Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Biohacking

In recent years, the term hacking has drifted back to its original meaning, and extended the range of things it's applied to.  Originally, hacking was experimenting on something with clever tricks to get the best results out of it; perhaps even finding ways to make systems do things their designers didn't know those systems could do.  Hardware hacking, for example, might mean figuring a way to increase the clock speed of a CPU to get software running faster; software hacking might be coming up with an elegant trick for sorting lists faster.  The term started being applied to felons breaking into computer systems and became a derogatory term, but within the last couple of years, it is being used more like the original meanings. 

Today we hear of Lifehacking, coming up with little tips and tricks to make life easier and better.  Another version of life hacking comes from Dave Asprey, former Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, who spent $300,000 of his own money investigating how to improve his body and mind non-invasively.  His small business, The Bulletproof Executive,  sells things he's productized and information he has gleaned to improve health.
Dave lost 100 pounds without counting calories or excessive exercise, used techniques to upgrade his brain by more than 20 IQ points, and lowered his biological age while learning to sleep more efficiently in less time. Learning to do these seemingly impossible things transformed him into a better entrepreneur, a better husband, and a better father.
As he puts it, he hacked his own biology to become better at everything.  (I've heard him interviewed once or twice - he's an interesting guy!)

But hacking ourselves goes beyond this, into the emerging field of biohacking: people doing direct surgical modifications of themselves and introducing technology into their bodies in an attempt to improve or enhance themselves.  This piece, on the UK website MakeUseOf.com describes some of the things people are having done to themselves:
“Sorry about the mess,” says Steve Haworth, as we walk down the stairs to the surgical theater in his basement. My friend Ted is visibly pale and sweating – for good reason. He’s about to get a sixth sense the hard way: by way of a scalpel, a needle and thread, and a tiny, gold-plated rare-earth magnet. Haworth is a body modification expert with a particular interest in what’s called “biohacking” – the practice of merging consumer technology and the human body to produce uniquely functional body modifications.
Why implant a magnet into your finger?  To "experience" magnetic fields in new and different ways.
Haworth has several already installed in his own body, which he shows us as he moves his hand through the air next to his running can opener. Sure enough, you can feel the magnet twitch and jump in response to the electromagnetic field generated by the motor. It’s startling, and shows off exactly what you’re getting for your three hundred and fifty dollars: the ability to feel the shape and strength of electromagnetic fields in the world around you. Our host describes someone who had the procedure done, and was startled, when walking through New York City, to discover the powerful electromagnetic field produced by an electrical junction under the sidewalk.
There's an unmistakable scent of "latest hip trend here" and attracting people intently wanting new experiences.  For example, the MakeUseOf piece has an embedded video by a young German girl playing with the magnet in her ring finger, and one of the comments is from a 13-year old asking if it was legal and if he could get it.  But it goes beyond that.  Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at Coventry University, was the world's first man to get a silicon chip implanted in his arm and learn to control things in the outside world with it. 
By capturing electrical signals flowing down his arm, Warwick was able to control a robotic wheelchair, and remote-control a robotic hand over the Internet. Later, his wife had a similar electrode grid implanted, allowing them to communicate with direct nerve impulses via the Internet.
It made the Warwicks the first people on earth to feel each other's nerve impulses.
“It didn’t feel like pain or heat or seeing. It was like an entirely new sense. And that was part of the experiment: to see if the brain can adapt and take on new types of input and learn to understand. The brain is very clever like that—I just want to see how far we can push it.”
There are obvious applications here for better prosthetics and better cyborgs (Warwick himself has been called "Captain Cyborg").  Imagine developing interface chips that can be implanted in someone who lost a limb, and a prosthetic that takes the same nerve impulses that used to move the real arm and turns them into equivalent motions in the prosthetic.  It doesn't seem remotely more difficult to give tactile feedback to the person through those same interfaces.

The progress in cochlear implants for the deaf has been remarkable, and there's talk that video implants are not far behind.  Blindness and deafness defeated?
Most forms of total deafness are curable these days, via the use of a cochlear implant — a chip implanted in the nerves of the ear that uses several electrodes to translate sounds from a worn microphone into electrical signals to the brain. The audio quality is not as good as in a normal ear, but electrode densities are improving, and modern cochlear implants are good enough to understand speech without lip reading in a quiet room, and even to appreciate music (though audiophiles will probably complain about the bitrate).
Even more ambitiously, scientists have reverse-engineered the retina, and created a computer program that reproduces its operation. This allows you to connect cameras to the optic nerve as though they were living eyes, and have the cameras speak to the brain on its own terms, providing a much more natural approximation of normal vision than has otherwise be possible. In principle, these cameras could eventually exceed human vision – implementing optical zoom, active night vision, and the ability to see the non-visible portions of the spectrum.
Steve Mann - quite possibly the first victim of anti-cyborg hate crime - and a version of Eyetap.  That's not a Google Glass, it's physically attached to his skull by several screws. It entirely captures the visual input to one eye, runs it through a computer to attach additional information, and then displays it on a small near-eye screen.

This is clearly the beginnings of transhumanismperhaps the early stages of Vernor Vinge's Singularity that has been written about at great lengths elsewhere.  There are parts about all of these procedures that are creepy: the discussion about the surgery to implant the magnets made me think of the Joker getting his face fixed in some dirty ex-hospital, or Tom Cruise getting new eyeballs in Minority Report. I'll hand the conclusion back off to MakeUseOf:
The future is here – and, while it’s often rough around the edges, anyone with two cents worth of vision to rub together can see that near future is going to be tumultuous and wonderful and strange beyond measure. That’s the philosophy that drives biohacking – fulfilling the promises of science fiction a little at a time, as the future slowly becomes more evenly distributed. Right now, it’s expensive, painful, and sketchy enough that it’s pretty much reserved for enthusiasts, DIYers and other people who are not entirely sane. The tech is getting better, though, and sooner or later it’s going to move into the mainstream in the same way that tattoos and piercings have.  Your grandmother may someday be showing off the implants that remind her where she is and monitor her health to call for help if something goes wrong. Your aunt might have robotic eyes that can see things that human eyes never could.  When you’re old, maybe you’ll opt for enhanced legs and a porcine heart. At this point in time, it’s a question of ‘when’, and not ‘if.’

Monday, September 29, 2014

Outfitting the Small Shop - Part 2

Update to my post from a couple of weeks ago, I just pushed the button on the new mill for my shop.
The Grizzly version of the BF20 mills sold a few places. These are built by Chinese company but not Seig, makers of the other mill I highlighted in that previous post. 

There's a few reasons for this: the size and power put it right in the range I'm looking for, capable of taking relatively very heavy cuts (compared to what I'm used to).  I think an 80% lower will be a Saturday afternoon job instead of a spare time for a week or more, and it brings possibilities of lots of other gunsmithing adventures.  There's a lot of online support for it - this one is referred to often. 

Obviously, it's not CNC ready, so there's that.  Frankly, I've never turned the cranks on a milling machine and I don't know how I'll do with that.   I definitely need to look into one of options for a DRO (Digital Read Out - a digital reading of position).  Yeah, Griz sells one outfitted with a DRO, but I've seen DROs made out of digital calipers.  For two of the axes, that should be reasonably cheap.

The adventure will begin in earnest next week at about this time, with a few hundred pounds of machine-tool kit in the shop.  Meanwhile, the next level of planning begins.  And this is totally ignoring the L-word: a tool room lathe. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lava Fountains Taller than the Statue of Libery

The Bardarbunga volcano made headlines about a month ago for starting to erupt under ice fields.  The website RUV notes that Bardarbunga has created a lava field 11-12 square kilometers in size, containing erupting fountains of lava which have been measured at 130 meters high - 427 feet high. The Statue of Liberty's torch is 305 feet above the ground. 
"We returned to the fissure early this morning and saw considerable volcanic activity at around 7 AM," says Dr. Hoskuldsson. He and other scientists spent the night at a mountain hut nearby, after an evacuation was ordered yesterday when volcanic tremor was detected in the area, leading to fears that a subglacial eruption was imminent. "The main craters are now very active and the lava fountains from them rise up to 120 - 130 meter height," he says.
 A commenter at Ice Age Now said,
At the moment this eruption alone is pouring out more SO2 than the whole world’s human production.

I saw some Iceland Met office figures a day or so ago. 80%+ of the emissions are H20. 15% CO2 and 5% SO2 + assorted.  If the fluorine count increases this will be a real worry.

There are some reports that the Laki fissure eruptions of the 18th century had lava fountains over a kilometer high.

I'm impressed that one volcano gives off more sulfur dioxide than the entire human race.  So far, this is considered a small eruption.  But remember: your SUV, or the exhaust from your lawnmower, or from your outboard motor, are a threat to the planet.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

10 Years Ago Today

We were in the cleanup and aftermath of Hurricane Jeanne, the second of the two hurricanes to hit us directly in 2004.  Charley, which was a small but intense Cat 5 storm when it came ashore in Charlotte Harbor, brushed us in late August but only at tropical storm strength.  The storm came ashore almost exactly where Hurricane Frances came ashore on September 5th, they came ashore within roughly 8 miles of each other, between the cities of Ft. Pierce and Stuart on the SE coast of Florida. 

Jeanne had one of those peculiar paths hurricanes sometimes get, going north of the Bahamas, well offshore from here, but then doing a loop and coming back to hit us.  From our standpoint it was convenient, if not a little spooky.  After the clean up from Frances and life getting back to normal (traffic lights actually working), we took off for a week's vacation in the upper peninsula of Michigan to look for samples of the native copper it's famous for up there.  As I recall, we flew back into town on Wednesday and the storm hit on Saturday night (it came ashore Sunday morning).  It's as if it waited for us to come back. 
Like Frances, our power stayed on until the eye was well past and the winds shifted from easterly to more southerly.  Unlike Frances, we'd bought a few battery backup power supplies for the critical stuff, so I could watch some goofy movie on the Sci-Fi channel and as the lights flickered, I could still watch the movie.  After Frances our power was out from just before daybreak until 9 that night - about 15 or 16 hours.  After Jeanne it stayed out about 36 hours.  Both of those times are exceptionally short, for reasons I've never understood.  Many friends were without power for weeks after Frances only to lose it again for weeks after Jeanne. 

More hurricanes would hit elsewhere in Florida that year, but Wilma late in the season of 2005, was the last before the current 9 year gap (and counting) without a hurricane making landfall in Florida.  Wilma removed the new roof my brother put on his south Palm Beach County home after Frances and Jeanne, but Wilma is only notable to me because it was late October and the cold front pushing it northeast and over the state actually got me cold while I was outside cleaning up.  It was the only time in my life I've gotten cold cleaning up after a hurricane or tropical storm! 

It is beginning to look like the era of 'high spin cycle' tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin that started in 1995 has run its course with only five named storms recorded through today (and none expected through the end of September). There were hints of that demise last year with a below normal level of hurricane development, i.e., only two Cat I storms - the last time that the Atlantic only had two hurricanes in a season was 1982. The last time that a season had three or less named storms by August 31st was in 1994 - the last year of the previous 'quiet cycle' in the Atlantic.

Since the lack of activity cannot be blamed on an El Nino event (it has not yet started), it is increasingly likely that the period of Atlantic high tropical cyclone activity has ended. However, it is important to remember that the likelihood of a U.S. hurricane landfall is about the same (approximately 22%) during a 'quiet cycle' era as it is during an 'active cycle' era - and that is also true for a Florida hurricane landfall (about 5%).

Friday, September 26, 2014

Are We Leading Students Down a Wrong Path?

Let me preface this by saying that the national "conversation" about the changing nature of work in this country has gone on for a long time and will continue to go on.  There are those who fervently believe that within a generation, robots will be doing most of today's low wage jobs and unemployment will approach becoming the majority of the population. Which means the other 50%, who are working, will pay benefits to those replaced by robots.  Can such a society be stable and exist more than a couple of years?  There are those who say that many of the good jobs have left the US and will never come back.

Still, as I've said before, I've been working in American manufacturing companies for almost 40 years - since 1976 to be exact - and the only constant has been people telling me that manufacturing is going away and will never come back.  I've been told over and over, as you'll hear pundit after pundit say, that America just doesn't make anything anymore.  America doesn't make the cheap consumer products that fill your local Wal-Targ-inc store; we make virtually everything else.   Chances are, you'll be getting most of those plastic things 3D printed within 10 years, anyway (my guess).  Today, I work for a company that exports products to China, and have for most of my career. 
I don't watch much TV, but it's hard not to notice the drumbeat that we need to get more kids in engineering, or more precisely into STEM; Science Technology Engineering and Math.  Just last night, I was watching a bunch of fresh-faced child actors glamorizing the appeal of engineering for some company.  After scenes of various teen actors asking "who's going to invent?" various new things, the photogenic kid says, "Change the world?  It's in the job description".   Calculated to appeal to the idealism in kids. 

But are those jobs really going to be there?  In Electrical Engineering Times, author Daniel Donahoe writes about what he sees as the decline of engineering in the Silicon Valley
The US Department of Labor provides more detailed, if more bureaucratic, employment numbers than my simple reference to Craig’s List. The total pool of domestic electronics engineering jobs totaled 223,000 in 2012, some 57% of the total electrical engineering jobs if you include those related to electrical power.

The pool is projected to grow only 5% over the next decade, which works out to only 1,100 new electronics engineering jobs per year. The US graduates approximately 14,000 electrical engineers each year and imports many more. So digging up government data paints a darker picture.
Now graduating 14,000 engineers for 1100 jobs is obviously a problem, but it's worse than that.  We also import engineers under the H1B visa programs started in the 1990s.  Can you really argue we have a shortage of engineering graduates in this country? 

His view of the problem is that industry has turned engineering into any other commodity, and all commodities are price-negotiated in business.  Now maybe this is too "inside baseball" for those who aren't engineers, but he talks about the way that companies have done so much to cut costs.  Not just offshoring things that aren't their "core competencies" (the parts of their business they think they're best at), but everything.  In Donahoe's view, the thing most fundamental to the Silicon Valley is silicon, but the current generation of American semiconductor companies proudly proclaim being "fabless" (they don't make their own silicon chips).  

Back to Donahoe:
Contrary to the Pidgin English promoted by freshly minted MBA’s from management consulting companies, the atrophy of American electronics engineering is not the magical result of an invisible hand or a disruptive force. It is due to a loss of character, or what I call the "great vacuum of American business thought leadership."
Let me caution that Silicon Valley engineers have developed a tendency to be a bit like New Yorkers, in the sense that they think they work in the "Capital of the Universe" and everything important in the industry happens there.  Lots of important engineering goes on in companies that don't make ICs at all; and never had a wafer fab to outsource.  Nevertheless, he has a point about commoditization.  It's why America doesn't make those plastic parts I referred to above.  They're too easy.  To distinguish yourself or your company, you need to do the hard things better than the other guys.  American companies don't make portable AM/FM radios anymore because anyone can make them.  American radio companies make industrial radios that are harder to make, and that are tested to work under extreme conditions.  And you can't consider the megatrends like outsourcing and fabless semiconductor companies without considering the regulatory environment and the government's footprints on the industry.  The famous founders of Silicon Valley, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, started in their garage (now a landmark in the Valley).  Today, they'd probably be locked up for environmental crimes, like dripping alcohol on the floor and leaving it to evaporate.  If it was easier and cheaper to start companies, more companies would be started, and likewise if it was easier and cheaper to run a semiconductor fab than outsource it, more companies would run fab operations. 

As for the kids, it's hard to say if we're setting them up for future unemployment.  I don't know if anyone can demonstrate those commercials affect anyone.  While there might be a few percent of kids that could become engineers who have never thought of the profession, most of them have The Knack and know it - even if they don't have the words for it.  They know they're ... different.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

For the First Time in Eric Holder's Tenure

He makes a correct decision.  If it was his decision. 

Good riddance, pathetic scumbag. 

There appear to be two lines of thought on his resignation.  One is that he was planning to retire after the midterms and is going now so that his replacement (who is guaranteed to be just as awful) can get through the senate while Harry Reid is still running it.  The thinking is that if the Stupid party takes the senate, as some are suggesting, the inevitably doctrinaire racist-communist appointees will be blocked.  The other main thought was that this was caused by a need to get Place Holder under the bus, perhaps due to the decision denying the DOJ's request to keep stonewalling the papers on fast and furious.  The longtime rules of engagement for the Ruling Class in Washington is that once you're out of the city, they don't come after you.

While I'm sure we're not getting anything good out of this, it's still good to see him leave. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Speak For Yourself, Zeke

Rahm Emanuel's brother, Ezekiel, recently wrote that he hopes to die at 75.  Ezekiel, you might remember, was instrumental in the design of Obamacare.  He was an author of an influential paper (pdf) on the Whole Lives system, a model for allocating the scarce resources of health care.  It has been reported that his approach from that paper is how Obamacare is structured.  In this system, the "probability of receiving an intervention" (that is, your chance of being treated) is almost zero as new born or as a senior, but peaks for young adults, up to about age 55.  Not coincidentally, those are the ones who have the largest chance of contributing tax money for the longest time, paying for their own treatments.  As I wrote long ago (2010):
In this system, it's acceptable to let a 70 year old, die while giving care to a 25 year old, because their life is worth more to the collective - excuse me - worth more to society.  To paraphrase their quote, "it's not discrimination to deny care to the 70 year old and give it to the 25 year old.  Everyone who is now 70 was once 25 and the majority of those who are 25 now will be 70 some day".   In other words, "we can screw you now because we didn't screw you earlier; and if we're not screwing you now, wait until you're 70 and then you'll really be screwed."
The implications are obvious: if a twenty-something needs a liver or kidney transplant and a suitable donor person below 10 or over 50 (judging by Emanuel's chart) is available, these ethics standards say go ahead and kill the kid or kill the grandma and get the working "unit" back to work so "it" can make money and pay taxes to the mighty Fed.gov hydra.
Zeke is no longer in the policy-making position he was in during the design of the "Obamination"; he's now the director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  In other words, he's still sucking on the government teat, but he apparently is no longer in a position where he can force these ideas on the rest of us - although that die has probably already been cast. 

Zeke says he's not actively planning on offing himself, he's just going to stop taking care of himself.
This means colonoscopies and other cancer-screening tests are out—and before 75. If I were diagnosed with cancer now, at 57, I would probably be treated, unless the prognosis was very poor. But 65 will be my last colonoscopy. No screening for prostate cancer at any age. (When a urologist gave me a PSA test even after I said I wasn’t interested and called me with the results, I hung up before he could tell me. He ordered the test for himself, I told him, not for me.) After 75, if I develop cancer, I will refuse treatment. Similarly, no cardiac stress test. No pacemaker and certainly no implantable defibrillator. No heart-valve replacement or bypass surgery. If I develop emphysema or some similar disease that involves frequent exacerbations that would, normally, land me in the hospital, I will accept treatment to ameliorate the discomfort caused by the feeling of suffocation, but will refuse to be hauled off.
It's actually a pretty interesting piece, if you read it as a physician's view of his own situation and not as a government plan for what it's going to do to you.  He raises some interesting and valid points; the main point revolves around not wanting to be a burden to his children, and not wanting to watch himself go through the decay that comes with age.  That we're living longer, but living with more impairments and disabilities.  Some of it strikes me as insightful; real truths.  Other parts of it strike me as neurotic.  He includes this graphic, which I think he finds scary:
I think he's afraid of not being considered a great contributor in his field any longer.  He speaks of mentoring. I think about this subject a lot because it's one of my main tasks these days. 
Mentorship is hugely important. It lets us transmit our collective memory and draw on the wisdom of elders. It is too often undervalued, dismissed as a way to occupy seniors who refuse to retire and who keep repeating the same stories. But it also illuminates a key issue with aging: the constricting of our ambitions and expectations.
His concern with being a burden to his children, and making sure they have pleasant memories shines through like a searchlight:
But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.
The situation becomes of even greater concern when we confront the most dreadful of all possibilities: living with dementia and other acquired mental disabilities. Right now approximately 5 million Americans over 65 have Alzheimer’s; one in three Americans 85 and older has Alzheimer’s. And the prospect of that changing in the next few decades is not good. Numerous recent trials of drugs that were supposed to stall Alzheimer’s—much less reverse or prevent it—have failed so miserably that researchers are rethinking the whole disease paradigm that informed much of the research over the past few decades.
How do we want to be remembered by our children and grandchildren? We wish our children to remember us in our prime. Active, vigorous, engaged, animated, astute, enthusiastic, funny, warm, loving. Not stooped and sluggish, forgetful and repetitive, constantly asking “What did she say?” We want to be remembered as independent, not experienced as burdens.

At age 75 we reach that unique, albeit somewhat arbitrarily chosen, moment when we have lived a rich and complete life, and have hopefully imparted the right memories to our children. Living the American immortal’s dream dramatically increases the chances that we will not get our wish—that memories of vitality will be crowded out by the agonies of decline. Yes, with effort our children will be able to recall that great family vacation, that funny scene at Thanksgiving, that embarrassing faux pas at a wedding. But the most-recent years—the years with progressing disabilities and the need to make caregiving arrangements—will inevitably become the predominant and salient memories. The old joys have to be actively conjured up.
The thing is, this all strikes me as egotism.  Rather than concern for his children and grandchildren, it seems more like he doesn't want them to think any less of him.  I truly understand not wanting to be a burden to my kids, but I don't think less of my mom because we had to spend a lot of time and effort last year trying to care for her.  I don't have fewer good memories and I don't have to "actively conjure" them up.  I have all the good old memories and some more.  So they're not the most wonderful of times; so what?  That's the nature of life.  I don't resent her in any way and don't regret the time I spent with her when she was hospitalized.  If anything I regret I not being able to do more for her.  I think if Zeke's kids resent him, he was crappy father.  They're too shallow and need to develop some character.  

Go give it a read. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Techy Tuesday - The Top Myths About Stainless Steel

An unfortunate fact about living in the Silicon Swamp, as I do, is that we're said to have the saltiest air in the country and among the worst in the world.   Since it's blowing in from the ocean, the east side of a lot of things left outdoors gets hammered by corrosion.  We can tell you what side of a house a window screen came from by how corroded it is.  If you're building things made of metal, you'd better give consideration of the material's corrosion resistance or finishing it to prevent corrosion.  Around here, stainless steel isn't an exotic material, it's virtually mandatory.

Stainless steel gets its corrosion resistance from the addition of at least 10% by weight of chromium into the mix.  Much like aluminum resists corrosion by forming a layer of aluminum oxide corrosion that then protects the bulk metal, the chromium forms an oxide layer that protects the steel.  Some good general info on some details about stainless steels can be found on About.com, but it starts out with a myth about the discovery of stainless steel which you may have heard.  The myth is that stainless steel was accidentally discovered in 1913 by British metallurgist Harry Brearly, when he noticed that some samples of an experimental alloy he was planning to throw away hadn’t rusted after sitting on a shelf for several months. In fact, Brearly knew what he was doing; it had been known since the 1800s that adding chromium to steel increased its corrosion resistance, and a number of inventors around the world had already developed materials that would be considered stainless steels today before 1913. (Source)

Unfortunately, stainless steel can and does rust.  In seawater, for example, the plentiful chloride ions (salt is sodium chloride) can bond to the chromium and destroy this coating, causing the steel to rust, often called pit corrosion for the appearance it has.  There are special marine grade stainless alloys that are more resistant to this because of other elements added to the mix.  Additionally, since steel contains carbon, the chromium can bond with the carbon to form chromium carbides. Carbides can form when the steel is heated to high temperatures; for example, in the heat-affected-zone of a weld. The carbides tend to form along the grain boundaries of the material, so the corrosion follows the grain boundaries. Therefore, this phenomenon is called “intergranular corrosion.” In the specific case of welds, it is also called “sensitization” or “weld decay.” This form of corrosion can be minimized by using stainless steels with low carbon contents. These alloys are identified with the letter L: for example, 304L and 316L.  Even if it doesn't rust, stainless on boats changes appearance with age in the marine environment, becoming darker, more gray, than it was when it was new. 

The second most common myth is that stainless is non-magnetic.  I actually have a few of those rare earth magnets in my shop and test my hardware with it, but I know it's not the final word.  The two most common series of SS alloys  are 300 and 400 series; the 300 series is either nonmagnetic or only slightly magnetic, while the 400 series is magnetic.  My test is that if it's not attracted to those strong magnets (given the right appearance, etc.) it's definitely stainless.  If it is attracted to it, it still might be stainless, and I might need to do something else with it.

You'll see the terms martensitic and austenitic to describe steels; these terms might be useful to materials weenies, but I find it easier to work with the number series of steels.  300 series alloys are austenitic while 400 series alloys are martensitic.  Those terms have to do with the crystal structure.  Martensite is formed by the rapid cooling of the alloy while austenite is formed by slower cooling.  The crystals are completely different.  Austenite is a "face centered cubic" crystal while Martensite is body-centered tetragonal (BCT) crystal.  The cool thing about steels is how they can be customized for the properties you want by tweaking both the composition and heat treatment.

For my general shop use and hardware on boats, 316 stainless is what I tend to use and prefer.  303 is a "free-machining" stainless.  Free machining stainless steels are created by the addition of a couple of percent of sulfur, which sacrifices some corrosion resistance.  You'll find 303 used in lots of places including, surprisingly, jewelry.  400 series steels are stronger than 300 series, but the trade off is less corrosion resistance.  416 SS is a commonly used alloy, a strong alloy, but it's not going to hold up in harsh environments as well as 316.  You'll also find references to other alloys, like "18-8".  These aren't part of the formal 300 or 400 series, but are similar; 18 is the percent chromium and 8 the percent nickel.  That particular alloy is closer to 304 than 316.  Your search engine is your friend for questions like "18-8 vs 316". 

Unfortunately, if you go and just buy "stainless screws" that don't specify the alloy, it can be hard to know what you're getting.  Having a supplier you can get that information from is a big plus.  Boat manufacturers pay extra for a guaranteed supply of 316 - even when they buy hardware by the drum.  We might have to pay extra to get what we want, too. 

A common problem with stainless hardware is galling; stainless bolts in stainless nuts can actually cold weld to each other and have to be cut apart.  Galling can be reduced by using coarser threads or by a PTFE (Teflon) lubricant before assembly.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Day for Rowing in Circles

No, not the big picture.  Just my day.  First it's "we need you to get a plane tomorrow and go visit...", then that turned into "Not really.  Not now".  Then some stuff that had to be done, and home from work two hours late.  So, a no content night...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What Caliber for Ebola?

I may be a bit late to this party, but in my view the President's sending boots on the ground to fight Ebola while vowing to never put boots on the ground to fight the Islamic State is almost perfectly wrong.  Completely backwards from what should be done.

A friend asked me if I'm worried about Ebola.  I think the answer is not so much worry as alertness.  Not worrying, just watching for developments.  I keep hearing the official line that it's difficult to spread and contact with body fluids is required, but I see a doctor who came down with it was treating maternity patients and supposedly not in contact with Ebola patients.  Maybe it's all stock photos, but the medical people all seem to be wearing gowns and gloves with the seams taped.  All good precautions.  A little Clorox sprayed on the outside of that gown and it should be keeping them safe - if it's spread by contact with fluids.  

I've heard that the health systems in those countries are in bad shape due to the impact on medical practitioners.  Sending supplies is a great thing but it seems like the best people to send would be civil engineers and companies that can boot up infrastructure. 

As for the Islamic State (btw, calling them ISIL - L is the Levant - expands their territory beyond what they have, basically giving them Cyprus, Israel, parts of Turkey and more), I don't see how you shut them down without people on the ground.  Of course I don't claim expertise in the military, but to my knowledge, to truly control territory you need ground troops.  I recently heard Jay Sekulow, author of the just-released "The Rise of ISIS" while on the new book tour describing a conference he attended about ISIS at Oxford last spring.  He said the Oxford professors, doctrinaire liberals who believe negotiation can solve virtually anything, viewed ISIS differently.  When asked how to handle them, the professor leading the conference said, "Crush them.  There is no alternative". 

Tam linked to a Buzz Feed article "Inside the Chilling Online World of the Women of ISIS" yesterday, calling it "almost hypnotically appalling."  Reading it was like watching slow motion explosions, knowing that people were dying while you watched.  The casual way they approve of taking non-muslim women as sex slaves; the way they refer to "hand cuttings" as if someone were injected with Novocaine to have a mole removed - not having their hand cutoff with a scimitar; the disregard for killing the kuffar (non-Muslim) as if we're non-human; and their celebrating 9/11 ("Happy Boom Boom Day") all combined to make a horrific read.  One of these precious princesses posted a picture of the beheading of one of the American hostages and tweeted "If this doesn't bring a bit of comfort and ease to your heart then # Go Check Yourself "  (Hashtag deliberately scrambled - SiG)

While I'll be the first to admit that I don't think you end this problem with military means alone, "boots on the ground" seem to be a much more essential part of the solution for ISIS than Ebola.  I think if our Commander in Chief had followed the recommendations of the professionals who work for him, ISIS either wouldn't be a problem at all, or it would be a much smaller problem. 

So now we're joining with the "Moderate rebels in Syria", whoever they are, to overthrow the Syrian government.  Some of those rebels just signed a non-aggression pact with ISIS.  And just who do you think takes over that government after that happens? 
(Source - Air Force Times)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

To CNC or Not To CNC

The topic of CNC control of the mill I wrote about yesterday came up in the comments.  Am I going to CNC?  Buy it that way or do it myself? I thought I'd pass along my thoughts in a post because it will likely be more useful for other readers.  Actually, I think the best answer to "CNC or Manual Mill" is "Yes!".  I'd like both options.

A brief detour to a story of how I got where I am in my machine tool obsession hobby.  I was one of those guys who kept saying "one of these days" I wanted to get a lathe and into metal working.  Mrs. Graybeard took me up on that about 10 years ago and gifted me my Sherline 4400 micro lathe for Christmas.  I had never actually touched any machine tools at all at that point, so to say I didn't know jack is an understatement.  After playing with that lathe for 6 months, learning how to make some chips, and reading the Yahoo Sherline group regularly, an ad appeared for a CNC Sherline mill surplussed from a school system across the state in Tampa.  After a 350 mile round trip drive, I pulled a CNC Sherline mill into my garage.  The only problem was that nothing about it worked, except that the spindle motor turned.  Like my lathe on its first day, this was the first time I had ever touched a milling machine.

The next several months were spent learning how CNC worked.  I found a program that I could control the mill with (TurboCNC), a junky laptop to run that SW on, and quickly found that my CNC controller didn't work at all on one of three axes.  It only worked poorly on another one.  After some research, I bought a new controller very similar to one of these from Xylotex.  It was running. 

As the years went by, I expanded its capability.  I added a fourth axis (rotary) and then upgraded the basic machine with the A2ZCNC extended X/Y axes and a longer Sherline Z axis.  Motors were upgraded in torque substantially, from 75 in-oz to almost 400.  The current mill looks like this:
Several years ago, I decided to build a CNC lathe.  I bought the Sherline CNC-ready lathe, added motors, controllers, made cables; all that stuff.  I had gotten used to using the manual lathe by just walking up to it, chucking up a piece of work and doing what I needed to do.  I told Mrs. Graybeard I'd leave both lathes on the bench for a while and whichever got used more would be the one we keep.  I ended up hardly using the CNC lathe once I got it to thread.  The rifle part I did a little post on was done completely on the manual lathe.  (I've got to admit, though, power feed is a pretty nice thing to have.)  

It's possible to run the CNC mill in an "immediate mode", like a BASIC language program.  Instead of loading a file of hundreds of moves for a part, a user can walk up to the machine controller (I use Mach3 now) and use a command line interface.  Just enter a command like "G01 X 2.000 3.000 F12" and hit return (translation: controlled speed "GoTo" for the X axis, 2.000 inches to 3.000 inches at 12 inches per minute).  I cut out my AR-15 lower fire control pocket with repetitive commands like that, over and over again.  But it's still not as immediate as walking up the mill, clamping or holding the part, indicating it, and turning a wheel.  Plus, while you might hear chatter and react to it in the CNC controller, with hand wheels to control the mill you can feel these things better.  

My mill has always been CNC.  I've never used it in a fully manual mode like I have the lathe.  CNC is fantastic for never losing count of where it is, although it sure can get lost if the motor drops steps.  It never loses concentration and goes too far.  CNC has two main uses:  first, running many copies of the same part, rather than one part made one time, and second,  it's absolutely indispensable for really complex shapes.  CNC mills have become the standard way the jewelry industry carves waxes to cast in the lost wax casting process.   Can you imagine carving something like this wax freehand on the mill? 
In summary of all this is, I'll probably get the mill as a manual mill and add CNC.  I'd strongly prefer CNC I could disengage.  I can't do this on my Sherline because the motors are directly connected to the shafts' axes.  I think a belt drive would be the answer to that.  If I find a setup like that, it will be a strong contender. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Milling Around

A couple of months ago, when I posted about my new shop, I said I'd keep everyone up to date as tool selection proceeded.  I think I've converged a little, so let me start with the mill.

In a broad sense, mills can be classified by size.  The smallest classes are usually rather precise and are used for things like cutting small parts, model making and carving wax for jewelry casting. 
The model numbers across the top, X1 across to RF45, are common machine models.  The X1 to X3 are made by Sieg, the Shanghai Industrial Company, while the RF45 is from Rong Fu, a Taiwanese company said to make a higher quality machine.  Note the weights in pounds along the bottom.  The micro mills (like I have) are very easy to live with.  You can lift them to vacuum under, if you want.  An X2 class machine, at around 200 pounds is something you don't want to move very often, while the X3, RF45 and larger machines are something you want to move once, with serious planning.  Maybe build your house around them.  As an anonymous commenter said in that linked previous post:
A 700 pound mill not on wheels cannot be moved with body English. If you put it on wheels on a sloping concrete driveway you want a pulley to pull it up the slope. You can keep it from tipping over with your hand, but if it starts to go you can't even slow it down, jump away or have your safety buddy call for the jaws of life.
As Make Zine said, Sieg machines like X2s are one manufacturer with many brands. Not only that, the same machine is tweaked by some of the American sellers for different features: changing the table size is very common.  As always it's a bit more complicated.  There are other lines of machines, like Grizzly G0704 which is a little bigger and little more powerful than the X2 clones.  The G0704 is a representative of yet another maker's product, a BF20, sold by several suppliers. 
(Little Machine Shop's fixed column X2, their model 3990)

By now, I can hear lots of people saying "but what do I need?"  Again, it depends on what you're going to do.  If you want to carve out 80% lowers, you can do that on a good drill press.  I've done it on my Sherline.  Any of the X2 mills will do.  I'm simply not sure what tooling is needed to do a blank forging, a "0% Lower", or to make a receiver from a block of metal.  The 3990 has 10.6 inches of Z-axis travel and remember that any cutting tools or holders (collet or drill chuck) will eat up some of that.  That sort of work may need more Z-axis but it might be that those cuts can be done on a large lathe.   

Right now, I'm leaning toward this LMS 3990.  The Griz G0704 is a strong contender, though, and I'm still going back and forth between them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cartoonists Get the Truth

Sorry, y'all.  The night got away from me.  Too much going on to generate content.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Paramagnetic Paint

About a week ago, I was looking up paramagnetism.  That probably sounds strange enough that I don't need to say more.  In contrast to ferromagnetism, which is the most familiar kind of magnetism, paramagnetism is a weak property of almost all elements.  If you've never been exposed to this concept before: since electromagnetism says that moving electric charges create magnetic fields, and all atoms have electrons moving around in them, you might think that everything is magnetic and you'd be right.  The differences are in how those properties manifest themselves at the macroscopic level depending on the atomic structure of the material.  Some materials are weakly repelled by a magnetic field; these are diamagnetic materials.  The materials with many free electrons that move in a sea from atom to atom, like iron and its alloys, show the highest magnetic attraction - ferromagnetism.  

All of which is a detour from the real story.  While looking up paramagnetism, I stumbled across the term Paramagnetic Paint as an autocomplete term in Bing, and started down the Inter-tubes.  I immediately found a couple of videos on the Tube, but was also drowned in claims that it was all fake, done in computers.  My confusion was that mixed in among the links to Snopes proclaiming it fake, or the videos, were occasional links to other sites claiming to be objective, Science!-y sites who said it's possible.  Car enthusiast sites gushing over not having to choose your car's color when you buy it.  Farther down the list is a company who claims to make and sell paramagnetic paint.  Hmm. 
We received many question about paramagnetic paint and basically the questions where about if I could explain how the procedure it and how to paint 6 colors on a panel and then make it change colors.

Mind you, paramagnetic paint is within constantly R&D as there are many new improved emerging materials available such as Poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene)-poly(styrenesulfonate) (PEDOT:PSS), Graphene, new nano materials or combinations thereof.

You could do it with using 2 or 3 sets of the sandwiched layers as they are opaque and shine true [ed. note: through?] each-other. So first is conductive layer – dielectric layer – EL layer (green) – conductive layer – protection layer – and you repeat the structure. Conductive layer – dielectric layer – EL layer (red) – conductive layer – protection layer – conductive layer – dielectric layer – EL layer (blue) – conductive layer – protection layer.

Mind you you have to spray as conformal coating just very thin – 2 or 3 mills

From here you can energize the layers 1 – 2 – 3 or simultaneously 2 -3 or simultaneously 1 -2 or 1 -3 as multilayer will provide together a new color.
The way they describe it, it's a modification of electroluminescent paint, which is a real product.  Darkside Scientific, makers of the Lumilor EL paints, did a Tesla Model S up as a demo - this video was released on 9/11, since I started looking into this:

These paints are already starting to show up in real products, although they're just getting to production with them.  As for the paramagnetic paints, my guess is that the videos we're seeing of finished cars probably are fake, but the technology is for real in development labs and will probably be showing up on cars and more things soon. 

The future is sure looking like a pretty interesting place.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Equality - It's the New Discrimination

H/T to American Mercenary who writes on the Army's move to get women into the Rangers.  As I comment there, I'm in complete agreement with AM when he says:
If they compromise the standard to let women through then shame on them.
If the standards for the job are correct, and they should be by now, then everyone who applies for that position should need to meet the same standards.

The problem is the "victim-obsessed hustlers who are currently running the Federal Government" are suing the Pennsylvania State Police for having the temerity to insist women who apply to be officers must meet the same standards as the men.  That establishes the precedent that they can force the Army to change the standards so that women who want to be Rangers will be tested to lower levels than the men.  That's very likely going to get those women, or some unfortunate people under their command, killed. 

It used to be that discrimination was requiring one class to pass tougher standards than another; in this case, the men are being discriminated against by having to meet tougher standards than women.  Changing the definition of discrimination from tougher standards to everyone meeting the same standards is a whole new ballgame.  Frankly, it warps my mind.  If having everyone meet the same standards equally isn't equality, then the world has fundamentally changed.
Despite the fact that over 70 percent of female applicants pass the test, Holder and Company have decided to sue. And why?

Well… Because those evil cops in Pennsylvania had the audacity to treat female candidates the same as their male counterparts. Don’t those out of touch, sexist, creeps who run the police department know by now that, in Holder’s America, “equality” means treating everyone differently? See, women are equal. Well, unless they’re not. In which case, we should treat them unequal in order to make them equal. But not too unequal. After all, they are equal… Unless they’re not. Are they? (Please don’t sue me.)

Welcome to our progressive Utopia: Where people get sued for not lowering their expectations.
H/T Sense of Events who posted this link on 9/1.  It has been simmering in mind since.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Things I've Been Meaning to Get To

I missed the whole kerfuffle with Tam's blog, and being driven silent by some cretin.  By the time I got back from Israel, on 9/5, she had started posting again, albeit with comments shut down.  I also ran across some comments elsewhere that anyone trying to mess with Tam would score really poorly on the victim selection scale and very likely find themselves in an unanticipated dirt nap.  While that's good for a joke, I wouldn't wish a use of deadly force situation on anyone. 

I'm pretty sure the first thing of Tam's I ever read was her piece on Kathy Jackson's "Cornered Cat", "The Day I Discovered That HCI Wants Me Dead" in which she recounts being in one of those situations.  Not fun.  Not a joking matter.  (As a side note, cops and Emergency Room workers have a notoriously rough sense of humor and make light of the most awful situations imaginable - like fighting to the death).

Anyway, I know you've dropped by on occasion, Tam.  If you see this, sorry you're having cretin troubles.  I appreciate the gun content you're posting and hope life gets back to "normal" ASAP.


Long time readers will know that my "Library Thing" bar on the lower right has several books in it from the low-carb viewpoint, and I have a pretty dim view of the current fad of "Wellness Programs".  I really think Gary Taubes' two books ("Why We Get Fat" and "Good Calories, Bad Calories") are two of the most important health and wellness books put together in the last century.  

I think I've found another.  Death by Food Pyramid is a very impressive book by Denise Minger., hostess of the Raw Food SOS blog.  Denise is a young health writer who is known for a very thorough deconstruction of some very famous studies that get lots of press coverage: the China Study and "Forks, Not Knives".   One of the highest compliments I can pay someone is that they're a good, clear, thinker.  Denise is definitely one; she has good thought processes and they're very evident through the book.  She's also an engaging writer with a knack for providing the right amount of levity for this serious subject matter. 

Denise's story starts with being a teenager who gets convinced she needs to be a vegetarian, which progresses to being only raw foods (or some other fad).  At 17, she goes to the dentist and after way too many disconcerting "hmm" sounds, heavy sighs, and pokes with pointy metal objects, finds she needs to have at least 17 teeth worked on - coming from never having had dental problems before she became a vegetarian.  In the space of one year. 
I was seventeen. It’d been a full year since I’d become a strict, low-fat, fruit-noshing raw vegan — led there by a cocktail of food allergies and dewy-eyed trust in people from the internet (bad idea is bad). Perhaps too distracted by my constant brain fog, perpetual shivering, and the clumps of hair making a mass exodus from my scalp, I’d failed to notice the prime victim of my lopsided diet: my teeth.
The book is divided into sections on the shady politics behind dietary recommendations, the slippery science, and concludes with some ideas for going forward.  The final section includes a fair amount of information on the role of ancestral diets and how, one by one, indigenous peoples were made sicker and sicker by switching to the abundant western staples of flour and sugar.  Gary Taubes spent quite a bit of time on this in "Good Calories, Bad Calories".

She asks a very reasonable question:  there are people who claim tremendous improvements in health from eating totally vegetarian and others who claim tremendous improvements in health by being meat-eating omnivores.  How can such opposites provide the same results?  Aside from the should-be-obvious conclusion that "one size never fits all", we have a tendency to focus on what people eat, or what they do, not on what they don't eat or don't do (those are admittedly infinite sets) and rarely on the environment they live in.  Perhaps what vegans and meat-eating "paleo" diet folks have in common is they both avoid heavily processed modern foods?  For another example, in those studies that gave rise to the "Mediterranean Diet" fad (as if there is one diet over the thousands of square miles of the region) they focus on the pasta and little amounts of meat; have they investigated minerals in the water or the soil?  What about the structures of their societies?  What if it has nothing to do with the baguettes, and everything to do with the amount of magnesium or some other mineral in their water?  

It's not too much of a spoiler to say that the FDA food pyramid (currently called "My Plate") has the drawbacks of every other thing the Fed.gov does that's crawling with crony politics.  The famous "eat 30% of your calories from fat", and "limit your intake of red meat" have more to do with the grain and sugar lobbies than they do with hard science.

If you care about this subject, or are forced to care about it, read this. People without the intellectual flexibility to face their favorite ideas being threatened will have a hard time with it (you'll note the vitriol used against Denise in vegetarian forums). 

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Distinctively American Printer

Perhaps working from all the jokes about how Americans are all, um, plus-sized and lazy, Fuji Xerox has introduced an office printer that brings your prints to you.
So if the fat office worker needs to print something, but finds the walk down the hall to get their printer output too much, they can just have the little robot "fetch" for them, like an oversized (and slightly retarded) puppy.  It's a natural for the American market.  As a Lardo-American I'm both offended and secretly happy.

Just kidding.  This has nothing to do with appealing to oversized Americans.  The intent is to ensure secure prints for business travelers and others who might want to keep their printouts from prying eyes, but don't have their own dedicated printer at the airport or hotel.
Fuji Xerox - a joint venture between the two firms - has been testing the printer this month at a business lounge in Tokyo.

Each desk in the lounge is given a unique web address from which to print. Users access the address and upload documents to be printed.

Once the printer receives the job, it moves to the intended recipient who then has to display a smart card to activate printing.
The Roomba-like robot not only hand-delivers documents, it also features sensors that allow it to maneuver through the objects in a room and a tracker to find the person who requested the print. For example, in the trial, the robot was programmed with a map of an office layout and the directions to each employee. When John requests a print, Xerox will use its laser-powered navigation system to get to John, while successfully avoiding all obstacles in its path.
I'm not sure I can see this taking off.  I'm sure some travelers need to print more often than I have (very rarely), and the hotels I've been staying in tended to have a dedicated office area for travelers to use for a few minutes.  Need to check in and print out a boarding pass for your next flight?  I've seen some single-purpose terminals you can use to do that without touching the dedicated office area.

Maybe it's technology for its own sake, but it is kinda neat.  What do you think?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

At The Peak of Hurricane Season

It's a regular feature around here to mock the annual hurricane forecasts (for example), and especially the Global Warming Alarmists when they predict an active hurricane season.  The guys who do this officially for NOAA, though, predicted this would be "normal or below" season, and they're looking pretty good.  The official numbers were 8-13 named storms, 3-6 of which would become hurricanes and 1-2 which would become major (Cat 3 or above) 'canes. 

This is the statistical peak of the Atlantic hurricane season and there are no named storms out there.  There is a depression around the Azores and a tropical wave that's passing overhead this evening which the hurricane center says has a 40% chance of developing into a tropical system within five days.  They say that depression will be a hurricane by Monday and what we call a fish storm.  It looks like it will have no effect on any land. 
So far, we've had named storms through the letter "D", Dolly, which was a tropical storm for a few hours between forming in the western Gulf of Mexico, and then going ashore around the Texas/Mexico border.  Four storms, no storm lasted more than a week, but three of them made hurricane status.    Ryan Maue's Accumulated Cyclone Energy metric shows that ACE in the Atlantic basin is 39% of a normal year.  The entire planet is at 89% of normal this year, with only the Eastern North Pacific being well above average.

The season tends to slow down faster than it starts, with the peak being short-lived.  Within another couple of weeks, we'll be saying good-bye to hurricane season 2014.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Seeing Through Walls with WiFi

Design News reports on an interesting development from the University of California Santa Barbara.  The project uses a pair of robots who can scan through walls by pointing WiFi antennas at each other and using simple algorithms to make decisions about what's inside the building.  Headed by Dr. Yasamin Mostofi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, the University of California, Santa Barbara research team has spent a few years developing the imaging technology.
Imagine unmanned vehicles arriving behind thick concrete walls. They have no prior knowledge of the area behind these walls. But they are able to see every square inch of the invisible area through the walls, fully discovering what is on the other side with high accuracy. The objects on the other side do not even have to move to be detected. Now, imagine robots doing all these with only WiFi signals and no other sensors. In this project, we have shown how to do this.
The approach is simple; much simpler than Synthetic Aperture Radar, which provides nearly photographic quality images by signal processing radar returns.   Instead of manipulating the reflected returns from the radar transmitter, they measure signal strength of transmitted signals going through the space and apply simple mathematical functions to the strength before plotting the strength vs. position.  It's not intended for imaging behind walls, like a military or police operation looking for people hiding, and doesn't seem like it's fast enough to do that.  It's intended for search and rescue operations. 
Here's a demo video from the project web page:

I find it somewhat unusual that Dr. Mostofi's UCSB page shows she has MS and Ph.D. from Stanford in '04 with her BS from Iran's Sharif University of Technology in '97.  I didn't think it was feasible to emigrate from Iran these days, but her MS was '99 which pretty much means she started on it almost immediately after completing her BS.

The image quality isn't as good as SAR but I'll bet the hardware is tons cheaper than a SAR or bistatic imaging radar.  Cheap, low tech approaches to problems definitely have their place. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Summer Vacation - A Little More

This is my last day off from work.  Back to the grind tomorrow.  The comments to my previous post about our trip pointed me in the direction of adding a little more detail.

When you see a photo of Jerusalem, there's an obvious structure that seems to draw your attention: the large golden dome near the center of this picture, the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine. 
This is a holy site to Muslims; we were close to the building, but didn't go inside.  There are a few stories about why it's there, but most seem agree there is a rock inside that is supposed to be the "far place" where Mohammed ascended into heaven.  It was built around 690 AD, almost 60 years after Mohammed's death. 

The last Jewish Temple that was on top of that built up structure was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD when they put down a Jewish rebellion and attempted to eradicate the Jews.  Our tour guide said the Romans changed the name of the area to reflect the tribe that the Jews were at war with the most often, the Philistines.  Sort of "adding insult to injury".  The Romans called the area Palestine, and that appears to be the first use of that name.  Most people who know of this area will tell you that the Dome of the Rock was built where the second Temple used to be, indeed these folks say the rock it contains is the Jewish Holy of Holies from the Temple but that claim is in dispute.  There's a group of serious scholars who say that the Dome was built too far to the south.  This has led to speculation that a third temple could be built on the old location, over Mt. Moriah, next to the Dome of the Rock and still be in the right place.  Nobody believes the Muslims would ever accept that.  As commenter Reg T suggested, the  Muslims are busy destroying as much Jewish history and as many archaeological artifacts as they can, just as the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. 

It has become a common negotiation of the Palestinians to deny there were ever Jewish temples on the Temple Mount; a movement called temple denialAmbassador Dore Gold tells of Yassar Arafat declaring there was never any temple there during the peace talks led by Bill Clinton.  Bubba, to my surprise, told Arafat that he was imposing on his (Clinton's) Christian theology and dismissed Arafat. 

There is a serious movement to be prepared to build a third temple up on Mt. Moriah at a moment's notice.  The  Temple Institute is the driving force behind this. 

During our visit to the area around the Dome of the Rock, we had the chance to observe daily life.  While the Muslims left us Americans alone, when a small group of Israeli Jews tried to access the top of the building, they were shouted down by vocal "Allah Akbar" chants and then physically blocked by standing in their way.  It was ugly.  A similar thing happened inside the old city of Jerusalem, in the Muslim quarter. 

As we walked past the side of the Dome, our guides pointed out this pattern in the marble on the walls near the south-facing door (I think!).
It doesn't take much imagination to see an unpleasant image in the marble. I brought up the contrast a little; my intent was to make the picture "snap" a bit more.  Aside from that, it's just what the marble looked like. 

Finally, I mentioned the superior stone work of the Roman builders.  This is the seam between two blocks of limestone that must weigh a ton or two each.  I don't think you could put a business card in that seam.  No grout or mortar or anything in there.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Didn't you hate having to write those essays all through K-12 school?  Me, too.

Summer vacation was a trip with our church group to Israel.  We spent 10 days on the ground there wandering sites rich in history - Biblical and regional.  I spent the entire time in a perpetual state of Mind.Blown and came away with different perspectives on so much.  For an example of mind blowing, here's a gateway into a Canaanite city near the Israeli city of Dan.  This was taken at the Tel Dan National Park historical site - northern Israel, near the Golan Heights.  During our walk into the area we heard distant thunder that was undoubtedly either shelling or bombing from the Syrian war. 
This gate is approximately 4200 years old, and is made of sun baked bricks which were covered in white plaster.  The scale is impossible to guess in the picture, but the gate is seven meters high.  Anything in your town 4200 years old?  It entirely likely that Abraham, the father of both Judaism and Islam, walked through this gate. 

We saw and walked around an ancient Roman city, Tel Bet She'An, or Scythopolis, as the Romans called it.  (Tel is a Hebrew word which indicates the place is an ancient mound or site). The city was largely destroyed by a massive earthquake in 749AD and has recently been extensively dug out. It's referred to as one of the oldest cities in this ancient land; first settled five to six thousand years ago.  (Relics from the "Crusader Era" don't even raise an eyebrow here, and those are many times older than anything you'll find in Florida - or much of the United States.) 

We visited the city of Capernaum, where Jesus' ministry was centered, and spent three days in the area of the Sea of Galilee.  We spent six days in the vicinity of Jerusalem, including side trips to Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  We walked under the currently occupied portions of Jerusalem, along the base of the western wall, now famous as the "Wailing Wall" that's a revered place for modern Jews.  Why this place?  Its proximity to the far western point of the old (destroyed, second) Temple - the "Holy of Holies" in Jewish Tradition.  (In a time of "Temple Denial" even saying there was once a temple there is somehow controversial to Muslims).  This is part of an ongoing archaeological exploration in as much of Jerusalem and the nearby City of David as can be accessed.  Outside of the "Old City" of Jerusalem, a current dig is exposing much of the City of David, and we crossed underground from the City of David to Jerusalem, using ancient water ducts - a few hundred yard walk that required me to stay stooped over to avoid hitting my head on a pipe and walk almost sideways, shoulders brushing along plastic sheets that covered the limestone walls.  I guess I'm a bit taller and wider than the workers who cut these tunnels 2000 years ago! 

We walked along roads and paths that were main roads and paths in the time of Jesus; we walked through places King David and Solomon or Boaz and Jeroboam would have walked.  In the Garden at Gethsemane (literally olive oil press) we saw a living olive tree said to be two thousand years old.  At the base of the western wall, underground, we saw stones the Romans put in place that were 30 to 50 feet long and eight feet high - stones that weighed hundreds of tons, yet were cut and placed against each other so precisely that mortar wasn't used.  One of the things that started to really stand out to me was how precise and well constructed the Roman buildings were, but they were often capped with walls built by later inhabitants (Byzantines or Muslims) who invariably did a much crappier job of construction.  Even the stones the Romans knew would be underground were finished better than the more modern construction. 

As an aside, I was always one of those people who said, "how can an educated person be a Christian?", strongly influenced by the press depiction of Christians as cousin-humping rednecks draped in rattlesnakes (our media, after all, still insists the Westboro Baptist Church is a real Christian organization).  One of the things that made me drop that view was a magazine Mrs. Graybeard used to get called Biblical Archaeology Review.  The articles regularly seemed to conclude stories about a major finding that included words to the effect of "we always thought this was just Jewish folklore, but we dug where we figured, and sumbitch - there it was!" (disclaimer: they didn't say "sumbitch"). The archaeology aspects of this tour really made it come to life.  Our guide had an encyclopedic knowledge of the places we visited, and especially deep knowledge of the Jewish and Christian areas.  His translation of Latin and Hebrew place names along with their traditions really made the tour the mind-blowing experience it was.  He made a point of describing spots with a 1-3 scale of how confident archaeologists are that a location is the one described in the Bible.  A "1" was described as certain - "X marks the spot" - down to a "3" being that the authenticity is a consistent legend in the area.  He would point out where one denomination would claim a certain location while other scholars would claim another location. 

The tour was a lot of day hikes in hot weather.  The main difference between Israel and here in Florida is that when the air temperature there was 95, as it often was, the "feels like" (heat index) would be close to 95.  When it's 95 here, the "feels like" temperature is usually 105.  The time of year affects that - summer has hot days but no chance of rain; November or December offer cooler temps but with more chance of rain and snow up in Jerusalem.  Water was $1 a bottle (half liter); the old cyclist's saying "drink before you're thirsty" echoed in my consciousness all the time.  Everything else was $4, or so it seems.  Long walk in the desert?  Ice cream bar is $4.  Diet coke is $4.  Most places take dollars, with an exchange rate of about 3.25 Shekels to the dollar.   

It would take more than just some idle curiosity about this place - where the great cultures of the world collide - to justify a trip from the US.  In many ways, it was the trip of our lifetimes.  Still, I'd have to recommend a trip like this to anyone who really wants to see and understand the region.  If you're Christian, it will change your world.  Our trip was arranged through Inspired Travel and on the Israel end, it was Sar-El Tours but be advised both of them cater to groups.  Our group was 50, one bus, but at one of our overnight hotels, a group of five buses from a mega-church showed up.  Neither of these companies seem likely to help a small family or individual. 

EDIT 1200 EDT 9/7 - A couple of typo and grammar fixes that only the truly Anal Retentive will notice.