There are too many steps missing in there. 

I see tons of questions there that can't just be waved off in my mind.  First off, we're not making massive improvements in batteries.  The uniforms that harvest mechanical energy as electrical are trivial compared to what's needed here.  Energy harvesting is big business and going to get bigger as an entirely macroscopic phenomenon.  There is no Moore's Law of batteries, improving capacity is rough work with slow progress.  As a species, we know next to nothing about how to make machines that work on that scale, and the evidence is that simply scaling them doesn't work very well.  How do you program something so small it can recognize and move individual atoms?  How much memory can it have?  It can't have much, since even quantum devices will be the same scale as what you're working on.  How big does the manipulator have to be to do everything it has to do: be powered, have memory, have manipulators of some kind, mobility of some kind.  In the whimsical cartoon I posted, the manipulator was microscopic and the things it was manipulating appeared to be pollen grains.  Both of them many orders of magnitude bigger than what we're talking about. 

 

I'm not even addressing any of the things Og addressed, about how when we make an alloy, it's not just the atoms you use but how you treat the result, whether by cold working or heat stressing.  There are so many problems to solve to get where you want.  Will these problems be solved?  Some for sure.  Maybe all of them, but maybe not.  Undoubtedly, new problems will show up and some of them will be even more intractable.  I seriously doubt we'll see universal assemblers in either of our lifetimes, unless you figure to live past 2100. 


Sunday, October 20, 2013

We're Awash in Junk Science - and Junk

Earlier in the week, Borepatch posted another update on the junk science coming out of not just the climate modelers/IPCC, but science in general.  The link was to the Economist, "How Science Goes Wrong".  The potential impacts on society are devastating, as the impact from biochemistry illustrates:
A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists is that half of published research cannot be replicated. Even that may be optimistic. Last year researchers at one biotech firm, Amgen, found they could reproduce just six of 53 “landmark” studies in cancer research. Earlier, a group at Bayer, a drug company, managed to repeat just a quarter of 67 similarly important papers. ... In 2000-10 roughly 80,000 patients took part in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted because of mistakes or improprieties.
But the killer comment comes from the comments to Borepatch's post by AndyN, who links to a similar story on Reason.com asking "Can Most Cancer Research Be Trusted?"
My favorite quote: "I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning."
I've told the story that Mrs. Graybeard had a bone marrow transplant for breast cancer in 1997, and that paper that was based on turned out to have been falsified.  Furthermore, with the passing of our friend I talked about in that post, she is the only survivor out of a group of 8 who were all given a 75% chance of survival based on cancer staging studies.  Was survival pure dumb luck, or was it factors that had absolutely nothing to do with the therapy?  If the research can't be trusted, we're not much more advanced than bleeding people or applying leaches.  Anybody remember when Steve Martin did "Theodoric of Yorik" the barber on SNL in the '70s?  The really ironic part of this is that academic researchers are usually held up as more ethical than the drug companies who are "only in it for the money" - and certainly the way they've turned cholesterol lowering drugs from a useless curiosity into a multi-billion dollar industry (cf here or here) shows they're not completely innocent of bad research themselves.  But in this case, the drug companies, by trying to duplicate the studies, are performing arguably the most important part of science: independent verification.  From Reason:
These results strongly suggest that the current biomedical research and publication system is wasting scads of money and talent. What can be done to improve the situation? Perhaps, as some Nature online commenters have bitterly suggested, researchers should submit their work directly to Bayer and Amgen for peer review?
The experiences of my wife and her group underline that bad medical research isn't a victimless academic vice.  Real people were subjected to really awful treatments (doctors call it "the most grueling ordeal in medicine") that provably did nothing for their survival chances.  And it's not just medical science that's filled with bad research and outright (intentional or not) fraud. A popular psychological journal paper on "priming" has largely been disproven (9 separate studies failed to replicate the results), while the idea already has "made it out of the lab and into the toolkits of policy wonks keen on “nudging” the populace".  (If need be, search this blog for mentions of Cass Sunstein)  Particle physics, held out as the "hardest of the hard sciences" has been victimized by not "blinding" the study properly:
But maximising a single figure of merit, such as statistical significance, is never enough: witness the “pentaquark” saga. Quarks are normally seen only two or three at a time, but in the mid-2000s various labs found evidence of bizarre five-quark composites. The analyses met the five-sigma test. But the data were not “blinded” properly; the analysts knew a lot about where the numbers were coming from. When an experiment is not blinded, the chances that the experimenters will see what they “should” see rise. This is why people analysing clinical-trials data should be blinded to whether data come from the “study group” or the control group. When looked for with proper blinding, the previously ubiquitous pentaquarks disappeared.
and:
Other data-heavy disciplines face similar challenges. Models which can be “tuned” in many different ways give researchers more scope to perceive a pattern where none exists. According to some estimates, three-quarters of published scientific papers in the field of machine learning are bunk because of this “overfitting”, says Sandy Pentland, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In August of 2005, John P. A. Ioannidis published one of the most downloaded papers ever, "Why Most Published Research Findings are False".  In it, he presents a long list of factors that are associated with results being false.  One that lept out at me was this:
Corollary 6: The hotter a scientific field (with more scientific teams involved), the less likely the research findings are to be true.
Which explains Climate Science in one sentence.

Naturally, it wouldn't be this blog if I didn't take a shot at how this is much more of a problem when there's a huge government like we have now. 

We spent a while yesterday looking at the "Man on the Street" interviews that Mark Dice has on YouTube, and it doesn't take long to convince you that these people shouldn't be left alone with scissors, let alone in a voting booth or making important decisions.  That thought leads to the idea that we should be led by only "Philosopher Kings", Technocrats who will be experts in the fields and choose the right course of action for us based on Science.  That's an exceedingly dangerous course in politics, because it's generally a feature of command governments, and that's generally accompanied by millions dead.  What this research into how well science is working is saying is that the consensus is almost always wrong, and the scientists really aren't any more qualified to make important decisions than the people who think Lee Harvey Oswald killed Jesus in the 1300s with a stolen gun
and that is the problem....

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Is Manufacturing Going Away?

I think I've said this before, but I've been working in electronics manufacturing around Florida for a long time, almost 38 years.  There have been two constants during that time: one is a continuing refinement of processes to run more automatically and require fewer but higher-level people and the other constant is people telling me "we don't manufacture anything in the United States".  People assume that since TV production moved offshore and nobody has a portable MP3 player that wasn't made offshore, that we don't do anything here.  Nothing can be farther from the truth.  My career has been in industrial electronics, with some time in government work (10 years) and that's what is still being built in the US.  Our competitors are all here as well. 

Credit this rant to Og, the Neanderpundit, who posted a story with links (to Sarah Hoyt) and a debate on whether coming changes completely eliminate heavy industry - what many people think of when you talk about manufacturing.  The replacement is a sci-fi concept of universal assemblers that move atoms around one by one to build everything.  The whole concept of assemblers/nannites/grey goo (the apocalyptic extension of the concept) may be new to people who don't read much speculative work, but here's the short version:  instead of building things from steel or aluminum alloys or the plastics we use today, we can create microscopic robots - nanorobots or nannites - which take the exact atoms needed to assemble something and put them in the required place.  A blob of these nannites, perhaps resembling a fluid or a goo, would eventually produce a fully built thing.  Imagine dumping tons of powdered iron and other metals into a tank, pouring a fluid of nannites over the powders and eventually a working locomotive emerges.  

I think that's way more far-fetched than any of the advocates do.  It shows pretty basic ignorance of the reality of engineering.  Anything you see around you is very different on the atomic scale from the macroscopic scale, and different at scales between the atomic and visible to the naked eye.  Locomotives (or cars, or...) aren't made from iron, they're made from steels.  Steels in turn are made from iron, carbon and other elements.  The properties that make them useful are derived from the specific treatments that the alloy is given.  Pure aluminum is rarely used industrially; all structural uses you're familiar with use aluminum alloys, again the result of aluminum with specific metals and very specific treatments.  Very often, these are specific heat treatments that require lots of energy input. 

I can see some sort of mining being done by a goo that gets poured onto an ore and separates out the desired metal atoms into a new solid while putting the impurities elsewhere.  Imagine going to a copper deposit and having nanorobots pull all of the copper atoms off and stick them together into chemically pure copper "lumps" while putting the other components of the rock: silicon, oxygen, aluminum, or other resources, into separate places.  Even that is exotic programming.  At the atomic scale, or the larger nanoscale, these concepts aren't well defined.  There are no edges, and there are no surfaces.  Where does it put the copper?  How close to the oxygen?  How does it know?  How do we tell the nannites when to stop?  What happens when they don't find copper atoms?  Do they keep expanding infinitely trying to find more copper?  Do they just "die" if they don't find copper in a certain time frame?  How do these things get powered?  It takes energy to break the bonds in the ore, it takes energy to move the atoms around and when it tries to put copper atoms in a "pile", their charges will repel each other, which will take energy to overcome.  Where does the energy to do all that come from? 
(source)
The hype cycle on 3D printing is farther along than the hype cycle for nannites, and will be playing out for quite a while.  I've come to agree more and more with the MIT Tech Review article I quoted here, that
...the notion that 3-D printing will on any reasonable time scale become a "mature" technology that can reproduce all the goods on which we rely is to engage in a complete denial of the complexities of modern manufacturing, and, more to the point, the challenges of working with matter.
Most likely for now, 3D printing will become a technology that gets integrated into manufacturing, to produce components which get built into other things.  A different sort of "machine tool"operation, as I've often written about the difference between additive and subtractive machining. 

I think the ability to either 3D print, or have nannites build, your next computer, your iPhone27, or anything more sophisticated than simple plastic items you might use around the house is science fiction we're not likely to see. 



Friday, October 18, 2013

$17 Trillion Debt In the Rear View Mirror

Do you remember the story hanging around from mid-July, just under the surface, about how the Fed.gov never let the official federal debt increase?  No one ever talked about it except a few of us crazy bloggers.
That entire three paragraphs from CNN is a lie.  Utter bull crap.  Because we would have hit the [debt] ceiling in May, the 18th to be precise, if the Department of the Treasury was telling the truth.  You see, they haven't adjusted their "debt clock" since the end of the day on May 16.  The reported debt has remained the same for 75 days so far. 
Anyone except the most devoted Obama groupies knew this was fake; they were moving assets around like a New York thug's shell game.  Today, with new authority to borrow like the spending addicts they are, the Treasury reported the total debt exceeded $17 trillion for the first time in recorded history.   
U.S. debt jumped a record $328 billion on Thursday, the first day the federal government was able to borrow money under the deal President Obama and Congress sealed this week.

The debt now equals $17.075 trillion, according to figures the Treasury Department posted online on Friday.
While I don't particularly trust the new number either, it was pretty plain that the numbers they were handing out since May were bogus.  In fact, they tell us as much:
The giant jump comes because the government was replenishing its stock of “extraordinary measures” — the federal funds it borrowed from over the last five months as it tried to avoid bumping into the debt ceiling.
Wait... they borrowed money to keep from raising the debt?  What?  How can borrowing money not increase debt?  What planet does that work on?  Let's let our friends at Demonocracy.Info show us what the debt ceiling we just crossed looks like, as pallets of $100 bills.
Just remember, the president said (only a few weeks ago) that raising the debt ceiling "does not somehow promote profligacy".  It doesn't increase debt. Then showed up minutes after the debt ceiling was raised with a list of things to spend money on

I'm torn between wanting to retreat into the bunker o' doom and hide until the zombie raids stop and a morbid interest in how long it can keep going before everything collapses into a pile of poop.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Florida Concealed Carry Stats

We learn from economist John Lott's blog today that Florida has not revoked a concealed carry license due to a firearm crime in at least two years.  John extracts this data:
With 2,541,460 permits issued and 168 revoked for ... firearm violations, the rate of Florida concealed handgun permits that have been revoked for firearm violations is only 0.0066 percent.
Are you saying, "wait... there are no dates in there.  Where are you getting that?"

I snuck one by on you!  The date comes from my own blog, back in September of 2011, when I found that same number of permits revoked, 168, and back then the rate was higher.  That means not one permit has been revoked in at least these two years.  In that post,  I wrote:
The state database shows that since the 1987 introduction of Concealed Weapon and Firearms Licenses in the state, 2,031,106 have been issued, while a mere 5,702 have been revoked for a crime after being issued a license. ... Furthermore, of those 5,702 licenses that have been revoked, only 168 have been revoked for a crime using a firearm.
Here are today's numbers:
Whenever you hear someone arguing that the streets will run with blood from all of those people carrying concealed guns, remember .0066%. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Techy Tuesday - LED Lighting Doesn't Get Hot?

I've been replacing lights in the house with LED lights on sliding time scale.  When 800-ish lumen LED bulbs, which are equivalent to 60W incandescent lights, go on sale, I'll pick up one or two.  There are four in a fixture overhead right now, two in a Y outlet in a lamp in the living room (which together give more light than a 100W incandescent), and a couple in isolated fixtures.  I've removed all of the curly tube fluorescent lights I had and gone solid state.  

One of the claims you'll hear about LEDs is that they don't radiate heat like a regular bulb does.  Hot filament bulbs radiate in the same way black body radiators work, as the physicists say.  They produce more infrared (heat) than visible light.  Most of us have grabbed a hot light bulb before, so we don't need to be reminded!
(source)  But LEDs aren't black body radiators and aren't radiating by incandescence, so one of the common things you hear is that you don't have to be concerned about heat coming from the front of the bulb when you mount it.  Writing in the trade magazine EDN, Ed Rodriguez tells of an investigation into heat coming from the front of an LED. 
What you will further seem to know for sure is that the PN junction is the hottest point in an LED (or any other power semiconductor for that matter) with the LED mounting substrate and or heat sink being somewhat cooler. How much cooling is needed can be rather accurately calculated if you know a) the heat sink temperature (easy to determine) and b) the junction-to-case thermal resistance (easy to determine for the data sheet).

You likely agree with what you have just read.  Having been involved over several decades with silicon power semiconductor and power LEDs in one way or another I also would have agreed... until I did not.
He goes on to describe his surprise at burning himself on an LED he was working with.  The junction was certainly around 40C, and that's just barely above body temperature - it shouldn't burn skin.  So he measured with instrumentation and it read 125C!  A sliver of wax formulated to melt a 70C melted instantly confirming the measurement.
To further determine if this perceived high temperature was a “phantom”,  I proceeded to place over all devices at one time or another a small (1” by 1” by  .032) piece of aluminum.   Without exception, each became a hot plate, elevating the aluminum temperature (as measured by a thermocouple on the top illumination-immune side away from the light). Without exception, the temperature got to between 125-150ÂșC.
The article is techno-geeky to the extreme, but I know some of my readers will read and enjoy.  The bottom line is that despite the press, LEDs do generate infrared and radiate it out of the front of the light.  When LED makers were struggling to reach 1W input power, it was less noticeable.  With today's much higher powers, a few percent turning into infrared is noticeable.  Heat can affect phosphor life and therefore the life of any bulbs you buy.  And if you want to put an LED bulb in a sealed fixture, you should be aware of the heat.  A sealed fixture designed for a large incandescent bulb should be fine, because the LED will still radiate less heat than it was designed for.  But if you're starting from scratch, don't assume all the heat goes out of the metal base of the bulb or convenient heat sink.




Sunday, October 13, 2013

Are We Witnessing Prophecy in Syria?

One of the Star Trek shows ventured close enough to the topic of prophecy to say something that has stuck with me since then.  I'll butcher the setup and all, but IIRC it featured Ensign Kira Nerys and other DS9 characters trying to decide if they were witnessing a prophecy taking place and didn't know if they should intervene.  The conclusion was that if it was prophecy, intervening couldn't be successful.  The outcome of true prophecy was going to occur as prophesied.  If they could intervene and change the outcome, it couldn't be prophecy.  A nice way of dealing with that conundrum. 

Moving from Star Trek, to the topic I want to touch on tonight, the prophecy I'm referring to has been called the Isaiah 17 prophecy, the Psalm 83 prophecy or the "Burden of Damascus".  Isaiah 17 says,
“The oracle concerning Damascus. ‘Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city and will become a fallen ruin. The cities of  Aroer are forsaken; they will be for flocks to lie down in, and there will be  no one to frighten them. The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and sovereignty from Damascus….’”
Most people, religious or not, have heard somebody talk about "Gog and Magog", from Isaiah 38, a different prophecy altogether.  Isaiah 38 is the one associated with Armageddon; again, most people have heard that word and know someone thinks of the battle there as "the end of the world".  There appears to be consensus among those who study such things that the destruction of Damascus will happen first.  Damascus is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, and has survived everything. 

I've never been too much of a "prophecy nut"; I've always figured that my own, personal "end of the world" probably won't coincide with anything big.  A few billion people have thought they were going to see it happen down through history and didn't; why should I be any different?  I can argue against any end times prophecy as well as anyone, but given our world today, doesn't it seem at least possible that you could turn on the news some morning and hear that Damascus has been reduced to rubble?  (Excellent video here.  An hour long, but lots of detail). 
(Aleppo, Syria - not Damascus)


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Eine Kleine Economics News

Eine kleine translates as "a little", and I'm grabbing the term from Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik - meaning (more or less) "a little serenade".  Play this while you read what follows. It might help you feel better:



The Debt Ceiling and "default". 

Only a government would call not being able to spend beyond their means indefinitely "default".  While I wouldn't bet a penny that the debt ceiling won't be raised, it has never not been raised, they're already calling not raising the debt ceiling a default.  Default would be being unable to pay the "minimum payments" - the interest on our debts.  Much like the last time we went through this, the fed.gov gets plenty of tax revenue to pay the interest on the federal debt, so the .gov wouldn't default, it just wouldn't be able continue spending 30% more than income.  Shall we go through the numbers one more time?  Scaling last year's income and deficit numbers (this whole "shutdown" thing is establishing this year's numbers) to a more realistic income level, let's divide all of the federal budget numbers by 25 million. Imagine you were a family with an income of $100,000. 
 
Federal:Scaled to $100k
Income $100000
Spending $152000
Deficit $52000
Current debt $676000

If you were the federal government, you'd be spending $152,000 on an income of $100,000 for an "annual deficit" of $52,000.  Just put it on the old credit card.  On which you already owe $676,000. If you went to your bank with that income statement and asked for more credit, do you think you'd get it?  That's what you get for not having Ben Bernanke as your banker.

Ben Bernanke to Janet Yellen:

Speaking of the Bernank, it sure looks like his successor will be Janet Yellen.  Don't think anything is going to get better - she will just attempt to manage the collapse of the US according to the same rules Bernanke has been using.  Peter Schiff, whom I agree with fairly regularly, says she'll be the worst Fed Head ever.  Quoting Peter from an article on Yahoo Finance
Well I think she is going to be even easier. If you recall, she was a governor who is in favor of negative interest rates. She argued that rates should be negative, and people should actually be punished or penalized for saving money.... more so than what they are losing just through inflation. They should actually have part of their savings confiscated.  [emphasis added - SiG]
Be prepared for the money faucet to be turned up to full.  Obviously, she's a believer in QE - she may well be the one who is responsible for the Fed doing it until now.  Numbers posted by Tyler Durden over at ZeroHedge show that for every $1 of debt we've made up, instead of a "growth multiplier" of 2x or more, it has actually been negative.  Every dollar of debt has added about 15 cents of GDP!  If you think spending a dollar to lose 85 cents is a good idea, you too can be a Federal Reserve Bank Chief. 

Let me be plain about Janet Yellen's policies.   If you're trying to save money, she is going to destroy you.  Pure and simple. 

EDITED 13 Oct 13 1440 EDT:  There is an organized campaign to oppose Yellen called NoOnYellen.com.  For whatever use a petition campaign is. 


Friday, October 11, 2013

An Amazing Trip

Let me start by saying that the trip left virtually no chance to attend to the blog.  The work days were extremely busy; they actually went from 8AM to 11PM (some time was spent traveling between sites, and some time off for meals).  One work day concluded after 1 AM the next morning - with no change of the 8 AM starting time.  To make it worse, the room had no net access; the hotel's touted "free WiFi" applied only to sitting in one or two public areas of the hotel. 

That said, it was an experience like I've never had in my life.  The trip was almost halfway around the world, requiring flights of almost 12 hours in the air.  Major Avionics Company has a policy that trips of that duration may be booked as business class with upper management approval - which was granted.  The airline has a policy that if an international flight is booked as business class, any connections to that flight in the US are booked as first class.  I've never spent that much for air travel, but on the other hand, I've never been treated that well on any airline flight. I got my first ride ever on a 747, and it was in the pointy end.  

The in-country hosts arranged things very well and were extremely gracious.  My trip there was complicated by a series of last minute changes: first, the most important leg of the flight was cancelled the day before departure, and then the trip re-booked onto a different set of flights.  Even worse; with a new itinerary in hand the day of the trip, the aircraft for the first leg of my trip reported mechanical problems and couldn't get me to the hub (Atlanta is our nearest hub).  It took a lot of time and some pushing, but I finally was rescheduled and into country almost at the original arrival time.  I was met by a local agent who helped me navigate customs and to the hotel on the beach. 

Regular ramblings will resume shortly, but right now, my body clock is somewhere a few time zones away from here. 


Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Look at the Fed

Not much said in this infographic that we haven't said here before, but it's a good summary for your friends
The Dangers of an All-powerful Federal Reserve
Source: The Dangers of an All-powerful Federal Reserve

Blogging will be spotty to non-existent for the next few days.  Another biz trip is looming, and I have no idea if I'll have time.  We're supposed to work about 14 hour days.  Ugh. 

Ya'll have fun out there, and as Borepatch says, enjoy the decline!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Obamacare - Shaking It In Your Face

You just have to admire the shear contempt it takes for Americans to make the help number for Obamacare into a version of that old joke "Dial 1-800-F*UCK YO - all that's missing is U!"

I know this is going around.  The number is 800-318-2596.  The number 1 doesn't have letters on a standard phone, so just look up the rest.

I don't believe that Obama and Rahm Emmanuel sat in the White House smoking a joint and laughing themselves silly over picking the number (although with stories like this one, and those about how unprofessional and disinterested in things he is...),  but I don't believe it's an accident either.  The odds of it being that particular number are pretty darn small.  I can see the phone companies taking out the really obvious spellings (drop the "1" in 318, shift it all left, and add an 8 to the end).  Or charging more or less for them.  For numbers derived from the obvious one, like this sequence, it's next to impossible to remove every set of numbers that could be construed this way.

I see it as probably some underling, some vice-undersecretary to the undersecretary, doing it as a way to thumb their nose at us, sorta like the Evil Party walking around for all of 2009 saying (essentially) "we won, that's why".  In this case, it's, "In your face!" or "You don't like it?  Call dis!"
(found here)

What was I saying about a government that truly despises its citizens? 


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Communist Next Mayor of New York City (Probably)

Yeah, I know the election hasn't been held yet, but when you consider how reliably Democratic the city votes, it's probably all over but the shouting for Bill DeBlasio a guy who's so far left he makes Mayor McFascist Bloomberg look like one of our founding fathers.
While the media focused all of its attention on Anthony Weiner and his sexting, the DeBalsio campaign centered around a simple theme: The Tale of Two Cities. And much like his friend and ideological counterpart, Barack Obama, DeBlasio won the Democratic nomination because his rhetoric resonated with the leftists in NYC. But aside from promising universal pre-kindergarten for the city’s children by raising taxes on the ‘rich’, he offered very little insight into what his governing plans actually entail. If his past, which includes a honeymoon in Communist Cuba and support of the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua, is any indication, extremely far-left progressive policy will soon be commonplace in New York City.
When DeBlasio took his vacation in Cuba, that was a violation of US Federal Law - sort of like when Barack Obama took a college trip to Pakistan which wasn't possible on a US passport.

Thanks to a FrontPage magazine article by Daniel Greenfield (Sultan Knish) I find  Discover the Networks has DeBlasio as an obvious socialist.  The summary they have is overwhelming.  He honored Robert Mugabe, the socialist dictator who destroyed Zimbabwe.  He was New York director of the socialist New Party (another Obama similarity).  He's involved over and over with ACORN, the Working Families Party, SEIU, and pretty much every other socialist organization you've ever heard of - plus a bunch you haven't heard of.  He has worked on the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins, Clinton-Gore 2000, Although I have to say this line brought a certain puzzlement.
When de Blasio married former lesbian activist Chirlane McCray that same year, the couple honeymooned in Fidel Castro's Cuba, in violation of the U.S. ban on travel to that country.
I'm sorry; he married a former lesbian activist?  Does "former" modify lesbian or does it modify activist?  Those words don't really go together into a coherent sentence in my mind.  Maybe I live a sheltered life but it's not that she's a lesbian, it's that I don't expect lesbians to marry guys. 

Today, he says he's a mix of " European social democracy, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and liberation theology." (liberation theology is Rev. Jeremiah Wright's background) and openly calls for higher taxes for more giveaways.  Someone's law of politics was "he who advocates robbing Peter to pay Paul will always have the support of Paul".  He has the support of every Paul, every little ACORN, and every sort of socialist nut job in a city of 11 million nuts. 
In January 2013 de Blasio announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York City. His campaign received endorsements from such notables as Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Jerrold Nadler, Barack Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, Susan Sarandon, Charles Schumer, Kathleen Turner, and many others. After de Blasio won the Democratic primary that September, it was announced that he would also be the nominee on the Working Families Party line in the general election.
Much of this, BTW, is from the New York Times who published this picture of a young DeBlasio in his Sandinista days.
If New York elects this guy, as I fully expect them to, expect full economic collapse of the city.  Any of my readers in the city might want to really look into getting out.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Techy Tuesday - Free Design Software

You don't need to be a design engineer to home brew electronics.  There have been electronics hobbyists since before the term electronics was invented, and while the ways of transferring knowledge have changed from the old magazines like Popular Electronics to the newer Make and other online sites, a large number of hobbyists still build things all the time. 

The home designer doesn't have to spend buckets of money on design software, a lot of free software is available.  From EE Times, we learn that Allied Electronics and RS Components have teamed to produce a suite of free software called DesignSpark.  Who?  Allied is a US company with a history stretching back to the early days of radio - they used to be Allied Radio. RS Components is better known in Europe.
Somewhere in the clouds, we have a company known as Electrocomponents PLC. This company boasts more than $2 billion of annual revenue, more than 1 million customers, and operations in more than 30 countries. The two main brands in the Electrocomponents empire are Allied Electronics and RS Components.
For building one or two of a design (yours or from someone else) or for experimenting, hand point-to-point wiring or dead-bugging will get you there.   (The name comes from how components can resemble dead bugs when they're mounted on their backs with their leads sticking up in the air).  As the components get smaller, like today's surface mount parts, or as the circuit gets faster, like a fast computer board or radio, there's nothing like a printed circuit board (PCB) to help get predictable and consistent performance.  The DesignSpark suite includes a PCB design program with full-professional capabilities, DesignSpark PCB.  They describe it this way:
 DesignSpark PCB is offered completely Free of Charge and fully featured. This is not a cut down version of an expensive product or one with a time limitation on license. (There are no intentional restrictions on designs). There are unlimited schematic sheets per project, up to 1m squared of board size and no limits on layers, which allow you to get your creativity flowing without restraints. DesignSpark PCB circuit design software can be used for schematic capture, PCB board design & layout, generating impressive 3D View to visualise your design in real time, and generating manufacturing files.
There are companies like PCB123 (Sunstone Circuits) who specialize in small runs of PCB production.  They give away design software a bit more limited than DesignSparkPCB, you design the board in this software, send them the program's output, and they'll provide you boards with very quick delivery.  The problem with these guys is that you're limited to using just them to produce the PCB. 

Circuit simulation software that can help you be sure a circuit you designed will work is available, too.  DesignSpark links to a program called "GreenPoint" from ON Semiconductor, which looks to be a SPICE-type simulator (Sidenote: SPICE, Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis, is a program developed at UC Berkeley in early days of integrated circuits.  It is pretty much the standard way of analyzing circuits in great detail, especially for lower frequency analog electronics.)  I use LTSpice, from Linear Technology, another free program.   There are others. TINA from Texas Instruments, and MultiSIM from Analog Devices.  Here's a useful summary.

You're going to need a housing or box for whatever you build, and DesignSpark has you covered with a 3D modeling tool DesignSpark Mechanical.   And I'd be short changing you if I didn't mention Google SketchUp.  Never touched it, know almost nothing about it, but I know woodworkers are finding it useful. 
  
DesignSpark's demo of how they intend their mechanical and electrical software to all go together for you. 

You've got a computer.  Why not make your electronics adventures easier and better?  DesignSpark is clearly trying to sell parts and the difference between what a company might buy for some prototypes and what a hobbyist might buy is often pretty small.  They don't mind hobbyists using their software at all.  Nothing wrong with them being interested in selling, and if they make your design life easier for nothing, I just can't complain.  Capitalists! 


 

"Shutdown" Stupidity

The Outdoors Have Been Closed.  Seriously - the stupidest thing about the "shutdown".  I went to look at some webcams in the national parks and was greeted by this:
This is so stupid it hurts.  It took more employee time to make this and put it on line than it takes to leave the webcams running!  It's not like some bozo is standing next to a camera with a timer and pressing the shutter every 60 seconds; a webcam takes zero effort to run.  If it stopped updating, well, so what?  Happens all the time. 

It's like barricades in the WWII memorial, blocking access to the Grand Canyon, or closing roads through the parks.  It took more effort and cost more money to put up barricades and block off roads than to just leave them open.  It's not like they need someone to stand there and hold the road down, or watch it and make sure it doesn't walk away. The only possible explanation is that they're trying to hurt you.  Yes, you personally.  They are trying to make you miserable and make themselves look more important.

What we have here is a government that truly despises the people.  A government that thinks its their birth right to take every penny you have for whatever program they care to spend it on, and you should be grateful to them for the privilege to give it over to them.