Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Techy Tuesday - Stanford's New Humanoid Diving Robot

This is probably the coolest tech story that's crossed my email this week.  California's Stanford University is one of the premier academic institutions in the country, and the source of many innovations we use in daily life.  This week, Design News reports on the first open ocean trials of a humanoid (or semi- / sorta- humanoid) robot, OceanOne.
The robot's shipwreck excursion was its maiden voyage, on a dive 100 meters below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea to La Lune, wrecked in 1664 and not touched since by human hands. OceanOne operates like a highly specialized remotely operated vehicle (ROV), and looks something like an unusually shaped ROV attached to a humanoid torso, arms, and head.
OceanOne was designed to work with human divers or by itself.  It connects to an operator on the surface through cables, carrying binocular vision images, and moving in response to a set of hand controls the operator on the surface uses.  A unique aspect of OceanOne is that it conveys haptic information - a sense of touch - to the operator.  The operator can see an object on the bottom and feel the object through sensors on the robot's sorta-humanoid hands.   Stanford's summary says:
With guidance from a team of skilled deep-sea archaeologists who had studied the site, [Ousamma] Khatib, a professor of computer science at Stanford, spotted a grapefruit-size vase. He hovered precisely over the vase, reached out, felt its contours and weight, and stuck a finger inside to get a good grip. He swam over to a recovery basket, gently laid down the vase and shut the lid. Then he stood up and high-fived the dozen archaeologists and engineers who had been crowded around him.
When the robot grabbed that vase, Khatib was the first person to "feel" it since 1664.  Later, when the vase was brought to the surface, he was able to really hold it.
The concept for OceanOne was born from the need to study coral reefs deep in the Red Sea, far below the comfortable range of human divers. No existing robotic submarine can dive with the skill and care of a human diver, so OceanOne was conceived and built from the ground up, a successful marriage of robotics, artificial intelligence and haptic feedback systems.

OceanOne looks something like a robo-mermaid. Roughly five feet long from end to end, its torso features a head with stereoscopic vision that shows the pilot exactly what the robot sees, and two fully articulated arms. The “tail” section houses batteries, computers and eight multi-directional thrusters.
As this photo of OceanOne shows, I think describing it as a "robo-mermaid" is a bit overly poetic.  It doesn't look like a typical boxy remote submarine, but the similarity to humans is limited to binocular vision, two arms, and perhaps a tendency to look more like a diver stretched out than a box.
The robot is oil-filled to help in surviving the extremely hostile environment of the ocean depths, where the pressure goes up one atmosphere (14.6 pounds per square inch) every 33 feet deeper (10 meters) an explorer goes.  OceanOne is expected to work down to 1000 meters; 100 atmospheres of pressure.  The record for a human dive, not doing constructive work while at depth, is 1000 feet, about 1/3 of the depth OceanOne can work.
Although the robot can communicate with human divers via hand gestures controlled by its pilot, it can also operate independently and will be especially useful when diving without them during dangerous tasks. Those might include oil-rig maintenance, deep-water mining, or underwater exploration during disaster situations like the Fukushima Daiichi power plant nuclear disaster.

OceanOne contains sensors throughout its body for gauging current and turbulence, which automatically activate its thrusters to keep the robot's body in place. At the same time, quick-firing motors adjust the robot's arms to keep its hands steady while it works. The robot navigates via data received and processed from both sensors and cameras to avoid collision. One advantage of the humanoid body shape is the ability to use its arms for bracing against impact if the thrusters aren't moving fast enough.
People tend to be pretty casual about ocean depths and diving, but it's an incredibly hostile environment.  It has been said we have better knowledge of the surfaces of the moons of Jupiter than we do of the ocean floor.  Look at the Kursk submarine disaster in 2000.  The Kursk, a Russian submarine, went down in a mere 350 feet of water, not even the length of a football field and its two end zones under the surface.  Considering the ability we had as a species to go rescue any survivors, they might as well have been on the moon. 

All in all, a pretty cool toy innovation.  OceanOne is the only one of it's type, but Dr. Khatib plans a small "fleet" of these robots.  This is only the first.  Check out the Stanford article; more photos and video there, too.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

While looking at pictures on Bing Saturday night for that post I came across this one from 2013. 
If I read that correctly, Ms. Sayne was visiting her husband's grave when taps sounded from another funeral in process, causing her to almost roll up into a little ball.  Her pain is palpable in the picture.

Memorial Day is personal. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Little Common Sense

Samuel L Jackson has been public about supporting Hillary for president.  He says he's a lifelong Evil Party man, in his own words, and "civil rights activist" since the '60s.  (Well, he didn't say "Evil Party", but you get my drift).  Sounds like the typical Hollywood leftist type, right?  Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn come to mind.  I ordinarily wouldn't expect much common sense from someone with that background.   Then I ran across this:
A pro-gun Democrat?  Or, at least, one that's not doctrinaire gun control advocate, and that seems to understand it's the people, not the guns.  He also is quoted as having said,
Parents and role models who emphasize that value, he said, will accomplish more than legislators reducing the number of firearms.
Gee, personal responsibility?  Parents teaching values and especially the value of life?  Who would ever think that?  I mean, besides virtually every gun owner and every conservative.    

Considering how so many of his movies are known for glorifying guns for control and violence, is it just self-serving?  Anyone know if he's a gun owner?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Memorial Day Weekend

There's little I can say compared to some of the excellent posts around the blogosphere this weekend.  Just a couple of pictures that have been seen around many times and that I find particularly haunting.
There are far too many pictures of young wives saying goodbye, like that one and this one.
Pictures that remind us this is holiday commemorating sacrifice, infused through and through with grief.  It's not about barbecues and sales.  But this picture has always gotten to me, perhaps most of all.
In case it doesn't seem familiar:  

In a final act of loyalty, Hawkeye, the dog of slain Navy SEAL U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson walked up to his fallen master’s casket during the funeral in Rockford, Iowa, and then laid mournfully down beside the body for the rest of the proceedings [Note: Petty Officer Tumilson was one of the 30 killed in Afghanistan in the shoot down of Extortion 17 which the families blame squarely on the administration - SiG]
A depressing number of presidential candidates could use Hawkeye's loyalty.  It's pretty bad to be shown to exhibit less humanity than a dog. 

It's widely reported that only 0.4% of the population serves in the military.  That's a tremendous burden to be borne by such a small percentage of the population.  To all who served in the past or are serving today, my heartfelt thanks.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Little Trip Summary

Last Friday, as mentioned here, we were at the Dayton Hamvention, the largest hamfest in the world according to a couple of sources.  I thought I'd devote a couple of paragraphs to what was new and cool. 

To begin with, the introduction of Software Defined Radios has turned from a trickle to a flood.  There were far too many to list here, but the impact was everywhere.  There were vendors offering things like the little broadband radio I wrote about here, to low cost/performance ham transceivers, all the way up to very high end transceivers that are among the highest performance radios on the market.  For my station, I'm currently using a fairly high performance HF transceiver that meets the technical definition of an SDR (critical IF filtering, demodulation and some other functions are done in software running on Digital Signal Processors instead of being done by hardware).  What distinguishes the Flex Radio 6700 linked to above from my radio is details of the architecture.  The Icom has a hybrid architecture that uses a conventional local oscillator and up-conversion to its first IF, then does all processing of the final IF in the digital domain.  This sort of SDR has been on the ham market for almost 20 years.  The Flex doesn't have an analog first IF and doesn't do an analog conversion at all; it converts the entire HF spectrum to digits, called band-sampling, and does all the processing digitally.  It's an architecture that has only been possible since about 2008. 

Icom themselves have introduced their first band-sampling HF radio, the IC-7300.  This radio is not aimed at the market of the Flex 6700, but is quite a bit cheaper, aimed at mid-range prices

A company I'd never heard of, Luso Towers showed off a mind-boggling 90 foot motorized crankup tower on a trailer.  Although it was way outta my budget, around $16,000 IIRC, it offered phenomenal specifications, and really seemed to be a good buy.  Something that caught my eye was that a fairly big name in antennas and accessories, DX Engineering, displayed a system for cranking over a vertical antenna for work that is a small scale version of the system I just put together in the winter to raise and lower my tower.  There were some huge HF beam antennas on display and smaller ones in the flea market area.  Although we walked the flea market area for hours on Saturday (after the early rains, it stayed cloudy and mid-60s all day), I'm pretty sure we didn't pass every seller.  It is simply enormous. 
Since it was just a few months ago that I reported about things at the Orlando Hamcation, pretty much all the same trends that were prominent in Orlando were also in Dayton. 

But this was a couple of days out of a week off.  The rest of the time was spent with our family in Indianapolis, and our granddaughter.  It was a great time. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Google Patents "Pedestrian Flypaper" for its Self-Driving Cars

I know this sounds like a joke, but it's the Verge, a "progressive" website that's not known for its satire, not the Onion.  Google has patented an adhesive layer for self-driving cars, under the theory that if the car throws the pedestrian ahead or to the side, the pedestrian may be hurt worse than the secondary impact than just being hit by the car. 


They went to quite a bit of thought about this, recognizing that if you're
driving around with a coating on your car "similar to flypaper or double-sided duct tape" means you'd pick up dirt and bugs as well as pedestrians. So, Google envisions an exterior "eggshell" covering that goes on top of the adhesive layer. This would break instantaneously in the event of a crash, says the patent, "revealing the adhesive layer below, and bonding to the pedestrian."
They specify that this eggshell coating will need to fracture into many small pieces to get out of the way.
Preferably, the pieces 232 are of a relatively small size, such as less than an inch in diameter, on average. The smaller pieces 232 help to expose the adhesive layers 220 and 240 so that they come into contact with, and bond to, the pedestrian 270. As shown in FIG. 6B, the back 272 of pedestrian 270 contacts adhesive layer 220 and the pedestrian 270 is thereby adhered to the vehicle during the initial impact. 
As Dave Barry would say, "I'm not making this up".
While I guess Google is due some sort of Kudos for trying the reduce the danger to pedestrians from their cars, I really don't think they thought this problem through very well.  I'd hate to be the one on the pedestrian side in his design.  To begin with, yeah, a secondary impact is a bad thing, but the primary impact is no picnic either!  Think of Superman movies.  One of the problems with the movies is that Superman will save someone from hitting the ground, falling from a building at 100 mph, by swooping in and changing their direction to flying sideways at 100.  The acceleration change would change people into goo.  

In this case, the pedestrian is still getting hit by a car.  Now that they're stuck to the hood of the car, how do they get removed without causing more injury?  Assume the usual adult weight of 150 to 200 pounds.  The adhesive has to prevent that from sliding off, so it has to be strong.  How do paramedics rescue the person without ripping them apart pulling them off the car?  The words "remove" or "extract" don't show up in the patent (nor do lots of others I could think of for the getting the person off the car) so it doesn't appear Google thought of this at all.  Further, what if the pedestrian isn't hit in an overtaking accident like that, but a sideways hit (they're walking toward us, out of the page, in this illustration)?  Now they're knees are destroyed from the sideways hit and they're stuck to the car in a horribly painful position.    

And what if the person being hit obstructs the driver's vision and now the driver smacks into another car or other obstacle, sandwiching the body on the hood? 

There's really no good outcome for the person on the hood.  Google, put your effort into preventing that from ever happening. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Starting to Catch Up

Back at home this evening, and starting to catch up with everything that's been neglected, including this space.  So odds and ends...

First, although this is rather late, I want to point out that Episode 92 of the Gun Blog Variety Podcast has been up since Sunday.  The reason I want to point this out is that it will be my last guest slot as the Tech Tips host.  In it, I talk about how to get started in electronics as a hobby, which is dabbling in a very deep subject.  We can talk about that here, too, if you want.  Doing a stint as a podcaster was an interesting way to spend a few weeks, but I'm not overwhelmed with desire to do podcasting as a steady thing.

Finally, I've mentioned George Gilder's treatise on the information theory of money, "The Scandal of Money" several times.  I finished reading it on the way up north last Thursday, and then have gone through and re-read several sections.  It's one of those books we read only a few times in our life that strikes us as incredibly important.  This idea isn't only his; there are other people talking about an information theory of money (although they differ on details).  This is often a sign that a powerful new paradigm has appeared and is making inroads at supplanting the "current wisdom".  It's no secret the current approaches to getting the economies moving again are simply not working.  This is why we get stories about Alan Greenspan talking almost wistfully about a return to a gold standard and guys like Thomas Pikkety and Paul Krugman (the guy who thought an alien invasion would be a good economic stimulus) declaring we'll never have good economic growth again because (in so many words) everything good has already been invented. 

I was painfully naive about Bitcoin and am somewhat less so now.  Gilder sees Bitcoin and other free-market-introduced monies as potentially a way to end the political control over money that's responsible for the wholesale transfer of wealth from the masses to the politically connected.  He puts forth a persuasive argument that Bitcoin and gold have much in common and much to offer as a replacement for pure fiat money.

Can't recommend it highly enough.  I find it opaque in places, but they usually become more clear if I look at them harder for a while.  I'll leave you with a quote that I find particularly effective at getting into my brain like a pebble in a shoe.  You know... the kind that you just can't stop paying attention to because it's just so irritating?
Gold: The monetary element, tested over centuries. Usually thought to be money because it is a useful commodity— pretty, shiny, divisible, portable, scarce, and convertible into jewelry— gold is in fact the monetary element because it is useless. Money is not valuable because it is really jewelry; jewelry is valuable because it is really money. Gold is a metric of valuation based on the time to extract an incremental ounce, which has changed little over the centuries while gold has become more difficult to extract from deeper and more-attenuated lodes.

Gilder, George (2016-03-28). The Scandal of Money: Why Wall Street Recovers but the Economy Never Does (Kindle Locations 2409-2413). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

No Way

So imagine this:  here I am, about 850 miles from home at the now-ending Dayton Hamvention.  I hadn't really told any friends we were coming up.

Within the first hour we ran into a couple that we're long time friends with, who live within a half hour of our place.   We had been joking about seeing them because we always run into them at hamfests and gun shows, then there they were.  A few hours after that, we ran into my really long time friend, N4RFC (linked in the right bar).  Today, I ran into an online friend I've known about ten years.

None of this was planned.  There's about Avogadro's number of hams here.  If you had asked me, I'd say ...
(A sign post at the booth of Quicksilver Radio.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I Said I'd Do This

From Gun Free Zone.
OK, maybe the real history weenies would disagree, but it's a great sentiment.

And now for something completely different.  Much like last April, when I was out of town the weekend of the NRA show, but for a completely different reason, I'm going to be out of town this weekend during the NRA show but for a completely different reason.  No Cabin Fever show this week, though.   

Blogging will be spotty at best.  Worst case, the show will resume in about a week.  I tried to arrange for a cover band, but fell flat.  Y'all have fun and remember to tip your waitress.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Techy Tuesday - Are Diamond ICs Finally Here?

Back in the dim, distant past when I was first reading about semiconductors, diamond was talked about as possibly the ideal material to make transistors and integrated electronics from.  Diamond's biggest advantage over silicon, or other modern semiconductor materials is its fantastic thermal conductivity: over 13 times better than silicon and five times better than copper.  Evince Technology provides this chart of comparative parameters.
Property (relative to silicon)
Thermal conductivity
Thermal expansion coefficient
Dielectric constant
Electron mobility
Hole mobility
Saturated carrier velocity
Not shown in this table is its fantastic properties as an insulator.  Diamond can isolate massive voltages with a small fraction of the material required compared to present technologies. In isolating 10,000V, the thickness of diamond needed is 1/50 the thickness of silicon required. 

The other columns are Gallium Arsenide, pronounced gas, Gallium Nitride, pronounced "Gan" like a "tin can", and Silicon Carbide.  Gallium Arsenide and Nitride are what's called III-V (or "3 5") semiconductors because they're composed of two elements (Gallium and Arsenic or Nitrogen) with 3 and 5 free electrons, respectively.  Silicon, and Carbon (diamond) have four electrons.  All of these technologies have been around for a while; I built a GaAsFET amplifier for a home, ham radio project in 1985 although those parts were much more expensive in those days.  GaN is relatively new in commercial use but is currently very big in the radio frequency power amplifier world.  Silicon carbide semiconductors have been around 10 or 20 years, too, mostly in power circuits.  SiC works well at very high temperatures. 

On the other side of the swamp from here, something like 60 miles by air and 120 by road, in the city of Lake Wales, Florida, startup Akhan Semiconductor Inc. (Gurnee, Ill.) plans to make the promise of diamonds come true by licensing the diamond semiconductor process from the U.S. Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory (Lemont, Ill.).
Akhan Semiconductor has a 200mm wafer fab in Gurnee, Ill. and expects to announce a diamond semiconductor IC in a consumer product at the Consumer Electronics Shows (CES) 2017.
Wait... diamonds 200mm in diameter?  That's 8 inches.  As it works out, they are not working on diamond single crystals.  Evince Technology (again) tells a bit about how single crystal diamonds are grown for semiconductor usage.  Akhan is using a polycrystalline grown diamond substrate, growing areas of diamond onto silicon wafers or other substrates, including glass.  Their major innovation is the ability to produce both types of semiconductor junctions, P-type and N-type (7th paragraph including the single sentence paragraphs). 
"We recently demonstrated CMOS-compatible diamond semiconductors—with both p-type and n-type devices—by successfully fabricating diamond PIN [abbreviation for a p-type—intrinsic, undoped—n-type junction] diodes with a million-times better performance than silicon and one-thousand-times thinner," Khan told EE Times in an exclusive interview.
Khan has also demonstrated 100-GigaHertz (GHz) devices by virtue of the ultra-low resistance of diamond, which can be deposited on silicon, glass, sapphire or metal substrates.  Those kind of speeds could revitalize the processor races, which have been idled at 5-Ghz for a decade.  Remember when every new processor was clocked at a higher rate?  With silicon, 5-GHz is the limit, since their high power consumption and thermal hot-spots turn devices into soup, but diamond has 22-times the thermal conductivity of silicon and five-times that of copper, Kahn claims.
Note the "Electron Mobility" line in the table above, showing diamond has three times the mobility of Silicon, but not as high as GaAs.  Typically, higher electron mobility corresponds to faster circuits, and that's one reason GaAs was developed.  Kahn is saying he can produce 100 GHz transistors (and that can't mean 100 GHz processors) because of the ultra-low resistance of diamond.  But the jewel here is the thermal conductivity and ease of keeping the processors cooler.  Consider a computer room - perhaps there's one where you work - where there's a group of servers running 24/7.  Fully half of the power those systems use goes into keeping them cool.  Diamond processors on diamond heat spreaders into copper plates could potentially save that power. 
An early diamond transistor, made from Chemical Vapor Deposited diamond film on a Silicon Dioxide (quartz) substrate.  While an impressive picture, it's a factor of about 5-10,000x bigger than would be needed for a modern processor. 

File this under the "keep an eye on it" category.  They do seem to have a leg up on competitors, but experts have been predicting diamond transistors and processors for a long time!

Monday, May 16, 2016

And, In Other Stuff

As that weird little virus I had seems to have run its course, here's sort of a weekend round-up.

Our ISP gave us a free upgrade.  We're on Bright House networks here and I have to say that my overall experience with these folks has been solid.  Five stars out of five.  Every time we've had to call them out, they got the time down to a couple of hours; it was never a "sometime Tuesday" answer.  The times we've called them for other things, they've been solid, too.  Compared to the crap I hear about comcast, I think BH is way ahead.

This was an upgrade from an average of 20 Mbps (megabits per second) to over 50 (I just ran a Speed Test and get 57.1 Mbps), no increase in monthly cost.  The only gotcha was that we had to replace the modem.  Awkward confession time: despite the two of us having something like 70 years experience as "electronics technician or higher", we had been leasing their modem.  It was only a couple of bucks a month, but thanks to my laziness about that, we undoubtedly bought the modem about a gazillion times over.  This time we ordered a faster modem from Amazon and swapped them out ourselves last Thursday.  Took the old one back to stop the future charges.  Which means we get faster internet cheaper.  (Let me gloat a minute, k?)  I can't say I notice a difference from having download speeds that are over twice as fast, but it's a truism that to get the same dramatic speed change we got from moving from dialup to cable, would require a dedicated, single fiber optic line to the house.  I think we went from 56kbps dialup to about 2 Mbps.  Considering how sure I am, I'll round that to a factor of 36x faster.  36x faster than what I have now would be just about 2 Gbps.   

As a regular fan of the Marvel universe, we went and caught Captain America: Civil War last Monday, so I think that counts as opening weekend.  We always would go on the second weekend when crowds had thinned, but being retired gives us the privilege to go to a weekday Matinee.  Yeah, it was a smaller crowd than most weekends, but a month or so ago we went to a matinee of Batman vs. Superman, probably on its last week, and were literally the only two people in the theater.

To begin with, some time ago (a year?) there was talk about it having "anti-conservative" or "anti-right wing" tones, and there were none.  There was even talk about right wing, anti-immigrant stuff.  Not only was there nothing like that, but the movie actually had rather conservative and individual liberty-oriented tones.  90 Miles linked to a story on The Daily Signal called "The Conservative Lessons of 'Captain America' ".
Here’s the gist of the movie—the free market does something well and the government comes in to “fix” it. And—shockingly—the government wrecks everything. 
The movie opens with Captain America and the avengers trying to track down some terrorists who are about to raid a lab in an African country and steal a horrible bioweapon.  As often happens in these movies, the raid doesn't go off surgically and innocent bystanders in the building are killed.  If you remember (or saw) The Age of Ultron, you'll recall that a tiny, European city called Sokovia was essentially destroyed by the bad guys, despite the Avengers eventually winning.  And, of course, New York City was trashed horribly by Loki's army in the first Avengers movie.  Their trail of "collateral damage" is rather prolific.  
To force the Avengers to do their job better, the “Sokovia Accords” are signed by 117 countries to put the Avengers under U.N. jurisdiction. This is a great idea because when aliens invade next, let’s have the U.N. debate if the Avengers should fight the alien invasion.

If it turns out anything like regular U.N. deliberations, the Avengers would never be used again because Russia or China negotiated a backroom deal with the aliens so that they would be global governors in the new alien world order.
The "Civil War" is that the Avengers basically split, with Tony Stark and a few signing on to the Accords, and Captain America with his small group splitting off.  One of the characters advocating for the Sokovia accords used the phrase "for the common good" a enough to stand out as creepy (which means, maybe, twice).  Captain America puts it this way: "I know we're not perfect, but the safest hands are still our own".   Go read.  And go see.  In either order. 

Finally, more along my normal "beat", No Lawyers - Only Guns and Money links to a story on Gun Culture 2.0, Facebook Denied My Attempt at Self-Promotion, Because Guns.  The author had used Facebook to promote posts on his blog before and had been successful.  The first time was a tongue-in-cheek post making fun of Bushmaster for being the "Worst Marketer in the History of Guns".  This sort of sarcasm may not sit well with you, but his argument is that if we accept the anti-gunner position that gun companies sell their guns to the psychos who commit mass murder, Bushmaster must be horribly bad at marketing because their products are just not used much at all. 

The post in question this time was about the USCCA Concealed Carry Expo Firearms and Fashion Show, held in Atlanta.  Facebook denied his ad, which was a link to his post about the show, under their prohibition of "Advertising the sale of weapons or leading to destinations where the business primarily focuses on the sale of weapons".   I don't see how a story about companies that don't sell firearms or ammunition or weapons at all, but rather sell holsters, concealed carry purses and "man bags" can fall under that prohibition. 

But it just raises my old argument again.   WTF do we need Facebook for?  I despise Facebook as a corporation for things like this, along with the stories of them blocking conservative news stories from their "Trending" column, hassling conservative commentators, and that's not even going anywhere near their status as Obama peg boys.  I happened to catch Steven Crowder being interviewed about that last story while on my way up to buy an emergency hole saw (don't ask).  Facebook has accepted payment from him for ads, knowing full well he's a conservative commentator, and then "lost" it.  The payments have cleared Steven's bank but Facebook is still whining like they never got it - which is one short step from filing a delinquency report which can make life rough for a small business like his Louder with Crowder.   (FTC note: I have no relationship with Steven Crowder or his company.  Never paid him penny for anything.  Never got a penny or anything from him.)  He has had to hire an attorney, who still can't get any information out of FB.  They're having to file legal action against FB. 

I tell my kids I'm not anti-social, I'm asocial - as in without any social skills whatsoever.  I don't see what we need Facebook for, and I closed my account at least a year ago.  If they were an honest corporation and treated all their customers honestly and fairly, I wouldn't have a problem with them.  It sure doesn't seem that way to me.  The world needs competition for them.  Maybe if they had competition, and didn't have every company in the world lining up like retarded zombies, chanting "like us on Facebook!", they might just treat the people who give them their $ billions a bit better.  If they weren't the only game in town, maybe they wouldn't act like we need them more than they need us.
(From our friends at Despair.com, who don't appear to offer this shirt any more)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

That Was Unpleasant

Friday night around midnight I started feeling sick.  Teeth-chattering chills and total body aches - fever of 102.  No other real symptoms.  Not like a cold or stomach virus, just feeling cold and aching.  (BTW, this is Florida, so our overnight low is around 72 for a few hours.  Not exactly cold).  I was really wiped out yesterday; napped from 3 to 6.  So far today, it's better than that but not normal.  Just some sort of odd little virus, I suppose. 

Sorry for the lack of free ice cream, such as it is.

Friday, May 13, 2016

I'm Just A Boring Guy

I had another piece that needed boring for G0704 CNC conversion project.  This one is the biggest piece that's going to get bored, a ballnut mount for the Z axis.  That's a bigger ballscrew/nut combination than the X or Y axes because of the bigger load it has to move.  Due to the part's geometry, I didn't see how to get it onto the lathe.  This time it was over to the G0704 to cut it.  Again, boring is a fundamental operation, and when I bought the mill, I bought a boring head as part of the tooling.  It's a clone of the Criterion style head (like that link, but not exactly).
That hunk o' aluminum is 1 1/4" thick, 2.9" long and 2.25" wide.  The big hole is 1.42 diameter and the boring head was spinning when I took this picture.  The piece will get a pattern of 1/4-20 holes in the large hexagonal area and some 5/16-18 holes into the base (on the left).  I'll do all the precision drilling on the little Sherline.  I'm all but sure this is the biggest hunk of metal to work in the job.  

To me, it's worth noting that this is the first time I ever had that boring head in the mill.  I've never run a boring head on any milling machine.  The diameter was supposed to be 1.420, and came out 1.423. 

I'd Like to Kill A Meme

I've mentioned before that I opened a Pinterest account.  I find it to be among the world's best time sinks.  Of course, I look there for the same interests I blog about here: ham radio and technologies, guns, machine shop ideas, wood shop, fishing, and barbecuing, but I can sometimes disappear down a rabbit hole for days hours at a time.  For about a month, I've been seeing this graphic displayed over and over.  That means people seem to like it. 
Someone had the bright idea that they could show how every character is related to the shape of the letters.  Cute, right?  As work of "art", OK, maybe.  As way of learning code, OMFG no!!

One of the weaknesses of Pinterest is that you can't comment on each others' "pins"; you can just pin it to one of your boards or follow someone else.  So, I pinned it on one of mine and added below it,
For the love of GOD, don't try to learn Morse code this way!! It will mess you up so bad, you'll never get past 10 WPM.
People have been trying to teach and learn Morse for over a century and it's been shown over and over that the most effective way to learn the code is by sound.   When you're listening to someone on the radio, the only thing you have is sound, right?  Something like this chart makes your mind go through multiple steps.  First you have to hear the character, which sounds like more like a "dit" or "dah", not at all like a dot or dash, turn the sound into a dot or dash, visualize the pattern, then remember what the chart looks like.  If you can do that fast enough, you'll be lucky to make it all the way to 10 words per minute. 

The most effective way to learn code is with fast characters spaced far apart, called the Farnsworth method, after Joe Bob Grismaldi.  Of course not.  It's named after Donald Farnsworth, who developed it in the 1950s.  At a slow enough speed, you can count the dits and dahs.  You can hear dididit and think "three dits - that's an S" or didididit and think "four dits - that's an H".  At a faster speed you just hear a blast and you know by length of the sound which letter it was.  Farnsworth figured out that the speed that worked for most people was 15 words per minute, so with his method you learn the characters at 15 WPM but spaced very far apart.  Maybe the first time you hear an E it takes you several seconds to recognize it's not a T.  As your reaction time improves, you very quickly increase your code speed.  Your brain has only two things to do: recognize a letter, write it down.  No counting dots and dashes, no visualizing a chart to tell you what the letter is. 

People learning with long slow characters, like the 5 WPM the FCC used to require for an entry level license, would then have a struggle to get to 13 WPM for the next license.  People who used Farnsworth's method had a slight barrier because 13 WPM letters sound slightly different from 15, but had an easier time slowing down their code than the other folks had speeding up their code. 

There's actually another, similar method called Koch's.  Instead of teaching the letters fast and spaced far apart, Koch taught the characters at the desired speed, with the proper spacing.  You learn two letters at a time; when you can get 90% on  test transmission, you add two more. 

Personally, I learned the worst possible way.  I built a code practice oscillator and made tapes for myself at about 5 WPM.  That's another example of "For the love of GOD, don't try to learn Morse code this way!!"  I struggled to get over the 10 WPM hump for months of daily practice.   I eventually got to 20 WPM that was required (at the time) for the highest amateur license, but today I can't write that fast!  For short transmissions, I can just listen to what they're sending as if we were talking.  For longer transmissions, I need to slow down.  One of the the stories I heard when I was starting to learn was that the military would take recruits who didn't know code or how to type and teach both at the same time.  Hear a letter, press a key.  By the time they were done, they could hear code and type at the same speed, and it was much faster than most people can write (30 or more WPM). 

Today, with no Morse code requirements at all, this knowledge seems to be fading.  I see this graphic used by people who put it in survival or prepping or other collections.  I bet that with the code not being required, the folks who are teaching ham radio classes don't teach it or don't even know how to teach it.  Let's not forget that hundred years of knowledge in how to teach and learn the code.  I'm all for figuring out ways to do it better, but if you know the principles this is obviously not better.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Phrase of the Day

I mentioned reading The Scandal of Money by George Gilder at the start of the month, and continue reading when not working in the shop or doing any of the other things I need to do. Gilder has a fantastic phrase; as well as the title of his Chapter 10: The Hypertrophy of Finance

I wasn't immediately familiar with the word, but it is, as you'd expect, the opposite of atrophy.  Hyper growth.  Uncontrolled growth.  A more sensationalist or shocking term might be The Cancer of Finance.  He uses the term to talk about the incredible growth of the financial trading sectors in the wake of the crash of '01.  In this case, he writes about currency trading, where George Soros made his fortune.  Now, I've written about the distortions to the world caused by the central banks many times (example), so this resonates with me.  But Gilder presents some numbers that simply blew me away.  (All of this from Gilder, chapter 10)
Every three years, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland, adds it all up on a “net-net” basis adjusted to nullify double counting from local and cross-border transfers between dealers. By this careful metric, BIS in April 2013 identified a flow of some $ 5.3 trillion a day, more than a third of all U.S. annual GDP every twenty-four hours. The 2013 total signified currency transactions throughout the year and around the globe at a rate of more than $ 600 million every second.
By various measures, 90 to 97 percent of all the transactions are judged to be “speculative,” devoted not to enabling trade in goods and services but to harvest profits and fees from arbitrage and leverage. Contrary to some claims, however, hedge funds are not the culprits. Only around one-tenth of the traffic in 2013 was ascribed by BIS to hedge funds and PTFs. Transacting some 77 percent of the business are ten leviathan banks in Western countries. These tolls and fees are burdens on global trade and economic growth paid by the production sector of the economy to the financial sector. But it is the sum of all these activities— hedging, speculation, and derivatives— that accounts for the oceanic span of liquid and available currency services.
Nonetheless, as one might suspect in the wake of the global crash led by the same big banks, the system is less than impeccable. The boom in currency traffic since 2001, 2004, and 2007 might imply that international trade was also booming. Trade in goods and services has indeed risen a total of 36 percent since the low in 2007, but currency trading has risen more than four times faster— 160 percent. After 2011, trade flattened out while currency trading continued to rise, up 32 percent since 2010. No unexpected swell of trade explains the expansion of currency exchanges.

Dominating the system utterly is the West. In the forefront of the foreign exchange operations are the United States and Europe, with London’s “City” alone accounting for 36 percent of all trading. Some 87 percent of transactions involve the dollar, in which 63 percent of all international trade is denominated and which accounts for more than half of all global reserves held by central banks to back their currencies. Since the economies of these leading traders in the West have failed to grow substantially, recovering from the slump but not moving on to significant new highs by 2016, currency trading and its effects constitute a substantial share of total growth.

That is what we mean by the “hypertrophy of finance,” which accounts for 35 to 40 percent of corporate profits. While trade in goods and services languishes, currency trading soars. Financial service finds its ultimate test in how it affects the rest of the economy. But currency trading has been rising at least twenty times faster than productivity growth.
Like Gilder, who quotes Milton Friedman, I think that currency trading is much closer to inherently good than bad; perhaps an evil made necessary by not being on a gold standard, but I had no idea that global currency trading amounted to 1/3 of the US GDP every day, and that number is three years old.  That's some serious growth going on there.  This is where the wealth transfer "from main street to Wall Street" (God, I hate that term) is taking place.  When you can show that since 2007 trade in physical goods and services increased 36 % while currency trading increased 160 %, it's easy to see which sector is making money.  The Too Big to Fail Banks are at the heart of this, making their "arbitrage and leverage" fees on every one of these trades.
Currency trading concentrates income and wealth in the government-linked financial sectors of Western economies, bringing about maldistribution that arouses envy and resentment and demoralizes capitalism.
The reason I hate the term "from main street to Wall Street" is that it hides what's really going on.  It implies Wall Street is taking money from the people on Main street.  To begin with, Wall Street isn't benefiting from this at all, if "Wall Street" is used in the sense of the stock markets.  A handful of very big banks are benefiting from this, and it's all being carried out by the central banks at the behest of the governments.  If those banks are traded on Wall Street, their share price may go up because of this, but that's the only benefit Wall Street gets.  Calling those big banks "Banksters" - a cross between bankers and gangsters - also misses the point.  Everything they're doing is not only completely legal, it's completely pushed by the governments.  When the root cause of your problem is big government and central banks, blaming it on Wall Street, or "the rich", as Madman Sanders does, is only helping to perpetuate the problem. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Techy Tuesday - Automated Landing Systems for Aircraft

After Friday's SpaceX mission and their successful automatic landing on their robotic barge, some of us started speculating on the way they might be doing that.  I think there's a pretty reasonable approach that's an obvious thing to try.  Copy the automated landing systems that aircraft use as a start, and modify it if necessary. 

Let me be clear:  I don't know that this is the way they're doing it.  Still, if I was the guy tasked with developing a system, the first thing I'd do is look at if and how it's done elsewhere in industry. 

Aircraft autoland systems predate the existence of GPS by a decades.  In fact, early work was done at the end of WWII in the UK, although actual "hands-off" landings were about 20 years later in 1965.  The basic approach is to use the Instrument Landing System (ILS) that is already in place, and add additional controls. 

ILS systems use two different radio transmitters on the ground and matching (of course) receivers in the air.  In an aircraft approach, the aircraft position left to right of the center line is determined by a system called a localizer, which is in the VHF spectrum between the top of the FM broadcast band at 108 MHz and the aircraft Communications (Comm) band starting at 118 MHz.  The position vertically is determined by a system called the Glide Slope transmitter.  Glide slope transmitters are in the UHF spectrum at 329.30 MHz to 335.00 MHz.  Because the frequencies are completely separated from each other, they are assigned in sets.  The result is that the pilot selects a channel for a given airport and the radios are all set to the right frequencies.  The glide slope is ordinarily set so that the path is at 3 degrees to horizontal.  Ignoring terrain concerns like mountains and the need (for certain airports) to bend the approach left or right around them, an aircraft can start a 3 degree descent miles from the airport and follow the radio beacons to the ground.  

How does this work?  There are two transmitters in AM mode on each frequency, and antenna arrays that give the angular resolution that's desired.  The two transmitters are modulated the same percentage modulation with different frequencies: 90 Hz left of centerline and 150 Hz right (as seen from the aircraft).  The same two tones are used for glideslope, with 90 Hz beamed above the desired glide path and 150 Hz below it.  I'm going to wave my hands here and just say that when those two AM signals go into a receiver, the two audio tones come out, and the system measures the strength of the two signals very precisely.  The difference between them is the Difference in Depth of Modulation (DDM) which tells the system how far off the approach centerline it is, and by knowing which signal is the stronger, it knows which direction the offset is.  
This slide from a pilot training lookup I found online shows the general idea from the side, to show the glide slope and from above to show the localizer.  The image at the top left is the kind of indicator a pilot will see and adjust his path.  (This sort of analog, moving needle display is called a "Steam Gage" in today's glass cockpit world).

A complete system also includes a Marker Beacon which alerts the system (pilot, if there is one) to how far out they are from the airport.  This is a fixed frequency (75.0 MHz) signal that points straight up and there are usually only three transmitters: outer, middle and inner.  The system design allows for a "back" transmitter past the airport that will be crossed in the event of an aborted approach.  When the aircraft goes over a transmitter, one of three different tones will sound, and there's a different tone and panel light for each tone.  Air transport-class aircraft will carry a radar altimeter to measure their height above ground, as well.  Between all of these radio signals, the aircraft can know its position in space accurately.  

I don't know if it's just one of those company legends, but one of my favorite stories at Major Avionics Corporation was that when they built their first autolanding systems, when the first experiments were being done in the US, they had complaints that by landing the airplane on the same exact spot of the runway, there was concern about damage to the runway.  Humans can't hit the same spot as accurately as control systems can.  The guys on the program were made to inject some noise into an appropriate spot in the circuit so that the wheels hit over a somewhat larger area. 

Now I can see something like both of these systems in use for SpaceX's landing system.  Since it's not aviation, they probably don't even need to use the same frequencies - and the antennas could be made smaller if they went higher in frequency.  They could align antennas on the barge so that one set of patterns were along the long axis of the barge (call it "up/down") and the other aligned across them ("port/starboard").  With a low end radar altimeter on board the booster, they could know their altitude at all times.  It's also possible a radar on the barge could be measuring how high it is and transmitting that up to the booster.  Is it possible?  Can the decisions and calculations be done fast enough?  Here's where I plead ignorance.  I think it could work, but aircraft are only going about 150 to 200 mph during these approaches.  If the booster is coming in much faster, I'm not sure, but it better not be hitting that barge at several hundred MPH.  It better be more like under 20.   

Monday, May 9, 2016

Need to Keep an Eye on This

A noteworthy innovation appears to be coming in ammunition.  Shell Shock Technologies has introduced a two piece case, in what appears to be the first major change in cartridge technology in decades, called NAS3. Ammoland news summarizes the design this way:
The NAS3 two-piece case consists of a solid nickel-plated aircraft aluminum head and a proprietary enhanced nickel alloy stainless cylinder. The 9mm case is 50% lighter and costs significantly less than conventional brass cases. The weight savings will be even more dramatic for rifle cases. Shell Shock will be releasing additional pistol cases (380 and .45ACP) by year-end and a selection of rifle calibers over the next 12 months, all of which will feature NAS3 technology.
I find this pretty interesting, but your first thought has got to be, "How much?  What's this all going to cost me?"  skipping ahead in the news piece, they include:
Cost is king and NAS3 cases are priced lower than brass and beat brass on every performance metric. NAS3 cases contain no ‘red metal’ based raw materials.  Unlike brass, unstable and unpredictable swings in copper prices do not effect NAS3 pricing. In addition, NAS3 cases are drawn not extruded, drawing is a cheaper, faster and a more accurate production process.
Cheaper and better?  Now you're talking my language.  Some more highlights:
The nickel plated aircraft-grade aluminum head, offers greater lubricity than brass and will not abrade, clog, foul, wear-out or damage breach and ejector mechanisms. SST’s patent pending design also prevents ‘ballooning’ caused by pistols and automatic weapons with an unsupported breach.  The head can be anodized in different colors for branding purposes and easy load identification.
The proprietary nickel alloy stainless cylinder offers uniform wall thickness and a case capacity that is fractionally larger than a standard 9mm shell. Outside dimensions comply with SAAMI specifications.
The combination of materials offers greater corrosion resistance, tensile strength (2x stronger) and elasticity than brass. NAS3 cases will not split, chip, crack or grow (stretch) and are fully-reloadable with SST’s custom reloading dies. Testers have reported up to 40 reloads. NAS3 cases eject cool to-the-touch and can be picked up with a magnet (great for outdoor ranges). SST will buy back spent cases from range operators for the same price per pound as brass cases.
For all the time I've spent bent over, walking the club range looking for my 45 ACP cases, the idea of swinging a magnet on a stick around to pick them is appealing (yeah, I'll have to be sorting out the cheap, crap ammo).  (And if you're a regular reader here, and probably also anal retentive, you'll say "Hmm.  That 'nickel alloy stainless' must be 400 series stainless"). 
The NRA "First Freedom" gang got their hands on some to review and loved the new technology.
It was hard not to be impressed from every perspective, and there are a whole lot of those.

The big one is that they shoot just great. We tried our samples in several Glocks, a Springfield XD, a Grand Power X-Calibur, a Kimber and a JP PCC AR. Almost as important, if you really like to shoot (and hence, handload), the cases are the reloader’s dream made real—magnetically retrievable. 

A laundry list of other great qualities fill out the rest of those perspectives. While you’ll need a die swap to handle the nickel alloy body of the case, it will pay off: The discharges are cool on ejection, need less resizing due to higher tensile strength, and are fabulously consistent in internal capacity. H.P White Laboratories data shows a 10-round string of Berry’s 124s over Titegroup with 3 ft./sec. overall variation. Think that might provide an accuracy boost? We do, too.
Now that they've got my attention, it's time to put on my engineer's (skeptic's) hat.  First off: it's new.  Never believe initial claims.  "In God we trust, everyone else bring data and keep your hands where I can see 'em".  Second: let's say it really is all they say.  Are all the other makers going to pay them patent license fees to use their process?  Or are we looking at another SawStop, suing the sh*t out of competitors to keep similar products off the market.  (As an aside, my 35 year old table saw has some issues, and if I replace it, I'd consider one with the finger saver technology, but SawStop has alienated me with their behavior and my inclination is to avoid them, even if I have to buy a "finger eater" design). 

Like I say: I need to keep an eye on this.  This could be a really major development.  If you've got a time machine handy, why don't you pop ahead five or ten years and see if everyone's using them, would you?
Photo credit:  Darren Parker at America's First Freedom 

Podcast is Up

Gun Blog Variety Podcast episode 90 is released.

Show notes are here.

Direct MP3 download is here:

Remember, if you have any techy questions, on just about anything, drop me an email (address in the right sidebar).  You can even comment here.  Worst case, I don't know anything about what you're asking!

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Not the day.  We had a fine day.  Smoked a pork shoulder (a picnic roast) and made pulled pork out of it.  Had the smoker pre-heated and got the shoulder into the smoker by 7AM.  Smoked it until 6:30 this evening when the temperature probe read 195.  That's supposed to be ideal pulling temperature and it fell apart with the lightest of pressures.   

Boring was the task in the shop today.  My next piece of aluminum to make was the Y-axis ballnut mount.  It's not a terribly complicated piece, but it gets a large hole in it that's not centered on both axes, just on one.  After my experiences cutting out circles on the Sherline I was looking for a better way to do it, and decided I'd try boring it on the lathe.  Because of the shape of the part, I couldn't use the normal three jaw chuck, but could use the four jaw.  A three jaw is a scroll chuck, more or less like a really big version of a drill chuck in that when you tighten it, all three jaws converge at the center to clamp whatever you're working on.  The four jaw has independent jaws and it's more involved to setup than a three jaw scroll chuck.  I've only done it a few times, and never on the big lathe, so it took a few minutes.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, so here's the part after boring the big hole. Notice that the jaw at the top right is at the outermost ring?  The two middle jaws are inside the inner ring and the bottom jaw is around the inner ring.  The part isn't centered on that hole, but you move that hole to the center on the lathe for boring.  Lathes make things symmetrical around the centerline of the chuck; the axis of rotation. 
The part isn't finished here: the four small holes needed to tapped (#10-32), and a 3/8" wide cut centered between those holes needed to be added to clear an oil fitting on the ballnut.  

The other thing I needed to do was make some pins for the X-axis piece I talked about a few weeks ago.  I have some pieces of 1/4" brass rod so it was a simple task to cut them to length and make them two different diameters.  Here's all of the last couple of work sessions in one picture.
Y axis on the left, being held in place by those 10-32 screws, and the X-axis ballnut mount between the two screws so you can see the brass pins.  You can see the 3/8" cutout at the top of the Y-axis piece on the left, and the screw holes are tapped.  I need to dig out the oil fitting and make sure it fits there.  It looks like the hole isn't centered between those two screws on the ballnut.  At this point, it's a pretty easy change. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

On the Shuttering of PJTV

I don't think I'm going to be the one who breaks this news to you, but PJTV.com is going dark on 5/11.  Gone from regular viewing will be Alfonzo Rachel, Andrew Klavan and the one person I see posted more than any other on the liberty-oriented blogs I read, Bill Whittle.

I first encountered Bill through the pages of his original blog, Eject! Eject! Eject! in just a masterfully written look at history called "The Workshops of Identity" - that version is at Breitbart, and I'm thankful it's still out there.  I saved a copy to my own computer.  Read it, if you haven't.  A teaser:
Consider modern history, which many consider the time since the end of World War II. At the end of 1945, the only military force of any real substance remaining in the world was that of the Soviet Union, and while they had large numbers of troops and tanks, they had no navy and no strategic air force to speak of. The United States possessed, intact, the most awe-inspiring, battle-hardened navy the world had ever seen. It possessed sky-darkening clouds of B-29 strategic bombers. And it possessed, alone, the atomic bomb and the will to use it.

The United States of America could have planted its flag anywhere it wanted and no one would have been able to do a thing about it.

And what did we do with this arsenal? We scrapped the ships, drove steel bars through the wings of the priceless bombers, and began the largest de-militarization in the history of the world.
I've said before, in several places, Bill is the only commentator/pundit that I ever encounter who rises to the level of being a national treasure.

So here's an ad.  Bill has long had his own little business at BillWhittle.com.  Now that PJTV is shutting down, Bill's partners from there, including Scott Ott and Steve Green, are moving to Bill's place.  PJTV's former "Trifecta" series is being reborn at Bill's channel as Right Angle.   While I registered at PJTV, I never actually subscribed.  In contrast, I have subscribed to BillWhittle.com.

Of course, I have no way of knowing how well this venture will work, and since I started out with a one year subscription, it's possible I could end up being out some of that.  Bill still has his YouTube channel, and most of the content they generate will go up there a few days after the members only showings.  There is members' only content, but little will stay that way (as far as I know).  At this point, to me it's worth subscribing to keep these guys going. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

SpaceX Nails Second Landing at Sea

It's unusual for me to write two pieces on SpaceX in a week, but they nailed another landing at sea this morning, this time pretty much centering the Falcon 9 booster in the middle of the landing bulls eye on their drone barge, "Of Course I Still Love You".  Having the luxury of being retired, we decided to get up a little after 1 this morning.  Went outside to watch the launch; night launches are always pretty, and we were able to follow it until it was well into the second stage burn.  Then we came in to see the coverage of the attempted booster landing on the SpaceX website.
For their part, SpaceX tried to downplay expectations.  Landing rockets autonomously on unpiloted drone barges at sea isn't exactly something that has been done enough times to be boring routine.  The mission was to put a satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, which they said made recovering the booster harder.
"Given this mission's GTO destination, the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing unlikely," SpaceX representatives wrote in a description of the JCSAT-14 mission.
When the booster made it to the barge, the video cameras couldn't handle the brightness of the rocket flames and the screen went white for a second or two.  The crowd apparently thought the brightness meant the booster had crashed into the ship and you could hear cries and moans of disappointment.  Moments later, the video recovered and the booster could be clearly seen sitting right where it was supposed to be, residual fuel still burning.  The crowd erupted in cheers, transitioning to chanting, "USA!  USA!  USA!".  Video here
A few hours later, once the sun had risen, SpaceX released this photo.  In the past, SpaceX has said that to ensure the booster isn't toppled by weather or sea conditions, that once the vehicle is safe (and I don't know all that means), they will weld steel "shoes" over the booster's feet to help ensure it stays put. 

Boaty McBoatface is Gone - Boaty, We Hardly Knew Ye

As was hinted about in last week's piece, while the British people voted overwhelmingly to call their new research vessel Boaty McBoatface, the Science Ministry was not amused.  Boaty McBoatface is gone as a name. 

The name was scrapped and the ship will be called RRS Sir David Attenborough
Showing at least a little bit of political savvy, Jo Johnson didn't completely discard the people's choice: RRS Sir David Attenborough will be outfitted with a number of remotely operated underwater vehicles (see gallery above), and one of those will be called Boaty McBoatface. Hopefully they'll paint a dorky face on the front of its torpedo-like frame.
You know they couldn't just go with a name like this.  Science!!! is too serious for such a juvenile name.
 To borrow a comment exchange from the article:
Vorador wrote:
While it was somewhat obvious that a name like that wasn't gonna fly, i still find ironic that the government ask for your opinion but when it doesn't like said opinion, they do whatever they want.
The outcome of pretty much every government consultation ever, right there.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

My Toilet's Trimmed With Chrome

Wait... not my toilet.  I guess there's "some splainin' to do".  

I'm an old guy, of course.  I mean, what's the name of this blog?  Further, regulars will probably recall I've been working on teaching myself guitar since right around the end of 2010.  So what's an old guy who's learning to play going to play?  Right: old songs. 

One of my favorite songs from my callow youth is the way Chicago adapted "I'm a Man", originally done by the Spencer Davis Group. This was back when Chicago was Chicago Transit Authority and a different band from the mellow group that did songs like "Saturday in the Park" and "If You Leave Me Now", fired by Terry Kath, the lead guitarist who could shred as well anyone (all interested guitarists have heard the story that Jimi Hendrix said Kath was a better player than he was).  That video (song title link) is an excellent look at Kath playing his Gibson SG and getting amazing sounds out of it. 

Slightly off topic, you may also know that Terry Kath was also a bit of gun enthusiast and apparently accidentally shot himself.  A common telling of the story is here, where it comes across as just stupid.  I've read a few reports of this, some making it sound like a deliberate game of Russian roulette, and some making it sound like stupid horseplay.  If nothing else, this version makes it sound like a cross between the two options. 

The other night, I thought of the song and thought I'd try to play it.  Off to YouTube and look up a couple of videos.  I watched both Chicago and the original version by the Spencer Davis Group, featuring a young Steve Winwood. One of things that struck me was that Chicago didn't just cover I'm A Man, they almost rewrote it!  The dropped the key a full tone, changing the song's signature descending four tone chromatic chord sequence from F - E7 - D# - Dm  to D# - D - C# - Cm.  They also changed the lyrics, which is where this post title finally comes in.  They changed several lines in the song, but the one I'm referring to made me do a double take when I came across it in a Tab format reader. 

Chicago's last verse is:
You think that I'm not human
And my heart is made of stone
But I never had no problems
'Cause my body's pretty strong
While Spencer Davis Group's last verse is:
Who imagine I'm not human
And my heart is made of stone
I never had no problems
And my toilet's trimmed with chrome
Mrs. Graybeard found somebody's interpretation (which I won't link to) that tried to explain the lyrics as being all about drugs.  Seriously.  It was something like the chrome trim indicated it was poor man's drugs, or else it would have been gold trim.  In my mind, I just see a couple of kids sitting around, trying to come up with lyrics.  They'd just written "who imagine I'm not human, and my heart is made of stone" and they're trying to come up with something that sounds decent.  "Oh my God, man!  What rhymes with stone?"  "No, it doesn't". 

Like many of the songs of those days, I had never known all the lyrics (there are websites full of misunderstood lyrics after all), so I watched that video of SDG doing a live performance back in '66.  Sure enough, that's what Winwood is singing.  I had never been able to understand the couplet at the start of the second verse; in particular, the last word.
Well, if I had my choice of matter
I would rather be with cats
I was relieved to find that the sentiment is shared by both Chicago and SDG.  

So it's not my toilet that's trimmed with chrome.  It's Steve Winwood's.  Or Spencer Davis.  Both are listed as the composers of the song.  Or maybe nobody's - it was just a goofy rhyme.  And that's what I can't get out of my head for a week, now

(like it says - Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Life in Our Modern USSA

I saw this fun fact at Irish's place:
and it made me think of something.
As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Of course, that's The Gods of the Copy Book Headings by Rudyard Kipling.  I think they're preparing to return.  If Gods need to stretch and warmup before starting to slaughter, I figure that's what they're doing now.