Sunday, July 23, 2017

Another 50 Years Ago Milestone

The handheld electronic calculator was coming to life 50 years ago this month.  The patent was filed for in September of 1967 by Texas Instruments, but not granted for another seven years!

It's a foreign concept for us today, with integrated circuits (IC) in everything around us, but in the mid-'60s, they were still new and looking for their place in life.  A while back, I told the story of another TI marketing idea: convincing Regency to produce the world's first transistor radio, the TR-1.  Jack Kilby, one of the co-inventors of the IC, was now a technical leader at TI and came up with the very first "killer app" for ICs. Specifically: a slide rule killer!
In late September of 1965, Kilby called a group of senior engineers, which included Jerry Merryman, into his office for a meeting to discuss a new project. The purpose of the project was to build a small personal-computing device to possibly replace the slide rule. Kilby told the group the device would need to have buttons, it should be battery-powered, and there should be a display mechanism for the answers. He pointed to a book on his desk and said it needed to be about that size (small enough to fit in your pocket). However, it was up to them to come up with a plan for how to do it.

According to Kilby, the idea had originally come from Patrick “Pat” Haggerty, TI’s President and Chief Executive Officer. On a business flight to New York, Haggerty told Kilby that he’d like the IC Dept. to take on the task. According to Jerry, Haggerty was a far-seeing individual trying to come up with new electronic devices that could be created using integrated circuits. Many of the ideas he pitched to Kilby would fall by the wayside; however, that wasn’t the case for the calculator.
Central to the plan was engineer Jerry Merryman, see his biography “Jerry Merryman: the man who killed the slide rule,” (pdf), at the Slide Rule Museum.  Jerry was a perfect example of the kind of guys who were rising to the top in those days.
His technical career began at age 11. At a time when most of us were learning to sit up straight at the dinner table, Jerry was hired to repair radios. Born and raised in Hearne, Texas, he had been an inveterate tinkerer from birth, he says, and played with a Gilbert chemistry set, dismantled perfectly good alarm clocks, and used No. 6 dry cells from the trashcan of the railroad’s telegraph office to power his youthful experiments.
At the age of 18, Jerry got his "First Class Phone" ticket from the FCC (First Class Radiotelephone Operator's License - the FCC stopped issuing them years ago) and became the station engineer for a local broadcast station.  Although Jerry had attended Texas A&M University from 1949 to 1952 and 1957 to 1959, he didn’t graduate. Instead what he had was a diverse commercial and academic background, which included several years of designing vacuum-tube and transistor digital circuits. In 1963, Jerry ended up at TI and quickly gravitated to designing integrated circuits of extraordinary performance for the day.  Jack Kilby chose Jerry Merryman to lead the project, code-named Cal-Tech.  Kilby later stated he thought Jerry was probably the only engineer at the time that could have pulled it off, while also handling the management of the project.
[After the meeting with Kilby]  For the next three days and nights, Jerry worked hard on the logic design. He started out on the first day late in the afternoon by drawing a flip-flop circuit on a board to denote an “Add” button. Then on several sheets of quadrille desk-pad paper, he drew out how to do the arithmetic, how to control the logic, and a rough design of the architecture. What he ended up with was not the complete logic, but it was an excellent starting point. According to Jerry, “It still required a lot more fiddling with.”
As work progressed, the team kept innovating new devices, more complex than ever before.  Truth be told, that was really the motivation behind the project: figure out how to integrate more and more transistors, and achieve higher levels of  integration.  TI wanted to branch out beyond military applications and put ICs in everyday consumer products to showcase their widespread capability. The calculator was a means of accomplishing that goal.
To build a calculator, they estimated they would need thousands of transistors with at least 83% yield. The probability that it would work was practically zero, so Jerry went to Kilby’s office to express his concerns. He said, "The yield of this thing is going to be 0. I'd like to build it in about 16 chips. Each chip will be more complicated than anything we've ever built. It will be a real challenge."

Kilby didn’t agree. He wanted the team to build everything on one big integrated circuit. He responded with a sentiment he was known for: “You'll just have to think of something.”
Their breadboard of the calculator fit on three conventional-size desks positioned together, each with a top surface measuring roughly 10 square feet (2x5).  The goal was to fit this into a shirt pocket.
In 1966, the available transistors used too much power for the calculator. For an integrated circuit with thousands of transistors, Jerry imagined they would need something as powerful as a car battery, yet small enough to fit in your pocket. To solve this problem they needed to figure out a way to lower the overall required power. Jerry knew one way to do that was to go way down in voltage. He reasoned they could do everything with a small battery less than 5 V.
Even batteries that would be a logical choice weren't easily available in 1965.  Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries existed but the cells had too high internal resistance, too short a life, and didn't recharge very well.  After consultations with Yardney Battery, Jerry switched the project to silver-zinc batteries; 3 1.5V batteries in series to give 4.5V.  Yardney still produces silver-zinc batteries.

TI is known for their calculator products today, and you'd think this would be their first.  It was eventually released, but the project started in 1965 and it didn't become a product until 1972.  The Datamath 2500 was TI's first calculator product, but the story has a twist.  Before that, TI was a supplier of the ICs for Japan's Canon, whose Pocketronic calculator of 1970/71 was an advanced version of the Caltech project design and one of the first hand-held calculators.  Jerry's original "Project Caltech" calculator came on the market as Canon's product! 
The first Cal Tech prototype calculator, from the Datamath Museum

There's likely to be a few "my first calculator" stories here, so let me start it out with mine.  My first calculator was a simple four function calculator that always displayed two fixed decimal places.  I just remembered the brand of: Rapidman,  After a few Bing searches the closest looking thing I can find is a Rapidman 800.  This was somewhere in my first iteration of college ('73?), and I combined it with a slide rule - in those days most science classrooms had a 6 or 8 foot long slide rule hanging from hooks above the blackboards.  My first scientific calculator was a TI-SR-50.  It's still around here somewhere. 


Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Awfulness of Jeff Sessions This Week

Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new initiative at the DOJ to expand Civil Asset Forfeiture.  In his statements, he appears to either not know what he's talking about, or he thinks we're too stupid to know what he's talking about.  My money is the latter option.
"[W]e hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers," Sessions said. "With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners." [Bold added - SiG]
The thing that makes this Epic Fail-level wrong is that bolded text; in particular, asset forfeiture is being used against people who have never been charged with a crime, and are never charged with a crime.  I don't think many people have a problem with a criminal convicted in a fair trial being assessed monetary penalties.  Criminal punishments like "10 months or $100,000" are not unusual (those are made up numbers as an example).

Sessions in particular poked at drug cartels.  Avoiding the ethics of the whole War on Some Drugs, if the DOJ were to convict the head of one of the cartels in a fair trial in the US courts, and as part of the sentence, the cartel forfeited some money/cars/property that were seized during the arrest, that doesn't bother me much.  The problem with civil forfeiture is things like the Motel Caswell of Tewksbury, MA, a case I wrote about back in 2012.
This town’s police department is conniving with the federal government to circumvent Massachusetts law — which is less permissive than federal law — to seize his livelihood and retirement asset. In the lawsuit titled United States of America v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts, the government is suing an inanimate object, the motel Caswell’s father built in 1955. The U.S. Department of Justice intends to seize it, sell it for perhaps $1.5 million and give up to 80 percent of that to the Tewksbury Police Department, whose budget is just $5.5 million. The Caswells have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. They are being persecuted by two governments eager to profit from what is antiseptically called the “equitable sharing” of the fruits of civil forfeiture, a process of government enrichment that often is indistinguishable from robbery.
Got that?  The government sued an address - an inanimate object.  They never charged or convicted the owners, the Caswells; they didn't even accuse them of any wrongdoing whatsoever.  They were ruining this family strictly to collect money very loosely related to drug crimes (something like .05% of the rooms they rented out since 1994 were used by a drug dealer - without approval, of course).  Thankfully when the case made it to court, the government's case was dismissed.

Around Daytona, Florida, in the 1990s, sheriff Bob Vogel was notorious for stopping cars on I-95.  If you had cash, you must be a drug dealer, so the cash was seized.  Drivers were virtually never charged with a crime, guilt was therefore never proven and the police made over $8 Million dollars for a department fund.

Just excerpting the stories I've already told here would make this my longest post ever - and I wouldn't scratch the surface of this subject.  So going back to Reason magazine's story:
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a consistent Republican advocate for reforming asset forfeiture laws, said in a statement to Reason Monday: "As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices. The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies."

Lee was referring to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' notable dissent in an asset forfeiture case this June. Thomas wrote that forfeiture operations "frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings."
Justice Thomas hit the nail exactly.  Governments don't go after corporations that permanent staffs of full-time lawyers.  They go after people like the Caswells.  They go after people like Mandrel Stuart, who was carrying $17,550 in cash for equipment and supplies for his barbecue restaurant.  He eventually hired a lawyer, and a jury gave him his money back, but he lost his restaurant while fighting the government.  They go after people like James Lieto who had the FBI seize $392,000 from his business because the money was being carried by an armored-car firm he had hired that had fallen under a federal investigation. He was never charged with any crime, nor was it alleged he knew the armored car company was under investigation, yet he had to spend thousands in legal fees to get his money back.

That's the typical Modus Operandi.  They go after "little guys", and take whatever they can.  They seize a pile of money, assuming the victim will think it's not worth the gamble of hiring a lawyer to fight for their money.  Governments bully small guys who can't afford teams of high-powered lawyers; those "least able to defend their interests" as Justice Thomas put it.  They're easier to screw over. 

Recall that in 2014, for the first time ever, the U.S. government seized more property from Americans than burglars did

I've found over the years that civil forfeiture is pretty much despised by all sides of the political spectrum.  Lefties hate it as much as righties hate it - for example, here's a link to HuffPo talking about Florida's 2016 law making civil forfeiture harder.  That would make it seem like it should be possible to try to get congress to shut Sessions down, or even the President to tell him to "sit down and shut up".  Reason points out that Sessions was a prosecutor and has always been a supporter of Civil Forfeiture, so this isn't surprising.  (It seems only police departments and prosecutors - who benefit from free money - seem to like the idea)  Sessions clearly needs a "clue by 4" upside the head to convince him to back off.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Using Wave Power to Desalinate Seawater

Wave power has been around for quite a while, but I've never heard of large, wave-power equivalents of wind farms catching on.  The concept is usually simple enough, and no surprise here: anyone who has stood on a beach while large waves are breaking knows that there's a lot of power there.  In principle, we could design something that turns that water motion into mechanical motion and get useful work done by it. 

A company called Atmocean Inc. in New Mexico, of all places, are developing a pump that uses wave power to send pressurized seawater onto shore, where it is desalinated without the use of any external energy.  They're working with Sandia National Laboratories to develop this, so that may be why they're working on ocean waves in a place where the waves are more academic or conceptual.

The concept is rather cool, though.  They deploy a 200-ft by 200-ft array of float-operated pumps, like this:

As the waves pass under the bouys, they rise.  A series of free-floating platforms called Variable Sea Anchors or “VSAs” are connected beneath the pump and provide drag to the rising buoys. The pumps located between the VSA and buoy are designed to take advantage of the resulting tension to pull in sea water and pump it towards shore. The entire array acts in series with five pumps along three separate strings to increase the volume and pressure of water being delivered on shore through a central pipe.
 Water arrives onshore at about 180 psi. Atmocean relies on energy recovery devices—essentially spinning mechanical wheels—to boost 14% of the arriving seawater to 900 psi, the pressure needed to run reverse osmosis.
This allows them to run the reverse osmosis water purification without running high power lines to the facility, possibly allowing them to drop a reverse osmosis (RO) purification facility any place with wave action nearby.  How much RO water do they produce?  
In southern Peru, where the company set up a prototype for testing, 50 million cubic feet of pressurized water would be pumped to shore in a year under typical ocean conditions. Fourteen percent of that is desalinated, producing 5 million cubic feet (37 million gallons) of fresh water annually that can be used for agriculture or consumption.  
Estimates vary for how much water a person uses in a year, but 100 gallons per day is talked about as realistic, so that's conveniently close to a 37,000 gallons per year which divides into 37,000,000 easily.  That would be the usage of a town of 1000 Americans.  Do they use less in Peru?  No numbers available.  I'm pretty certain the amount required for agriculture depends on what they're growing. 
One of the bouys in the experimental installation of Ilo, Peru. (Atmocean photo). 

Where Sandia comes in is providing some high power computational resources.  They're helping the Atmocean engineers run computational fluid dynamics to optimize the pump designs.  The next step, once the pump design is refined and system improved, is a plan to deploy a system off Newfoundland. 


Thursday, July 20, 2017

In Which I Answer a Commenter

Commenter tomfrompv to my post two days ago asked,
How about advice on preparation for the upcoming disaster? I think we all agree it's on the way. But what should the patriotic American do to get ready. I'm sure the globalists have already planned it out.

I'm not talking about "preppers". Most of us are either too old or think the "year zero" scenario has no chance of occurring. To me, it's more about how the individual can maintain his personal wealth, freedom, security, and well-being when the hammer finally hits.
...
What's the strategy for the ordinary guy?
Let me start out by saying that whatever I say here is probably being said by other people elsewhere.  I don't think I have any exclusive ideas in this arena, and, to be honest, I'm concerned about what's coming and being prepared. On the other hand, I recall while reading Rawles' "Patriots" many years ago that, "if I'm really going to have to do all that to survive, I'm toast".  It was while they were putting in half inch thick steel to bulletproof their retreat.

Perhaps unexpectedly, another commenter answered tomfrompv with a lot of solid advice as a starting point. 
As for a coping strategy, does your public image from the street serve as a defense against envy? From the outside you look poor, wearing thrift store pants and repairing an older car, but from the inside you are wealthy in the necessities of life like food, shelter, and medical care. Is your backyard a food garden? Do you have gold coins to give to the sympathetic veterinarian who will X-ray and set your broken bone without reporting it?

Are you the center of a radio kit ecosystem which sells better the worse the news gets? You can't retire, that is not going to work. Social Security is bankrupt, and will continue to decline 10%/year forever. Those big company pension funds are going to be swept into Social Security to keep it going another year; the only portion of it you own is the last check that cashed. If you can withdraw any of that paper wealth and turn it into coins, do it.

Hard coin money fixes almost anything. With money, if WWIII breaks out you could take a "long vacation" in Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Germany, South America, the Pacific rim...it's a big world out there, and it will never all be involved in war at the same time. You can't fix politics, not even a little bit. But it's practical to prepare to step to the side as the stupid goes charging past.
My starting point is to look after those "necessities of life" like food, shelter and medical care.  If you have medical issues that require regular prescriptions, sorry but you're behind the 8-ball  It's probably too late to take a few years and get out of debt, but do your best to get six months to a year of food put away while getting out of debt.  Live below your means. 

Do you really need to look like a pauper?  I don't know, but I don't think you should look like the richest people in your area either.  I don't think you want to stand out on either end.  We have two cars that were purchased used; one for cash and one on payments because it was 0% APR and that's really paying us to take the loan.  Made sense at the time.  It has been paid off for years.  Still, I've had people walking by comment on the cars and act surprised when I tell them one's an '09 and the other's a '13. 

Yes, I think it's wise to have silver coins or other barter material on hand.  I think gold is too "concentrated"; too much money in too small a coin (more here).  I think there will be more people trying to counterfeit things like US Silver Eagles than the junk silver coins.  (Junk silver is the usually pre-1965, 90% silver US coins)  Silver Eagles are more uniform in appearance, especially if you have them new, in their mint tube (they're all uncirculated now); by contrast, the junk silver is generally old and used looking; they have the advantage that everyone knows what a dime or quarter is.  I think they'll quickly learn that the silver versions are worth more.  Compared to Eagles, the old coins are dinged up, and usually have black sulfides on them.  If someone offered you a few silver quarters, all dated the same and all looking brand new, that would get your suspicions up.  If they offered you a couple of quarters of different years in different conditions, that would look more believable.

What about other things to barter?  Do you want to have some whiskey or cigarettes around?  I don't drink or smoke and don't have any put away.  Should I?  I can't say.  A major part of this blog has been to emphasize having skills that can be bartered. Learn to fix things.

Tomfrompv also says,
For example, I think we'll see something along the lines of 1930-38 America. Banks will fail and along with them retiree annuities. The stock and bond market will fail and along with them public pensions. Tax revenues will crater. The govt will inflate the currency while simultaneously banning the sale/holding of precious metals. And all the other crap that went on back then
This is really hard to predict.  I know some financial writers who say what's coming will be worse than '29.  Some banks will absolutely fail, but not all; Dodd-Frank guaranteed that by creating the Too Big To Fail banks.  Unless the government fails, and that's least likely.  Whether or not that leads to widespread failure of public and private pensions isn't as straightforward to predict.  Much of  the public pensions depend on the individual states.  Some states, thankfully like mine, are in pretty good shape financially.  Private corporation pensions?  That depends on how good the company is at managing them, so it will vary with the company.  I don't think there's a real financial manager who doesn't plan for 25 or 30% drops in the markets.  Remember that it's possible to make money in a declining market.  The more time the plan managers have to prepare for this, the better placed they are to survive. 

Will they ban precious metals?  Beats me.  I don't think it works any better than gun free zones.  If they banned guns, are you turning them in?  It's not like they don't seize "hoarded" food in bad situations either, though. 

I'm not going to tell you to get everything you have out of your 401k or other accounts.  That's a big decision and has enormous financial implications.  Is there a possibility everything depreciates to nothing and you lose it?  The smarter you were about allocations, the less likely that is.  On the other hand, if the collapse is bad enough, all sorts of financial institutions will be in trouble.   

If your house smells like food cooking while everyone else is starving, you can expect people coming looking for food.  They will probably not be friendly.  I'm not sure what the best way to avoid that is.  Perhaps eating room temperature food out of the package?  What about the smell on cans and the garbage?  I don't know. 

You mention, "Most of us are either too old or think the "year zero" scenario has no chance of occurring,"  I'm in the too old category for one, and think the most likely scenario is what I call the Argentina scenario - because I got it from Ferfal in Surviving in Argentina.  I first posted this in 2010.  I've highlighted the things I think I've already seen in blue text.
If lucky you’ll still live in that same house, Main Street will still be called Main Street, kids will still go to the same school, with a bit of luck and hard work you’ll keep your job… but employees may have to accept a 20% reduction in salary so as to save the company.  Your kid’s school will have fund cuts and some classes may be canceled, the infrastructure may suffer for lack of maintenance due to low funds. The school quickly looks dirty, clearly needing some paint and repairs. As time goes by Main street is full of holes and no ones patches them. Stuff at Walmart is now more expensive. Little by little the packages, cans and bottles start getting smaller (yet the price is higher than before) , you see less and less of those mega super value 50 unit packs. There’s less variety too, they no longer import or produce locally the expensive brands anymore. Too expensive to do so. Crime is getting worse too. Home invasions in towns where it had never happened before, even people getting kidnapped. As more senseless violent crime becomes more common and criminals realize that the poorly paid police, with not enough patrol cars, not enough gas and not enough manpower is just a shadow of what it once was, armed robbery slowly becomes a fact of life across America, and those that don’t want to accept it suffer the consequences.
Every one of the major ideas in this paragraph have been observed in the US.  The rise in prices and drop in package sizes ("shrinkflation") is something I've written about for years  Nationally, we have already had municipalities (Oakland, CA, for example) tell their citizens that they won't pursue burglary and property theft, and an Ashtabula County, Ohio, judge told citizens to arm themselves due to a shortage of Sheriff's deputies.

Our tendency to have a "disposable society" is going to decline.  People will hold onto possessions longer, and wear them out.  A close friend from West Virginia had a great saying that sums this up:  "make it, make do, or do without".  That means a return, at least partially, to a time when more people made much more of their own things.  On almost any weekend around town, you'd hear power tools going as guys would be making or repairing furniture or fixing their cars.  Inside, women would be making or repairing clothing.  If you don't already know: learn how to do these things.

I've written about all of these things many times.  The search bar in the upper left corner actually works fairly well, and you can search for single words like gold, silver, banks, or whatever, but even I go through periods not finding things I know are here.  It's always because I didn't remember the right word.
"Junk silver" dimes.  So-called because they weren't high enough grade to attract coin collectors. 


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Think I Was Punked by Volvo

Remember back on the 6th when I posted about Volvo's announcement that every car they build after 2019 would either be a hybrid or a pure electric vehicle?  Like most of the people who read that article, I missed an important distinction that today's Design News clears up for us.
Industry analysts this week pointed out the obvious – that Volvo has no intention of abandoning IC engines.

In its own press conference, the company’s executives said mild and conventional hybrids will still be a big part of its lineup, meaning that engines will continue to play a role for the foreseeable future. “They are electrifying all of their cars, but they are not going all-electric by any stretch of the imagination,” Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst for Navigant Research , told Design News.

Abuelsamid acknowledged that Volvo’s press release, headlined “Volvo Cars to go all electric,” was ripe for misunderstanding. At the same time, though, he described it as a publicity “masterstroke.”

Indeed, it was a masterstroke because it obliquely drew some attention to a nugget of news that would have otherwise been ignored: That is, Volvo is joining a growing contingent of automakers planning to move to so-called “mild hybrid” technology.
So what's a mild hybrid?  Unlike conventional hybrids that use massive battery packs that run 300V, 400V and even 600V, these vehicles use 48V.  The vehicles feature a small IC engine and a relatively small lithium-ion battery (roughly half a kilowatt-hour), which allows the mild hybrids to do enhanced start-stop, along with regenerative braking that puts “fuel” back in the battery.  They can turn off the IC engine before coming to a complete stop, re-launch the vehicle on electricity, and fire the engine back up after it’s already in motion. Or they can “sail” – that is, shut down the engine at highway speeds and coast for a short time on electricity.
Moreover, 48V electrical architectures offer a big benefit for engineers who are trying to add power-hungry new features, such as heated seats, heated windshields, electric power steering, and infotainment systems. Unlike today’s 12V systems, which offer about 2-3 kW of power, a 48V system can produce 10-12 kW. 
I recall hearing that carmakers were considering moving to 24 or 48V systems years ago, maybe even the 1980s, and I know that some bigger pickup trucks use 24V (I think they're all diesels).   Volvo, Audi, PSA Group and Mercedes-Benz have all announced plans to implement 48V “mild hybrid” architectures.

Given that, you can take a pretty safe bet that those companies aren't going to invest in these hybrid 48V electric and IC engines for four years and then drop them.
Lux Research has predicted that seven million vehicles worldwide will use 48V architectures by 2024. And Navigant has said that 55% of vehicles will use start-stop technology by 2024. The point is, these IC-engine-based technologies are growing, not declining.

By comparison, fully electric vehicles will account for between four and 5.6 million new vehicles annually by 2025. That’s out of a projected total of 105 million worldwide. To put it another way, most of the rest of the 100 million or so light duty vehicles will still use internal combustion engines in some form in 2025.
So I got sucked into the "end date for conventional gas and diesel powered cars" story line.  That's way out in the future.  Last words to this week's Design News article. 
“The internal combustion engine is so cost effective and convenient compared to any other technology, it’s not going away any time soon,” Abuelsamid said. “At least through 2030 and beyond, the vast majority of vehicles will still use them.” 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I Have a Case of That Going, Too

Western Rifle Shooters Association links to the Burning Platform, talking about being a bit worn out by the situation we're in and burned out about writing and thinking about it.  I could have written some of it myself - like this paragraph:
My frustration and disillusionment with a world gone mad has begun to affect my mental state. I’m losing my sense of outrage which has driven me to write for the last nine years. It isn’t worth the expended energy when it will change nothing. I’m resigned to the inevitability of economic collapse. It’s just a matter of when. Bloggers and writers who make a living at it, must write daily articles of doom to generate page views. Since no one can reliably predict the timing of the collapse, I’ve grown tired of reading and writing the same old shit.
He's an advocate of the concept of Fourth Turnings,  and argues that we're in one.  It will take however long it takes.  I've written about it several times, too, although tending to use the terms from Kondratiev Waves rather than Strauss and Howe's "Fourth Turning".  Another column by either one of us isn't going to affect that. 

I think we all agree that an economic collapse just seems unavoidable, but none of us know when and exactly what it will look like.  I think today's failure by the Stupid Party to get rid of the nightmare of Obamacare makes it more likely.  Things that can't go on won't go on.  I'm frankly tired of beating on the Federal Reserve, their servants in the Federal government, and the phony money they've imposed on us.  I'm especially sick to death of seeing virtually no one in power, very few in the media and no one with political influence harping on it.  

Likewise, Adaptive Curmudgeon put up a piece 10 days ago talking about making the transition from a serious blog and to using much more humor. 
Some time year ago (with many fits and starts and personal failures en route) I began to steer away from “serious” commentary. The world had enough overwrought hand-wringing. I thought it was good for the soul (in particular my soul) to let most of it go.
Longtime readers, I mean really long term, will probably have noticed that over the years I've tended to writing more about the shop, technical subjects and other lighter fare that I find more fun and interesting.  More and more, I find myself getting to the time of day when I sit down to write and can't think of anything to talk about. 
I think the first time I used this illustration of an innocent cargo ship going over the edge of the world was in 2011, in A Short Course on Why the Economy Was  Going to Crap Anyway, Part 2

Maybe it's time to write a story about ducks or squirrels or something.  Nah... I was never any good at fiction writing. 


Monday, July 17, 2017

No, Councilman Gossett; You're the Racist

Back during the 2012 presidential campaigns, a new insanity appeared on the left; the idea of "dog whistle" racism and dog whistle politics in general.  There's a ton of links I could give here, but chances are you remember, and I really don't want to link to any of the liberal sites to show examples.  The idea is that what you and I would consider innocuous phrases, like naming Chicago as politically corrupt, were really coded ways for evil conservatives to spread their racist hate.

I never met a person who had actually heard the messages that folks like Chris Matthews were telling us were there for us.  No conservatives I spoke with ever heard those messages.  If someone is trying to spread subtle messages, they're doing it wrong if the intended audience doesn't understand the message.

Someone made the rather sharp observation, which I'll paraphrase as, "if you're the only one hearing a dog whistle, you're the dog".  Chris Matthews, you're the dog.

The relevance in this case is a little story out of liberal paradise Seattle, Washington.  In another bid to repulse tourists and get them to go spend their money elsewhere welcome all sorts of immigrants and homeless people, Seattle stopped enforcing laws about public defecation and urination.  In this aspect, they're like San Francisco and other urban, liberal paradises.  It has apparently gotten really ripe with human waste around the county courthouse.
The blocks surrounding the King County Superior Court are home to most of Seattle’s homeless shelters and social service buildings, and the sidewalks in the area emit a strong stench of urine and excrement, according to the Seattle Times. Employees at the courthouse say the area is also unsafe and that several jurors and half a dozen employees have been attacked outside the building.

Judges Laura Inveen and Jim Rogers asked the county on Tuesday for help with the area, requesting that the courthouse be cleaned with a daily power-wash to get rid of the human waste stench along with taking measures like removing bus stop benches in the area to decrease crime.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” Rogers told the Metropolitan King County Council’s committee on government accountability and oversight Tuesday morning
The Sheriff had noted how bad it had gotten.  The clerk of the courts had reported people coming for jury duty were scared off and apparently willing to consider being on the other side of a jury rather than face the stench in the area. 

When the issue came to the County Commission to be acted on, Concilman Larry Gossett had the most puzzling response I've seen - and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't hear something that's totally, absolutely Nucking Futs.  He said it was a racist microaggression
According to the Times, Councilmember Larry Gossett “said he didn’t like the idea of power-washing the sidewalks because it brought back images of the use of hoses against civil-rights activists.”
Thankfully, saner heads prevailed and the idea that poop had to be cleaned up was accepted.  The area has been pressure watched.  Meanwhile, anyone over the age of about two would recognize that if they saw poop on the floor somewhere, it needed to be cleaned up.  Even that two year old might hose it off the sidewalk outside. 

Councilman Gossett, if you honestly think that cleaning streets is racist, you're the racist. If every time you see a hose being used to clean something, you think about "the use of hoses against civil-rights activists", you have a psychological problem.  This is in the category of unhealthy obsessions.  You should seek qualified help.  If you think only a certain race would defecate in the street, that also makes you the racist.  Either way, seek help.
(Getty Images, Yuri Kadobnov

I'm not a shrink, and I don't know what words to use, but I think someone with that kind of response needs to find competent help. 


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Juno Dives Over Jupiter's Great Red Spot

On July 11th, our Juno probe in orbit around Jupiter took another one of its closest approaches to the giant planet, the 7th perijove, this time buzzing the Great Red Spot at a height of 5600 miles.
Juno reached perijove (the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter's center) on July 10 at 6:55 p.m. PDT (9:55 p.m. EDT). At the time of perijove, Juno was about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) above the planet's cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno had covered another 24,713 miles (39,771 kilometers), and was passing directly above the coiling, crimson cloud tops of the Great Red Spot. The spacecraft passed about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the clouds of this iconic feature.
The data rate back to Earth is slow and the combination of that, and the amount of data make it take a while for the images to get here and be processed; this image was posted yesterday to the Astronomy Photo of the Day, processed by Sean Doran of the Planetary Society.  

The Great Red Spot is the oldest continually-studied storm in the solar system, dating back to the first telescopes capable of resolving the disk of Jupiter with enough detail.  There are credible reports that it could be a feature observed by Italian astronomer Gian Domenico Cassini in 1665.  For observers today, it's easy to see in a small telescope, although its color tends to not be red, but varies from a pink to shades that appear more gray from Earth.  It's also getting smaller.
In the late 19th century the length of the spot was about 48,000 km (30,000 miles), and since then the spot has been shrinking. The Voyager spacecraft measured the spot’s length at 23,000 km (14,500 miles) in 1979. Since 2012 the spot has become more circular and has been shrinking at a faster rate of about 900 km (580 miles) per year.
The massive storm was measured at 10,160 miles wide (16,350 kilometers) on April 15. That's about 1.3 times the diameter of planet Earth.  

The picture is full of tremendous details, knots, swirls, twists, veinous-looking clouds and the appearance of storms within the the bigger storm.   It's not simply a Jovian hurricane; it's far more complex than that.  


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Grail Gun Followup

An anonymous commenter to my Grail Gun post two days ago said,
What scope are you using? That looks like it says "Nikon" but that's all I can tell. If you're going to talk precision shooting, you need to talk about scopes!
That's a good point and I should have mentioned it.  They were correct in that it really is a Nikon; a Nikon Monarch, 5-20 x 44 with BDC (Bullet Drop Compensation) reticle.  It's several years old, like from 2010, I think, and for the last few years has lived on my AR-15 where it's too much scope.  I'm sure there's a story there, I just don't remember why it's on my AR.  I thought I bought it for my DPMS LR-308, but that has a lower power scope on it.

If anything, I've probably run too much power over the years.  I have the typical "old guy eyes" problem of needing more magnification, even for things like labels.  On the other hand, it's easy for optical designers to add more power.  You should just know that you need a bigger objective (front lens) when you add power.  On the other, other hand, I find I can reliably shoot with a less magnified view, but I can't see the bullet impacts.   I've been bringing a good spotting scope for that. 

The challenges in the optical design are (1) zoom range and (2) keeping the image at the same spot as the magnification changes.  For #1, the 4:1 range of this Monarch seems to be as wide as Nikon will make.  I'm sure you've noticed 3:1 ranges like 3-9 and 4-12 are pretty commonly made and used hunting scopes.  In camera lenses, you can get a 10:1 range like this 50-500 Sigma, and while they don't deliver as sharp images as lower range zooms, they're available.  In rifle scopes, it seems they go to a 6:1 range, like a 5-30.  I think I'd like something more like 40x for long ranges than the 20 the Nikon gives now, but we'll see. 

Most of you know the experience of having to move your head around to get the image centered in your eye and see the whole image.  A good scope will keep this image in the same place as you adjust your zoom, while a less useful design makes you need to move your eye closer to the scope as the magnification goes up.  It's harder to design that way than to let it drift forward or backward, so it's more expensive, but worth it. 

When I moved this scope to the RPR, I dug out my old Laserlyte boresighter (similar to that model, but years older).  This design operates by attaching a plastic adapter onto the narrow end and spreading it with a tightening screw until it's a snug fit in the barrel.  I couldn't get it to work, the plastic had split, and finally shimmed the skinny "tail" of the piece with masking tape until it would fit in the barrel.  It didn't work like it was designed but I thought it would get me on the paper and within a couple of inches.

This was Tuesday night.  The next day, I went to Laserlyte's customer service website and left a "contact us" note to ask if these replacement adapters would work for me. Within about a day, I got an email back asking for more details on my boresighter, and if I could send pictures.  To shorten the story, once she saw it, she was able to find the model number and said they'd send me a replacement adapter by 1st class mail.  For free.  Considering I bought this in around 2012, from a surplus dealer, I consider that exemplary customer service from Laserlyte. 

The adapter's not here, though, but I thought that even though the tape-shimmed laser wasn't as good as the design should allow, it should still get me on paper at a mere 25 yards, right?  Not a chance.  Friday morning, on my "shakedown cruise" to the range, I thought I needed to call it a day and come home after my first two shots.  Given an 8" circle on an 8-1/2x11 piece of paper, neither shot was on the paper at all.  On my second shot, I thought I saw the grass on the berm above and behind the target move, but no marks I could identify at all on the target or backing.

After a bit of confusion/frustration/annoyance, the idea of using the old school method of looking down the barrel and then centering the cross hairs popped into my head.  Thinking of that clue that I was really high, I cranked the POA down.  I saw a hole on the backing.  Then I cranked it down a LOT.  A crazy lot.  The first shot now was within the first ring, so under 1" from the center.  Cranked some more, took a couple more shots and the two made an enlarged hole.  Which is probably a wild shot for a 1600 yard rifle. 
That circle is exactly 2" on the outside of the yellow line.  I realize zeroing a scope at bad-breath distance (well, maybe for Gilroy, California) isn't a newsworthy picture, but ... hey, why not?


Friday, July 14, 2017

Has Janet Yellen Received a Terrible Medical Diagnosis?

Just over two weeks ago, Fed Chair Janet Yellen was commenting on the prognosis for the economic future.  She does this all the time, only this time she let slip what might be a terrible announcement:
Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? You know probably that would be going too far but I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be.  [Bold added - SiG]
She doesn't believe it will happen in our lifetimes?  Just whom is she referring to there?  You got a mouse in your pocket, Janet?  I assume there were both 20 year-old and 80 year old listeners; does she honestly think that no one alive today will ever see another crash?  On the other hand, maybe she meant the royal "our" and just meant herself.  Did she just let it slip that she recently got a horrible medical diagnosis and expects to be gone in under 6 months?

Saying "we'll never see another crisis" seems to me to be like saying, "I've never had a flat tire", or "our pitcher has a no-hitter going"; that sort of "famous last words".  If you're a betting person and hear something like that, bet that the opposite of the statement is coming.  Simple "reversion to the mean" is reason enough.

There's already a reasonable argument we're likely to see one before the end of the year - five months away.  As Bill Bonner puts it:
First, because falling oil prices and bond yields signal a slowing economy. A recession is already overdue.

Second, debt levels are higher than ever. There is said to be more than $250 trillion worth of debt worldwide. And running up debt is like stacking blocks of wood. The higher you stack them, the more likely they are to fall over.

Ms. Yellen says the banks are better-regulated and less likely to fail in a crisis. But the latest stress test shows bank vulnerability to credit card debt has actually increased.

Besides, bank debt is only a part of the picture.
Personal debt is a problem, too.  Quoting again from Bonner, who creates an interesting illustration toward the end. 
Consumers are running into a debt ceiling of their own. They’ve got $14 trillion of household debt.

Without real job and income growth, they can only maintain standards of living by borrowing more. But they already owe more than they did on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis; their knees are beginning to buckle.

Used auto prices are falling, putting the whole structure of $1.2 trillion worth of auto debt in danger.

Student loans – another $1.2 trillion of debt – are increasingly uncollectable.

And states and local governments have $5 trillion worth of unfunded pension liabilities.

Corporate debt is at record levels, too, near $8.5 trillion.

In the next crisis, many marginal borrowers will have trouble paying back their loans. Write-offs, defaults, and bankruptcies will blow up.

And don’t forget that the whole world economy is interconnected.

That whiff of smoke you smell could be coming from China. That country has become a giant Debt Depot.

And somewhere… in the corner of some abandoned warehouse, a small pile of debt-soaked rags smolders.

When the flames break out… sparks will fly across the Pacific in a matter of seconds. Minutes later, the entire world’s finances will be aflame.
In light of all this, maybe Dr. Yellen can say she doesn't believe she'll see another crash in her lifetime because she knows she won't be around long enough.   It's really too bad.  We haven't mocked her nearly enough.
Janet Yellen - Hannah McKay, Reuters photo


Thursday, July 13, 2017

When Your Grail Gun is an On Sale Gun - Buy It!

I've been upfront about having rifle lust for the Ruger Precision Rifle since they came on the market a couple of years ago.  I've kept an eye out for them locally, seen one or two at a gun show, but waited for the price to break.  Readers familiar with the RPR will know that they've essentially been able to sell everything they make at full list price since the introduction in 2015. There have been occasional exceptions in the form of Sales here and there, but nothing that stuck.

A couple of weeks ago, Palmetto State Armory had a sale on them at $1099 - the $1100 street price hinted at in 2015.  After a bit of comedy or errors, I took the plunge and ordered one in 6.5 Creedmoor at the last possible minute of the sale (OK, last hour).  That was around 11 PM on June 22nd.  It came home with me Tuesday afternoon, 7/11/17.  Yeah, it's a commercial rifle and they all look the same, but as they say, "this is my rifle".  Despite the precarious looking position on my Tipton vise, it's stable.  It's actually front heavy and would trip forward if the stop wasn't there. 

The comedy of errors was that a friend had pointed it out to me and I had quickly forgotten it was a short duration sale.  The website said, "Good until 12PM EST" and I joked with my wife that I didn't know if that meant 11 AM or 1 PM because of us really being on Daylight Saving Time, but I hadn't remembered to go look until it was almost 1 PM.  After all, they probably just meant 12 PM "eastern" and used an old note.  Then I clicked on "refresh" and the price came up ... $1099. 

Could they have meant "good til midnight"?  That conflicts with the date because "Midnight on 6/22", is 12 AM, not PM, and it's 12 AM on the 23rd.  I had to think about the purchase and figured I'd try to refresh the page later and see if the price was still there; and it was.  After much anguish, I finally pushed the "Buy" button and started the process to buy the new rifle.  After the "10 business days" wait, PSA shipped the gun to my FFL. 

Considering it's half-past July, this will likely mean a couple of trips to the 200 yard range to try it out and get a good feel for it, then it will stay in the safe until October or so, depending on weather.  While waiting for it, I've been studying everything I can get my hands on about the rifle.  Between the various forums I've found, the most active RPR forum is on Arfcom - AR15.com.  Of all places.  71 pages.  I haven't read all of it, but I've read everything that looked interesting since the new model came out last year.  They also have a much shorter but useful thread on Factory loads for 6.5 Creedmoor, and a good Precision Rifle forum for all types of long range shooting.

My first purchase for the rifle was a pair of RCBS reloading dies and a couple of boxes of Hornady 140 gr ELD Match ammo, which will become reloading brass.  As I've been reading, I'm encountering the recurring idea that guys are saying their commercial match grade ammo is doing so well, they don't think reloading is worth it!  I've seen pictures of Federal OTM (Open Tip Match) doing 0.33 MOA and several other commercial rounds doing under 0.5.  I have a couple of boxes of the Federal OTM on the way.  

No, I have not made it to the range, yet.  Tomorrow is very likely. 

This is my first purchase from PSA, and while I got my rifle, I'm not 100% sure I'd go back.

First off: they charge your credit card the instant you hit the button, but didn't ship for two calendar weeks.  I suppose I'm spoiled by the rest of the online shopping I do, like ordering two Rubbermaid containers on Amazon for $10 and having them lovingly left on my doorstep two days later - on a Sunday morning.  While a rifle costing 110 times that takes two weeks to even ship.  If Bezos wanted to dominate the firearms industry, his competition is Buds, Impact, PSA and another couple.  I see them as easy targets.  (This would require Bezos getting his head out of his a** about guns and that would probably require a 2 ton shop crane - maybe explosives.).

Second off, PSA says they won't do anything in terms of exchange/return.  If the gun appears broken in shipping, contact UPS; otherwise, contact the manufacturer. Thankfully, those occurrences are pretty rare.

The main reason I did it at all, (aside from the good price) was recommendations from friends. 

Expect more talk about this and review fodder as I get more familiar with it.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Literal Bolt Out of the Blue

While finishing dinner and watching the news, there was a nearby lightning strike and we've apparently lost our TV and media HDMI switch.  Power didn't flicker, it just seemed like a close strike, so I'm guessing it was due to an induced field from the nearby strike.  The internet which comes over our cable system played through it and there's apparently no other damage.  The cable converter box/DVR is working: both HDMI and fiber optic sound outputs are fine with a substitute box.  I could go around the house and check everything else we own, but I'll wait for the storms to be completely Done done. 

The rain today was a constant flow of small squalls off the Atlantic onto shore, an "easterly wave" that was originally supposed to be here tomorrow but got here early.  There was a lot of lightning, but nothing that unusual for here.  We aren't exactly in the lightning capital of America, but you can see those storms from here.  Because of that, we're relatively hardened: surge suppressors on virtually everything.  We're also on underground utilities, which helps, although one bit of damage about 20 years ago blew a telephone junction box off the back of the house and across the yard.  Although we haven't had any real damage in a while, you're never really safe from it.
According to the National Weather Service, the number of annual thunderstorm days in the central Florida area are:
  • East coast (Melbourne/Vero Beach) = 70-80
  • Interior (Orlando) = 80-90
  • West coast (Lakeland) = 90-100 
Looks like it's time to shop for a TV, and it will NOT be a smart TV.  Suggestions for a Dumb TV, around 50", would be appreciated.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Quite Possibly The Most Stupid Stunt You'll See

ARS Technica reports the story of two "adventurers" whose idea was to break into a Russian military base in Kazakhstan where the decrepit old Soviet Buran Space Shuttles are decaying away.

Mrs. Graybeard hasn't worked on the Cape since the late '90s, so maybe I've got things wrong, but in the days before 9/11 security on the Cape didn't typically shoot trespassers.  It's not like they couldn't shoot gate runners, but the few incidents I heard about, the idiot was always some bozo tourist who thought he'd run the gate.  The guards would shoot out their tires so they couldn't go any farther - or at least so they got the message they shouldn't go any farther.  (Shooting the people probably involved too much paperwork).  Maybe in the post 9/11, TSA at the Greyhound bus stop world, they do shoot people trying to run the gates, but I honestly don't know. 

I just didn't think the Russian or Kazakh guards suffered fools as patiently as US guards.  These guys drove out to a remote corner of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan where Soyuz rockets are still launched, and broke into the buildings.
Now, two adventurers who post videos on YouTube and style themselves as "Exploring the Unbeaten Path" have posted a dramatic video after sneaking onto the well-guarded grounds of the Kazakhstan spaceport at night. The duo spent the next day in the hidden hangar of the Buran vehicles taking impressive photos, videos, and capturing some pretty amazing drone footage of two mostly completed orbiters.
There's a 15 minute video they created of their adventure, if you're into that.  I wasn't interested enough to watch it. 


Monday, July 10, 2017

You've Got to Give Credit to Trump For This

Trump is playing the press like a master.  He can get them to do a full time week on a tweet about Mika whats-her-face-insky and have them not notice he fired 548 VA employees and put another 200 on suspension.
Five hundred and forty-eight Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees have been terminated since President Donald Trump took office, indicating that his campaign pledge to clean up “probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States” by relentlessly putting his TV catch phrase “you’re fired” into action was more than just empty rhetoric.

Another 200 VA workers were suspended and 33 demoted, according to data newly published by the department as part of VA Secretary David Shulkin’s commitment to greater transparency. Those disciplined include 22 senior leaders, more than 70 nurses, 14 police officers, and 25 physicians.
Stage magicians have got nothing on Trump when it comes to making the press watch the wrong hand.

Rush Limbaugh used the analogy of shining a laser pointer for a kitten.  The kitten never catches the red dot, never even feels the red dot with his paws, but will go chasing around the house smashing into walls and furniture in the never-ending quest to get that dot.  This is what Trump is doing to the media.

And it doesn't stop with those 748.  According to that Daily Caller piece:
  • Also disciplined were a program analyst dealing with the Government Accountability Office, which audits the department, a public affairs specialist, a chief of police and a chief of surgery. 
  • Many housekeeping aides and food service workers — lower-level jobs in which the department has employed felons and convicted sex offenders — were also fired.
  • One record shows a “senior leader” being removed January 20, while another record shows a “senior leader” being demoted April 21. Those appear to refer to the same person — disgraced Puerto Rico VA director DeWayne Hamlin — who returned to work in a lesser job after he appealed to the MSPB. (Merit Systems Protection Board)
  • There were five firings in the Veterans Health Administration Central Office, including one senior leader. There were also two in the Office of General Counsel, and one in the office of Congressional and Legislative affairs.
The MSPB has been one of the stumbling blocks to cleaning house at the VA, and VA secretary Shulkin has been fighting them since his appointment in March of 2015 by Barack Obama.
“Just last week we were forced to take back an employee after they were convicted no more than three times for DWI and had served a 60 day jail sentence … Our accountability processes are clearly broken,” Shulkin said at the White House.

In addition to reluctance by managers to vigorously pursue firings, the overturning of firings after the fact by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) — often with little public acknowledgment — has been a longstanding problem.

Shulkin asked for new legislation that reduces the role of MSPB, especially when firing senior leaders. Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in answer, and Trump signed the bill in June.
The problems at the VA are legendary; I mean it's widely known that veterans have died waiting for care, patient's medical files were hidden so that they couldn't get care, and all the while VA bureaucrats falsified data to procure monetary bonuses.  Fixes have been slow to come largely because the union that represents VA employees has used its political muscle with Democrats to emphasize job security for government employees.  That's getting to be an all too familiar story. 

While I'm not a vet and I'm not in the system, I know many who are in the system, and in various fights for care.  From what I can tell, here in small town Florida, the local VA facilities are not really bad, but they are still the VA and usually frustrating as all hell.  When I mentioned reading this to a couple of friends tonight, they both were astonished that they could successfully fire someone in the VA. 

Hats off to Trump for getting this done without firing off the media outrage machine.
(obviously from TheOatmeal)


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Our Annual Climate Tipping Point

This is an event I look forward to every year.  I note that this past Friday the latest Sunset of the year clicked back a minute earlier (on my sunrise/sunset timer app).  That's an approximation from listing it to the minute: if you get accurate times to the second, it's apparent that the actual latest sunset was at least a week ago.  That means that for the next five to six months, sunset will get progressively earlier every night.  Slowly at first, then faster as the months go by, the days will get shorter.  We had the earliest sunrise about a month ago, and sunrise is already running in the trend of getting a little later every morning.  Between sunrise creeping later and sunset creeping earlier, every day the amount of daylight will decrease. 

We have passed the climate tipping point - and I might add one of the only real climate tipping points - the other is in January with an assurance opposite this one. 

Since we can directly correlate incoming solar energy (insolation) with temperature, I can predict that temperature will tend to decrease as the amount of daylight decreases.  Because the mass of the entire northern hemisphere has to reverse its heating trend, there is a lag in the system.  It will get hotter for another few weeks, into August.  Nevertheless I can confidently predict that slowly at first, then faster as the months go by, the northern hemisphere will enter a period of global cooling. 

Over the years, I've noticed that I tend to utter my first "I hate summer" of the year several weeks before it has actually turned to summer, so I await the change with eager anticipation.  You may not care at all.
It only feels like Tatooine here.  Sometimes.  YMMV.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Tell Me About Your Favorite Ballistics Phone/Tablet Apps

That's right, homies, it's info bleg time again:  I'm looking for a better ballistics program to carry with me to the range: either on my phone or my tablet.  I'm in the Apple universe (iOS).  Hopefully, we could collect info on everything available so that maybe other people will get utility from this post and not just me.  You might have noticed that in the list of the most read posts in the right column, that my most read post ever was a little post called "A Little More About .308 vs 7.62x51", and was a follow-up to an earlier post that is apparently hardly ever read.  It would be great to be as useful to other people as that post.    

Within the last couple of months, I got a link to this "11 Best Ballistics Apps for Every Shooter" from some email list I'm on (probably Guns & Ammo), but I find it's almost three year old information.  All of the apps have probably been updated by now. 

I have the Winchester app on my phone, and despite it's limitation to only Winchester-branded factory ammunition, I've used it to get "close enough" to hit the paper and then make adjustments from there.  Aside from that, I'm just looking around to see what else is out there and what might be better.  It's hard to split this task between online and portable application, but I'd like to be able to have a calculator at the range that allows me to change the conditions or the load I'm using.  Hornady has a cool "4 DOF" (Four degrees of Freedom) calculator that's free to use on their website, but there doesn't appear to be a portable version of that.  Naturally, it's based on Hornady's bullets. 

Federal Premium also has a free online calculator, too, and allows you to enter customized information or use their factory loads.  Nosler, and Berger both have an app that's centered on their bullets, but I haven't gone down a list and checked all the manufacturers.

In the realm of the iPhone apps, Applied Ballistics has an app that seems to be good, as you might think from a company with their pedigree.  Work by their chief ballistician, Bryan Litz, has been cited as a source in other apps in that "11 Best" collection, such as Shooter, and Ballistic App.  As usual, the ratings on the iTunes store are fairly useless; this time because most of the apps don't have enough reviews to have a rating posted.

So how about it, dear readers?  Any input on which one of these is the one to get?  Is anyone more popular among readers? 
The Ballistic App, advanced edition. 

By the way, it appears these apps have been targeted by the anti-gun nuts.  Most of them are rated for users over 12 or over 17.  The description of those ratings don't seem to describe anything about a ballistics app.  For example, the "12+" category says, "Apps in this category may also contain infrequent mild language, frequent or intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence, and mild or infrequent mature or suggestive themes, and simulated gambling, which may not be suitable for children under the age of 12"  While I don't own any of these apps, I can't see any of the things they warn against in a program that does math for the user.  


Friday, July 7, 2017

Why 2,000 Year-Old Roman Concrete Is Better Than What We Produce Today

If you were to take a vacation to the Tuscany Region in Italy and wander to the Mediterranean beaches, you might find this fairly unremarkable structure, or one like it.
You might well say the only remarkable thing about this structure is that it's concrete - manmade - and around 2000 years old.  Exposed to the waves and storms of the Mediterranean sea for two millennia, it has withstood the elements better than (or at least as well as) any modern concrete.  It turns out that the Roman era concrete not only is more durable than modern concrete, it actually gets stronger with age.  Almost 2000 years ago, round A.D. 79, Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia that concrete structures in harbors, exposed to the constant assault of the saltwater waves, become “a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger.”  He may well have been right.

Concrete is something that we all see but very few think about.  Many use the terms concrete and cement interchangeably, but that's not correct.  Concrete is a mix of sand and rock called aggregate that's bonded together today with Portland cement, a mixture of silica sand, limestone, clay, chalk and other ingredients melted together at blistering temperatures.

The Romans, though, didn't have the techniques for producing Portland cement that we have today.
Romans made concrete by mixing volcanic ash with lime and seawater to make a mortar, and then incorporating into that mortar chunks of volcanic rock, the “aggregate” in the concrete. The combination of ash, water, and quicklime produces what is called a pozzolanic reaction, named after the city of Pozzuoli in the Bay of Naples. The Romans may have gotten the idea for this mixture from naturally cemented volcanic ash deposits called tuff that are common in the area, as Pliny described.
Modern concrete depends on the aggregate not interacting chemically with the Portland cement.  The Roman concrete doesn't utilize that chemistry. It turns out, this might be the reason their concrete gets stronger with time and ours erodes away.

The story of this research is from University of Utah geologist Marie Jackson, who became interested in the Roman concrete formations while on a sabbatical trip.  This led her to study Roman concrete with the tools a physical geologist might use to analyze the microstructures formed in it.  She and her colleagues have found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that hold the concrete together with increasing cohesion.
In another study of drill cores of Roman harbor concrete collected by the ROMACONS project in 2002-2009, Jackson and colleagues found an exceptionally rare mineral, aluminous tobermorite (Al-tobermorite) in the marine mortar. The mineral crystals formed in lime particles through pozzolanic reaction at somewhat elevated temperatures. The presence of Al-tobermorite surprised Jackson. “It’s very difficult to make,” she says of the mineral. Synthesizing it in the laboratory requires high temperatures and results in only small quantities.

For the new study, Jackson and other researchers returned to the ROMACONS drill cores, examining them with a variety of methods, including microdiffraction and microfluorescence analyses at the Advanced Light Source beamline 12.3.2 at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They found that Al-tobermorite and a related zeolite mineral, phillipsite, formed in pumice particles and pores in the cementing matrix. From previous work, the team knew that the pozzolanic curing process of Roman concrete was short-lived. Something else must have caused the minerals to grow at low temperature long after the concrete had hardened. “No one has produced tobermorite at 20 degrees Celsius,” she says. “Oh — except the Romans!”
The team concluded that when seawater percolated through the concrete in breakwaters and in piers, it dissolved components of the volcanic ash and allowed new minerals to grow from the highly alkaline leached fluids, particularly Al-tobermorite and phillipsite. This Al-tobermorite has silica-rich compositions, similar to crystals that form in volcanic rocks. The crystals have platy shapes that reinforce the cementing matrix. The interlocking plates increase the concrete’s resistance to brittle fracture.

Jackson says that this corrosion-like process would normally be a bad thing for modern materials. “We’re looking at a system that’s contrary to everything one would not want in cement-based concrete,” she says. “We’re looking at a system that thrives in open chemical exchange with seawater.”
Unfortunately, the Roman recipes for concrete have been lost to the ages.  Dr. Jackson and her colleagues continue to research possible ways of recreating the recipes.  She is now working with geological engineer Tom Adams to develop a replacement recipe, using materials from the western U.S. The seawater in her experiments comes from the Berkeley, California, marina, collected by Jackson herself.

So why is 2000 year-old Roman concrete better than modern concrete?  It seems pure luck.  They were in an area where the chemistry of their volcanic ash with their lime and their rocks would work properly.  It might not be replicable with those ingredients from everywhere in the world, but they observed, took notes and experimented, eventually making the most of what they had.

Roman concrete wouldn't be applicable everywhere.  It's weaker in compression than modern concrete, for example, but would shine in areas exposed to saltwater.  It's conceivable that a return to the Roman recipes, or something researchers could come up with based on the Romans' work, could make docks, piers or all sorts of structures in salt water or lagoons much more durable than modern concrete would.  It's also possible this research will lead to ways to make something that is better than both our modern concrete and the Roman version.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Volvo Announces Their End Date for Conventional Gas or Diesel Powered Cars

Lost in the Independence Day bustle was an announcement from Volvo that “every car it produces from 2019 forward will have an electric motor”.  Being an engineer, and therefore a bit too literal in my interpretation of such things, my first thought was “but they already have electric motors... they're used for windshield wipers, fuel pumps, fans ...”.   Probably few people would ever think that way; Volvo meant every vehicle they introduce after 2019 will be either a purely electric vehicle or a hybrid.  No more conventional gasoline or diesel powered cars after 2019. 
Instead the company will begin producing three levels of electric vehicles (mild, Twin Engine, and fully electric) and has committed to bringing out one million Twin Engine or all-electric cars out onto the roads until 2025, according to [Volvo President and CEO Håkan] Samuelsson. Between 2019 and 2021 Volvo plans to launch five fully electric cars, three of which will be Volvo models and two that will be high performance electric vehicles from Polestar, Volvo's performance car division. Samuelsson said all of these electric vehciels will be new models and not necessarily new stylings of existing Volvo models.

Technical details on the vehicles were sparse during a press conference held by Volvo, but the company did offer some information about its three electric vehicle tiers. The mild electric vehicles, which Volvo views as a stepping stone away from ICEs, will feature a 48-volt system that will utilize a battery in conjunction with a system that will function as a starter, generator, and electric motor all in one and the Twin Engine will be a plug-in hybrid system. During the press conference Henrik Green, Senior VP of R&D at Volvo, said the company will be aiming to provide a “very competitive range” with these new vehicles, which he said will be available in medium range and long range – at least up to 500 kilometers (about 311 miles) on a charge. Green said Volvo has not yet settled on a battery supplier, but said the company is looking at all available suppliers for the best option. “ When it comes to batteries of course it's a highly competitive and important component in all the future pure battery electric vehicles,” he said. Samuelsson added that this should also be taken as an invitation for more companies to invest in battery research and development. “We need new players and competition in battery manufacturing,” Samuelsson said.
I don't think the solution to the battery problems lies in competition and more players, Mr. Samuelsson; I think you need new physics or perhaps a new universe.  There is no such thing as "Moore's Law of Batteries"; this is more an exercise in physics and chemistry than clever manufacturing.  While I'd never recommend betting against "clever", there's no methodical process at work like there was in the semiconductor industry during the heyday of Moore's Law.  To borrow a quote from that linked post on electric cars and batteries:
Battery research is slow compared to the semiconductor "internet speed" we're used to.  Think of how a battery works: two different materials give and take electrons at a voltage potential determined by the way the universe was put together.  All of the simple combinations have been tried and new ones are being researched daily.  The limits, though, are imposed by the universe.  In semiconductor work, the same materials are always worked on, the techniques for putting down dopants and photoresistive masks is all that changes.
I've tended to be hostile to electric cars and electric vehicles in general (and I've been taken to task over it) for a simple reason: from the fuel:power ratio perspective, they're so inefficient compared the power available with gasoline that I think of them as very niche vehicles.  They're just not cost-effective, even with the thousands of taxpayer dollars you get paid to buy one.  And remember GM executive Mark Reuss  telling reporters that his company wants to be the first to produce “electric cars that people can afford at a profit.”  As I've said a bunch of times now, battery makers are desperately trying to figure out how to reach a specific energy of 450 Wh/kg (Watt-hours per kilogram), gasoline already offers 12,000 Wh/kg.  One horsepower is 750 W, so turning Watt hours to Horsepower hours, batteries give 0.6 HP*h per kg, while gasoline offers 16 HP*h/kg.  Either way of looking at it, gas has over 26 times the energy density. 

That said, there is a niche.  If you use your car for nothing but easy commutes, they're another choice.  To modify what commenter Aesop said to the post on Electric Airplanes, if there's no gasoline, the electric vehicle by itself is no better than a gasoline-fueled car: both only move until the fuel source is used up.  A situation in which there's no gasoline available at all and no electric power to charge the car batteries for an extended period of times is a true SHTF event, and if you want your electric car to be chargeable with no power grid, you'd better plan for a solar panel farm and room full of batteries - just as you'd need to plan for a gasoline or diesel fuel tank if that's your fuel.  The advantage to the solar, of course, is that the tank is refilled by the sun and you can keep some mobility.  To some amount.  For a while. 

And since they're niche vehicles, going over to only EVs and hybrids will make Volvo purely a niche seller, if they're not already.
Would I buy one?  There's an area where I think an electric motor has a natural advantage over an internal combustion engine, but nobody makes a vehicle to take advantage of it (that I know of).  Electric motors, specifically the DC brushless motors used in virtually all electric cars, reach their absolute maximum torque at zero RPM.  This combination would be great for people pulling boats up ramps, towing campers, and other things that are common uses for SUVs and pickup trucks.  You pay for that "low end torque" in gasoline engines with larger cylinders (more cubic inches), longer piston strokes, and generally lower gas mileage.  An electric SUV optimized for that sort of use would definitely get a closer look from me!