Saturday, October 31, 2015

China And US Mirror Each Other

It's easy to find economic pundits saying China is in economic trouble; heck, I've done it myself.  To some degree they are in trouble!  That CNN article (first link) points out the China's government lies about their economic statistics all the time.  China's government manipulates their stock markets - and their citizens - to make it look better.  Critics will also point out that they're up to their eyeballs in debt.

I say: big deal.  Our government lies to us about every economic statistic; the Federal reserve manipulates the stock market every day and has been doing so for ages; and when it comes to debt, we're the most indebted nation in recorded history.  All of those things make them exactly like us.

China has a corrupt, autocratic government that pretends to embrace the free market but is really all about the leaders' personal benefits.  Again, just like us. 

Keith Fitz-Gerald of Money Morning writes at Bonner and Partners
Washington openly manipulates every data stream dished out to the American public as gospel. There are seasonable adjustments, cost-of-living improvements, and constantly changing calculations.

The U.S. government, for example, has changed the way it calculates the Consumer Price Index (CPI) more than 20 times in the past 30 years. Labor stats are calculated six different ways by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Gross Domestic Product is deflated or inflated at will depending on “methodological changes” over time. It’s revised incessantly.
To be fair, though, every country on earth manipulates its currency to try to gain advantage.  We're currently in a worldwide currency war consisting of just this sort of action.  Countries are trying to devalue their currencies to make their exports more attractive, or like the Fed, deliberately trying to import inflation from other countries because of their dire fear of deflation. 

Like Fitz-Gerald, I think China's problems are short term.  The demographics are on their side: they have a population that is growing and they're an enormous country.  They now have the world’s largest middle class at more than 600 million people. That will grow to more than 1 billion by 2020.

By 2020, I predict China will be the world's largest economy, and the US will have continued its decline. 
Wall Street Journal.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Putting Robots Out of Work

The concept that robots, or "computers" would replace all of the workers in companies is actually older than the word "robot".  The name was first used in the 1920 play "Rossum's Universal Robots", or R.U.R, by the Czech author Karel Capek, but before that the idea of automata as some some sort of servant or slave goes back to early societies before Christ. 

Despite the optimistic writings of Isaac Asimov and others, robots have not developed intelligence, even with the advance of Moore's Law and increases in computer power.  No robot has developed sentience, yet.  (If they have, they're keeping quiet about it - which is a pretty darned good sign of sentience!)  

Trade magazine New Equipment Digest reports on a robotics trade show recently held in Milan, Italy, and the emerging direction of creating man/robot teams, where each does what they're good at.  Something I find interesting about this is that it appears to be the result of our old friend, The Law of Unintended Consequences.  See, robots are strong and good at doing a lot of repetitive tasks, but because they aren't sentient, they're a workplace hazard.  A robot going through its programmed motions doesn't recognize people as things apart from what it normally works on, and will hit or knock over people while going through its motions.  The first couple of people to be killed by robots were killed in just this way.  The story of Robert Williams, the first (known) person killed by a robot just doesn't have any details, other than it being on a Ford assembly line.  The better known second victim, Kenji Urada, was documented better.  He died on an assembly line at Kawasaki Heavy Industries, when the robot arm he was working on and hadn't properly made safe pushed him into an industrial grinding machine (gruesome, I'm sure). 

Workplace safety has pushed robots into areas where humans don't go.  Factories will have fenced off areas that are No Go zones until the robots are turned off.  Enter the more nimble, smaller, less powerful robots on display. 
This CR-35iA industrial robot by industry giant Fanuc.
This one is a normal, high capacity, yellow Fanuc covered in a soft green foam and equipped with safety stop protections in case of collision.

Basically, rather than starting from scratch to create a new kind of robot to compete in the collaborative race, Fanuc simply made its own proven technology collaborative. Which is pretty clever.

As a result, the company has a sturdy-yet-safe robot with a massive 77 lb payload (compared to the 10-25 lb usually found in the collaborative market).
The author at New Equipment Digest takes the CR-35iA for a spin, finds it incredibly intuitive to learn, easy to control, and learns the operator controls he's using aren't going to be out for a while, but offer a big advantage:
Using the controller, which won't be out until next year, assemblers can grab heavy components like seats and tires with the CR, and place them wherever they go without breaking their backs in the process. Sort of like an external bionic arm.

Even better, he told me that the only way to do this in a factory today is with normal high-powered robots, which means all of the necessary safety cages and precise engineering that they require.

The CR-35iA, however, allows workers to do this job themselves, skipping the process gap between placement and installation, which could help speed up assembly by a few seconds.

That's right. This robot isn't putting humans out of work, it's putting robots out of work.   
A common theme in design is that the last 10% of the work takes 90% of the effort.  I can design you a radio for any service that will work pretty good, and get it to you pretty darned quick.  It's when you start adding new requirements or ones that conflict with others that it gets harder.  Similarly, getting robots to do every last detail in a long string of complex assembly operations may push the costs into prohibitive realms, but having a robot that's easier to work with, doesn't require as much programming, and doesn't need restrictive safety areas around it, could be just the ticket. 

I've commented here before that I've spent 40 years working in the electronics manufacturing industry in this country and one of the only things that has remained constant is people telling me the electronics manufacturing industry is leaving America.  That goes for just about every industry, from companies that manufacture electronics components to car parts to bicycles.  The US has a very strong manufacturing sector.  It's also true, though, that more automation has displaced workers.  The other term for that is "increasing productivity" which is an imperative.  It appears from this NED article that the robotics industry is increasingly looking not to replace workers, but allow them to be more productive by augmenting them.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

About Being Out Last Night

It's sort of a bucket list moment.  One of my favorite guitarists was in town and we found out early enough to get tickets.
Mark Knopfler's Tracker Tour came to town last night.  This photo is from a stop in Germany earlier in the year.  That's Mark, of course, in the bright light with the red Fender Stratocaster, and while this shows three members of the band, most of the time there were eight musicians on stage.  Nine when the saxophonist came out for a few songs.  Very good back up and a leader who has to be on anyone's short list of the greatest living guitarists.   

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Homemade Railgun

A friend at work sent me this link to a story about a guy who built his own railgun.  Railguns are popular research topics for the military, and use electric energy to accelerate the projectile.  Here, the builder used six large, 350V, 5500uF capacitors (in blue), which weigh 20lbs combined and can deliver 1800 Joules of energy to the projectile.  The gun is powered by a 12V lithium-polymer battery that’s stepped up to 1050V using a micro-inverter and a transformer before charging those capacitors.
Despite the fact that it doesn't appear to be painted or finished, it looks a lot like a gun from the first Men in Black movie.   The article is short on details, but says
The aluminum sabot flies out of the gun at 250 meters per second (559 mph), hits a plywood target with a steel backing approximately three feet away, and bounces off the wood after leaving a 1/2-inch deep indent
It doesn't say how much that sabot weighed, but we can look at what little information we have.  To begin with, 250 meters per second converts to 820 feet per second.  That's around the muzzle velocity of a 45 ACP handgun.  Obviously the impact energy depends on the mass being thrown, which they don't tell you.  A 12 ga. slug goes about 1600 fps and imparts almost 2600 ft-lbs at 25 yards (both of these courtesy of the Federal Premium online calculator)  That slug weighs about 1 1/4 ounce.  That 45 ACP round at 820 fps is going to be weigh a bit under 1/2 (42%) what the 12 ga. slug weighs and deliver a bit over 1/8 (14%) of the energy.

Dean Weingarten at AmmoLand reports he was able to find the mass of the railgun's sabot.  It's tiny.  Far, far less than the 230 grain FMJ I looked at on the ballistics calculator.
I was able to find the mass of the projectile with some Internet research.
The projectile mass was 1.1 grams, about 16.97 grains, so the total energy would be about 25 foot pounds.  That is about the same as the most powerful common air rifles, for the minimum velocity listed.  [Emphasis added - SiG]
For comparison, Federal's bulk 36 grain hollowpoint .22LR has a muzzle energy of 127 foot pounds.  

From Crosman:
A powerful .22 caliber air rifle such as a Benjamin Discovery or Marauder fires a 14.3 grain pellet with a muzzle velocity of approximately 900 ft/sec. ... about 26 ft lbs.
Weingarten points out that this railgun is only operating at 1.6% efficiency in converting the electrical energy into forward movement, a big issue in railgun development. 

Considering that this expensive, over 20 pound, rifle doesn't outperform a common .22LR out of a rifle, I'd say railguns have quite a way to go before they're practical.  I don't want to discourage the guy; the gun has an epic coolness factor, and as far as making a usable firearm goes, he's got to start somewhere! 

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This is post #1900 here, and may well have to stay alone a few days.   I expect to be unavailable tomorrow and Thursday.  Y'all have fun! 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

An Interesting Anniversary

Miguel at Gun Free Zone reminds me that this is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Wilma hitting South Florida. 

Wilma was a strong Category 3 storm when it came ashore the west coast of Florida (Cape Romano, part of Marco Island) with 120 mph winds, but it was assisted by a strong steering current pushing it to the Northeast.  Wilma still holds the record for the lowest barometric pressure ever measured in the Atlantic Basin, at 882 millibars (26.05 inches Hg) while still in the Caribbean basin, and the cost across all affected areas goes up to $29.394 Billion dollars. 

All those stats aside, the fact that amazes me the most is not Wilma herself, but the fact that Wilma was the last hurricane to hit Florida - 10 years ago - and the last major hurricane to hit the continental US.  While Hurricane season in the Atlantic goes through November and has a month left, the fact that Wilma was the "W" storm and the most recent Atlantic storm was a "J" storm (Joaquin) tells you lots about the relative activity between 2005 and now. 

Wilma wasn't a major storm for us, although I see from a NOAA web page, that the Kennedy Space Center (about 30 miles north of home) recorded the highest rain total from Wilma at 13.26", and there was a wind gust of 94 MPH.  I think of it as just another tropical storm.  My brother in South Florida lives much closer to Wilma's path and lost his roof shingles, which had just been replaced after the 2004 hurricanes. 

My main memory from Wilma was that the frontal passage that followed the storm brought in strong, cool NW winds, and while hosing leaves and debris off the cars, it was the only tropical storm cleanup ever that I felt cold. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Bad Memes Are Like Zombies

They keep coming back.  This week's bullshit is that restraining spending so that our budget remains under the debt limit means the government goes into default.  That is not default - by definition.    Default would be refusing to pay the payments due on our debt - the interest on the debt.  Rather than default, this would be better called "living within their means" or "being responsible".  We will not default unless the administration chooses to.  The will get approximately nine times more tax revenue than the interest due, so we don't default unless congress chooses to spend the tax money on the equivalent of hookers and blow instead of paying the debt.  According to the themselves, this fiscal year our interest on debt is $402,435,356,075.49 or to put it more conveniently, $402 Billion.  Estimating the federal income tax collected through the end of the year based on the Debt Clock shows tax revenues will be $3637 Billion, almost exactly nine times the amount needed to avoid default.  

I know I've written about this endlessly in the five years I've been blogging, but I'm pretty sure I have a lot of new readers and I have to assume they haven't read the many posts I've done on this.   (Example from four years ago)   Let me recap a little.

First, although they're going to make a big deal about the debt ceiling, I believe that the US effectively doesn't have a ceiling at all.  I say that because there isn't one time in history that we've  held the debt ceiling in place.  Whenever it comes up, our "representatives" sainted leaders vote to raise the debt limit.  Six times in history, they didn't pass the debt ceiling increase in time, and the country continued to run without going into default.  Either that, or they simply ignore the ceiling and allow the Treasury department to use "extraordinary measures".  If you or I did that, instead of "extraordinary measures" they would say we "lie, cheat and steal".   In July of 2013, I did a story on the Treasury Department's spending clock suddenly stopping from May of '13 until the debt ceiling got raised.  Newsflash: the spending didn't stop; they just lied about it.
Second, I believe that since they go into these times knowing with 99.9% certainty that they will raise the ceiling, this is all theater so that each side of the two-headed ruling class monster can claim to be heroes to their supporters. 
So what's the big picture:
  • This is all theater
  • They're going to raise the ceiling because they don't have the restraint of a drunken sailor, who, after all, stops drinking when he's broke.  
  • The government is not really going to shut down and it absolutely isn't going to get smaller in any meaningful sense because to do that would hurt the ruling class.  
  • Corollary: the only way the government shuts down is if one side or other believes they get a lot of political points by doing so.  I actually think the president wants a shutdown so that he can shame and blame the Stupid party.  The Stupid party is actually so stupid they think they can make points in the press that it's the president shutting it down.  
  • The president says that these discussions may lead to another 2008 economic crisis: find me someone who says debt ceiling discussions had anything to do with it.  As you can see from the above graph, the debt ceiling ratcheted up without interruption throughout that time period.
  • This only ends when the world decides to stop putting up with our stupidity and stops using dollars.  This is not just theoretically possible, all the major players are moving in that direction now.  That could happen this year or not for a few years to come.
As I say, I've written an acre of posts on this.  I just felt obligated to pass on a few points for new readers and new liberty-minded people. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Busy Couple of Days

Today was rather unusual day for me at Major Avionics Corporation.  Our products are required to be certified by the FCC, and due to all of the things that have to be completed before the data can be taken for their tests, FCC tests tend to be among the last things we do during product development.  As anyone who has worked in any industry will instantly know, that means the project is just about guaranteed to be running late and almost out of money by the time this needs to be done.  So they want it done in one pass, as fast as can be, with no room in the schedule for finding and fixing a problem. 

Lately, we've been contracting with a one-stop-shop that does a lot of the nasty paperwork for us (for a fee, of course).  They know the technical testing issues very well, but naturally don't know about the system they're testing, so we need to send a technician with all the hardware and software they'll need to run our system, and we also typically send a systems engineer to work with their test engineer.  Now, I'm not considered a systems engineer; I'm a design engineer.  On the other hand, I know the radio aspects of the radar better than the systems engineers.  After rumblings and rumors that it was going to happen, yesterday I was directed to be at the testing facility to answer any technical questions the testing authority might need to ask.  The kicker is we had the place reserved for one day (see "almost out of money", above) and the place is near Gainesville, Florida, just short of 200 miles from home.  I needed to be there when they were ready for us at 9 AM and to stay until we were done or they kicked us out.  That meant I was on the road to Gainesville a few minutes after 6 AM, instead of getting out of bed for work like usual, and was figuring I'd be home by 6 PM as best case.   As it worked out, I was there by close to 9:30 and I made it home by 6:15.  The day went as well as it could have, although I don't know if we passed.  The contractor needs to do post-processing on the data they took to see.  But I've never seen a box that passed our internal qualifications testing to aviation industry standards then fail the FCC tests. 

This probably sounds like I'm bitching; I'm not.  It's part of working for a living, which most of us still are.  I'm just making excuses for why I haven't put up any free ice cream since Wednesday.  So here: the essence of the 2016 presidential campaign, as seen by Rick McKee:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Comedians Get Things Right

It's a little long to embed here, but comedian Steven Crowder does a good look at Comrade Bernie Sanders in this video.

Also, a pretty good impression of Sanders.

I'll just add that someone did some math on Sanders' promises and said they add up to $18 T over 10 years.  As always, when I hear numbers like that I don't assume that means $18T divided by 10 and he increases the debt $1.8 T per year.  And I don't believe anyone can predict 10 years out in the budget with any reasonable certainty.  That said, Crowder assumes that linear, 1/10 every year.  He still pretty well demolishes Sanders.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Single Board Computers For Fun and Profit

Every now and then something comes up that would be nice to throw a controller on.  Maybe it's some home automation tasks, maybe it's something like adding a TOR relay, who knows?  It's just something you don't want to tie up a computer for.  Enter the cheap single board computer (SBC) like the Raspberry Pi mentioned in that first link.  

With the Pi, now at  Model 2B, these are fully functional computers that are on a par with good cell phones; in other words, a functional desktop PC from around 10 years ago - for $35.  It features a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU, 1 GB of SDRAM, USB and Ethernet connectors.  It can run the full range of ARM GNU/Linux distributions, including Snappy Ubuntu Core, as well as Microsoft Windows 10.  Yes, you read that right; this single board computer can run Windows 10 (not sure why you'd want to, but maybe that's just me).  Raspberry Pi is the most popular single board computer, and you may be able to simply search for an app for something you'd like to do and find it in the community. 

Besides the Raspberry Pi, the other big name in this space is the Arduino.  Compared to the Raspberry Pi, they appear aimed more at controlling things.  Instead of four USB and an Ethernet connectors, they have pin sockets.  A beginner package, the Uno, is a microcontroller board based on the ATmega328P. It has 14 digital input/output pins (of which 6 can be used as PWM outputs), 6 analog inputs, a 16 MHz quartz crystal, a USB connection, a power jack, an ICSP header and a reset button. It contains everything needed to support the microcontroller; simply connect it to a computer with a USB cable or power it with a AC-to-DC adapter or battery to get started.. You can tinker with your UNO without worrying too much about doing something wrong, worst case scenario you can replace the chip for a few dollars and start over again.

Trade magazine EE Times runs an article on a group of these single board computers.  Between the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino, you'll probably find more source code and more projects than for any other boards.  Or all of them put together.

An interesting idea is the HummingBoard-Gate, a computer that emphasizes small add-on sensors called Click Boards.  There dozens: a GPS receiver, Stepper Motor Driver (hmm - one of these for each axis of a CNC system?), three axis accelerometer; over 150 to choose from.  You could also connect your own basic sensors using a 36-pin GPIO header and 4 USB ports.  However, the board doesn’t come with any memory storage and starts off with a single-core Solo chip and 512 RAM for a whooping $50.  Adding a faster processor, storage, and WiFi and Bluetooth and bring your investment up to $235—that’s before the addition of sensor modules.  As you can see, The HummingBoard-Gate adds all the flexibility you could want, but it brings a price.

I've still never played around with any of these SBCs.  At $40, I think a Raspberry Pi is in the near future.

Monday, October 19, 2015

This Changes Things

The Times of Israel reports that significant amounts of oil have been discovered in the tiny country, specifically in the Golan Heights region in the north of the country, bordering Syria.
The layer is ten times larger than the average oil find worldwide, Bartov said, “and that’s why we’re talking about significant amounts. What’s important is to know that there’s oil in the rock, and this we know.”
They note:
Three drilling sites on the Golan have uncovered what is potentially billions of barrels of oil, enough to fulfill the Israeli market’s 270,000-barrel-per-day consumption for a very long time, the report claimed.
You might recall that a couple of years ago, Israel announced they had discovered a deep offshore oil and gas deposit offshore from the city of Haifa, named the Tamar and Leviathan fields.  At that time, the press were saying:
“The quantity of gas discovered in the licenses, and the high probabilities, make it the third largest offshore discovery to date,” according to Israel Opportunity chairman Ronny Halman, quoted by Globes.

He added, ”This quantity guarantees Israel's energy future for decades, and makes it possible to export Israeli gas, and boost the state's revenues without worrying about gas reserves for domestic consumption."
Sounds like Israel is poised to move from net energy importer to net exporter. Which has to have an effect on global geo- and petropolitics.
Drilling test holes on the Golan Heights

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Saudi Plan To Bankrupt American Oil

15 months ago, if you'll recall, oil was $102/bbl.  A moment ago, a check showed it at $47.35.  In between these lies a story and some lessons.

The first thing to note is that when oil had been around $100 for a while, everyone thought the days of sub-80 or $90 oil were long gone and they'd never be seen again.  Today, you'll read pundits saying that oil will stay below $60 and we'll never see $100 oil again.  That epic shortsightedness is lesson #1. 

Last December, I ruminated a bit on the price of oil and what may be going on.  This weekend, I see a summary by Jim Rickards that makes it appear I was right all along.  I wrote:
I think there can be a bigger game going on here, though.  The principal power in OPEC is the Saudis.  The Saudis have no use for the Iranians and are frankly terrified of a nuclear Iran.  You can bet your butt that if Iran goes nuclear, the Saudis will go nuclear as well.  For a country that nominally hates Israel, they've quietly agreed to allow Israel to over fly Saudi territory if needed to attack Iran ("the enemy of my enemy is my friend" in action?).  They also want Assad out of Syria and Russia is propping up both Iran and Syria.  I think it's entirely possible that Saudi Arabia could be playing the game to get Putin out of the area, and try to collapse the governments of both Iran and Syria.  Russia's economy is already showing signs of trouble.  If they collapse Putin himself, get him ousted by ballot, by revolt or worse, I think the Kingdom would view that as a good thing.  I also can't imagine the Saudis would be too upset if they found a price for oil that shut down American shale oil production. 

I included this handy graph of the price to balance the national budgets of several oil producers.
A vitally important piece of information which was missing from this chart was the cost per barrel of fracked oil.  What does it cost to produce a barrel in the American and Canadian oil fields?  The fracking industry assumed oil would remain in a range of $70 to $130 per barrel and based their business model on this. Over $5 trillion was spent on exploration and development, much of it in fields like the Bakken formation and the Colorado/Wyoming Niobrara oil shale.  

As I said last December, OPEC, and particularly Saudi Arabia, found themselves in a tight situation: not making enough profit from their sales to be fully comfortable.  Note I said enough profit.  Saudi Arabia is unique in actually being able to produce oil at a profit for as little as $10/bbl!  One thing was abundantly clear, though, unless they did something to strike back at the American production, they were condemned to low oil prices for the foreseeable future.  As Rickards says, the Saudis could survive with oil at $30, but it would be hell on their budget.  $80 would be good for their budget, but would probably allow the American frackers enough breathing room to stay alive.  Instead, they went for a price comfortably below that $70/bbl price they believed was the price of American oil. 
It turned out that the optimal solution for the Saudi problem was $60 per barrel. A price in the range of $50 to $60 per barrel would suit the Saudis just fine. That was a price range that would eliminate frackers over time but would not unduly strain Saudi finances
Oil at $60 has the added bonus of hurting both Russia and Iran, as well America.  It's win-win-win for the Saudis.  If you look at the records of the past year, the price of oil hit the Saudi target price of $60 per barrel by the end of 2014. But it kept going down. The price hit $45 per barrel in January 2015 and $40 per barrel by this past summer. That was due to normal market overshooting and momentum trading. It was also due to the fact that desperate frackers actually increased production to meet the interest payments on their debt even thought they were in the process of going broke.

Assuming war doesn't break out in the Persian Gulf region, I can see oil staying in the ~$45 to $60 range for a while; specifically, until the American fields are largely shut down and the workers moved back out of North Dakota and other places.  It will stay there until it will take a couple of years for the US industry to get fully mobilized again.  For planning purposes, figure some time in 2017.  

If you have enough Ferengi in you to be wondering how you can make some money out of this, should this all be true and not just fever dreams from your humble blogger (and, strangely, Jim Rickards), consider the following scenario.  In gold and silver mining, companies are broadly sorted by size into what are called juniors and majors.  Juniors are the startups; the hotshot geologist and a small group who go prospecting and find the new deposits to mine.  The majors leave this work to them because it's highly risky.  A lot of juniors go broke working on a deposit that doesn't end up being worthwhile.  On the other hand, once the juniors find a good deposit and start extracting the gold, the majors buy them out.  There's a similar stratification in the oil world, too, with smaller companies and the vast multinational majors. 

In this case, the juniors are likely to get squeezed out.  The small budget American frackers are going to be in trouble.  The big Majors, though, have the resources and intercontinental connections to survive it.  Those companies will go on a buying spree, picking up sources for pennies on the dollar starting soon (if they haven't already) and stretching through '16.  If this happens in 2017 as outlined, they'll start making money at a prodigious rate. 

Standard disclaimer: I'm not an expert in this stuff at all.  I'm just some random dood on the Intertubes with a blog.  I just observe things and think about them.  If you're taking advise from random people on the Web, you deserve what you get.
Brent Crude - one of several benchmark prices for crude oil.  Looks like it's staying in a trading range to me! 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Still Cutting Pieces

I've been working on my G0704 CNC Conversion project as time allows on weekends.  Today, I wrapped up the last of the lathe work - I think.  Four more threaded spacers, 1.5" and 10-32 threaded both ends, and then a couple of shaft collars.  Along the way, I got quite a bit more efficient at making these.  The first ones took a long time.  The last four took a few minutes each. 
I should probably powder coat those, or some other sort of finish, but not right now. 

The next phase is to make the motor brackets.  I plan to make those on my CNC Sherline, which requires I create instructions to make the part; numerically described tool paths called G-Code.   This is a standardized language (RS-274), although not every system has to recognize all of the possible codes.  G-Code can often be generated by hand with a dimensioned drawing, but complex shapes (for example, carving wax for jewelry casting) require another software package to take a 3D model and convert it to tool paths.  This is called a Computer Aided Manufacturing, or CAM, program.  If a CAM program is required, the first step is to draw them in 3D Design Software. 

It has been a while since I've looked to see what software is out there, but the program I use is Rhinooceros, usually called Rhino3D.  If you're not familiar with this world, it's got quite a learning curve.  Rhino is considered a modelling program rather than a true Computer Aided Design (CAD) program.  The differences are kinda subtle, but while Rhino can give you dimensions of anything you draw, and allow you to do things like rotate something to make sure it clears some other part of your design, it takes a bit more manual effort than a true CAD program.  While Rhino probably comes across as pricey, it's around what a mid/high end production pistol costs (my current "object du lust"), the true CAD programs cost quite a bit more, like 30-40 times that.    

The advantage of using CNC for this is that it will make doing anything other than drilling or boring holes easier.  I'm not doing this because I intend to make lots of these, just to make my work at the milling machine easier.  The work shifts from cutting metal to moving traces on this screen or deriving XYZ coordinates for where cuts have to happen, or where holes have to be drilled. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Early Retirement Forecast

All the paperwork is in place for me to be out by the week before Christmas, so I went looking for the annual Florida Dry Season Forecast.  As you've probably heard, a strong El Nino is developing in the equatorial Pacific.  The effects on Florida are pretty well understood, and while they don't set the absolute forecast in stone, they do create a direction.  It looks like this.
Hmmm.  Both precipitation and storminess (don't they go together?) are predicted to be well above normal, with normal temperatures through January, and below normal until April.  This is, after all, our usual dry season.  My impression is that December brings more rainy cold fronts than January.  I have many memories of adjusting outside lights after cold rains before Christmas, but I also have lots of memories of bike riding on achingly beautiful days in January and February.  Our coldest time tends to be January - sometimes extending into mid-February

Sounds like I'm likely to be spending more time in the shop than fishing for the first few months.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Free College For Everyone!

I didn't pay too much attention to the Evil Party debate this week.  Didn't watch a minute of it, but since I do keep up with the news, it wasn't hard to grasp the essence of the debate:  Free Stuff for All!  Free health care!  Free College!  Wage Inequality! Greed!  Free stuff for everyone, except of course those who have to pay for it.  Those people won't get anything. 

Matt Walsh, a blogger for The Blaze wrote a really good piece on the debate, "Democrats Are Godless Heathen Tyrant Maniacs Because That's What Voters Want" - I suspect that's a deliberately over the top title.  It's a must read.

I just want to address one thing:  Free College.  Now we know that Free simply means someone else pays for it, and Comrade Sanders says he's going to tax Wall Street.  Because those costs will never be passed on to anyone, right?  Still, it's a plan that's going to attract the coveted young moron demographic along with the "let someone else be responsible for me" crowd; both are core Democrat constituencies.

Here's a couple of rough numbers for you.  The college age population of this country is roughly 22 Million people.  That census data on Wikipedia is for 15 to 19 and 20 to 24 year olds; both ages were close to that.  According to this statistics page, just over 2,136,000 Associates and Bachelor's degrees were awarded  (not sure where they come from, exactly, but the date says April, 2015).  In other words, 1/10 of the eligible population completed two or four years of college.  I include the two year associates degrees because since Sanders said four years of public college should be free, I assume he meant "up to" four years.  

It's a straightforward argument that we have far too few seats in college for the number of butts that want to occupy them.  Why do I say that?  College costs have increased at three times the rate of general inflation so if prices are going up like crazy, there's shortage of supply.  The cost increase is aided by the's willingness to supply educational loans at a virtually infinite rate.  Colleges find themselves in the happy place of being able to charge anything they want for those seats, and the butts that are going to be sitting in them will gladly take all the money from the and transfer it to those colleges.   Of the 22 million college-aged people, vs. 2.1 million who graduate, how many would go to college if it was arranged for them?  Do we need to build more colleges and hire more staff to get more seats available?  For what? 

As we're seeing emphasized recently, a college degree doesn't guarantee a well-paying job; meaningful skills do.  There's a tremendous emphasis on STEM degrees, but my guess is we're graduating too many now.  Data is saying only 1 in 4 graduates is getting a job in one of those fields.  It's true that those pushing for more STEM graduates have included fields like psychology, and social science degrees such as economics, anthropology, sociology or political science; anything that can throw the word "science" into its name.  These aren't the type of jobs that Silicon Valley (or our own Silicon Swamp) is looking for.  

Besides, it displays a stunning ignorance of how the world works.  Comrade Bernie and Comrade Chancellor Hildebeest are saying that since some college graduates appear to have an increased value in the job market, we should create more of them.  This shows complete ignorance of the law of supply and demand.  If people coming out of college make more than those who didn't go, it's because they are worth more to employers.  To create more of them is to reduce their differential value and make college even worse of a deal than it is for so many graduates today.  
(Michael Ramirez in 2012, but just as valid today)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Cheap Chinese HF Transceivers Arrive

I've been expecting this. 

A couple of years ago, the amateur radio world was shaken by the introduction of cheap VHF/UHF handheld transceivers like the Baofeng HTs.   With a low price like $30 or $40, notoriously cheapskate hams bought a lot of these.  There are several manufacturers with varying degrees of quality in their reputation, but the point is the market is open and if you want an HT, it's low dollar risk.  The more established brand HTs, Yaesu and Icom, come in at over $100 to start, and over $200 is more common. 

Today, while looking at some old clutter, I stumbled across this link to a Chinese HF transceiver, the Xeigu ("zia goo") X108G.  I'm not sure how long these have been on the market in the US, but they're apparently on the market in Europe.  I see a few videos dated in July of '15, I found a forum dedicated to them that appears to be in German (I speak about as much German as Obama speaks free market). 

It's considered a low-power (QRP) transmitter at "greater than 15 W", but it appears pretty full-featured.  The manual (pdf)  says it receives continuously from 500 kHz to 30 MHz (a common range) and transmits on all amateur bands.  It only operates in Single Sideband voice and "CW", as hams refer to Morse code modes.  Its rear panel has an external audio pin (in a 6 pin mic. connector), so I assume it will do the audio modes hams like, such as PSK31 and RTTY, although those require use of software running on something and probably wiring up some connectors yourself.  Given its small size and the amount of features you activate through that small front panel, it's probably a bit tedious to operate, but that's the way these small rigs tend to be. 

Here's the drawback: they are not duplicating the price shock that Baofeng has done in their market.  It's $599.  For the same price I can get this Yaesu FT-817ND.  I've had one of these (well, the earlier, non-ND version) and it's a fine little radio.  A little lower transmit power, but Yaesu is a rock-solid manufacturer, and I'd trust their radio implicitly over the X108G.  It will do everything this will do, although it is slightly lower power, and the Yaesu has a bunch of aftermarket accessories and support.
For scale, that connector on the lower left is an RJ-45 network connector.  The front panel is about 4 3/4" by 1 3/4 and it's 7.1" front to back.  It doesn't say if that includes the handles, so I'm guessing it doesn't. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Martian

Yesterday, we went to see The Martian at the local multi-cinema.  I was going to write some mini-review thoughts down, but it all pales next to Adaptive Curmudgeon's take on the movie:  "For Once, a Movie Didn't Suck". 

Short review:  Go. See. It. 

Sure it's a movie.  They got the science more right than not, but some times they just had to exaggerate things for dramatic effect.  Several people have commented that the atmosphere on Mars is so thin that a storm of the force required to throw a fully grown man just isn't happening.  But they needed the plot device to separate Matt Damon's character Mark Watney from the rest of the crew and provide a plausible reason for the mission to leave him.  From the IMDB trivia page:
The atmospheric pressure on the Martian surface averages 600 Pa (0.087 psi), about 0.6% of Earth's mean sea level pressure of 100 kPa (14.69 psi). It is so low that a "fierce storm", as they put it, would be something akin to a very light breeze messing up your hair. Author Andy Weir admitted this was his biggest inaccuracy in the story...
...and the technically weakest part of the whole film.   They speed through the delay in conversations, after saying light time to Mars was 24 minutes, but that has to be done.  In one or two scenes, the people waiting on earth were in different positions or moved to reflect the long wait between sending and receiving messages.  But that's all minor.  Go. See.  It. 
At one point, Watney talks about the simple fact that everything he does and everyplace he goes he's "The First Human Ever".  It's not dwelled on, but it does help you think about what it would be like, marooned in an extremely hostile environment for two years. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Winds of Change Are Blowing

This is probably going to sound strange, but last winter it occurred to me that I could really retire in the not too distant future.  Retirement had always seemed like a remote possibility, something "out there somewhere" that I saved for but didn't do much more about.

Starting around March or so, I started paying more attention; studying how I might retire.  In April, Major Avionics Corporation brought in a representative of MetLife to do four one hour seminars on retirement planning, one each week for the month.  Those really got the wheels turning and I spent more time trying to figure out how I could retire next year.  The two target dates were possibly early February when I turn 62, or on my service anniversary, April Fool's Day.  It was starting to look like I could really do this.

In many ways, Mrs. Graybeard and I have been preparing for this for years - besides the obvious savings plans like 401ks.  To begin with, we got ourselves debt free.  We paid off our house early, and within the last two years, especially, have been systematically going over the house and doing anything we could to preempt any major expenditure in the next year or two.  Two years ago we embarked on a four year plan leading to retirement in 2018.  That was the counterargument to retiring in '16; I have a plan so part of me says "plan your work and work your plan". 

In the last three or four weeks, all of that planning has been upset and thrown by the wayside.  The company announced that we've become overstaffed due to a slowing in the small jet sector (example): both the smaller business jets like the Gulfstreams and the 50-100 seat regional jets like the Bombardier models in that previous link.  To cope with that unbalance, they decided to offer incentive plans and a cash bonus to accelerate retirement for older workers who were within a year or two of leaving.  I qualify for the plan and put in my papers this week.  No, I don't have as much saved as I'd like, but I wonder how often that happens in real life.  It will be a reduction to our lifestyles, but not something we haven't been anticipating and planning for. 

The aviation industry, really like all of industry,  is trying to come to terms with how they're going to handle the loss of experience and knowledge they're going to see in the coming wave of baby boomer retirements.  Our company has apparently decided to just get it over with; just rip off the band-aid quickly, to use the old cliche'.  Hi.  I'm your band-aid.

I'll be leaving before the end of this year: December 18th.  I'll be retired well before my February birthday.  I don't have any real plans, other than to play more, fish more, and not be sleep deprived all the time.
(I took this in October of 2002)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Coming Crisis in Sub-Prime Car Loans

Car loans?  I wasn't even aware that such a thing existed, but I find in reading around that everyone in the business knows about them.  This company, for example, advertises they specialize in so-called deep subprime loans.   These are car loans for people with no credit rating or who are currently going through bankruptcy.  Everyone has to start somewhere, so I'm sure some kids with no credit experience sometimes absolutely have to get a car loan, but they pay desperately for them.  According, a well known car market website, APRs for deep subprime used car loans averaged 19%. 
Here's how those numbers work out in real life for a 60-month loan amount of $16,333, using the average interest rate received by each group of borrowers with scores below 660.
  • Nonprime: 9.29 percent for 60 months = $341 per month
  • Subprime: 15.72 percent = $394 per month
  • Deep subprime: 19 percent = $423 per month
Remember, the finance companies, especially the big ones, are getting their funds to loan out at 19% for essentially 0% interest.  Didn't they used to call this usury? 

Aside from that, I see a couple of big problems here.  First, did you notice they referred to a 60 month loan?  Five years on a used car?  The lenders are stretching out the loan periods beyond that, up to 6 and 7 years. Given those 19 or 20 % interest rates, these car “buyers” won’t own any equity – zero – in the cars until after month 60.  I've said before I don't understand why house mortgages were never supposed to be underwater when car loans routinely are; this is an example.  For five or more years, the buyers have no economic interest in the vehicle they “own.”

The second problem here is that it's not just a small percentage of the buyers that need Subprime and Deep subprime loans at these high rates.  Consider General Motors.  Roughly 90% of GM car buyers finance their purchases, no surprise there, but as recently as 2014, 83% of their loan book was subprime, with a shocking amount categorized as “deep subprime.”  That means only 17% of buyers have good enough credit to get to "nonprime" and it's not possible to figure what percentages get "prime" or "superprime" rates.  Bonner & Partners continue their analysis with:
By the end of last year, total auto loans outstanding in the U.S. had reached almost $900 billion – up nearly 25% in only two years. Does that sound wise? Loans that originated last year have begun to default at a pace not seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

This problem is going to get a lot worse. It will probably result in bankruptcy at Ford Motor and massive losses to financial institutions that own these auto loans, like GM Financial and Santander Consumer USA.
I want to make it clear that I'm not saying bad things about people who have to get those loans.  Shit happens and bad shit happens to good people.  The thing that gets me is the idea that 83% of the people who finance GM cars are in the bottom two (of five) rankings for loans.  When that many people need to pay these outrageous rates to buy cars, I can't see how the system can survive.  

The crisis of 2008, which we aren't really over, was about too much debt on every level: homes, consumers, and businesses.  Has anything really changed?  

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Butter Bubble of 2015

Tyler Durden at Zerohedge reported that butter set a price record of $3.10/lb on the Chicago Mercantile on September 24th, but since then, prices have ... well ... melted down to $2.51/lb by the end of the month.  A very abrupt bubble, probably brought on by concerns over the California drought. 

Now ZH's point is that this sort of inflation is completely disregarded in the inflation numbers that the reports.  According to their hedonics adjustments, because you can get a more powerful computer this year for the same price as the previous models, or a little more, the better/faster computer actually led to a decrease in your cost of living.  Even though you paid more for it. 

Ain't Hedonics wonderful?  As ZH says, channeling Jamie Dimon, "let them eat iPhones." 

I'll just note in passing that at $2.50/lb for butter, my refrigerator has to be worth north of $100,000. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Never Ending Struggle To Make Air Travel More Miserable

A recent US patent granted to the European giant Airbus makes enormous strides in the never ending struggle to make airline travel more miserable.  Stacked vertical seating. (Hat tip to a place called Quartz - sent to me in the home email today)

Seriously.  People sitting above something similar to the existing seats.  I am not making this up. 

I'm a kinda big guy.  Not NFL lineman big, but over average.  6' tall and on the plus side of 250.  Pretty much wear XXL in everything.  I find the current seats too small and too uncomfortable.  I especially find the distance between my knees and the seat in front of me too short, like about an inch closer than the length of my thighs.  The sample layouts in that patent will not work for me.  Take a look at this illustration from the patent:
Note there's three layers there.  Not just the main seats, with secondary seats over their heads, but literally a layer of people lying at floor level.  All of those people depicted don't show the full extent of the seats/beds, but the stated goal is to take better advantage of vertical space in the aircraft.  The smaller, single aisle aircraft like their A320 series sure doesn't have enough vertical space to accommodate this, unless the overhead compartments are taken out - and I'm not sure that would go over well.  People seem to put everything up there, stopping just short of full-sized furniture.  Usually.  Perhaps this will only be for larger aircraft. 
This artist's concept includes the upper level seats.  Seems kind of precarious for the upper seats in the event of turbulence.  Seems pretty precarious for the lower seats in the event the guys in upper seats suffer from flatulence.  Note that none of the seats have arm rests, none of them show upholstery, and none of them have a tray table.  Nice for an artist to do, but it screams entirely impractical to me.

Actually, I think even this misses the mark.  Think Japanese capsule hotels, those places where you rent a small tube to sleep in, and use communal bathrooms, and baths.  I think that would fit even more people onto the airplane.  I can envision an arrangement of tubes that would look like a battery pack, only instead of AA batteries, you'd slide in there.  Sort of like an array of MRI tubes ... only less friendly. 

I used to love flying around the country.  Getting onto a plane for a cross-country vacation was about as nice an experience as I had.  Relaxing, looking out the window at the passing beauty.  Then came more and more crowding, endless lines and the TSA grope-o-matic.  This is yet another reason to drive.  And adds more meaning to the phrase, "If it ain't Boeing, I ain't going".

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Techy Tuesday - On VW, The EPA, and Benchmarks

By way of a short recap, on September 18, the EPA issued a Notice of Violation charging that Volkswagen had cheated on their emissions tests by running software in their Engine Control Units which responded differently when it "thought" it was being tested.  They allege that from model year 2009 through 2015, Turbocharged Direct Injection engines (apparently all models) were equipped with software that made the so-called "Clean Diesel" cars run in a different mode during the test profiles that regulators like the EPA use.  This resulted in cars on the road having Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) emissions up to 35 times higher than what the EPA measured.  Using their usual models, the EPA estimates that Volkswagen killed between 12 and 106 persons by diseases such as asthma and heart disease in the United States.

VW has been hit hard by this, with their stock price being hammered, the CEO leaving, and legal actions just getting started.  The head of their US operations has been called before congress this Thursday, and Germany's version of the EPA, the KBA, has demanded a plan for a fix by tomorrow, October 7th. 

I'm not in the auto industry, and don't own a VW, so I really don't have a dog in this fight.  A quick glance at the About Me box in the right column shows I'm a radio engineer, so my only familiarity with the whole question of Engine Control software and how to optimize diesel engines is from reading on the subject.  It's miles away from my expertise, but I wanted to touch on the subject of benchmark tests like this.  Benchmarks, standards, and making the numbers is part of engineering and a bigger part of marketing.

Consider the computer most of you are using to read this.  Computers have been subject to benchmarking how fast they operate for as long as they've been consumer items.  Electronic Design's editor Bill Wong writes:
... I was the first PC Labs Director for PC Magazine ... many decades ago. I helped put together the first benchmarks for PCs, printers, and networks. We distributed them via bulletin-board systems running on banks of modems as well as on 5.25-in floppy disks.
Eventually we had graphics benchmarks, which is where a lot of cheating occurred. In some instances, video drivers were specifically written to check if tests were being run and adjusted the way the driver performed often doing nothing. In one sense, this is a valid optimization since a set of operations that does no useful work such as changing what is on the screen could help improve the performance of the overall system. Of course, adding this check could lower it, too.
Surprised?  You shouldn't be.  People shopping for computers would read the benchmarks and tests searching to see which computer ran faster than the others, or the same speed but sold cheaper.  Having good published benchmarks could be the different between a successful and unsuccessful model.  That's big bucks to a place like Dell or another computer maker.  It's the same concept in ham radio; influential writers will point out the importance of some specification and soon all the hams looking for that sort of radio will be diligently reading specs to compare radios and see which radios are better at that particular specification.  In both cases, when consumers are shopping by one particular benchmark, they'll buy one that's an imperceptible amount better.  In this case the benchmarks were faked: when the engine was run in the test lab, doing programmed exercises on a dynamometer, it responded differently than it did with people driving.  Buying it based on its benchmarks would cheat the buyers. 

The bottom line is that there are huge incentives for companies to come up with ways to benchmark better and look better to buyers.  Software controlled engines are ripe for this sort of thing to happen.  It's especially likely to happen if the designers believe the test conditions are completely different from real world use and the test is just a barrier between them and selling their cars.  They think customers will be happier with cars that perform better in real driving than passing regulatory tests. 

But the regulators are the ones who can ruin your business and arrest you.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Could Have Been Drawn Yesterday

In the email today, a friend sent this 112 year old cartoon.  Note the 1903 date at the top.
Apparently Judge was a satire magazine of the late 1800s through as late as 1947 when it ceased publication. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Giving Janet Yellen A Run for Her Money

When it comes to spreading money around, Janet doesn't really have anything over Abenomics in Japan.  Last week, the Development Bank of Japan announced they're going to pump 100 billion yen into the development of Mitsubishi's Regional Jet, the first domestically developed and built plane since 1962.  (Although Mitsubishi produced at least one famous aircraft before that).  Yen are under one cent in exchange rates, so that comes out to under $1B US; closer to $824 Million.
The money will mostly go toward facilities to build, maintain and repair the MRJ, Japan's first domestically developed and built plane since the turboprop YS11, which first flew in 1962 and is no longer in service in Japan. Some of the funds will be also used for capital investment in parts suppliers.

The support from the state-owned bank is aimed at easing the financial strain at Mitsubishi Aircraft, the Mitsubishi Heavy unit in charge of the project. The parent company also plans to raise money from other sources.

The DBJ's investment is part of its plan to put 500 billion yen over five years into various projects aimed at improving Japan's industrial competitiveness.
Japan, of course, has been in a decades long period of "suspended animation"; low growth, to no growth to contraction.  Abenomics (pronounced ah-bay-nomics) has been the usual collection of central bank tricks we're seeing here in the US: quantitative easing, fiscal stimulus and the ever-popular structural reforms.  In addition to the money they're using to prop up Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, they're also giving money to their ship building industry.

20 years of it hasn't worked in Japan, but they're doing it again, only harder.  And Janet and her crew is swearing it will work here.  You know, "this time is different (tm)".  Just like they've said before every other crash for the last 800 years.  
The flight test prototype of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet

Epic Take Down

Divemedic on Confessions of a Street Pharmacist recounts the story of an argument with gun grabber who first trots out the old "guns should be regulated like cars" line and when that gets destroyed for the crap it is, tries the old "we'll have to agree to disagree" line.  As always, I'll include a teaser here to get you to read the whole thing.
When someone says that to me, it comes across as some smarmy, superior attitude that basically says "I am smarter than you, and I am your better, but since you, with your obviously inferior intellect, cannot see reason and agree with me, I will simply smile at you, and tell you that you have a right to your opinion, you simpleton."
An Epic take down of the stupid little idiot.  

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pondering Little Thought About Things

There's a saying that demographics is destiny; you may encounter it during discussions of declining western birth rates vs. the birth rates in the third world.  It's widespread problem, with declining birth rates and increasing cost of social programs throughout the US, the European Union, Japan and Russia.  That has led to wholesale importation of immigrants from the Muslim world into Europe, with the problems, some horrific, that have followed.  Ask Ayaan Hirsi Ali about some of those.  I have to believe it's possible that demographics are a major factor in Angela Merkel's rush to accept all the "refugees" coming into Germany; she needs new workers to pay for everything Germany is funding.    

But that's not where I'm going.  The other day, I had a strange thought: why do we say there was a baby boom after WWII that we consider an abnormal population surge?  The whole idea that there would be an abnormally high population bubble after WWII doesn't make sense to me.  I mean, sure there were guys who were at war, came home to their wives and had children.  I get that.  No problem.  But that's not an abnormally large rate, that's a delayed rate.   If there had been no WWII, those families would have still had those children, but probably one to five years sooner.   And don't forget, almost half a million of that generation didn't have children because they were killed in the war and those children that were never born would have made the total population larger. 

So I started looking into the birth rates and population of the US and what I found surprised me.  This the birth rate as number of children per 1000 population.  It's from the Wikipedia article on the WWII baby boom.
The red curve marks the area called the WWII baby boom.  In my heuristic (fancy word for seat of the pants) look at this, I see a crash in birth rates during the "roaring twenties" leading to an even lower rate during the Depression.  The first one seems strange.  It's my impression that during good times, people tend to feel more optimistic and have more children, while the rate tends to go down in economic down times.  So why was the birth rate declining through most of the 1920s?  If you pretend WWII hadn't happened, in order to figure out what the curve would look like if people had just kept on with their lives, my guess would be the peak from 1949 would shift to the left (earlier) and perhaps down (lower).  But what jumps out at me from this graph is how much lower that number is than the rate in 1909.  The 1909 birth rate was far higher than even the highest years of the post WWII boom.

The only thing that makes the boom look large now is the drop from a birth rate of near 22/k or so to the mid 70s birth rate of 16/k or fewer, a change most likely brought on by the introduction of "the pill" in 1960.  I think the post WWII baby boom is a demographic illusion.  To the people of the time, it seemed like it was high birth rate because it was higher than during the Great Depression while actually still being well short of their parents' or grandparents' generation.  From a more recent perspective the post war birth rate seems really high because it's compared to the much lower birth rate brought on by the introduction of the pill.  Of course, we need to add in the effects of vasectomies for contraception, as well. 

Stated another way, the only reason we have a bubble of baby boomers heading toward retirement is that the children who could have been in succeeding generations were either prevented or, later, aborted.  Just looking at numbers.  I believe the US birth rate is currently still below replacement levels (20 on this chart).  Like Europe, we're attempting to get around that by immigration.  Like Europe, I expect trouble coming because of that. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

I've Heard This Song Before

In fact, I've heard this song so long ago it's a real oldie.  According to an article quoted on Watts Up With That, nuclear fusion reactors could become an economically viable means of generating electricity within a few decades.

Talk about an oldie, I heard that when I was in high school, and I'm approaching retirement. 
Researchers at Durham University and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, have re-examined the economics of fusion, taking account of recent advances in superconductor technology for the first time. Their analysis of building, running and decommissioning a fusion power station shows the financial feasibility of fusion energy in comparison to traditional fission nuclear power.
That's a pretty interesting paper considering what they're studying still doesn't exist, and has been "a few years away" since at least the early 1970s, when I first read about them.
Professor Damian Hampshire, of the Centre for Material Physics at Durham University, who led the study, said: “Obviously we have had to make assumptions, but what we can say is that our predictions suggest that fusion won’t be vastly more expensive than fission.”
"Had to make assumptions?"  Sorry, old man.  It's a nice study, but I'll consider it meaningless until it's studying something that actually exists.
But they did put up a cool graphic; I'll give them credit for that!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Joaquin Away From Joo

As of this evening's 5 PM update, it looks like Hurricane Joaquin will be skirting the US east coast and heading out to sea.  It's not a sure thing because we're still looking five days out and the forecasts aren't very accurate out there, but the last few forecasts have moved it progressively away from the coast. 
To be honest, I'm really glad it's not looking it's going to hit New York or New Jersey.  Those folks were insufferable after Sandy, especially Bloomberg, the most dependable asshole in American Politics, and that idiot Cuomo.  Forbidding the National Guard to carry arms because “The NYPD is the only people we want on the street with guns.”; local power companies chasing off the crews who drove from hundreds of miles away to help if they weren't Union workers; and all the whining about global warming... <shudder>  And now they have Comrade DeBlasio in charge!  <urp>  I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. 

I hope it doesn't come even close enough to give them 25 MPH winds.