Friday, January 31, 2014

"May You Live in Interesting Times"

For all my life I've heard that saying is a Chinese curse.  Not knowing any Chinese, I couldn't tell you for sure, but we sure live in interesting times, don't we?

The DJIA is down about 5 1/2% from the start of the year, but bear in mind there was a real run up to the end of the year, as you can see in this chart.  The DJIA is really about where it was in mid November, around two and a half months ago.  In terms of purchasing power, it's where it was around 1996
The question, as always, is where do we go now?  Was this just a mild correction, blowing off some steam from the holiday run up, or is it the start of something much bigger and deeper?

I subscribe to two economics/finance newsletters, Bill Bonner's free newsletter and the letter.  Stocktiming is essentially pure technical analysis: plots of dozens of things, updated on a regular basis, and comes out weekdays.  The letter doesn't push any particular agenda - other than getting you to subscribe to their paid version - and is a Dragnet-style "just the facts" approach.  Bill Bonner's "Diary of A Rogue Economist" has more of a philosophical air to it and he's more like a Peter Schiff/Ron Paul and other "sound money" economist.  His comes out on most weekdays, but will skip some.

The point of the previous paragraph is to point out how two authors in the financial realm can approach the analysis from decidedly different view points, yet they both have been singing the same tune.  Get Out of the Stock Market.  Bad Things Are Coming.

Yesterday's stocktiming newsletter was completely unique.  I've been getting it for a lot of years, maybe since the mid '00s, and he has never said what he said this time (copied in red to make it look as much like his email as I can):
ALERT, ALERT, ALERT ... We had 3 SELLS at the close yesterday.
The Risk levels are very high and the market is sitting on the edge, and I am not sure the Fed can pull off a save.   If you weren't around in 1987, this is about as close as you can come to a possible crashing environment ... a spectacular crash is even possible ... IF the Fed. doesn't get this one right. This is the WRONG time for them to pull back on money injections. The BIG IF here centers around what the Fed can do, and actually does ... and nobody knows what that will be.  
(The remark about 3 sells is from a setup of three complex decision matrices he maintains).  This alert is from the staid, quiet, technical analyst.  Bonner, for his part, has been saying the market run up is entirely fueled by the Fed's QE to infinity, and it's going to correct.  That's not unique to Bonner, dozens of honest commentators are saying this and if you come here regularly, you'll know I've been saying this, too.  Bonner says the Fed is going to continue with the taper for a while but ultimately will have to resume QE.  The test will be as the market continues to contract.
The Fed will continue attending its Counterfeiters Anonymous meetings – until the market really cracks. Then it will roll up its sleeves and get out the paper and ink. Janet Yellen will not want to preside over a crashing market any more than Ben Bernanke did.

Yes, the Fed has broken the US economy and its markets. Now, it owns them. It can no longer permit the stock market (and bond market, for that matter) to do what comes naturally to them – correct their mistakes.

And that means the mistakes will get worse.
Analyst Toby Connor of GoldScents says the scariest chart in the world is the S&P 500.  When this bubble goes, it's going to make 2008 look good, and it's coming soon.  He presents this chart going back to 1996; that means it shows the bubbles in the late '90s and the mid '00s. Note how much higher the price is than both of the previous bubbles.  It has been said the current bubble, which he describes as the "currencies and sovereign debt bubble" is going to be the final bubble.  After this, no one will ever trust a central bank again. 
Yesterday, Bayou Renaissance Man ran a piece summing up conditions and wondering if we have reached the tipping point.  With the recent problems in emerging markets, the banks limiting cash withdrawals, the major international financial groups (IMF, World Bank...) arguing for confiscating portions of taxing your savings and other goings on, I'd say to prepare for a rough year.  To use the sailing analogy, batten down the hatches and prepare for rough weather.  Prepare for water breaking over the deck.  Put on your PFD and prepare to end up in the water. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Cause of the Problem

Gunslinger's Journal links to one of the most profound things I've read in a while, an article called "The Destruction of the People" in a journal called Theden, devoted to reconnecting with our tribes.

The article is dated December 26, 2013, and is the text of an address given by Manfred Kleine-Hartage, a sociologist, on the occasion of what appears to be a German Memorial Day; People's Mourning Day.  Kleine-Hartage is credited as the author of The Jihad System: How Islam Functions, Defend Europe, Why I am No Longer a Leftist, and The Liberal Society and Its End—On the Suicide of a System.  It centers on the multicultural immigration problems Germany faces and the death of nations; the deaths of groups of peoples, and the rise of the super states, like the EU. 
The 7500 Germans since 1990 who have become victims of immigrant violence are victims of a policy daring enough to destroy society: out of ideological blindness; out of greed for cheap, easily exploitable labor, whose situation is precarious at the same time, for the welfare state will collapse at the point of exhaustion (this one also a quite desirable result of mass immigration for certain circles); out of hatred for his own people, those damn Germans they want nothing to do with; and—not the least—out of lust for power. There is a reason why there are elites in all Western countries who carry out the destruction of peoples and their transformation into mere splintered “populations”: peoples are in fact solidarities that can also kick their rulers out. The battle cry with which the rule of the SED [the Soviet-installed Socialist ruling party of East Germany] was overthrown 23 years ago did not read “We are the population.” It read: “We are the people!” A mere population, consisting of dozens of warring ethnicities, will never overthrow the ruler. They cannot. A democracy needs its demos. A despotism on the other hand, a dictatorship, a totalitarian regime—yes, such a thing needs a population.

The destruction of the people is one side of the same coin, to which the other side is the transfer of their rights to supranational institutions: to the EU, the WTO, the IWF, the NATO, the UN and dozens else—all institutions that cannot be controlled from below, but that determine our lives: that dictate to us the rules by which we live, and dictate to us which foods we should eat, which people we have to live together with in our country, against whom we must go to war, and into what inscrutable bank-conglomerate our tax dollars disappear.
He displays a few rhetorical flourishes, "Are the enemy young immigrants, who lead their private jihad against the people?" and "Might the enemy sit in the Muslim Brotherhood, or in the Turkish Government, or in the Millî Görüş?", before concluding. 
The war which has taken the victims we mourn today is a war of those in power, a tiny elite, against the rest; it is a war of the rulers against the people.

This parliament, this political class, so concerned with the political affairs of the rich and powerful, this political class has no right to grieve German dead—because they are not their dead! They have not the right to host a People’s Mourning Day, because they have broken away from their people, cheated them, betrayed them, sold them out, and now are working on their destruction!
The root of the problem should be apparent to anyone who thinks about it a bit: big, socialistic governments coupled with the meager birth rates of Western societies, virtually all of which would be below self-replacement rates without immigration.  "Demographics are destiny", and countries with massive social programs need growing populations with increasing tax revenues to keep the candy flowing (they need infinitely growing populations, which is obviously impossible, but work with me a minute).   Germany and most of the Eurozone has imported Muslims from North Africa.  The US imports Mexicans and Asians.  The other elephant in the room is abortion: countries that abort a significant portion of the next generation need to import even more immigrants.  

I've written on this before.  The solution to a socialist state that is collapsing due to inability to make the payments it promised is to import immigrants to tax in order to pay for the payments it has promised, except that the immigrants will tear the country apart and destroy it as surely as the economic collapse they seek to prevent.

Go read.   And if you don't "got tribe", for God's sake, go get tribe! My tribe...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

SoTU: Lies and Grand Larceny

The Bamster's SoTU last night was so hideous I couldn't watch.  Call me a chicken.  Besides, you know it's going to be autopsied a million ways by the morning anyway. 

Being the leader of a Banana Republic who does things by decree executive order instead of by actual, you know, legislation, he has taken the first giant step in the process of confiscation of our 401k accounts, at least according to commentators who have been watching this story over the last several years, like Simon Black.  The MyRA program has been birthed.  Much as Godzilla doesn't look very terrifying the moment he breaks out of his egg, the program doesn't look like much.  The new plans
...will be structured like Roth IRAs; they’ll rely on a new kind of Treasury savings bond that guarantees them against losses; and they’ll have a $15,000 maximum account balance, according to details disclosed by the administration today.
In my first post to this blog in 2010 (after a "Hello World" test post), I talked about this possibility coming, even describing the way they might do it. 
The stock market crash of ’08, with the concomitant collapse of many 401k plans, has given the .gov an excuse. There is talk of nationalizing our 401k plans – in not so few words – so that we can replace those “risky” plans with a gubmint guaranteed (but teeny tiny) yield. ... There's a good reason to think this is coming; our unsustainable debt has to be financed by selling bonds. Now that the sales of bonds are failing internationally, the .gov can sell them by forcing them into our 401k accounts!
In another 2010 post, I suggested they'd do something like the Treasury TIPS bonds.  The MyRA is "A new kind of savings bond" with a "return [that] isn’t exactly world-beating ... 1.47% in 2012, with an average annual return of 3.61% from 2003 through 2012. But the value of the account would never go down."  These sound like the kind of program I've been describing.

The big difference is that getting into the MyRA program isn't mandatory.  Let me just say "not mandatory yet".  This has been discussed in the "halls of power" since before the '08 collapse.  The spending addicts in congress can't resist that pile of money that has been saved. As one commenter over at WRSA said, "but if you think the govt wont take everything you own to keep itself running; you were born last night."

The lies about growing income inequality - as if he was some sort of space alien visiting in DC and not responsible for the crony capitalism that feeds into that - make me gag.  The lie that women make less than men is so common that I scarcely hear it any more.  It's like saying that day care workers don't make as much as oil field roughnecks, so it's due to their sex and not the particular job they're doing.  That idea will never work. 

The pay differences between men and women is studied every year in the trade magazines.  In technical fields, for one area I'm very familiar with, women with comparable experience and seniority earn virtually the same pay as men with the same job title.  The only thing that makes it look like women earn less is that women in engineering tend to be younger, and have less experience in their job title.  In some amount of time - 20 years? - that won't be true any longer.  As of now, there aren't many women in the field comparable in age and experience to us old graybeards and none where I work.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Techy Tuesday - From Microwave Ovens to Cancer Treatment

In the current issue of advertising emails from semiconductor manufacturer NXP (the current iteration of a very established, even storied company - Philips) they make reference to a new breed of RF heating devices they're developing the technology for.  In this video, they show a fish cooked in an RF oven while embedded in a block of ice. 
Other potential uses include industrial applications such as ovens and furnaces e.g. for drying materials such as ceramics or wood. In medical applications it’s opening up new possibilities such as the safe rapid defrosting of human organs and blood or hyperthermia therapy for cancer treatment. All these require a very high degree of temperature control, achieved via coordinated RF energy irradiation from one or several channels.

Another key area for RF energy is the excitation of plasmas. Innovative RF plasma lamps can deliver unbelievably bright light at 140 lumens per watt, or RF energy can fire a gas discharge to drive powerful industrial laser cutting tools. Then there is the RF spark-plug for automotive ignition systems, which can provide significant savings in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Today's microwave ovens are not substantially different from the ones that came out in the late 1960s.  A microwave power amplifier device (almost always a vacuum tube called a Magnetron or "Maggie") generates hundreds of watts of power at around 2500 MHz and dumps it into a box where the food sits.  I know a lot of people think 2500 was chosen because it was a "resonant frequency" for water and cookware doesn't have water, but it's not resonance.  This is just dielectric heating caused by the polar molecules moving in response to the energy dumped into them and 2500 MHz was chosen because it was in the ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical uses) frequency band allocated by the FCC.  Any frequency in that part of the spectrum would be just as good. 

To be able to cook the fish in a block of ice and not melt the ice (much - the hot fish will melt some of it) shows very precise control of where the strongest fields are, and I assume it's being done with power beams formed by antennas.  NXP makes power transistors and a showcase for their products would be a number of amplifiers (16?  speculating here) each driving a separate antenna and the beam being shaped by changing the phase - the exact timing, down to the picosecond - of the RF signal between the individual antennas.  This is a phased array antenna system in the oven. 

The same technology could be used for other things depicted in that video - hyperthermic treatment for cancers, flash thawing of blood and frozen organs for transplants without overheating parts of the target.  Lots of power with pinpoint control.  Sounds like a great solution. 
(Electromagnetic simulation of the temperature gradients induced during treatment.  Specific absorption rate of different tissues creates temperature differences, too - a field being intensely studied.  The temperatures being targeted are not very high - 43C or 109F.  A very specifically targeted fever.  If the affected part were a hand or foot, you wouldn't think twice about going to 120, unless it was very raw tissue, right?)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Computers Are A PITA

Yeah, we all know that deep down inside.  Or maybe not that deep.  Last night, I opened iTunes to update some apps, and it offered me an update to iTunes.  Installed on my Win7 machine and it never worked again.  MSVCR80.dll is gone.  Apple Mobile Device driver doesn't work.  You don't have privileges to install that on this machine...  Uninstall.  Reinstall.  No joy.  Uninstall.  Uninstall everything else in a specific order from some web page.  Reinstall.  No joy.  Uninstall again in that specific order from that web page.  Shut the computer off.  Turn it on.  Reinstall.  No joy. 

So for bearing with that whine....
I've had this so long, I don't remember where I stole got it.   If it's yours, I'll post credit. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Living in a Constitution-Free Zone

In case you missed it, in a rare New Years' Day ruling, Federal Judge Edward Korman declared that the "Constitution-Free Zone", 100 miles from any border of the US, including the oceans and gulf, was legal.  Combining the two linked articles, with the first paragraph by syndicated radio host Kim Komando:
He had a case before him involving a U.S. citizen – a Ph.D. student at McGill University in Montreal – who had his computer confiscated while returning to the States. The judge ruled, sweepingly, that, yes, the federal government had a right to confiscate laptops at the border without probable cause.
The ACLU originally challenged the administration's policy, which can be applied anywhere within 100 miles of the border, after U.S. Customs agents stopped student Pascal Abidor on a train traveling from Canada to New York. After noticing Abidor had two passports -- not uncommon for journalists and those with dual citizenship -- agents asked to see his laptop. Since Abidor was a student of Middle Eastern affairs, his computer contained photos of political rallies held by Hamas and Hezbollah, known terrorist groups.

"I explained to the immigration officer that the reason I had these photos was this was my research," said Abidor, a U.S. citizen. "I determined they looked at my personal photos and personal chats with my girlfriend. I knew I needed help."
This is a remarkable case in that it joins together the incredibly liberal ACLU with the strong libertarian right, and a milestone ruling in the favor of liberty comes from the 9th circus court.  In other words, everyone except the doctrinaire tyrants, like judge Korman, thinks discarding the fourth amendment - already bleeding out from the TSA and so many other infringements - is a bad idea.  The constitution is essentially dead.  I haven't heard of anyone having soldiers quartered in their houses, but I can't say I'd be surprised to hear that today.
But in March, a panel of three judges in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California said the government needs "reasonable suspicion" to search a traveler's personal electronic device. When two federal courts interpret a law differently, the U.S. Supreme Court often resolves the conflict.
The ACLU says nearly 2/3 of the US population lives within the constitution-free zone.  I certainly do, along with every person in Florida.  All of the major urban centers of the country: New York, Chicago, El Lay, San Francisco, Seattle, DC, Tucson... virtually every major city, virtually everyone is inside this zone.  I can't call it WROL because it's fully legal - in the same sense that everything the Nazis did was fully legal under their legal system.

Kim Komando hosts a syndicated radio program of computer tips and advice, so you can expect she'll have a deeply personal, gut reaction to the issue of searching digital information.  Her article is powerfully written, almost poetic about the shear violation of having your laptop or cellphone taken and examined, and you should go RTWT.  To pull a couple of paragraphs:
The taking of a laptop today is a striking act of confiscation almost without an equivalent 25 years ago. Back then, it would have taken a team of FBI agents days if not weeks to so comprehensively vacuum up a single American's health, business, financial and personal information, not to mention that of so many of his or her friends, family members, and business associates.

Today, Nosy McPatterson, your local TSA staffer, or Roscoe the border agent who got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, can accomplish the same feat, and in an instant. They can paw through your photos and email during their lunch hour. And anyone present with a 13-year-old's understanding of computing can easily and unnoticeably make a quick copy of it onto a device that slips easily into a pants pocket.
As I always say, it's not that bad - it's worse.  In addition to the 100 mile constitution free zone, police are routinely grabbing cellphones during traffic stops for anything, and searching the content on the phone (often with automated cracking devices) without a warrant.  The supreme court has decided to review two cases related to this, but it continues unabated.  According to this lawyer, in United States v. Zavala, 541 F.3d 562, 577 (5th Cir. 2008), the court ruled that this was just “general rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence.” and that rummaging was forbidden.  Other courts have ruled the other way.  The original police justification for starting to look at phones was that they had hands free cellphone laws, so they had the right to look at the time of your last call to determine if you used it while driving - admitting to breaking the law. 

Cellebrite, the maker of those "Forensic Extraction Devices", brags they can suck your history out of a phone, iPad, Tom Tom GPS, and more.  It cracks password protected devices, so don't expect that to help you much.  With phones and tablets merging into "phablets", and both replacing laptops, it's effectively performing the same data collection that started the case which ended on Judge Korman's bench.  It has the effect of making the entire country a constitution-free zone.  All you need to do is be stopped in traffic - seat belt check? sobriety check? - and have a something electronic with you.  After that it's simply a question of whether they want to charge you with something.   With the average person committing three felonies every day, chances are they can find something in your history they don't like. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reloading Bleg

I've decided I need to make a dedicated reloading area, so I'm looking for some advice on setting up a really nice reloading area.  I have two presses, a single stage and a progressive: I think I'd like to leave both set up at opposite ends of a single bench.  How are you guys set up? Got any links to pictures? 

My reloading adventures so far have been in cluttered spaces - to say the least.  I've safely reloaded a few times, with the single stage Rock Chucker Press I started out with, but I've just barely gotten my RCBS progressive set up.  Part of what I've been doing for the last couple of months is cleaning out an area in the garage that will be the new reloading center.  Right now, I store my powder at the opposite end of the house, in compliance with things I've read from the manufacturers and online (example), keeping powders and primers far from each other, and powder bottles separated from each other by barriers, but I don't have a powder cabinet.  That will change.

I've looked at many pictures online, and I have some ideas, I just thought I'd see what those of you who drop by regularly are doing.  To a degree, it's overwhelming.  Way too many choices.  I don't have unlimited room, but I'm aiming for a corner in the garage where I can spread out about.  Maybe 4'x4' to as much as 6'x6'.  Bigger is preferred, of course.

I don't have any real pictures of the clutter, because I've always done my best not to include the clutter in the pictures.  Look behind the press in this picture, though.  This is also my electronics workbench.  To the right is a gray-cased DVM, behind that a black box with blue Dymo labels - that's a 30 year old power supply.  There's freeze spray, dusting spray, and more.  There are two bins full of electronics parts (junk box), another voltmeter on the left, a long coil wound with red magnet wire that was the heart of an experiment.  There's a spool of orange wire on the right, and solder almost under the press.  Just too much junk.  Everyone knows it can not only be distracting during reloading, it can be dangerous.  I need to get that mess straightened out.  It's why I haven't done much reloading.

(Note to non-Floridians:  it's pretty much universal everywhere I've been in the state that your house comes with a garage, and you leave your cars in the driveway.  A Florida garage is more like northerner's basements).

Friday, January 24, 2014

How Much Digging Would You Do For $40 Million?

One of those unusual stories caught my eye this week, an announcement from Petra Diamonds of South Africa that the legendary Cullinan mine produced an "Exceptional 29.6 carat blue diamond".  Stones of the quality that this piece of diamond crystal appears to be have sold for over $2 million dollars per carat.  My headline is based on a 20 carat finished stone.
The mine, owned by the firm since 2008, was also where the Cullinan Diamond was found in 1905 - described as the largest rough gem diamond ever recovered and weighing 3,106 carats.

Other notable diamonds found in the mine include a 25.5 carat Cullinan blue diamond, found in 2013 and sold for $16.9 million, and a diamond found in 2008, known as the Star of Josephine, which was sold for $9.49 million.
As someone who's a bit of a rockhound/rock collector, and at least known some people around the gem trade, I have some observations that I hope are worthwhile. 

First, it will be impossible to explain the allure of a stone like this to some people.  Some people appreciate gems, some don't, and of the ones who do, some don't think much of diamonds.  You will have to recognize, though, that it will an extremely rare, beautiful thing.  It won't just be the only one on earth, it will be the only one in the history of earth.  Someone will value that rare, beautiful thing enough to pay that $2 Million per carat for it.  That someone will likely be an oil sheik, or perhaps a Russian oligarch, maybe even a Chinese billionaire. 

Second, many people will say that with synthetic, gem quality diamonds entering the market, the price is overdue to collapse.  I will simply point out that rubies have been synthesized since the late 1800s, and have been available in any quantity you want since then, but that really hasn't affected the price of rubies out of the ground.  The highest quality synthetic rubies are hundreds of dollars per gram; the bulk synthetics - like the kind class rings are made from (Verneuil process) - are under a dollar per gram (eBay link).  A high quality natural ruby can hit ten thousand dollars per carat (five carats in one gram).   

Third, look at the role that final weight plays in the value of the stone.  Faceting, even of diamonds, is a process of grinding away portions of the stone to create the flat facets that shape the stone.  I find that many people are aware that diamonds can be cleaved, and just think that's how the facets are put on a stone.  Nope, they're ground on.  A common rule of thumb would be that a faceter will recover about 20-25% of the weight of the rough.  A well-shaped diamond crystal, a natural octahedron, can give 50% recovered weight, but this sure isn't an octahedron.  There will be study of the optimum way to cleave the crystal into smaller stones (very little stone is lost during cleaving) and then only very experienced diamond cutters will touch it.  They will want one stone as big as they can get good optical performance from, and settle for a group of smaller stones.  I think.   

I can hardly imagine the pressure to get that decision right.  Literally millions of dollars riding on grinding away just the right amount of stone.  A carat is 1/5 of a gram; that can be ground away fairly quickly. $2 Million turned into diamond dust worth essentially nothing.

There's a saying that "diamonds are where you find them".  How much would you spend to find a single stone worth $40 or $50 Million? 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

DiveMedic Goes Silent

As I do a few times every week, I clicked on "Confessions of a Street Pharmacist" to catch up on his blog but this time received the message that the blog is gone.  I first discovered DiveMedic on a link via Borepatch quite some time ago and have been a regular reader.  I know we're both Floridians, and by the areas he posted about, I assume he's located in the Orlando area.  That's pretty much an hour and change drive from here - depending on exactly where you're driving to. 

As a fellow gunnie and former scuba diver (currently without gear), we had more than a few perspectives in common.  I have to say I learned a few really astounding things from him about how badly paramedics are treated in this area.  And I learned a few neighborhoods in Orlando that I really don't want to drive through!

A story I've never told on this blog is that when I was just out of high school a hundred years ago, I worked as an emergency room orderly and nurse's aide.  As a first year college student, I helped with suturing, setting bones, and was on the hospital "code" team - going around the hospital doing (essentially) CPR on people in cardiac arrest.  In many ways it was the most satisfying job I ever had: people would come in bloody, messy, bleeding, and in my limited way I helped clean them, sew them up, and send them home looking and feeling better than when they came in.  I worked with a lot of paramedics, and was certified in first aid, but most of what I did was after the first aid was rendered and the person was in the hospital. 

The last month has been pretty rough for him, and being a guy, I didn't have much I could say that seemed useful.

Sorry to see you gone, DM.  You're always welcome around here.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I... Never Thought That

Zimbio has one of those silly quizzes up: Which 'Star Wars' Character Are You?  Having a few minutes at work to screw off take a coffee break, I took the quiz.  It tells me:
I never thought of myself as a princess, but maybe I'm hung up on gender stereotypes or something.  Fight the patriarchy!

Actually, when I tried it at work it said I was Chewbacca, which I also wouldn't have thought of, but I didn't save the image.  I figured I'd try it again tonight.  I like Chewie because of the "no better friend, no worse enemy" way he seems to be.  Obviously, this is a very precisely designed test. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Hexapods, Octopods and RoboSpiders

If you haven't run across these things on YouTube, you might be entertained with what experimenters are doing getting robots to emulate walking critters.

This critter is apparently called Atrax, and its claim to fame is the ability to emulate several different multi-legged gaits.  Atrax also does a pretty good impression of an Australian funnel web spider!

Atrax is cool, but the PhantomX hexapod almost skitters across the floor in this video.  The PhantomX is a commercial product - kind of pricey in my view - but you could play with one of these if you wanted to.  There are other kits out there to play with, like the T8X RoboSpider sold by Robugtix.

Why would you want a robotic spider?  Backing up a bit, why so much interest in hexapods and other designs like these?   The most common purpose is all terrain walking; more legs are better than two, and a walking robot can go places a wheeled cart can't - witness the big budget Boston Dynamics robots you've seen before, like the somewhat creepy (IMO) "Big Dog".  A less talked about use that looks really promising to me is CNC cutting! Imagine needing to do work on a big thing: a building, a car, a truck, or something with CNC precision.  How about a CNC milling machine (or router) that walks up to the work and does the job? 

Monday, January 20, 2014

What's All This Gold Stuff, Anyway? Who Cares?

A commenter dropped by to say a few words that I think could lead to a long, long discussion:
Never understood the fascination with gold. You can't eat. You can't use it. You have to convert it back to fiat to spend it. Not easy or quick to do either, you've got to ship it to a dealer, wait for your check (weeks), then cash it at a bank. Gold is simply useless for the average person, it's not even a good store of value since you must "time" it's purchase and sale quite right or you'll loose money. And then you've got that ridiculous hassle to convert it back into fiat in order to actually use it.

Who cares what the prices of gold is? It's fabricated, manipulated and subject to all sorts of intervention, including confiscation. Gold bugs just don't get it. It's useless for all practical purposes for the average Joe. Sells at junk jewelery prices too in a collapsed economy. It's not "worth" anywhere near what everybody claims. It's a pain in the ass.
You can't eat it?  Check (more or less).  Can't use it?  Check (again, more or less)  You have to convert it back to fiat to spend it?  Not by a long shot.  There are many places around the country where you can spend gold or silver today (example).  Yeah, you'll probably have to bargain and not just plunk down whatever the price tag says, but... so?  Not easy or quick to do either, you've got to ship it to a dealer, wait for your check (weeks), then cash it at a bank?  Again, nope.   Talk about timing your purchases for yield and converting it back to fiat are all based on treating gold as if it were an investment, like stocks.  It sounds like the weekend, cable news, stock market shows. 

And we diverge more from here.

Look, I would never suggest that people buy gold and ignore other aspects of their "preps", but I do think gold has its place.  The biggest drawback I see to gold is how dense in value it is.  You can easily carry around $10,000 in one hand.  The bad side of that is: so could anyone who robs you.  With a one ounce coin being worth $1500 today, you'd have to shave off grams of it to spend it, but to call it "useless for all practical purposes for the average Joe", is just plain wrong and ignores not just lots of history but also current events.  The gold producers have responded to the need for grams of gold by producing "cards" of five or 10 one gram pieces scored for easy separation (here, for example). 

As recently as back in 2009, they said folks in Zimbabwe were buying their food with gold.  The rate in that link was that 1 gram of gold would buy 10 loaves of bread.  When Argentina had their currency collapse, Ferfal reports that even junky gold jewelry was still usable as barter material.  When something has been a dependable fact for 2500 years, it's not crazy to think it will continue, so I think gold will still make good barter material. 
It has been said that an ounce of gold buys today about what it did at any point in the past.  Stephen Harmston, former economist at Bannock Consulting, wrote that “across 2,500 years, gold has retained its purchasing power, relative to bread at least” which is seemingly proved when one considers that “It is said that an ounce of gold bought 350 loaves of bread in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who died in 562 BC” which is roughly what it buys today, a stretch of 2,500 years.  Likewise, you'll hear that an ounce of gold would buy a good toga and sandals in pre-Christian Rome, and buys a well-tailored suit and shoes today, or you'll hear that a $20 gold piece bought an 1851 Colt Single Action Army revolver, and today buys a good grade gun.
"Who cares what the prices of gold is? It's fabricated, manipulated and subject to all sorts of intervention, including confiscation."  That's true of any commodity.  You don't think fuel prices are manipulated - as best as the traders can?  You don't think food prices are manipulated and food isn't subject to confiscation?  There are tons of prepper horror stories about the Feds raiding homes to seize food for redistribution. 

It's hard to care less than I do about whether you choose to buy gold or not.  I don't particularly "care" about having gold at all, I just think something with thousands of years of history of being valued is a likely to be valued in various future scenarios.  I think commodities that people recognize are what will be used for barter and trade.  That includes pre-1964, American 90% silver coins, in the easily recognizable dimes and quarters, and other silver pieces that people recognize.  People are likely to hear the price of silver regularly and will know American Silver Eagles are money.  A commemorative silver round from a silver caster that only insiders know is less likely to be recognized.  You will likely have to bargain over every silver dime you spend to determine what they're worth. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I've Got Nothing

Have to add me to the list of bloggers with nothing to say.  Busy weekend.  Down to help in the final cleaning out of mom's place.  At home, had a hot water faucet go from starting to drip on Friday night to "can't turn it off at all" last night.  Couldn't find the exact stem, and the guy at Home Despot gave us a completely wrong replacement, so I need to find the right one soon.  At least I have hot water in the bathroom, even though the handle turns the wrong way and goes 180 degrees instead of 90.  We can limp along this way for a while.

Went to see Lone Survivor today.  Since I read the book when it first came out, and I've seen quite a bit of Marcus Luttrel by being a subscriber to Beck's network, I already felt like I know the group of four on the mountain.  It was rough to watch, even though you know it's only a movie: "puppets and stew meat" (in the words of Ren and Stimpy), because of that feeling that I knew the guys.

So a little humor...
Jerry Holbert at 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Do You Wonder Where the Yellow (Metal) Went?*

A couple of weeks ago, I looked into the story behind Germany's attempt to repatriate their gold reserves.  In light of the Fed telling them they can't have it, and instead sending it to Germany in small installments over seven years, it seems obvious that it can't really all be in a convenient vault, as promised.  Most people have a picture in their mind of row upon row of gold bars, like this scene from Goldfinger (1964):
In reality, when Germany can't have the Fed officials just wheel a cart over to their gold and bring it to them, we have to wonder where the gold is.  One commenter quoted at GATA said, "you can't just load 300 tons of gold on an A380 and fly it back to Germany!", to which I say, "Like hell you can't!"  Do you really care if it takes more than one flight?  Do you really care if it takes a couple of weeks instead of seven years?

Over the life of this blog, I've often repeated a factoid I heard a few years ago that "China isn't buying gold; they're buying gold mines."  Today, I read an article on the precious metals markets "Is Now the Time to 'Back Up The Truck'" by Peter Degraaf which made this amazing statement:
This chart courtesy @KoosJansen shows the amount of physical gold withdrawn from the Shanghai Exchange (red bars), compared to the total amount of gold produced worldwide (yellow background). During a number of months in 2013 the Chinese bought every ounce that the mines of the world were producing.
You read that right.  They bought every ounce of gold produced in the world.  Linked to this report, which shows world gold production in yellow, and SGE physical delivery in red.  They bought more whenever the red bar is taller than the yellow.  
And that's almost an aside to the rest of the article, which focuses on technical analysis that says that it appears Gold has made its bottom in this current retrenchment phase, but the bull market is healthy and has years to run.  In the weeks since mid-December, gold has put up a couple of strong bullish signs: first, it hit a floor which it tested and never went below, and second, since September, it has been in a decreasing price channel, with lower lows and lower highs.  In mid-December, it broke out to the high side and has not returned to the channel.   These combine to give a positive forecast.  For the silver fans among us, the outlook is similar for the white metal.   

The societal factors that combine to make the future look inflationary (at best) also stand to benefit gold.  As I'm sure you've read lately, the number of people not in the US labor force has reached an all-time high of 91.8 million.  This will keep the pressure up for more transfer payments and more monetary stimulus.  More dollars bidding for every real asset: food, oil, copper, or steel, will inflate the prices.  Expect the precious metals to follow. 

Degraaf's article is full of technical analysis and impressive charts, and you should read the whole thing, but perhaps the most ominous chart in it is one of COMEX (Commodity Exchange) gold holdings.  Since the end of 2009, it has spent most of its time in the range of 1.8 to 3.0 million ounces of gold.  That supply has been dwindling since last spring and the last value reported in 2013 is just north of 416,000 ounces.  As he points out, "When this number nears zero, the COMEX will declare ‘force majeure’, and a number of traders who thought they owned gold bullion will have to settle for pieces of paper."  These people will not be happy. 

“But then, finally, the masses wake up.  They become suddenly aware of the fact that inflation is a deliberate policy and will go on endlessly. A breakdown occurs. The Crack- Up-Boom appears. Everybody is anxious to swap their money against "real" goods, whether he needs them or not, no matter how much money he has to pay for them. Within a very short time, within a few weeks or even days, the things which were used as money are no longer used as media of exchange. They become scrap paper. Nobody wants to give away anything against them.”   ….…Ludwig von Mises. 

*Everyone over a certain age, perhaps 50, certainly over 55, will remember that phrase! 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

OK, Then - I Hope They Didn't Pay Too Much For This Study

The earth shattering news coming out of the UK this week is that people who regularly attend a place of worship are less likely to get involved in low level crime and delinquency.  Note that it doesn't specify any particular religion, it just correlates visits to religious places and lower crime figures, especially in relation to shoplifting, drug use and music piracy.
Researchers believe this is because religion not only teaches people about 'moral and behavioural norms', but also spending time with like-minded people makes it less likely they'll get mixed up with the 'wrong crowd'.
Researchers didn't investigate more serious crimes, as they were too rare for the small group they had, but studied connection to eight varying types of delinquency including littering, skipping school or work, using illegal drugs, fare dodging, shoplifting, music piracy, property damage and violence against the person.

Gee, it's almost as if being in a place where people are urged to be at their best has a tendency to make people try be their best. 

It's not even remotely the first time this sort of result has been found.  A review article in 2011 looked at the results of 273 studies published between 1944 and 2010.  He found that 90% of the studies “report an inverse or beneficial relationship between religion and some measure of crime or delinquency.”  Less than 1% reported an opposite relationship. 
Professor Byron began his article by noting that if the studies generally showed the opposite—that religion or church-going contributed to crime and delinquency—the press would be all over the story, and a Federal commission would doubtless be established to make sure Americans were officially notified that religious practice is deleterious to your social health.
I've heard it said that religion is a false morality, and any morality based on fear of punishment is inferior to a "real", positive morality coming from concern for others.  That might be true, but it's apparently not a completely ineffective way to run a society. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Plastic Engine Parts?

I know that engineering plastics have found their way into previously unexpected places, but the intake manifold on a car engine? 
New Ford Duratec 3.5-liter and 3.7-liter V6 engines will be equipped with an injection-molded cross-over coolant component made of Zytel HTN, replacing the previous overmolded brazed metal tubing, a DuPont spokesperson told Design News. The component allows engine coolant to bypass the manifold as it circulates through the engine.
The combination saves 1 pound in weight and $1 in cost per engine, and while those numbers seem small, multiply them by the number of engines they make, and assume it's pure bottom line profit for Ford.  It's possible the innovation saves them more in other ways: perhaps some "fleet use of plastics" requirement from our insect overlords in the, or perhaps saving some time in the assembly.  The innovation led to the design team, a collaboration among DuPont, Ford, and Illinois Tool Works, being named team finalists for the Most Innovative Use of Plastics Award, Process/Assembly/Enabling Technology category, of the SPE's 2013 Automotive Innovation Awards (pdf warning). (SPE = the Society of Plastics Engineers)
In truth, despite some failures that make you wonder WTF they were thinking, like Mercedes' use of biodegradable plastics in engine wiring harness insulation, plastics have been encroaching into the engine compartment for quite a while now (that Mercedes story is from a 1995 car!).  DuPont and ElringKlinger made two injection-molded oil pans for large, heavy-duty truck engines manufactured by Mercedes-Benz from Zytel HTN. Zytel HTN has also appeared in the in-wheel motor bobbins of the SIM-WIL EV from Kawasaki, Japan-based SIM-Drive Corp..  These, especially the oil pans, appear to be successes. 

But commenters say Ford has done this experiment before.  Mid-90s Fords had plastic intake manifolds with fins in them to help swirl the fuel-air mixture, but the fins would break off and get sucked into the cylinders.  They had a plastic intake manifold on '96 to 2000 V8s, and those had a tendency to catastrophically split, dumping the coolant on the engine and into the alternator.  This caused damage to the alternator and led to engine overheating.  Ford ended up buying a lot of those after the warranty expired. 

The engine compartment is a rough environment.  It's not climate conditioned in any way, so when the car is started, it can be any temperature where a car might be parked, from well over 100F in a Florida summer parking lot, to -40F or lower last week in Minnesota.  Once the car is running, thermal stresses can be severe until operating temperature is reached, and that's always above the normal boiling point of water.  Then there's vibration, which is present on the best of roads. 

So here's my view:  Ford, I'll gladly pay you $1 more for a metal intake manifold that won't come apart.  Go put a few million miles on those Zytel HTN parts - not just 100,000 miles on 100 cars, have a sample of cars that go half a million miles - and get back to me with how they compare to cast metal. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Little Diversion

Busy day today and a busy weekend.  Today we washed and waxed the cars, cleaned them inside and out.  A big job, that has always left me with body soreness for a few days, regardless of how much I was working out before doing it. Yesterday, I replaced some missing boards in the fence, reinforced some areas that will need replacement within a year or two, and replaced an old smoke detector that no longer detected.  (You do know that's how the Chinese get rid of their nuclear waste, right?  In the slightly radioactive smoke detectors.  Just sayin'...)  I also spent a little time with this new toy. 
Pictured is a Seagull acoustic guitar, somewhat awkwardly named the Mini Jumbo.  Long time readers around here know that I've been studying guitar since about 2010, (returned to it after a long time away) completing one course and moving into a "Guitar 201" class in blues.  The Yamaha acoustic I've been playing is a nice instrument, but like most in its price class has a plywood body.  The only solid wood is the top - the sounding board.  It has a really nice tone, but guitarists talk in glowing terms about solid wood acoustic guitars. 

About a year ago, I started casting furtive looks at solid wood guitars.  Unless you want to get into well-over-one-thousand dollar instruments, there are only a few available and they all tend to cluster around the $800 range.  That's $800 after the pretty uniform discount from MSRP you'll find in the music e-tailers.  There are the Epiphone Masterbilt series, some made by Blueridge Guitars, some made by Yamaha (A Series) and this one: the Maritime SWS - Solid Wood Series - made by Seagull, a Canadian company.  This guitar has a solid mahogany body, a solid spruce top, and a mahogany neck topped with rosewood.  

Last Saturday, the first after New Years, I was minding my own business when I got an email from Musician's Friend, one of the e-tailers I've bought from.  The special sale included deep cuts on used instruments in stock.  This guitar was rated in their second tier, not the "mint condition" but "gently used", and was available for half of its normal price.  At half price, it came in well under the price of my Yamaha.  As always, I thought about it long and hard, even giving myself an enforced few hours of not looking at it.  In the end, I bought it and it was here Wednesday. 

I was shocked at how new it looked.  The only thing they documented as being wrong with it were some marks on the headstock and those are so minor I had to look hard to find them.  The only thing I didn't like were the factory issue strings, so I put a new set of Ernie Ball Slinkies on it yesterday.  It now feels great and sounds great.  It does sound different from the Yamaha.  I don't have words for the difference, but to me it's quite noticeable, and I don't think I have the most well-developed hearing in the world.  (I told a friend, "I've got tin ears"... he looked at me and said, "I only see two.  Where you keep the other eight?!")

Saturday, January 11, 2014

All Hail Chief Yellen

Unless you've been avoiding the news (and, btw, how's life under that rock?), you'll know that Janet Yellen has been confirmed as the new chair of the federal reserve, and likely will be the one who rides the economy into the ground.  She might well be the last chief the federal reserve has, if the financial system collapses in the next few years, as I expect it to. 

Let me begin by saying I don't think Yellen, the detestable Bernanke or the truly execrable Greenspan, really want to destroy the country, they just find themselves in charge during horrific times and they are not intellectually capable of seeing that what they're doing does not and can not fix things.  They have been so indoctrinated in their Keynesian economics that they can't think outside of the paradigm to see how it's failing.  Yes, they can dump money into the economy, and yes it will have an effect.  To some degree, it has to, but you can't grow the economy as a whole by writing yourself checks with your left hand (the fed) so you can write checks with your right hand (  As the Mogambo says (pdf alert)
Remember: It is one thing for Congress to vote to spend lavish sums of cash, but unless the Federal Reserve creates the currency and credit to absorb all this new government borrowing, the only other place the government can get spending cash is raising taxes! How many re-elections do you think Congresspersons could win, and how many Fed chairmen would be re-appointed?
While the fed has threatened to "taper" the amount of money they create from thin air, the real game is the nearly zero interest rates.  That's free money, and the more free money the financial sector can get, the more they can leverage.  The trillion dollars per year the fed is creating (QE3) can't really be absorbed in that many places; I mean, there just aren't many places to spend a trillion dollars.  Going to go to Walmart?  It virtually has to be the stock market, so stock prices are going to keep going up until they can't any longer. 
And this is exactly the point of the Treasury exercising its powers under the Exchange Stabilization Fund to cheat and lie: To keep the stock and bond markets up, which must be done because everyone has every one of their dollars, in one way or another, in those markets. Even your stinking checking account sweeps all your cash out of the bank every night, into the Treasury market or banking system debt! 
The way I see it, the whole purpose of the QE to infinity of the last five years has been to inflate the stock market indices and the housing prices.  If the houses have a mortgage in some number of dollars, the banks need to be paid back that number of dollars, even if the new dollars are only worth half of what they used to be worth when the mortgage was written.  In many parts of the country, housing prices are back to 2008 (peak bubble) levels.  A second purpose has been to suppress the price of precious metals, so that low or negative growth of their prices discourages banks from buying gold.  With the court ruling that the Gold Exchange Act of 1934 allows the government to use its Exchange Stabilization Fund to interfere in any market any time it chooses to, the realization that there is no such thing as a free market, only manipulations, should make your blood run cold.
The way I see it, with the full power of the world's central banks working to suppress the prices of metals, they will be a bargain for the foreseeable future.  That will probably end violently with little advanced notice. 

I Hope No One Paid Too Much for THIS Study

"Tweet a lot? Then you're probably SELF-OBSESSED" from the Mail Online (UK).
U.S. researchers claim narcissists tweet more often than others and crave followers on Twitter to meet their need for approval.

They also found that narcissists update their Facebook status more regularly and vain adults prefer to post content on Facebook, rather than Twitter.
Do tell.  They figured that out all on their own? 


Pardon me.  I need to go fix my fence. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Second Peak to Solar Cycle 24?

It's time to take my semiannual look at our pathetic solar cycle:
While the activity peaks in December have brought the monthly values up to the red "Predicted values" line, those are the short term values.  It seems possible these current high Smoothed Sunspot Numbers (SSN) will give the cycle a double peak, like the one visible on the left from cycle 23, only much lower in value.  The blue line is the smoothed monthly values and while that line lags three months (it won't reach to January until March), my "Mark I Eyeball" says the SSN will go up to around 65 or 70, while the predicted number is 85.  If you haven't read my drivel on this topic previously, the predicted peak number was revised downwards continuously from about 2008 until this cycle actually started.

This is the weakest solar cycle in 100 years, which means no living solar scientist has seen a cycle this weak, and our records of what the sun was doing back then have much less data than is now available.  The optimistic view is that we surely learn new things about solar physics:
Speaking on the weak solar activity, Leif Svalgaard of Stanford University told reporters that "none of us alive have ever seen such a weak cycle. So we will learn something."
To adapt some of what I wrote back last January to today, the prolonged minimum between cycle 23 and 24 was the second longest since the Dalton minimum of the early 1800s.  The thing is, the low activity may not be ending there.  In the '90s, astronomers Dr.s William Livingston and Matthew Penn of the Kitt Peak observatory in Arizona noted that their readings on the intensity of sunspots were trending downward.  They checked data many times and plotted trend lines.  Once they saw the lines, they published a paper showing that by 2015 there may be no sunspots left at all.  The paper was not well received, which is fine, but about a decade later they gathered another ten years' worth of data, reanalyzed everything and concluded they were right the first time.  (summary pdf here)  It's important to say they may well be wrong, but completely independent predictions from NASA and others are saying the next cycle, 25, is going to be even weaker than this one, and may approach quiet sun levels at its peak.  Which is to say the cycle simply may not happen

What does this mean to us?  Several things.  First the good news: those dire predictions you read about a killer solar flare taking out everything are much less likely than before - and it wasn't very likely to start with.  The other side is much less positive.  Prolonged solar minima have happened before, and they are associated with mini-ice ages.  I use the tentative language because humans simply haven't been able to measure sunspots for most of history.  In extended solar minima, the growing seasons become shorter and weather changes to become less friendly to crops.  In general, the worst times for human survival in history have been in failed, cold growing seasons, not "global warmth" (huge pdf alert).   Widespread food shortages are a real possibility.  And while people talk of the possibility of a real ice age, not a mini-ice age, I think we don't know enough about how those start to talk with any credibility. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Curious Case of the German Gold

Late in 2012, Germany made an unprecedented request of the US Federal Reserve Bank.  Germany, like most of the world, had stored as much as 50% of its gold in the US Fed's vaults as part of the agreements turning the USD into the world's reserve currency.  They wanted the Fed to return their gold, for storage in their country.  The idea was that Germany's gold was held as if in a safe deposit box; like a safe deposit box, the owner has every reason to expect if they want to empty the box, they can.

In a stunning move, the Fed refused, originally refusing Germany the right to inspect their gold, and finally offering to return the gold in installments, eventually completing the transfer by 2020.
The German government then asked to visit the FED vaults to inventory the gold and determine its actual existence, but the FED refused to permit Germany to examine its own gold. The reasons given were “security” and “no room for visitors”. And nothing else.

Germany did finally send some staff to the FED, and they were permitted only into the vault’s anteroom where they were shown 5 or 6 gold bars as representative of their holdings, and were permitted nothing else.
Isn't that peculiar? 

In the early days of 2013, the German Bundesbank announced that it intended to repatriate Germany's gold reserves. That would mean moving 300 tons of gold from New York to Frankfurt in 8 years, or roughly 37.5 tons per year.  In December, the Fed delivered 37 tons of gold to Germany as requested.  Here it goes from peculiar to outright weird.   I quote some exchanges from Germany as reported on GATA, the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee's website.  You should read the whole thing:
December 26, 2013

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am an independent financial journalist.

In connection with the transfer of 37 tons of Bundesbank gold from New York to Germany, I came across the news that the bars were a melted before the transfer. May I kindly ask you for the following information:

Why were the bars melted at all? And why couldn't that wait until the bars arrived in Frankfurt?

Kind regards,

Lars Schall

January 3, 2014

Dear Mr Schall:

Thank you for your enquiry.

At a press conference on the topic of Germany's gold reserves on 16 January 2013, Executive Board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele presented the Deutsche Bundesbank's new storage concept. In addition to the relocation of gold bars, this concept includes, amongst other things, measures to ensure that the specifications of the London Good Delivery (LGD) standard are met.

In cases where these specifications were not already met, the Bundesbank had these original gold bars melted down and recast in order to meet this standard. This was achieved without any difficulties.
Statement by Peter Boehringer, president of German Precious Metal Society and co-initiator of the Repatriate our Gold campaign --

The public is still waiting for answers to crucial questions like these:

  • What kind of gold bars were melted? Original material from the 1950s and '60s?
  • How can the Bundesbank hint in its press release that some of the old bars already met the LGD specifications when those specifications were not defined and made a standard for central bank bars until 1979?
  • Why has the Bundesbank not published a bar number list of the old bars? How can there be security concerns about bars that no longer exist? Why has the Bundesbank not published a bar number list of the newly cast bars?
  • Who exactly melted the bars? Where exactly was this melting performed? Is there a smelter at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York?
  • Who witnessed the melting and recasting of the bars?
  • Are there any reports on this in writing with a valid signature? By whom?
  • And especially: Why was it deemed necessary to perform this action in the United States as opposed to Frankfurt or nearby Hanau, where there are some of the best facilities in the world for metal probing, melting, and recasting? Had these actions been performed in Germany in a fully transparent manner, it would have been so easy for the Bundesbank to dismiss all questions from "paranoid gold conspiracy theorists."
  • There is more at the GATA link, but the whole episode has the air of some sort of deliberate obfuscation going on.  Why would the Fed not allow the Germans to even see their gold, and then let them "look but don't touch" at a few bars?  Why doesn't the Fed give Germany everything now, and not over eight years?  Why would the Germans agree to not getting their gold all at once, but rather wait until 2020?  Why would the bars be melted down?  I looked up the London Good Delivery standards and there's nothing about it that seems to require refinement, so recasting them seems unnecessary. 

    The often-cited allegation is that there is nowhere near as much gold in the central bank vaults as they claim to have, and Fort Knox is empty.  In this view, central banks keep reselling each other the same few bars of gold in a never ending pyramid or Ponzi scheme creating a "money bubble".  It would be the last bubble before everything collapses, and this Bundesbank/Fed behavior is giving credibility to those stories.

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

    Tech Tuesday - Using Viruses to Manufacture Batteries

    Design News reports this week that MIT Professor Angela Belcher genetically modified a common virus to manufacture nanoscale electrodes for a battery, giving two to three times the energy density of the currently known ways to create those electrodes.
    To develop the battery, Belcher and fellow researchers produced a nanowire array, with each wires about 80 nanometers across, using a genetically modified virus called M13. The viruses created manganese oxide, which is often a material used for lithium-air battery cathodes. However, unlike the wires that have been developed through typical chemical methods for lithium-air batteries, the wires built by the virus have a rough, spiky surface, which increases their surface area, according to researchers.

    This increase in surface area can provide an advantage not only for the rate of charging and discharging, but also in creating a more eco-friendly fabrication process for the battery design, Belcher said. This is because the process of developing the virus-based battery can be done at room temperature using a water-based process rather than needing a high-temperature process and hazardous chemicals, like conventional battery-fabrication methods.
    There will probably be people who read about this and immediately get concerned about the viruses being contagious to humans, but these are not human pathogens and the genetic engineering modifications move them even farther from the narrow environment that humans represent. M13 is a bacteriophage - the word literally translates as "bacteria eater" - a type of virus that infects bacteria.  There are many types of bacteriophage and they're relatively easy to culture in the lab.  Disease causing pathogenic viruses, like pathogenic bacteria, tend to grow in more restrictive conditions and are harder to culture, being called "fastidious".  For example, they may need to grow in eggs or cultured dishes of cells with blood and oxygenated fluids.

    As with the vast majority of advances, this isn't an overnight discovery.  MIT Technology Review reports she published some original work in 2009, and has been working in this general direction since about 1997. 
    One of the most thrilling moments in Angela Belcher’s professional life came during a routine visit to the lab in the winter of 2009. Two of her graduate students in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering were trying to harness biological tools to make materials for a battery electrode. They showed her a petri dish holding a virus they had engineered to bind to materials that it normally wouldn’t have any affinity for—iron phosphate and carbon nanotubes. The virus had neatly assembled the two materials into tiny wires, which would turn out to perform as well as the electrodes in commercial lithium-ion batteries.
    The way I see this, it's making viruses into something like an ox, a horse, or the other animals that humans have used to help with labor for all of history.  We're having viruses make the electrodes for the batteries.  In a similar way, we also use yeasts as industrial workers for us, making wine, beer and breads.  As we use bacteria in making yogurt, cheeses and other things.  

    Monday, January 6, 2014

    Corruptocracy of California is Corrupt

    A little short of two years ago, March of 2013, I told the story of how California's Franchise Tax Board would confiscate money directly from any bank accounts they can find.

    The article starts with a story of someone who had $1343 confiscated from his Wells Fargo bank account for tax year 2006 despite not residing in California in 2006, not filing a State income tax return, not doing any business in the state, not owning any property in the state and not having any known tax issues left from when he did live in the state.  As often happens, once such a story surfaces more stories come pouring in.  Perhaps the most outrageous, because it's the highest total I know of, the California FTB sued Gilbert Hyatt, the inventor of a microprocessor chip, for $50 Million tax fraud.  The problem is Hyatt claimed he wasn't a resident of California when he invented the processor, rather that he lived and worked in Nevada.  One can imagine that if you've invented something with a great potential for royalties, they'll try to tax your income saying you thought of it while changing planes in California, or vacationing, or any other excuse they can think of to claim part of it. 

    In today's comments, I received an update to that story.  The corruption is still going on.  They provided a link to more stories at Stephen Clark's California Political News and Views
    Have you had the California Franchise Tax Board take your Social Security check or money from your bank without notification or explanation?  Did you move out of State without notifying the Board and they continue to take money from your banks accounts, though no longer a California resident—oh, you have no obligation to tell the State you moved.

    Just victimized last week. I live in Oregon. Moved from Ca late May, 2000. Never received anything from them. Never had notice of a lien. They told me that because I held a Real Estate License in the year 2000 and didn’t file a CA return in 2000 that they assessed me a tax based upon the average income of a real estate professional in CA in 2000. That average income was $45,000 ! They took my SS, my little savings account, and part of the support from my husband. I am frantic ! to say the least.

    Me too! Last week the CA FTB stole almost $2000.00 from my bank account here in Colorado. They took every last penny. I moved out of Southern California in 2006 and did not notify them so according to them they can charge me with not filing a return for 2007 and take my money. I have faxed them proof I didn’t live there but they don’t respond and you can’t reach them by phone unless you have two hours or more to be put on hold. If someone told me this happened to them before it hit me I would have doubted this is legal.
    The 92 comments are full of more stories. They are simultaneously heart breaking and enraging.  Yet, as I said back then, like all bullies, they specialize in picking on people without the means to fight back.  It's easy to for them to take $5000 and make you spend $20000 to get it back - most people give up and write off the loss.  Which is what they're counting on, of course.   It's easy to steal $2000 from someone out of state who only has $2000.  To get a remote chance of getting it back they need to go back to California, hire an attorney and go to court.  All of those steps make more money for California in the form of the attorney's income tax, court fees, and taxes on whatever hotel or other place the plaintiffs live while fighting.  I bet the number of corporations with a full staff of lawyers that have faced this treatment is zero.

    There are no words for the level of scum bag government this sinks to.  This is the worst of Banana Republic thuggery. 

    Saturday, January 4, 2014

    It's A Wrap

    A diamond wrap to be precise. And the very last touches on the second of two rods I've recently built.
    This is the plug rod that I started back in July, then put aside to work on Mrs. Graybeard's rod. 

    This was taken while the rod is mounted in my finishing fixture, with a barbecue rotisserie motor spinning the rod to keep the epoxy from running and dripping, above my terribly messy workbench.  The old Penn Spinfisher 710 box contains rod making supplies. You can see spools of thread, a razor knife (orange/red handle), scissors, hemostat, and more miscellaneous tools than I feel like naming.  The rod uses metallic blue and red threads, as well as non-metallic red, blue and white thread.  You can see the metallic blue easily where I have the most of it, at the ends of the diamond - the red threads are in the wrap itself and hard to see here. 

    It's dry now.  Might even be fishable in the morning, when we're planning to get out and play.

    Friday, January 3, 2014

    SR-71 Blackbird Story

    I received the following email today, and went to look up whether or not it's true, or an internet legend.  It's an amazing story, and I thought some of you would find it as neat as I did. 
    SR 71 Blackbird Mach 3.18 Break-up - Bill Weaver, test pilot.

    Among professional aviators, there’s a well-worn saying that flying is simply hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. But I don’t recall too many periods of boredom during my 30 year period with Lockheed, most of which was as a test pilot.

    Jim Zwayer, a Lockheed flight-test specialist, and I were evaluating systems on an SR-71 Blackbird test from Edwards in January, 1966. We also were investigating procedures designed to reduce trim drag and improve high-Mach cruise performance. The latter involved flying with the center-of-gravity (CG) located further aft than normal, reducing the Blackbird's longitudinal stability.

    We took off from Edwards at 11:20 a.m. and completed the mission's first leg without incident. After refueling from a KC-135 tanker, we turned eastbound, accelerated to a Mach 3.2-cruise speed and climbed to 78,000 ft., our initial cruise-climb altitude.

    Several minutes into cruise, the right engine inlet's automatic control system malfunctioned, requiring a switch to manual control. The SR-71's inlet configuration was automatically adjusted during supersonic flight to decelerate airflow in the duct, slowing it to subsonic speed before reaching the engine's face. This was accomplished by the inlet's center-body spike translating aft, and by modulating the inlet's forward bypass doors.

    Normally, these actions were scheduled automatically as a function of Mach number, positioning the normal shock wave (where air flow becomes subsonic) inside the inlet to ensure optimum engine performance. Without proper scheduling, disturbances inside the inlet could result in the shock wave being expelled forward - a phenomenon known as an "inlet unstart."

    That causes an instantaneous loss of engine thrust, explosive banging noises and violent yawing of the aircraft--like being in a train wreck. Unstarts were not uncommon at that time in the SR-71's development, but a properly functioning system would recapture the shock wave and restore normal operation.

    On the planned test profile, we entered a programmed 35-deg. bank turn to the right. An immediate unstart occurred on the right engine, forcing the aircraft to roll further right and start to pitch up. I jammed the control stick as far left and forward as it would go. No response. I instantly knew we were in for a wild ride. I attempted to tell Jim what was happening and to stay with the airplane until we reached a lower speed and altitude. I didn't think the chances of surviving an ejection at Mach 3.18 and 78,800 ft. were very good. However, g-forces built up so rapidly that my words came out garbled and unintelligible, as confirmed later by the cockpit voice recorder.

    The cumulative effects of system malfunctions, reduced longitudinal stability, increased angle-of-attack in the turn, supersonic speed, high altitude and other factors imposed forces on the airframe that exceeded flight control authority and the Stability Augmentation System's ability to restore control.

    Everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. I learned later the time from event onset to catastrophic departure from controlled flight was only 2-3 seconds. Still trying to communicate with Jim, I blacked out, succumbing to extremely high g-forces.

    Then the SR-71 literally disintegrated around us. From that point, I was just along for the ride. And my next recollection was a hazy thought that I was having a bad dream. Maybe I'll wake up and get out of this mess, I mused. Gradually regaining consciousness, I realized this was no dream; it had really happened. That also was disturbing, because I COULD NOT HAVE SURVIVED what had just happened.

    I must be dead. Since I didn't feel bad - just a detached sense of euphoria. I decided being dead wasn't so bad after all. As full awareness took hold, I realized I was not dead. But somehow I had separated from the airplane. I had no idea how this could have happened. I hadn't initiated an ejection. The sound of rushing air and what sounded like straps flapping in the wind confirmed I was falling, but I couldn't see anything. My pressure suit's face plate had frozen over and I was staring at a layer of ice.

    The pressure suit was inflated, so I knew an emergency oxygen cylinder in the seat kit attached to my parachute harness was functioning. It not only supplied breathing oxygen, but also pressurized the suit, preventing my blood from boiling at extremely high altitudes. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but the suit's pressurization had also provided physical protection from intense buffeting and g-forces. That inflated suit had become my own escape capsule.

    My next concern was about stability and tumbling. Air density at high altitude is insufficient to resist a body's tumbling motions, and centrifugal forces high enough to cause physical injury could develop quickly. For that reason, the SR-71's parachute system was designed to automatically deploy a small-diameter stabilizing chute shortly after ejection and seat separation. Since I had not intentionally activated the ejection system, and assuming all automatic functions depended on a proper ejection sequence, it occurred to me the stabilizing chute may not have deployed.

    However, I quickly determined I was falling vertically and not tumbling. The little chute must have deployed and was doing its job. Next concern: the main parachute, which was designed to open automatically at 15,000 ft. Again I had no assurance the automatic-opening function would work.

    I couldn't ascertain my altitude because I still couldn't see through the iced-up faceplate. There was no way to know how long I had been blacked-out or how far I had fallen. I felt for the manual-activation D-ring on my chute harness, but with the suit inflated and my hands numbed by cold, I couldn't locate it. I decided I'd better open the faceplate, try to estimate my height above the ground, then locate that "D" ring. Just as I reached for the faceplate, I felt the reassuring sudden deceleration of main-chute deployment.

    I raised the frozen faceplate and discovered its uplatch was broken. Using one hand to hold that plate up, I saw I was descending through a clear, winter sky with unlimited visibility. I was greatly relieved to see Jim's parachute coming down about a quarter of a mile away. I didn't think either of us could have survived the aircraft's breakup, so seeing Jim had also escaped lifted my spirits incredibly. I could also see burning wreckage on the ground a few miles from where we would land. The terrain didn't look at all inviting, a desolate, high plateau dotted with patches of snow and no signs of habitation.

    I tried to rotate the parachute and look in other directions. But with one hand devoted to keeping the face plate up and both hands numb from high-altitude, subfreezing temperatures, I couldn't manipulate the risers enough to turn. Before the breakup, we'd started a turn in the New Mexico-Colorado-Oklahoma-Texas border region. The SR-71 had a turning radius of about 100 mi. at that speed and altitude, so I wasn't even sure what state we were going to land in. But, because it was about 3:00 p.m., I was certain we would be spending the night out here.

    At about 300 ft. above the ground, I yanked the seat kit's release handle and made sure it was still tied to me by a long lanyard. Releasing the heavy kit ensured I wouldn't land with it attached to my derriere, which could break a leg or cause other injuries. I then tried to recall what survival items were in that kit, as well as techniques I had been taught in survival training. Looking down, I was startled to see a fairly large animal, perhaps an antelope, directly under me. Evidently, it was just as startled as I was because it literally took off in a cloud of dust.

    My first-ever parachute landing was pretty smooth. I landed on fairly soft ground, managing to avoid rocks, cacti and antelopes. My chute was still billowing in the wind, though. I struggled to collapse it with one hand, holding the still-frozen faceplate up with the other. "Can I help you?" a voice said. Was I hearing things? I must be hallucinating. Then I looked up and saw a guy walking toward me, wearing a cowboy hat. A helicopter was idling a short distance behind him. If I had been at Edwards and told the search-and-rescue unit that I was going to bail out over the Rogers Dry Lake at a particular time of day, a crew couldn't have gotten to me as fast as that cowboy-pilot had.

    The gentleman was Albert Mitchell, Jr., owner of a huge cattle ranch in northeastern New Mexico . I had landed about 1.5 mi. from his ranch house, and from a hangar for his two-place Hughes helicopter. Amazed to see him, I replied I was having a little trouble with my chute. He walked over and collapsed the canopy, anchoring it with several rocks. He had seen Jim and me floating down and had radioed the New Mexico Highway Patrol, the Air Force, and the nearest hospital.

    Extracting myself from the parachute harness, I discovered the source of those flapping-strap noises heard on the way down. My seat belt and shoulder harness were still draped around me, attached and latched. The lap belt had been shredded on each side of my hips, where the straps had fed through knurled adjustment rollers. The shoulder harness had shredded in a similar manner across my back. The ejection seat had never left the airplane. I had been ripped out of it by the extreme forces, with the seat belt and shoulder harness still fastened.<

    I also noted that one of the two lines that supplied oxygen to my pressure suit had come loose, and the other was barely hanging on. If that second line had become detached at high altitude, the deflated pressure suit wouldn't have provided any protection. I knew an oxygen supply was critical for breathing and suit-pressurization, but didn't appreciate how much physical protection an inflated pressure suit could provide.

    That the suit could withstand forces sufficient to disintegrate an airplane and shred heavy nylon seat belts, yet leave me with only a few bruises and minor whiplash was impressive. I truly appreciated having my own little escape capsule.

    After helping me with the chute, Mitchell said he'd check on Jim. He climbed into his helicopter, flew a short distance away and returned about 10 minutes later with devastating news: Jim was dead. Apparently, he had suffered a broken neck during the aircraft's disintegration and was killed instantly. Mitchell said his ranch foreman would soon arrive to watch over Jim's body until the authorities arrived. I asked to see Jim and, after verifying there was nothing more that could be done, agreed to let Mitchell fly me to the Tucumcari hospital, about 60 mi. to the south.

    I have vivid memories of that helicopter flight, as well. I didn't know much about rotorcraft, but I knew a lot about "red lines," and Mitchell kept the airspeed at or above red line all the way. The little helicopter vibrated and shook a lot more than I thought it should have. I tried to reassure the cowboy-pilot I was feeling OK; there was no need to rush. But since he'd notified the hospital staff that we were inbound, he insisted we get there as soon as possible. I couldn't help but think how ironic it would be to have survived one disaster only to be done in by the helicopter that had come to my rescue.

    However, we made it to the hospital safely - and quickly. Soon, I was able to contact Lockheed's flight test office at Edwards. The test team there had been notified initially about the loss of radio and radar contact, then told the aircraft had been lost. They also knew what our flight conditions had been at the time, and assumed no one could have survived. I explained what had happened, describing in fairly accurate detail the flight conditions prior to breakup.

    The next day, our flight profile was duplicated on the SR-71 flight simulator at Beale AFB, Calif. The outcome was identical. Steps were immediately taken to prevent a recurrence of our accident. Testing at a CG aft of normal limits was discontinued, and trim-drag issues were subsequently resolved via aerodynamic means. The inlet control system was continuously improved and, with subsequent development of the Digital Automatic Flight and Inlet Control System, inlet unstarts became rare.

    Investigation of our accident revealed that the nose section of the aircraft had broken off aft of the rear cockpit and crashed about 10 mi. from the main wreckage. Parts were scattered over an area approximately 15 mi. long and 10 mi. wide. Extremely high air loads and g-forces, both positive and negative, had literally ripped Jim and me from the airplane. Unbelievably good luck is the only explanation for my escaping relatively unscathed from that disintegrating aircraft.

    Two weeks after the accident, I was back in an SR-71, flying the first sortie on a brand-new bird at Lockheed's Palmdale , California assembly and test facility. It was my first flight since the accident, so a flight test engineer in the back seat was probably a little apprehensive about my state of mind and confidence. As we roared down the runway and lifted off, I heard an anxious voice over the intercom.

    "Bill! Bill! Are you there?"

    "Yeah, George. What's the matter?"

    "Thank God! I thought you might have left."

    The rear cockpit of the SR-71 has no forward visibility - only a small window on each side - and George couldn't see me. A big red light on the master-warning panel in the rear cockpit had illuminated just as we rotated, stating: "Pilot Ejected." Fortunately, the cause was a misadjusted micro switch; not my departure.

    Bill Weaver flight-tested all models of the Mach-2 F-104 Starfighter and the entire family of Mach 3+ Blackbirds including the A-12, YF-12, and SR-71. He subsequently was assigned to Lockheed's L-1011 project as an engineering test pilot, and became the company's chief pilot. He later retired as Division Manager of Commercial Flying Operations, and continued to fly the Orbital Sciences Corp.'s L-1011, which was modified to carry the Pegasus satellite-launch vehicle. And as an FAA Designated Engineering Representative Flight Test Pilot, was involved in various aircraft-modification projects, conducting certification flight tests.<

    It appears to be true.  The website Blackbird Losses contains this entry that corresponds to the story:

    SR-71A (61-7952 / 2003)

    This aircraft disintegrated on 25 January 1966 during a high-speed, high-altitude test flight when it developed a severe case of engine unstart. Lockheed test pilot Bill Weaver survived although his ejection seat never left the plane! Reconnaissance System Officer (RSO) Jim Zwayer died in a high-G bailout. The incident occurred near Tucumcari, New Mexico.
    Test pilots are a special breed.  One of the most interesting things about reading this story is the calm, rational approach it shows.  Realizing he's somehow floating alone in space, somehow no longer in the airplane he was just flying, there's not a trace of anguish; instead, his concentration is laser focused on "what's going on now, what can I do now to make it out of this".  It's an attitude and approach worth cultivating.