Monday, March 31, 2014

Are You (Getting) Gray?

You might want to keep your animal protein consumption up.  From a report in Science Daily about a study in Japan by the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan,:
Men in the highest quartile of animal protein intake had a 39 percent decreased chance of experiencing higher-level functional decline than those in the lowest quartile. These associations were not seen in women. No consistent association was observed between plant protein intake and future higher-level functional decline in either sex.

"Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living," said Dr. Tsubota-Utsugi. "Along with other modifiable health behaviors, a diet rich in protein may help older adults maintain their functional capacity."
The top 1/4 of animal protein consumers had almost a 40% lower chance of "high level functional decline" than the lowest quartile meat eaters.  (I think that means their ability to function independently in society).  Nice to see someone doing that science, since our country is determined to make us all vegetarians.  And though not exclusively related to lowfat diets and veganism, it's nice to see they admit that the last 40 years of the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) study is full of bogus data.   So it's basically a waste of time and money.  It's from the what do you expect?

Worried about Body Mass Index, that trendy, new way of reducing the old height/weight charts to a single number?  (Personal motto:  "Mocking BMI since the day it was introduced!")   If anything about body composition is likely to be important to us grayer folks, it's percent muscle
The more muscle older adults have, the lower their risk of death, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 3,600 older adults who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 and 1994. The participants included men 55 and older and women 65 and older.
"In other words, the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death," study co-author Dr. Arun Karlamangla, an associate professor in the geriatrics division at University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, said in a university news release. "Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass."
It has been studied well enough to state with confidence that older folks who don't even start trying to lift weights until they're over 50 can still make important gains.  Granted, you won't gain as fast as the younger guys, and other factors (such as your testosterone levels) can make a big difference, but you can still improve.  Still, the fact that "chronic cardio" exercise leads to cumulative heart injuries doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything (this study showed worse injuries from "silent heart attacks" in runners than in sedentary smokers). 

Both of these studies are good sized groups: 3000 in the muscle mass study and over 1000 in the Japanese meat consumption study.  That's way better than these 25 person studies you see.  Might even mean something.
Bacon explosion, anyone?  Sounds like a prescription to me. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

More Tales From the Over Regulated State - Federal Fart Control

As generations of comedians have said, I'm not making this up.

As part of its attempt to regulate so-called greenhouse gases, the EPA has announced it intends to regulate cattle farting.  Cattle farts, like humans', contain methane, a greenhouse gas several times more potent than CO2. 
This comes despite falling methane emission levels across the economy since 1990.

The White House has proposed cutting methane emissions from the dairy industry by 25 percent by 2020.
Obviously, even those pinheads have to know that simply telling the cows not to fart won't achieve their goals - any more than telling any of us not to fart would curtail our personal methane production.  The only approach to cutting methane production by 25% that has even a remote chance of working would be to reduce the number of cattle by 25%. 
It’s not just the dairy industry that the Obama administration is clamping down on. The White House is looking to regulate methane emissions across the economy from agriculture to oil and gas operations — all this despite methane emissions falling 11 percent since 1990.

Methane emissions have largely been reduced because of the incentive for companies to capture it and sell it for monetary gain. Oil and gas companies, for example, have been looking for ways to increasingly capture methane leaked from drilling operations which they can then sell.
And here's the real meat of this proposal.  Just as diligently as oil and gas companies have been working to capture any methane production in their fields, (leaking methane is throwing away money and that just doesn't go over very well with any business I know), the EPA has been working to shut down energy production  from coal and other non-green (that is, real) sources.  They are, of course, as anti-progress and especially anti-American progress, as you'll ever find. 
“President Obama’s plan to reduce climate-disrupting methane pollution is an important step in reining in an out of control industry exempt from too many public health protections,” Deborah Nardone, campaign director of the Sierra Club’s Keeping Dirty Fuels in the Ground campaign. “However, even with the most rigorous methane controls and monitoring in place, we will still fall short of what is needed to fight climate disruption if we do not reduce our reliance on these dirty fossil fuels.”
Aside from the obvious anti-technology, anti-energy independence aspect, this obviously falls into  Moochelle's famous dietary nonsense, too.  Its a progressive perfecta!  If there's 25% less cattle, the cost of beef in the diet has to go up, and people will eat even less of it.  Reeks of a Cass Sunstein "Nudge"  doesn't it? 
Prototype cattle methane collector.  Srsly. 

Remember:  as always, fart control isn't about the farts - it's about the control.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lying For The Image

Not that it's a new thing but it just gets under my skin.  See, I was brought up not to lie, and so the concept that one would lie for some "greater good" just doesn't fit in my brain.  If the truth isn't persuasive enough, it's not on your side.  With the possible exception being something like telling the guy holding the gun on you that you swear you won't call the cops after he leaves.  The image that ticked me off?  This one from the Supreme Court this week:
If you know anything about this case, you know it has essentially nothing do with either of these signs or what's being presented in any news source, be it CNN or Fox.  It's about whether a company has to provide abortifacients in compliance with Federal law, not contraceptives; the deeper question is do people who form a company give up their human right to live in compliance with their faith or even their preferences.  Hobby Lobby already provides contraceptives (16 out of 20 required), their issue is with the 20% which function by preventing survival of an embryo - an abortifacient.   Neither one of those signs represents that case at all.  The one on the left is a dangerous assault on all religions everywhere.  The one on the right, while technically a true statement, is 100% irrelevant.  It's not a healthcare plan.  It's also not a refrigerator, it's not a banana, and perhaps most relevant: it's not a government office. 

The one on the left is more dangerous because it uses freedom of worship (FoW) to replace freedom of religion (FoR).  The president has increasingly been using the phrase FoW instead of FoR since his Cairo speech in '09; some say to the exclusion of FoR.  At least one organization, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also noted the shift and raised a flag on it in its 2010 annual report.  Freedom of worship is just that; it says the only place you are allowed your religious views is in a recognized church - and if congress trying to decide who gets freedom of speech is any indication, laws defining an allowable church ought to start hitting the congress in ...oh...15 minutes or so.  You can believe anything you want in your recognized building, but the moment you walk out of it, you may only believe what Your God Your Government tells you.  Even Muslim nations under Sharia law trumpet their Freedom of Worship, where (at best) it means other religions may be taught only in churches.  More often, it simply means the choice between the Mosque and the cemetery;  you're free to be a Muslim or die (or get out of the country). 

Freedom of Religion is what is expressed in the constitution, and has allowed for the ‘free exercise of religion’ in all aspects of American society unabated for over 200 years.  Only those very uninvolved in watching society would say that there is no conflict over this in American society; just last week, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Vatican's Chief Justice noted that US policies  “have become progressively more hostile toward Christian civilization.”  In his interview, he specifically said he thought Obama was shifting America to a Freedom of Worship society. 

I think it's wise to never dismiss politics when watching any politicians doing anything, and that's especially true with the crop of Alinskyites in power.  Why does this case get to the Supreme court?  If the government wanted to absolutely ensure those abortifacients were available, they have many ways to do it, including direct confiscation of your taxes and mine.  So it can't simply be about that.  What's it all about?  One of two things: to get yet another area of the constitution shredded away - even better! by the court not the president's phone and pen; the other possibility is to further try to break Obamacare down so that the morons cry out for single payer government takeover of everything.  Which is virtually total control over every citizen.  If you're the one in control, and a pathological control freak, what's not to like about total control over everything?

It's worth noting that the government has declared war on Christianity here; it's not the other way around.  Christ said in Mark 12:17, "give to Caesar that which is his, and give to God that which is His".  While under valid Earthly governments; obey them.  Pay your taxes.  Follow Just Laws.  The problem is the government seems to think that everything you earn, everything you own, and as the Freedom of Worship change progresses, everything you believe belongs them, too.

Friday, March 28, 2014

You Know You're Coughing Too Much

... when the cat leaves because you're keeping him from sleeping.  You know you're coughing too much when you dream about trying to calm yourself so you don't cough.

Just got back from my second trip to the lung specialist who (this time) gave me a script for Codeine.  It has to help my sleep, if not Mojo's. He also pointed out that there has been a strange return of pertussis - Whooping Cough - in the last decade and much of the disease is in us older adults.  Since Jenny McCarthy hadn't been born yet, there was no "anti-vaccination movement" to speak of and we all got vaccinated against it.  The real reason there was no anti-vaccination movement, of course, was that those diseases were not some remote risk that never happened.  Those risks were as real as an oak tree to our parents because many of us came from a family where a child (or more than one!) was lost to Whooping Cough, so they viewed the vaccines as the modern miracles they are.  Mrs. Graybeard tells of hearing the story throughout her childhood of how her parents, as children, lost brothers and sisters to "The 100-day cough".  In one case, one sibling came down with the disease on the way to/from the funeral of another. 

The vaccinations appear to be wearing out.  Add it to the list of vaccinations I ought to get. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is The Physics Community Waking Up?

The American Physical Society, an association of 50,000 American physicists in industry and academia, has long just mouthed the government party line that global warmening climate chaos anthropogenic climate change is supported by the science.  I can't recall the first time I read one of the papers they'd issued and shook my head, wondering what happened to the academic rigor and clear-thinking that physicists were always known for; I just recall it was long ago.  It was an embarrassment.  I wrote about it to some extent in this piece from two years ago:
When the APS simply published a long letter from Lord Monckton, a well known skeptic about AGW, they went so far as to publish a disclaimer that this was not the APS viewpoint - something they have never done about really "out there" quantum physics.   (It's at the top of article in that link) As Dr. Giaever says; it's acceptable to talk about the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, which implies that for every decision we make, a parallel universe pops into existence, but it's not acceptable to question computer models about future climates that claim accuracy to even one decimal place? 
Things look like they might just be changing.  The self-correcting tendencies of real science appear to be emerging.  Thanks to a link from Sense of Events, I found this article from an Australian journal called Quadrant: Finally, Some Real Climate Science.  It opens by saying the APS rules require them to recheck these sorts of support every five years, to make sure they're keeping up with science.  In a bold and completely honest move, they staffed the committee doing the review with three very well regarded "climate skeptics", Richard Lindzen of MIT, Judith Curry of Georgia Tech and John Christy of UAH (Alabama Huntsville).  The other three are prominent members of the IPCC establishment: IPCC lead author and modeler William Collins, atmospheric physicist Isaac Held, and Ben Santer.  The Quadrant article lists some of the questions that they are asking.  This is a real breath of fresh air; real science is trying to emerge here.  As always, I'll include some samples and say you should go read:
While the Global Mean Surface Temperature (GMST) rose strongly from 1980-98, it has shown no significant rise for the past 15 years…[The APS notes that neither the 4th nor 5th IPCC report modeling suggested any stasis would occur, and then asks] …

To what would you attribute the stasis?

If non-anthropogenic influences are strong enough to counteract the expected effects of increased CO2, why wouldn’t they be strong enough to sometimes enhance warming trends, and in so doing lead to an over-estimate of CO2 influence?

What are the implications of this stasis for confidence in the models and their projections?
Out of the gate, they start at one of the major holes in the situation, indeed, the whole crux of the argument: the agreement between the models and reality is abysmal.
Some have suggested that the ‘missing heat’ is going into the deep ocean…

Are deep ocean observations sufficient in coverage and precision to bear on this hypothesis quantitatively?

Why would the heat sequestration have ‘turned on’ at the turn of this century?

What could make it ‘turn off’ and when might that occur?
This is just pure beauty from where I sit.  Over and over, the APS panel asks "You say xyz is going on.  How do you know?  What are your measurement uncertainties? Don't just tell me it's something else, show me the data or calculations that back that up!

Maybe I'm a victim of premature congratulations, but this is sounding more like physicists than anything I've heard out of the APS in at least a decade.  We obviously don't know what they'll conclude, but they seem to be asking the right questions, and if you don't ask the right questions, you'll never get the right answers.
You may have seen this graph at Borepatch's: the gold standard data is the two satellite data sets, UAH and RSS.  Since 1995, the models the IPCC uses have diverged more and more from the measured data.  The real world is cooler than all of the models.  The dark line appears to be the model average.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The College Problem You Haven't Heard Of

Everybody has heard that the price of education has been subject to higher inflation than medicine and every other commodity in our lives.  Certainly everybody has heard the jokes about the surge of college graduates unable to find work, (along the lines of "I have a Masters Degree in Lesbian Poetry, 1900 - 1919, but nobody will hire me!").  Everybody has heard of the coming student loan debt crisis.  Maybe some have even heard that student loans are a problem because student loans are the largest asset in the Federal Government's balance sheet.

But I have to admit even I hadn't heard of the surge in grade inflation to match the price inflation that colleges are charging.  If anyone less credible than Walter Williams had said this (to be fair, most of the human race is less credible than Walter), I might not be so fast to assume it's truth. Regrettably, this is an old argument, which burns me all the more for not being informed about it.  Williams, 2009, quotes a study by Professor Thomas C. Reeves, writing for the National Association of Scholars who documents something no less than academic fraud in his article "The Happy Classroom: Grade Inflation Works."
From 1991 to 2007, in public institutions, the average grade point average (GPA) rose, on a four-point scale, from 2.93 to 3.11. In private schools, the average GPA climbed from 3.09 to 3.30. Put within a historical perspective, in the 1930s, the average GPA was 2.35 (about a C-plus); whereby now it's a B-plus.
In 1960, about 15% of all letter grades given in colleges were As.  Today, that number is 43%.  At some schools, the As alone outnumber Ds and Fs combined by 4:1.  To some degree, we expect Ds and Fs to be a low number in colleges because they used to (historically) get you put on academic probation and then kicked out of school, but the increase in percentage of As can't be accounted for that way.  It seems that the Ivy League schools are particularly subject to this:
At Brown University, two-thirds of all letter grades given are A's. At Harvard, 50 percent of all grades were either A or A- (up from 22 percent in 1966); 91 percent of seniors graduated with honors. ...  Fifty percent of students at Columbia University are on the Dean's list. At Stanford University, where F grades used to be banned, only 6 percent of student grades were as low as a C. 
91% of Harvard students were Honors Graduates?  How much of an honor is it to be in the top 91% of your class?  That's making "Honors Graduate" into a participation trophy!  In my day, it took being in the top 5% of GPAs in the graduating class - which never seemed to work out to 90% of the graduates (or more than 5 or 10%).  The Dean's list at Columbia has 50% of the college's students?  How can that be a Dean's list?  That's the equivalent of having every student on campus flip a coin: head's you're on, tails you're off!  First rule of the Progressives: redefine the words. 

How do you explain this?  Walter Williams says it's pure and simple academic fraud.  He contributes:
Some college administrators will tell us that the higher grades merely reflect higher-quality students. Balderdash! SAT scores have been in decline for four decades and at least a third of entering freshmen must enroll in a remedial course either in math, writing or reading, which indicates academic fraud at the high school level. A recent survey of more than 30,000 first-year students revealed that nearly half spent more hours drinking than study. Another survey found that a third of students expected B's just for attending class, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the assigned reading.
Stu Burguiere of the Blaze and the Glen Beck program contributes an interesting perspective in this 5 minute video. College is an unusual industry in that you pay for the product, often over many years, but somewhere along the way, they tell you how good they were in teaching your children.  If they get As, Mom and Dad feel better about the purchase.  And the student is more likely to join the alumni association and donate money to the school.  How much is that needed?  Depends on the school.  A couple of years ago, I wrote:
Today's fun fact:  Harvard has an endowment worth $32 billion.  If they paid all 6700 undergraduates' tuition, fees and books, it would cost 1/1000 of that - $32 million.  That endowment grew over 21% last year ($6.72 billion).  Based simply on that, they could pay all undergrad fees forever, without endangering a single new building.  [Note: The $6.72 billion growth isn't in the original, I just added that - SiG]
While the Ivy League schools may not need this self-perpetuating system of artificially high grades, the smaller state and private schools surely will.  

In other words, for all the anti-capitalistic crap they indoctrinate students with, they sure do know how to manipulate incentives to get more capital. 
(Dilbert, of course)
The practical side of this is that it has been going on for quite a while, and companies trying to hire only the best new grads are continually refining their search methods.  For you and I, it may mean trying to hire older physicians - or at least being wary of younger, unproven ones.  The problem with that is that all the older ones are approaching retirement, too. 

Sidenote:  the cold that has knocked me flat for the last few days appears to be a bacterial bronchitis.  Saw my (older) allergist yesterday and got pumped full of steroids and antibiotics.  The fever is broken, but coughing still hurts.  At least the gurgling experience has eased up while trying to sleep.  And my hearty congratulations to the folks at Robitussin.  I never thought they could come up with a way to make that stuff taste more vile, but they have.  They changed it from a thin syrup you could knock back like a shot of vodka and follow with water to wash the taste away over to consistency more like molasses which is much harder to slug down. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sick Day

I have a cold.  I don't think it's the flu because my temperature has stayed under 102, but it's a nasty chest cold that came on in the space of a couple of hours Saturday night.  In a move that is so uncharacteristic of me that simply stating two words brings a look of concern to my wife, I put on a long sleeve Tee shirt and told her, "I'm cold".  I've spent my day under a blanket. 

Walking to the bathroom is a test of physical endurance that, last week, would have been equivalent to hiking to Siberia over the Bering Strait.  From Florida.  The weakness works its way into all of life.  For example, I find that I don't have the strength to brush my teeth.  I'll get through a half of the two minute electric toothbrush cycle, then just sit down for an hour or two to rest up.  The kids are long out of the house, but it's the kind of cold where if the kids were playing with the acetylene torch in the coat closet, I wouldn't care enough to stop them.  A serious problem we have here in Florida is that our air is very dense.  We just have lots of molecules in the house, and if I pay attention, I can feel each and every one of them hitting me. 

So, in the mean time, as so may of our friends say, visit those cool blogs in the right side bar.  And I'll be functional again as soon the molecules stop beating me up.  And thank Dave Barry for this 1986 humor column that was my inspiration.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quote of the Day - Schooling the BATFE Edition

Courtesy of Michael Bane's blog, we learn about Innovator Enterprises, the creator of the "Stabilizer Brake," a device that attaches to the muzzle of a rifle with the intent of substantially reducing the firearm recoil and redirecting noise away from the shooter toward the target, among other things.  Such things are usually called "muzzle brakes", but Innovator Enterprises, knowing they are dealing with the Queen Mother of All Arbitrary and Capricious (meaning "goat like", after all) government agencies, asked the BATFE to rule on whether or not this muzzle brake was a silencer.  Since the device forced recoil gases forward away from the shooter, a truly twisted person (like the BATFE) might say it is a silencer.

And, as predictably as the summer rains, they ruled it was a silencer.  Innovator sued the to overturn that ruling.  The good judge in the case, then started warming up for the QoTD. 
"In any agency review case, a reviewing court is generally obligated to uphold a reasonable agency decision that is the product of a rational agency process," U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote Wednesday. "This is not a high bar. But in this case, ATF fails to clear it."
Instead of actually, you know, measuring the noise levels with and without the brake, the  Firearms Technology Branch of ATF declared it to be a silencer "because we say so".  When pushed, they replied with a list of characteristics that a silencer has.  It didn't even say which three of the six characteristics they determined the brake possessed.  Here is where Judge Bates reaches QoTD (or Quote of the Month) levels:
"A mouse is not an 'elephant' solely because it has three characteristics that are common to known elephants: a tail, gray skin and four legs. A child's bike is not a 'motorcycle' solely because it has three characteristics common to known motorcycles: two rubber tires, handlebars, and a leather seat. And a Bud Light is not 'Single-Malt Scotch,' just because it is frequently served in a glass container, contains alcohol, and is available for purchase at a tavern. To close with a firearm-related example a hockey puck us not a 'rubber bullet,' just because it has rounded sides, is made of vulcanized rubber, and is capable of causing injury when launched at high speeds. Learning that one object has three characteristics in common with some category may not be very helpful in determining whether the object in question belongs in that category.
That my friends, is an epic smack down!  Now, it doesn't end the case.  Judge Bates says in his conclusion that he is not the right one to make the decision; that decision is legally the province of the BATFE.  It's just that they need to use a reasonable and clear process.  The clearly haven't done it here and he returns the matter to the agency saying they should use a little logic for a change.
(from the Master, Oleg, of course)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Enginerds - For The Unfamiliar

I've had a minor medical thing going on this year.  It really goes back a long time, and it's one of those annoying things rather than the kind of thing that makes you think "I've got to get to the Emergency Room now!".  Years ago, let's say 2004, I started to notice that if I stood up too long without moving around, the outer (left) side of my left thigh would start going numb.  Then it would turn into the "pins and needles" sensation, and eventually get pretty painful.  As it seemed to be taking less time to get there lately, I started to get concerned about it maybe becoming permanent or at least getting to where I couldn't stand for more than a few minutes, so I thought I'd mention it to my GP. 

The Doc had lots of "do you have...?" questions ranging from the unpleasant to the really scary, and I could thankfully say "no" to all of it.  He said it was probably a pinched nerve and suggested a few weeks of physical therapy followed by an X-Ray.  Sparing you some of the details, the x-ray came back and said I had a fractured vertebra, either L4 or L5 (don't recall).  The PT had said she could isolate the place where the pinched nerve would be, and it would have been between L4 and L5.  I went back to the GP and told him I had a hard time believing it.  I've had this problem for 10 years; if this is an old, healed fracture - that's one thing, but they didn't say "old fracture".  If they think it's new, that's two problems.  First - it's not causing the reason why I'm there; second, I sure haven't hit my back hard enough to break something.  If they had said I had a bad disk, yeah, I'd probably believe that, just not the fracture.  Doc suggested I get an MRI.  Finally had it Thursday after work. 

A friend and I got talking about it.  One of the questions they ask is if you're claustrophobic, and I know some people who have really freaked out in one of those things.  I found it pretty comfortable, if a little tight at the shoulders, and probably could have taken a nap if wasn't so dang loud!  They give you earplugs, the little foam shooters' plugs, and I swear the bangs out of the machine were around the loudness of a 9mm in your hands.  I'm not claustrophobic, but I was lying there a little while with my eyes open and there's just plain nothing to see.  It's dimly lit and there's just a little speaker panel about four inches in front of my face, so I left my eyes closed most of the time.

Both of us, though, said that we found the loud noises and frequency sweeps interesting, and we spent our time in the tube trying to figure out what the system was doing.  We both do radar and have some familiarity with synthetic imaging, and an MRI does synthetic imagaing very much like a radar or the fish finding sonars small boaters use.  The Magnet in Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a superconducting electromagnet, with the coils submerged in liquid helium - producing a field 40,000 times stronger than the earth's magnetic field.  Are the loud noises from relief of mechanical stress from the modulation of the coils in the strong magnetic field, or from something else?  And what kind of weird electromagnetic and mechanical considerations come into play in such large fields with superconducting magnets bathed in liquid helium?  (This is a pretty good explanation of how MRIs work)

If you haven't seen this Dilbert clip, it explains engineers as well as can be:

Doctor: "It's worse than I feared."
Mother: "What is it?"
Doctor: "I'm afraid your son has ... the Knack."
Mother: "The knack?"
Doctor: "The Knack. It's a rare condition characterized by an extreme intuition about all things mechanical and electrical ... and utter social ineptitude."
Mother: "Can he lead a normal life?"
Doctor: "No. He'll be an engineer."
Mother: "Oh, no!"  (sobs)

As my friend said, "I can see trying to do PET scans of engineer's heads. Hey you! Stop trying to figure out the details of what's going on dammit! You're ruining the scan! Think soft kittens. Soft kittens."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ares Armor vs. BATFE

I've been watching the story about Ares Armor and the run-in they've had with the BATFE with a lot of interest.  Only the newest of the newcomers to the blog don't know that I built an AR from an 80% lower a couple of years ago, and have featured it here ever since.  My AR is built on an aluminum 80% from Colfax Tactical, while the BATFE has their panties in a wad over the polymer lowers Ares is selling, lowers made by EP Armory.  Not coincidentally, I've written about those here, too.

So what's my take on what's going on?  Putting together what I've read, like in the Shooting Wire, and other reports, like Michael Bane's podcast on the topic, it appears to be a convergence of a vehemently anti-gun administration, a criminal investigation in which the BATFE is accusing a couple of illegal immigrants (brothers Luiz and Emiliano Cortez-Garcia) of buying 80% lowers and manufacturing complete guns out of them.  The brothers are alleged to have sold these completed guns to felons who couldn't legally buy a gun.  While the federal law is pretty clear that we can build guns for ourselves, this is clearly running a factory in violation of lots of laws; that is, if the BATFE is telling the truth, and I have no particular reason to believe they are.  But if the brothers were using these 80% lowers it makes sense they'd sweep up the companies involved.  The fact that BATFE wanted (and seized) Ares' customer lists makes more sense, too.   

It then seems that once they were on Ares' scent, the reasons BATFE put forth for charges against them is that the polymer lower they sell must (BATFE declaration) be made it two pieces: one is the black plastic portion which is made as a finished lower receiver, and then filled in with the color contrasting plastic.  During that interval the black plastic part is a gun, and Ares Armor must be an FFL, get an FFL manufacturing license, treat the lowers as guns and they can't be unmade into "not guns".  Ares and EP maintain, and claim to have manufacturing process documents that back up the claim that the lower is actually made in a way that a complete lower is never present. 
As an aside, the absolute coolest trick in the world, and I've never heard anyone else ever talk about doing it, would be to mold this out of two grades of plastic.  Wouldn't it just be the coolest thing you've ever seen if the dark part of this lower melted at say, 400 degrees, and the light part melted at 200?  So that all you'd have to do to turn this 80% lower into a finished one would be to immerse it in boiling water?  The trick would be to make it in a way that it would not be a complete lower until that moment and I frankly don't see how it could ever happen.  But I can just imagine the Moms Demanding Your Rights, the BATFE, Mayor McFascist and the Illegal Mayors (sounds like a bad band name) along with a buttload of others dissolving in apoplexy over that!

To me, the bottom line is that the BATFE might succeed in court against Ares and EP, but they will be unable to stop the 80% lower market as much as they hate it and want to shut it down.  They might desperately want to keep people from being able to build guns, but they're bucking one of the most powerful trends in society.  This is convergence, the new industrial revolution.  With the advance of personal fabrication - the intersection of home CNC, 3D printing, continually more powerful digital electronics, what's called the Maker movement, it is literally getting to the point where you will be able to buy anything you need to make any gun you want. Dimensioned drawings for the AR family lowers are online; it doesn't take much to turn those into tool paths.  The open source movement will provide that.  To use the cliche' again, "you can't stop the signal".

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sight Gag

Jerry Holbert at Townhall.  Just made me laugh. 

Suddenly realized what time it is so no deep content tonight.  Yes, I am aware that writing about not writing is really writing. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Ultra Large Capacitors Find Important Niche

Techies, electronics hobbyists, electric vehicle enthusiasts and even just folks who read my old "The Least You Should Know Series", are all familiar with capacitors; they're one of the fundamental building blocks of electronics.  Capacitors have many roles in circuits, but one of the biggest is energy storage. 

A capacitor is physically two metal plates separated by an insulator, and the basic unit is the Farad.  In radio work, where I'm from, I use values that go from under 1 trillionth of a farad or < 1 picofarad to a few millionths of a farad, say 10 or 20 microfarads.  If you look in old radio gear (or TVs) from the 1960s and before, the biggest capacitors you'll find are probably around a couple of hundred microfarads, and back in the early '70s capacitors didn't get much bigger than that - at least by my memory.  In the late 70s to early 80s, very large value "computer electrolytics" became available, for filtering computer power supplies.  In the early 80s, the first 1 Farad capacitors I had ever seen hit the market as a replacement for memory backup batteries. 

As an aside, it's not uncommon for new students studying electronics for the first time to confuse capacitors with batteries because they're so similar in structure: two metal plates with something between them which are used for energy storage.  The key difference is that the metal plates of a battery are different metals and the "something" is an electrolyte; a conductive liquid or paste that allows electrons  to move between the two metals, while in a capacitor, the "something" is an insulator.  (Electrolytics do have a paste in there, but it forms an insulating layer on one or both terminals).  The voltage on a battery depends on the electrochemistry of the materials and while they provide lots of electrons, allowing you to get much more out of them than you can store in a capacitor, the electrodes are used up in the process.  Rechargeable batteries rebuild the electrodes. 

Maxwell Technologies has been advancing the Farad-sized ultracapacitors in capabilities and recently introduced an engine start module that replaces a starting battery with 36,000 Farads of capacitor, as a dozen 3000 Farad capacitors in parallel. 
If you drive trucks for a living, or work around them, you know that the stop/start cycle that delivery trucks need to support is a hardship on them.  Drivers used to leave the truck running to preserve their batteries, but nanny-staters have gathered to outlaw idling in many places.  The Maxwell ESM is intended for Class 3 to Class 6 trucks, which are typically those used for deliveries around cities. The product can replace one of the truck's batteries to provide the energy for its starting function.  These trucks typically carry three or four batteries, and the capacitor bank can replace one.  The product video on Maxwell's website says the module can provide "over one Million engine cranks at -40 to +65C". 
Capacitors don't get used up like battery electrodes do, so I would expect much more life out of one of these than any battery and they do claim a four year warranty.  Perhaps the life cycle degrades them, but I have smaller value electrolytics that have been working fine for decades.  The ESM is really cool tech to me, but maybe the ultracapacitors just don't have the lifetime of older technology capacitors. 

(H/T to Design News, where opinions are divided, as always)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Money And Politics

(yeah, I know.  I don't do enough controversial topics around here)

A friend I used to work with sent me a link to this TED Talk on NPR: Has Money Taken Over American Politics?  Like many of you, and some of the commenters, I thought "when has money not been in control?"  I can rattle off quotes all day, and I bet you know them, too.  Everyone knows it's a problem.  But if I had a problem to go after this wouldn't be number one.  Maybe not even number two. 

The guy who gives the talk has a program he's trying to get people to join in on.  It's not a bad talk, in typical TED style, but I think he's focusing in the wrong direction.  Contributors pay big bucks to buy government offices for a simple reason: it's an easy way to make money.  The day that buying an official to pass laws or make rules that hurt your competitor became a more cost effective than improving your company was the day we started sliding down the slippery slope to where we are. 

I've said before that I don't think money is as important as the general wisdom says.  I think the reasons everyone tries to raise bundles of many are mostly self-deception.  First off, it's easy to quantify.  The campaign manager can say, "look at how much I collected for you!".  Second, if the campaign loses, it's easier for a campaign manager to say "they spent more than we did" than to say "our advisers sucked", and way easier than saying "my campaign work sucked", or "face it - you suck".  Last week, a nobody with no experience in elected office beat Alex Sink in a House race over in Tampa area.  Sink was the evil party's candidate for governor last time - she just barely lost.  Sink and the various Democratic groups outspent the stupid party candidate by 3:1 and still lost.    In Texas, the same basic story was Ted Cruz in 2012 - Cruz was outspent 3:1 in his primary campaign.  Money is not everything.   

The number one problem on my list is that our system has devolved into a ruling class vs. the general population, and that's largely because the government is too big.  It's a permanent ruling class because once someone is elected, they stand a better than 80% chance of never being voted out.  They don't have to answer to voters or constituents, so they treat us like crap.  The only thing they're afraid of is having the big money run someone else against them in the primaries.  Obviously lobbyist money affects that, but it's crony politics all the way down.  While I like the idea of term limits, they're not without drawbacks.  Once a politico is in their last term they don't even have a reason to pretend they're not in it only for themselves.

When I think about it, it seems people have been talking about campaign finance reform for as as far back as I can recall and a law was passed in the 1970s, as well as more recently.  Really worked well, hasn't it?  We already have restrictions on spending, and they get around that with all these non-candidate groups.  "This message was paid for by Americans Loving Fuzzy Kittens".  Besides, why isn't telling someone they can't spend money to put a message on air a violation of their 1st Amendment free speech protections?  Yeah, I know.  Because the Supremes said so.  
(Eric Allie on Townhall.  Reference.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Change of Perspective

Putting my post together Wednesday on how the DJIA has actually lost value since 2000 started a mental thread running on some background processor in my head and it keeps spitting out ideas at me.  These, in turn, are mind-bending.  Enough so that I thought I'd share some of them.  This is going to be a stream of conciousness kind of post.  And it's going to be on economics, the gold standard, fiat currency, and bunch of other things that merge in this thought stream.

Like any other topic that touches on politics, people argue about who's really responsible, but Nixon was the idiot in the White House who actually took the US off the gold standard.  But Nixon was backed into a corner and had almost no choice.  He might have stayed on the gold standard and had to weather a financial storm, but remember this was just a few years after the country was erupting in riots and cities were burning over the war, or anything.  The dollar was being squeezed by other countries concerned that US deficit spending was out of control, that LBJ's "guns and butter" policies had caused a surge in US borrowing and since the dollar was redeemable for gold, France and other countries started to demand payment in gold bars.  LBJ is remembered for his profligate spending on the Great Society programs, but also for stepping up the war in Vietnam.  So much for those who say deficit spending can't happen on a gold standard.  It can.  It just usually doesn't get to the levels we see today because nobody will buy the bonds.  Our recent governments make LBJ and his congress look like rank amateurs.

OK, that's a done deal.  We've been without a standard for over 42 years.  At that moment, gold was $35/ounce.  Today's price was $1382/ounce.  What does that mean?  It simply means that people with gold were willing to accept 1382 slips of paper and ink for it.  Tomorrow, they could decide there is no number of slips of paper they'd trade an ounce of gold for; or they could decide to accept a $20 bill for a one ounce "$20" coin.  Very probably neither one of those will happen.  Right now, the world is clinging to stability.  Financial talking heads will say "but gold doesn't pay dividends" and "gold doesn't grow".  The problem is that the dollar isn't growing in value, either.  The value of the dollar is shrinking. This inflation effects everything.  Everything.  Let's start with gold itself.  This chart, from 2011, shows the price of gold corrected to 1971 dollars.  Gold was around $1600 when this chart was made, but corrected for the persistent inflation the Federal Reserve cranks into the economy, you can see it's nowhere near its all time high from the 1980s (and I believe that's somewhat an artifact of the whole post-gold world starting so close to 1980).

The trick here is to turn your thinking upside down.  If this is a standard, what's really happening is that gold is worth what it's worth, and that people who hold gold are willing to accept a certain number of slips of paper for it.  Today, people are accepting paper that's worth a tiny fraction of what that paper was worth in 1971, so they want a lot more of those slips of toilet paper.   

Real growth is unusual; at least in large amounts.  Even without knowing your personal situation, it's a safe claim that virtually everything you have that you think has grown in value is just seeing the effect of inflation.  And without getting too personal, I'll show some examples from my life.  When I bought this house in 1984, gold was $350/oz. (this chart says that's about average for the year) so the house cost about 157 ounces of gold.  Today, 157 ounces are worth $217,000.  While I don't know what the house's market value is today, it sure isn't that.  I'd guess it's about 60% of that, meaning it has lost 40% of its value compared to gold.  If you talk in terms of dollar prices, though, it has more than doubled.  As another example, as I showed on that post Wednesday, a share of the DJIA was 43 ounces of gold in 2000 but only 11.9 ounces this week.  If you think your Indexed Stock Fund is worth more than what it was 14 years ago, you're mistaken; it's down about 72% (43-11.9 or 31.1/43).  If you haven't made more than 72%, not counting anything you've contributed, you've lost money!  How do you prepare for retirement in the face of the DJIA losing that much of its value?  Other than saying that's not the place to put your money, I don't know.   

Has my pay grown?  Using gold as the standard, my first job as an engineer was typical new-grad pay, and in those days it was about 66 ounces of gold per year.  In the intervening 30-some years, my pay has gone up in terms of gold; but, regrettably, I'm not paid in terms of my weight in gold.   

In my mind, these two facts make sense.  In real terms, although we've done work on the house and improved it considerably, it is a 33 year old house.  Compared to a new house, more is likely to go wrong with it.  And in my mind (at least) I've become more valuable to my employers due to an increase in knowledge, and a tendency to make fewer mistakes.  That's what economists used to call "increased productivity".

It has always puzzled me that people expect their houses to automatically be more valuable every year.  Remember the great fuss about the numbers of people who are "underwater" on their loans - as if that somehow absolves them from a contract they signed?  I think everyone, even the greenest kid, knows when they buy a new car it's worth less than the loan the minute they drive off the lot; why is a house more valuable the minute you sign the contract?  It's what I alluded to in Wednesday's post: we've become so accustomed to the "persistent, benign" inflation that the central banks strive for that we think it's the order of the universe.  But it hasn't been for almost all of history.  Look at this plot of inflation through the last century before the Federal Reserve:
Sure there were periods of inflation and deflation in that 113 years, but the important thing is that it's centered around zero.  The expenditures for the civil war were obviously rough, but after the war we took our lumps to pay off war bonds essentially until the end of the century.  As a result of that, the Consumer Price Index was relatively constant until the birth of the Federal Reserve.  The dollar is now worth about 4% of what it was during the time this chart shows.  

The "price" for going on a commodity standard, be it gold, silver, palladium or big stone rings, is that money can't be made up out of nothing.  Politicians don't like it because it reduces their ability to get involved in foreign adventures and it reduces their ability to buy votes.  Banks don't like it because it makes them need to be more careful.  Their profitability isn't guaranteed.  You wouldn't have tricks like the Federal Reserve giving banks the money to pay the Fed back the money that they borrowed from the Fed.  (yes, I'm afraid you read that correctly).  It very likely means that your wages won't necessarily go up every year - but neither will food or energy prices.  Prices will more likely effect real market forces, like shortages or surpluses, and that goes for the price of labor.  Since your pay really isn't going up in dollar amounts, if your mortgage is a tight payment now, it's likely to stay one, unless you get paid more for being worth more, or get more experience, or somehow become more valuable.  And you're probably not going to be able to get a second mortgage to buy more stuff anyway, unless your house truly does become more valuable.  (Maybe you live near an oil boom, or your location becomes popular for some reason.)  It's a different life. 

In other words, the powerful and politically connected won't like it.  They have to be more honest and ethical.  They love the power to mess with something as critically important as money.  So what if those dollar bills are worth less than they should be, as long as they end up with more than other people? 

I've said many times, there's nothing inherent in a fiat currency that means it can't work, it just never does.  Politicians have to be mature adults, they have to spend within their means, and they have to not debase the currency.  They have to treat it with the same deference they'd treat gold or silver or anything else that's valued and limited in availability.  That's why it never works. To be fair, though, rulers have messed with commodity standards down through history, too, and made them fail.  Neither is unbreakable.  Neither is without disadvantage. 

Why is this important?  When you hear about the loss of the middle class standard of living, this is one of the central causes.  The manipulations created by the central banks, the decrease in the value of the dollar to a few percent of what it was in 1913; this is the root cause.  It would be a very different world without the central banks, but their role has morphed from protecting the monetary supply to corrupting it in the service of the governments and fellow bankers.  Small inflation is good for them, but a "persistent benign deflation" would destroy them.  In contrast, I think I'd like the possibility of paying a bit less for energy, food or other necessities every year.  That possibility used to exist before the central banks. 

A world with a gold standard would require a very different perspective.  Could you get used to not making more every year, if everything you bought cost the same, or less?  To some degree, people value the illusion of wealth they get from seeing their home price go up in dollars, and they feel wealthy when they see their 401k worth 50% more than it was in 2000.  They've never even asked if they've really made money or lost money.  But if everything inflated at the same rate: consumer prices, wages and stock prices, no one would have made or lost a cent.  Everyone would be exactly as well off as they started.  It would be like everyone in the country re-marking every bill in their wallets with a new value twice what it used to be.  Everyone would have twice as much money but since everything costs twice as much they'd have exactly the same wealth.  Nobody ever asks these questions.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

If I Had This When I Was a Kid

I would have never left the house:

I clearly remember taking one of mom and dad's chairs, laying the back on the floor and pretending I was in a Gemini capsule. But LEDs hadn't even been invented in those days, and I sure wasn't capable of doing any of this stuff. 

My nominee for Dad of the Year.

Friday, March 14, 2014

American Universities: Inmates Running the Asylum

Just a small example, one of thousands.  Student activists at the University of Michigan are attempting to get the university to inflict institute requirements for "race and ethnicity" studies on the University's Engineering school.
A proposal, drafted by members of the Central Student Government, aims to reform the requirement that all students in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts study race and ethnicity before graduation. Moving forward, all students–even those in the Colleges of Engineering and Business — would be forced to take a class with a racial component, if the proposal were approved by faculty.
Enter Black Student Union senior Shayla Scales
She and members of her coalition have met with deans from multiple colleges, including the Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering.
No, seriously.  Everything has to be looked at through the distorted prism of racism.  Aggrieved minority studies are just what engineering students need!  I wonder what the sky looks like on their planet?

Coincidentally, Borepatch ran a post today about a book from Captain Capitalist called "Worthless" .  In the post, Borepatch adds:
Some degrees are not worthless, they're actually less than worthless - they make it harder for degree holders to get a job than if they had no degree at all.  In other words, after the time and expense of getting the degree, it adds negative value to the career trajectory.  The "grievance" studies (Women's Studies, Minority Studies, etc) are a red flag to many potential employers that this person is a professionally trained troublemaker, with a well honed skill for searching out problems where they likely don't exist and creating a disruptive work environment.  Other than government agencies and groups like the SPLC, it's hard to see who would want to hire this skill set.
And that's the real drawback here.  Instead of, as Ms. Scales says, “I truly believe innovation lies in the crevices of diversity,” leading to great, new things, it will be a waste of time.  See, Ms. Scales, the universe doesn't give one flying wit about you, or what you think, what color you are, or anything else you deem important.  If you build that bridge, or that car, that plane, house, or circuit in a way that conflicts with what ironclad laws of physics say, it will fail.  You can bet your life, because you're probably betting someone else' life, too.  While it's hard to overstate how much I value creativity in engineering, as physicist Richard Feynman once said, "Scientific creativity is imagination in a strait jacket".  Imagination is imperative, but what we imagine has to fit with what we already know.  Diversity doesn't mean anything except diversity. 

I don't really have a dog in this fight, except that I want tomorrow's engineers to be damned good.  The demands on the field are always getting progressively tougher. As it is, bachelor's degrees in engineering are typically taking the student longer than your classic "four year" degree.  Four and a half to five years is pretty typical.  Adding more classes doesn't help.  It was extremely common back then for engineering students to gripe about having to take the humanities classes they had to take and I'm sure they still complain.  The cliche answer: it makes you a more well-rounded person.  In reality, it provided paychecks for the teachers in those other departments.  The scent of government student loans in the air led to every department trying to get a piece of the action.  (The other reality: take that English Composition class.  I spend more time trying to write intelligibly than I do in engineering analysis by probably 10:1) 

But here's a simple fact: an engineering student is much more likely to be able to pass any class they put up than for Ms. Scales or members of her group to pass the calculus and physics classes that engineers are required to pass (Cue Chris Matthews: the words calculus and physics must now be racist code words like golf or angry or constitution).  How about if diversity works the other way for a change?  Let's get the racial diversity crowd into the engineering classes so they can understand how the engineers see the world, instead of the other way around? 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Florida's Pop Tart Bill Clears First Hurdle

It's really, really a shame that the state has to introduce laws to try to inject some sense into school systems, but House Bill 7029 was introduced into the Florida House to keep teachers and administrators for suspending little kids who make their fingers look gun shaped, or nibble a pop tart into something that looks remotely like a gun.  It successfully passed out of committee this week.
Nate Beeler at 

The school droids say that the zero tolerance laws leave them no choice.  I say if you really think a pop tart or a finger is a dangerous weapon, or if you think a 2nd amendment shirt is somehow dangerous, you need a rubber room and some serious medication.  This should never have gotten to the point where laws are needed.    

That said, there is an alternative view that this stupidity isn't a bug, it's a feature.  It's yet another sign of the leftist elite take over of the institution; make guns seem so terrible, so socially unacceptable that kids will be scared to death of them.  Isn't that the gist of what Eric Holder saidLike the 5 year old who was questioned so long and so hard about a cap gun that he wet his pants.  You have to wonder if that kid could ever not be terrified of guns.   So it seems we need the laws to reign in the idiots doing this.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Today's Fun Fact

I've written very often about how inflation is mistaken for real economic growth, especially in the stock market.  I believe the entire point of the Quantitative Easing programs have been to inflate the price of housing back to the bubble levels of the last decade and keep the DJIA high.  This is for a very simple reason.

When a bank writes a mortgage, they write it for a specific number of dollars to be repaid.  It doesn't matter if those dollars are worth less than when the loan was written.  In fact, over a 30 year mortgage, it's guaranteed that the money paid at the end of that mortgage is worth about half of what it was - in terms of real buying power - as when the owner started paying.  Likewise, the numbers most people seem to look at to gauge their worth are house prices and the "stock market"; most news sources report the DJIA, S&P 500 and NASDAQ as a daily horse race.  If people feel their house is increasing in price, that they're not underwater, and they feel their 401k is worth more every year, they feel less inclined to take to the streets with pitchforks, torches and sisal neckties - or scoped deer rifles. 

For the banks, the "persistent benign inflation" the Federal Reserve aims for, 2%, is only really noticeable over long periods.  If they could hold a constant 2% rate, prices would take 35 years to double.  Of course, they don't keep tight total control over inflation because they can't.  Shadowstats shows the Consumer Price Index, if calculated according to the "classic" method, has shown inflation running around 9% for a couple of years, now.  Inflation of 9% doubles prices in only 8 years.  (Cheap and easy way to figure this doubling period: divide 72 by the rate - 72/9 = 8.  It's an approximation, but so is the data going in). 

If you're like me, and many of us, you might wonder what these prices really mean, since they're changing all the time.  If we pretend we have a gold standard that's worth something constant, and dollars go up and down with respect to that, we can calculate the Dow/Gold ratio.  With Today's 4 PM numbers, one "share" of the DJIA would cost 11.9 ounces of gold.  So what?  Some historical numbers might be helpful.  In January of 2000 this ratio hit its peak, and a share of the DJIA cost 43 ounces of gold.  So while today's close of 16320 is much bigger number than the 10000 prices of early 2000, and looking at that would lead you to think the value has gone up considerably, Today's Fun Fact is that the value of the DJIA has actually gone down by more than 50% since Y2K.  Just because I bet someone's wondering, the DJIA in 1929, before the big crash, was 389 or 19 ounces of gold.  (Gold wouldn't reach the $35/oz. level until later).
Chart from Fred's Intelligent Bear site.  There are some interesting charts to bear (ha!) in mind in a piece I did over two years ago, "Could the US Return to a Gold Standard?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Potshots on Transformers

By now, everyone has heard the story about what certainly appears to have been an attack on power stations in the Silicon Valley area of California last year.  This week, Lou Frenzel, currently an editor for Electronic Design magazine addressed it in an online editor's blog. 
The main components in our power grid distribution system are transformers.  They step up the generated voltage to a higher level for more efficient transport over very long lines.  Then they step the voltage back down in several stages for final consumption.  These transformers are located at the power plants and thousands of substations.  They are big and right out in the open.  Weather does not bother them, but bullets do.  They are the weak links in our power grid.

Last year someone decided to shoot out the transformers at PG&E’s Metcalf substation in Silicon Valley taking the substation out of service.  Luckily, PG&E was able to reroute the power to prevent a total blackout.  But it took months to get replacement transformers and restore service.

This is a major wake up call to the utilities.   Terrorists, or disgruntled customers, can easily take down a substation with a rifle at long range and get away with it.  The transformers are defenseless as they are not covered or protected in any way.  Furthermore, replacement transformers are hard to come by.
Lou Frenzel is a relatively sane old graybeard, and fairly well known as a technical author; he sees this as a problem the power company engineers need to address.  No calls for gun control or massive government programs.  What bothers me about this is the reaction of ED readers whom I have to see as my fellow engineers.  Yeah, I'm sure some are not, some are students, some are probably loosely affiliated with the profession, but the reactions are bothersome.  The first half dozen comments included censorship - that ED shouldn't have even mentioned this was possible; that the story is paranoid conspiracy theory (?); and that the real reason transformers are vulnerable to rifle shots and few spares are held is "electric utilities must afford despite paying their "non-profit" CEO's millions of dollars in a system allowed to break continually so they can maintain artificially large budgets despite tax-payers being broke."

When I was "but a larval engineer", a graybeard told me "you can't out think someone who isn't thinking".  It's a truism that has stuck with me ever since.   

The problems with spare transformers are (1) these transformers are expensive, so the companies and their regulators probably consider having warehouses full of spares as poor use of capital, and (2) they are enormous - and that means problems storing them - those warehouses have to be enormous (read that "expensive", too). Add to those issues that it appears there is very little standardization of these designs, and very few companies who make them.  Frenzel says there are seven companies in America that know how to make them.  And without someone shooting them, these transformers have a very long life.  With reasonable maintenance, they might last virtually forever.  There are no moving parts.  Needing to keep spares to deal with an attack like this is a major change in how utilities figure replacement costs

As a bunch of gunnies, you and I know that there's no reasonable way to prevent a determined individual with a big bore rifle from getting at them, if the transformers are found in the open as they usually are.  It's really a pretty simple operation, after all.

As a bunch of engineers, the other readers and I should be thinking about increasing the survivability of the transformers.  Hardening the targets.  Perhaps steel or Kevlar curtains.  Where possible, perhaps they could be put under ground, or recessed below where they're very visible.  How about in the bottom of an empty concrete "swimming pool"?  The idea being to obscure the visibility, making seeing the target harder, and then to absorb the energy of the shot.  Perhaps transformers that can run without cooling oil, by reducing losses. 

Obviously, like personal vests, we can't make them "bulletproof" to every level of attack, but this was too easy.  Although we all know how badly reporters get these facts, I read the shell casings found were 7.62x39 (of course they just called them AK-47 cases).  If Bubba or Abdul can take out a substation with just a .30, they need to be hardened.  If we can make an installation that would survive impact from .50 BMG, that's got to be as good as they're likely to get, short of an RPG. 

Compared to hardening against EMP, hardening against bullets is a cinch.

Monday, March 10, 2014

MH370 - This One is Puzzling

Puzzling, upsetting, bizarre, and other terms.  Of course, MH370 is the missing Air Malaysia Boeing 777

Donald Sensing at Sense of Events raises an idea that is undoubtedly going around, that the flight was hijacked and landed somewhere "out of the way". 
I am reminded of a novel I read a few months ago by either Tom Clancy or Frederick Forsyth, can't recall which. It opened with the hijacking and disappearance of an airliner in Africa, run by a large charter company. The craft was repainted and reconfigured to pass for a scheduled-airline plane with the goal of using it as a kamikaze weapon against an American target. Of course the good guys won, but it makes me think: what could account for the instantaneous disappearance of a Boeing 777 that leaves no trace at all?
The Gormogons refute this idea and most others in their piece: 
Ghettoputer, the Czar assumes, is blaming alien capture. Mandarin, for his part, is checking to see if he made something dimensional happen and the plane is now happily flying over prehistoric Long Island.

Believe it or not, those two explanations do a better job at lining up with the evidence [than do] pilot error, plane crash, or terrorism.
Since I work in avionics, I thought I might be able to fill in some gaps in your knowledge about the sophistication of these aircraft, but I sure can't provide a definitive answer of what happened.  I'm just as blown away as anyone.  Much has been made of the aircraft disappearing off radar.  When you see an Air Traffic radar display in a movie or somewhere, you see numbers next to the radar returns.  These are sent by a box called a transponder on the aircraft.  By sensing the amplitude of a pair of pulses sent by the radar, it decides whether it's in the main search beam of the radar or an antenna sidelobe.  If it's in the main beam, the transponder replies.  Using a data transmission mode, (slow and primitive compared to your phone's data transmission) the aircraft replies with an identification number.  When they talk about being off the radar, they probably mean that the transponder is not responding, not that the radar return blip is gone.  Transponders have other modes of communication I'm skipping over.

Commercial aircraft like this will also have a TCAS, a Traffic Collision Avoidance System.  TCAS systems act like the ground based transponders, with each plane in turn interrogating the others to see who responds.  Through a complex system of reducing transmitter power to a minimum output and then raising it in calibrated steps, the system builds a 3D model of the aircraft around it in shells complete with heading and speed so that it can find any that might be on a collision course.  That means any other aircraft in the area at the time would have heard MH370.  The operating range for TCAS is usually concerned with aircraft within 40 miles so it isn't a very long distance.  Both TCAS and transponders are redundant systems, with two of each on board, in case one fails. 

Of course, these airplanes have voice communications radios; typically three VHF comm.s for the air traffic control network, two HF radios for when they're over the ocean, and very probably satellite systems, too.  

The plane's engines run generators which power all electronics on board, and Boeing adds a last ditch power system called a RAT - a Ram Air Turbine - that drops into the airstream if all other power is lost.  If MH370 had lost all other power, the RAT would have given it enough power to radio for help and keep the aircraft gliding under control until it ditched in the water or on land.  If it had lost all power at 35,000 feet, it could have glided for a hundred miles; maybe more.  (As a side note, the RAT on a Boeing 767 is an unlikely hero of the Gimli Glider incident, the coolest cautionary story about metric conversions you'll ever read). 

The spooky part of this story is how MH370 just suddenly ceased being there.  No radio calls, no transponder replies, nothing.  An aircraft in the water would have an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) which is monitored by satellites.  It would have had the power to run these things.  If it had disintegrated or crashed, there should be enough evidence to find.  These things have a take off weigh of over half a million pounds; that's a lot of scrap foam, aluminum, cloth and lots of things to float or litter the side of a cliff.  We have satellites, aircraft, ships and all sorts of other search facilities at work.  Either they are in a completely wrong place or ... perhaps the Gormogons are right: MH370 few into a black hole or dimensional warp.  If only such things existed. 

EDIT 03/11/14 1735 EDT:  I got the link for the Gimli Glider story wrong and didn't notice last night. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday Range Day

It was a really beautiful day here today, the kind that screams "get out and stay out!".  More like "get out while you still can".  It's full up spring today, with morning just under 60 and a high in the mid-70s.  It should stay that way this week.  With luck, this can last until May around here.  Time to get tomatoes in the ground and other plants going. 

With the time change, I found myself sleeping to almost 9:30 this morning, and we headed down to our gun club range to play with 10-22s.  Late for us: it was 1:30 by the time we got there.  Stayed till virtually 5:00.  Ran a magazine of .380 through the carry gun on the way out, too, on a "just because" basis.  A really sweet day. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A New Gun Show In Town

The silicon swamp covers a large swath of Florida; even more depending on whom you're listening to.  I've even seen the name applied to Louisiana.  30 years ago, I heard the term used to describe the electronics industry in South Florida - there are many electronics companies down there.  I use it to describe this portion of central Florida that most of the PR people call the Space Coast, because the Space Center originally anchored the community.  There are a couple of major electronics manufacturers here, many smaller manufacturers and "IP shops", who come up with ideas and get the products built by contract manufacturers. 

The biggest gun show in the Swamp is in the Melbourne Auditorium, held about once a month.  A new gun show producer decided to join the fray, and put on a show in the city bordering on the south of Melbourne.  This same producer puts on a show in Vero Beach, a half hour farther south, a few times a year.

Naturally we had to go check it out.  It was considerably bigger than I expected, although still smaller than the Melbourne Auditorium show.  It was also pretty busy, perhaps showing the area can support two gun shows.  Most of the sellers were FFLs selling the usual Glocken/Smithen/Tauren/whatever-en.  New guns in box.  There were also some surplus and used guns from individuals, along with a metric buttload of knifes, pepper spray, and all the non-gun items I see everywhere.  Ammo seemed pricey.  Forget the 500 round .22 bricks at $65, 9mm 115gr FMJ was over $20 for 50, and everything else seemed to tag along from there.  I specifically looked for .458 Socom, 6.8 SPC, and 6.5 Grendel; I only saw a couple of boxes of 6.8 for $38/box (of 20).  I was not motivated by anyone's ammo prices.
(To accurately reflect what I can find, we can shop out the picture of the cartridge on the right, leaving only the description - and the 5.56 round)

I saw a holster I thought was interesting for the pocket .380: a holster with a couple of big gaps.  The biggest drawback to a semiautomatic pistol, of course, is that it can be pushed out of battery by pushing the slide back only a little way - a sixteenth of an inch seems like it would do it.  This holster keeps anything from touching the slide - unlike my DeSantis rubberized holster.  I hate to think about pulling the gun in the DeSantis, trying to shoot it and having the slide out of battery.  This little holster is called a "shoot through" - as if it's designed for that.  It also has a rather large opening right where trigger protection ought to be.  Sort of essential if you're going to shoot without removing it from the holster, but my first thought was something in a pocket getting stuck in there and pulling the trigger while emptying pockets.  These pocket pistols have a mile long, eight pound pull on the trigger, so I suppose that would be enough warning. Anybody use these and like them?   

In fact, all I got was a book I've kind of been interested in for a while. Guess I just like the title. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Keep Your Daughters Out of Massachusetts

I say to keep your daughters out because I'm assuming all of the adult women already know how to behave properly in this situation.
So since the Massachusetts High Court ruled that you have "no reasonable expectation of privacy" while out in public in the state, and that the state's laws prohibiting peeping Tom voyeurism doesn't cover taking those "upskirt" photos.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled the practice does not violate the law — a so-called “peeping Tom” law written 10 years ago — because the women who were photographed while riding Boston public transportation were not nude or partially nude.

The current state law prohibits photographing an unsuspecting nude or partially nude person “is concerned with proscribing peeping Tom voyeurism of people who are completely or partially undressed and, in particular, such voyeurism enhanced by electronic devices,” the court ruled.
"not nude or partially nude"?   Isn't everyone nude or partially nude under their clothes? 

So what do I mean about adults knowing the right way to behave?  I personally think the right response to someone swiping a camera under your skirt would be a 2x4 or a couple pounds of steel up side the cretin's head.  Something that would induce a coma.  While a couple of JHPs to the center of mass wouldn't seem like too much of an overreaction to me if it was my daughter, in The Peoples' Republic of Massachusetts that would probably be considered antisocial and get you put away for a long time in a small cage.  Like New York, it's a place where self defense is considered criminal. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Anybody Running .300 Blackout?

Actually, I was going to title this, "Anybody playing with 300 Blackout", but we're serious gunnies, right?  This isn't play, this is training.  I'm playing. 

But to the point, ARs are like potato chips: you can't stop at one.  Y'all know I have my home made AR, in 5.56 - everybody's favorite poodle-shooter cartridge, right?  The biggest advantage of .300 Blackout, from what I've read, is that it's 30 caliber and the whole idea was a compromise intended to get 30 caliber into the M-4/M-16 platform with minimal changes.  Well, I have a DPMS .308 AR-10 clone, a .308 Scout rifle, plus a pair of M1 Garands and a Remington 700 BDL in .30-06.  Not to mention Mrs. Graybeard's .30-30 Marlin.  I think we have that 30 caliber niche pretty much filled in. 

So, while I've been noticing the .300 Blackout thing going on around me, I haven't entered the game.  I suspect it's not worth it for me, and I should go for something else in the AR platform for my next project.  What's it going to be used for?  Punching cardboard for fun.  I have a 200 yard range anytime.  Longer is possible, but 600 is moderately inconvenient and 1000 yards much more so. 

I'm thinking it's either .458 Socom, or one of the slightly bigger calibers like 6.8 SPC or something.  
(Left to right: 223/5.56 NATO, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, .458 SOCOM, and .50 Beowulf) (source page)

Opinions appreciated.  Other than "your gun sucks and you're holding it wrong".