Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Steven Crowder - It's Not Time for Unity, It's Time for An Alliance

As in the Allied powers of WWII.  Steven Crowder takes a break from writing comedy for his channel to do a video on the attack in Manchester last night . 

Like most of us, I'm sickened by the murder of innocents in the UK; this time young girls.  Apparently a venue full of girls in the (I've read) 10 to 20 age group was chosen as a way to outrage westerners, because in their minds if some "westerner" goes and kills a random mooslim, that will cause the so-called "moderate" mooslims to endorse Isis and cause the battle for the end of the world they're trying to create.  That it's a sick, twisted view of the world is an understatement.

Crowder wrote an accompanying piece for the Blaze with some highlights.  
If you want to practice Islam in the inconsequential, semi-secular sense. Fine. But the only way to solve this problem is to recognize that POLITICAL Islam and anyone who follows its prescription is inherently incompatible with Western values.

That means:

  • Want sharia courts?  You’re not welcome.
  • Think it’s okay to marry a six year old?  You’re not welcome.
  • Think it’s okay to strike your wife for ANY reason?  You’re not welcome.
  • Believe in ANY kind of punishment for apostasy?  You’re not welcome.
  • Believe in ANY kind of punishment for “blasphemy”?  You’re not welcome.

  • These are the kinds of values that progressives would defend against any radical Christians who believe any of the above. And rightfully so. So why can’t we all agree on these universally? Anyone who holds any of those beliefs is by definition, incompatible with the Western world.

    People are giving President Trump crap for calling them “losers.” Listen, the guy isn’t eloquent, but he’s right. These terrorists fear shame more than death. It’s why Abu Ghraib was such an outrage when American, female soldiers stripped them naked and laughed at them while dogs barked. To them, that is a far greater punishment than death or even torture. If any American received said treatment at the hands of ISIS, we’d thank the Lord above that we weren’t being burnt alive in cages. We don’t merely punish terrorists through death. We punish them through shame.

    At least ONE leader is willing to give it the old college try. So today, I stand with the president of the United States instead of trying to mince words on social media and virtue-signal about how much “unity” we need. We don’t need “unity”. We need an alliance. There’s a difference.
    For as bad as the attack was, Miguel at GunFreeZone posts a twitter capture that may just be worse, at least as a warning sign.
    British journalist Katie Hopkins posts a message that sure lines up with my view.  "Western men.  These are your wives.  Your daughters.  Your sons.  Stand up.  Rise up.  Demand action.  Do not carry on as normal.  Cowed."  For which she's reported to the police for "inciting racial hatred" - hate speech - by SJW DarrenB.

    That is probably worse than the attack itself. The attack was awful, but it’s the deliberate actions of a bunch of evil murderers trying to incite a war.  Evil is as evil does.

    The response, though, is the DarrenB saying “Kill a few more of my daughters. Have you tried raping my wife?  Take over the country and I’ll be your slave.”

    It's the Death of the West in one Twitter exchange. 

    Monday, May 22, 2017

    A Dog Who Sniffs Memory Chips? Color Me Skeptical

    A friend sent me this video from ATT.net of a dog from the FBI who can search out data memories.  I can't embed it here, so that's a link to the two minute NBC News video.  The summary is:
    Iris is one of many on the force who have the ability to do something that seems unimaginable: to smell digital storage media — computer chips — making them invaluable for law enforcement.
    Supposedly, the dog doesn't react to other electronics in the room, but can find hard drives, flash drives and other forms of memory storage.  The Daily Mail digs a little deeper into the story, saying,
    US firm Tactical Detection K9 discovered it was possible to train the dogs to detect electronic devices after asking scientists to identify the common byproduct used in external hard drives, SD cards, IPads, iPods and USB memory sticks.

    The dogs are trained to ignore other parts of the mobile phone or computer and not to touch the batteries.
    While we know dogs have incredible sense of smell and can detect scents no human can possibly detect, this one leaves me with Looney Tunes style cloud of question marks over my head. To say the dog doesn't respond to other electronics but can spot a thumb drive just doesn't seem believable.

    Let me point out that I never worked in the semiconductor business and never worked in packaging those components.  That said, I have the typical knowledge someone from the Hi-Reliability world will have.  I know about epoxy packages, ceramic packages, metal cans and much of what the packaging folks use.  I don't think it's possible for a dog to discriminate between a memory chip and any other integrated circuit because I think the same epoxy formulation is used in many places.  I know I get a lot of very smart readers including all sorts of engineers and I welcome your input, as I always do.  Are there some special compounds only used in memory packages?  According to some brief web searches, I'd say no.  There's no special mix for memory chips. 

    In the video linked at the top, they show Iris the black lab detecting hard drives and flash drives.  Nice, but those are very different inside.  A hard drive generally has some memory chips in it like the flash drive has, but the flash drive doesn't have any of the large mechanical features the hard drive has: no magnetic platters, no motors, and so on.  What they didn't show or talk about is what happens when Iris is in a room with an iPod or audio amplifier or plain old system that doesn't have digital components but has epoxy packaged linear circuits.  This is the inside of a thumb drive.  In addition to the two larger ICs marked, the "USB mass storage controller device", and the "Flash memory chip", smaller epoxy packages are seen at the right in the bottom view.  Those appear to be transistors. 

    Right now, most of our homes are literally stuffed with plastic-packaged ICs.  Not just our computers, tablets and phones, but many of our refrigerators, ranges, stoves, TVs, radios, air conditioners and on and on. Unless you've made a concerted effort to have no electronics in your house, you're surrounded by it. 

    Iris would be running around like a Pointer with OCD, shouting, "there it is! ... there it is!... no... it's here!...no...here!".   In many situations, people verifying the performance have found that the dogs were being given subtle cues by their handlers that they were getting close to the things the trainers had planted and not really finding them by their own means.  I wonder if that's what's really going on here.  Why the FBI wouldn't be exaggerating the abilities of their dogs as a psyop against criminals, would they?  Can you imagine?

    Sunday, May 21, 2017

    50 Years Ago

    On June 1st of 1967, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released by the Beatles.  The most famous album of its time, perhaps ever, with cover art that itself has become famous.
    Whoever owns the Beatles music has decided to remix and reissue the album for the anniversary.  (I have no idea who really owns it - at one time it was Michael Jackson)
    A new stereo mix of the album will be available as a single CD and as part of every other package. An expanded deluxe edition will be released digitally, as a two-CD set or two-LP vinyl package. A super deluxe six-disc box set will also be available.

    All three deluxe editions of Sgt. Pepper will boast previously unreleased complete takes of all 13 album tracks. The deluxe CD and digital versions will also include new stereo mixes: a previously unreleased instrumental take of "Penny Lane" and two unreleased takes of "Strawberry Fields Forever."
    The lead recording engineer on the project is Giles Martin, son of George Martin who did the original.  NPR music correspondent Bob Boilen put it this way:
    He's just remixed the album, which may seem to be a project that falls somewhere between the questions 'why do that?' and 'how dare you?' But, as Giles will explain and demonstrate to us by comparing the hastily done stereo mix we have come to know, from 1967, and the mono mixes George Martin and The Beatles spent weeks on (which nearly no one seems to listens to), there was good reason to undertake this project.
    As you might expect, glimpses of the final product have been leaking and are getting rave reviews.  Here, for example, is what's said to be the first take of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds".  For a 13 year old who had never heard anything like that, I was captivated by the ethereal opening keyboard line.  Most of us in the age group have heard the story that the lyrics were based on a picture John's son Julian had painted for a girl he knew named Lucy.  It came at the perfect time for John, who was growing beyond Barney-esque "I love you, you love me" lyrics and developing an appreciation for playing with words.  The turn was said to be at least partially inspired by Bob Dylan's lyrics and Lennon's own desire to be a sort of musical Lewis Carroll, with his love for Jabberwocky and Alice's Adventures In Wonderland.  Perhaps the crowning moment of this move was the song "I Am the Walrus".  The story there was that John received a letter from a child saying he had to analyze John's lyrics for class, so John decided to write the most confusing lyrics that he could. 

    Also being released as a part of the teaser is the "9th take" of the introduction to the album before the larger orchestra was mixed in.  At the end, Paul McCartney can be heard saying he thought they'd have it down after "one more day" of practicing that song.

    "Originally, I was against remixing the Beatles," Martin told Mojo magazine in a new interview. "But there’s a technical answer, which is that the stereo mix was never theirs and the mono mix, which they did themselves and is superior, does sound ‘old’, like it was done 50 years go. But this is one of the most important albums of all time – I don’t want it to ever sound ‘old’. Nor do the Beatles."
    In one sense, it feels strange to be able to remember this happening 50 years ago; in another sense it's a privilege too many people I've known don't have.  At 13, ending my 7th grade year, it was a year that would shape my life in several ways.  I was just learning to play guitar.  I was developing my hobby of taking apart electronics and trying to make things out of the parts.  A friend had a shortwave radio, and though I had heard shortwave before, I had never sat around and tuned the dial on one, trying to find out what I could hear.  In those days you could make a decent ham radio station taking apart a TV set, but I wouldn't get my ham license for another nine years. 
    "It was 20 years ago today
    Sargent Pepper taught the band to play
    They've going in and out of style
    But they're guaranteed to raise a smile..."

    Saturday, May 20, 2017

    GB-22 Progress is at a Crawl

    A couple of GB-22 posts ago, I asked how to go about testing something like this.  The suggestion that made the most sense to me was to pop the bullet out of .22LR round, dump the powder and just see if I can pop the primer.  Sounds like a plan.

    But first I had to build it.  Rude mistake/awakening: none of the ballpoint pen springs I could find were long enough. They also wouldn't drop the firing pin all the way.  About the same time, I was going through the prints for the umpteenth time looking for hints on what the spring needs to be.  In the original drawings Mark Serbu put down two numbers with the spring.  I just assumed it was some sort of in-house number for the spring, but then asked myself why there would two numbers.  A web search for the two numbers revealed that one of them was an MSC stock number for a spring.  They came in bag of 12, which I had to order.  I was able to assemble the gun.  All except for one last thing I'll get to.
    Clearly not finished, but much more "finished" than the last post that showed it on the milling machine after being cut out.  I went over the frame with a file, cleaning up all the edges, squaring up some features that milling rounded off; generally doing light finish work  Along the way of assembling it, I found a couple of places on the other pieces where I needed additional file work, but nothing major.

    There are two real differences between my implementation of the GB and Mark's: the firing pin and the barrel.  Mark used a 1/16" dowel pin for the pin.  Not wanting to play the shipping-costs-more-than-the-hardware game, and having a box of 100 1/8 dowel pins, I figured I'd grind one of them down.  It's pretty symmetrical, and centered in the hole.  

    The other difference between my version and Mark's is that he didn't use a separate barrel: he rifled the 2-1/2" long front piece of steel and reamed a chamber.  I am not set up to rifle barrels, so I bought one. That raised the issue of just where to seat the barrel.  Mark's drawing shows the back of his barrel chamber recessed for the rim, so that the round would be flush.  Re-watching his videos a bunch of times, the shell appears to be sitting on that surface, not flush with the back.  I spent a while with some fired .22 brass trying to hold the barrel in varying positions and see where the pin seemed to make a good solid dent.  Not surprisingly, it seemed to be best when the barrel was farther back.  I epoxied the barrel into the rectangular barrel holder so that the back of the chamber is flush with the holder.

    Old joke in quality control:  Designer puts a note on drawing "Build in accordance with MIL-TFP-41C".  QC Inspector says, "What Milspec is TFP-41C? I've never heard of that".  Designer replies, "Make It Like The F***ing Plans For Once!"  I didn't follow MIL-TFP-41C.

    With the GB-22 now built, it was with some trepidation and excitement that I pulled a .22 bullet, dumped the primer and chambered the brass.  I pulled back the slide, pulled the trigger and ... nothing.  No pop.  Tried again.  Nothing.  Thinking I should verify that I didn't somehow dislodge and dump the primer, I put it in a junky old .22 revolver I have, and it popped with one hammer drop.  No primer issues; the problems are purely with the GB-22.  With no other information, I pulled another .22 round apart and repeated.  On the third hammer drop, the round popped.  So one successful primer pop out of five or six trigger pulls.
    The round that fired on the third pull.  It's difficult to see, but the indentation that's closest to the rim isn't the one that fired it.  The second and third indentations push into that outer one.  Do I need a stronger spring? 

    Before I'd be comfortable taking the gun on the 40 minute drive to the my range, I'd like to resolve a couple of issues.  The first one is the obvious: it shouldn't take five slide drops to fire a round.  I notice in the YouTube videos that it's not that unusual to need to pull the trigger twice.  That would be a big improvement.  The second things is the general fit of the slide.  If I tighten the 10-32 screws in the slide all the way, the slide won't move.  That sounds like there are some burrs or "something sticking up" on the slide that's keeping it from sliding.  The two of these together sound like general "fit or function" improvements.  I have some troubleshooting to do before it's actually usable.

    Friday, May 19, 2017

    California Decides to Become Uninhabitable Within 10 Years

    According to a guest post on Watts Up With That, California's state assembly and senate have passed laws that require the state to reduce carbon emissions to 40% of the state's 1990 levels by the year 2030.  The new levels are 60% of the 2020 emissions levels, required by current CO2 reduction laws.  Yes, they are cascading reductions on top of other reductions which haven't been met, yet.
    It doesn't matter that this is thoroughly impractical or that it will have virtually no impact on anything they think it will and is among the purest forms of Virtue Signaling you'll find.  If you're reading this from home in the Golden State, plan your escape before property values collapse.  Get Out Now.

    WUWT author Larry Hamlin rightly says that if the state government is going to succeed, they're going to have to outlaw or strictly limit car usage - the largest source of CO2 emissions.  In fact, they'll have to go full tilt Agenda 21 or 2030 or whatever they're calling it today.  The state will have to control and dictate virtually every aspect of Californian’s lives including:
    • where and how they can live,
    • what kind of jobs and businesses they can work in,
    • what kind of housing they can have,
    • what kind of car they can drive (if any),
    • how many miles can they drive,
    • what kind of public transportation they must use,
    • how many times they must walk and bicycle,
    • how much and what kind of energy they can use,
    • what kind and how food can be farmed,
    The last of industry ought to be looking at making their escapes very soon.  I know Texas has been actively recruiting the fleeing Californians and I believe our state has been as well.
    The largest single source of the states (SIC) greenhouse gas emissions by far and away is the transportation sector (37%) with the industrial sector second (24%) , instate electricity generation third (12%) and import electricity generation and agriculture tied at fourth (8%).
    The benefit of all this disruption in California, essentially either massively reducing the state's population or removing most cars, is going to be immeasurably small - if there's any benefit at all.  In global terms, California's total CO2 emissions are less than 0.4% of the global CO2 emissions EIA forecasts for year 2030 and the reductions are 60% of that.  The rest of the planet, especially the "developing world" is proceeding with building coal fired power plants just about as fast as they can be built.

    In a piece I wrote in 2010, my first year here, I found a number for the amount of CO2 required to raise global temperature 1 degree C - according to the warmist's models. 1.8 million million metric tons.  California is going to reduce emissions by 172 million metric tons.  Since 172 is close to 180, lets be generous and round their reduction up to that.  That means they will reduce global temperature rise by 180/1,800,000 or .0001 degree C, which simply isn't detectable in a system as big as the planet.  

    It's a well-known truism that "gun control isn't about guns; it's about control".  The same goes here: "it's not about carbon dioxide control, it's about control".  Who's going to be left in California?  Limousine liberals, and rich Hollywood types.  Many environmentalists have said they'd like to see the number of humans reduced by 95%.  This way, they might get their wish in their state without actually having to kill anyone off.  

    Thursday, May 18, 2017

    Economic Idiocy From Bloomberg Business Week

    A couple of days ago, Bloomberg published a piece on retirees that made my jaw drop.  "Rich Retirees Are Hoarding Cash Out of Fear".  It seemed incredibly uninformed about the reality for retirees and never mentioned things that seem to me to be major drivers of behavior.

    I suppose I should point out that I don't think I qualify as a rich retiree.  I think I'm a middle class/ working class guy who managed to retire.  Maybe I shouldn't extrapolate my concerns to the real rich people they're talking about. On the other hand, the article is so ... dense, so full of wrong assumptions and bad thinking that I just can't let it slip by. 

    That aside, it's hard to know just where to start with the Bloomberg piece, but the opening sentence is this:
    There’s a time in everyone’s life to save. There’s also a time when you’re supposed to spend. That time is commonly known as retirement.
    I think that's a strange way to put it.  Yes, we save for retirement and spend down our savings for the rest of our lives, but in our case, we've found our expenses have dropped quite a bit.  Going to work has costs associated with it.  Clothes and shoes, gas for the cars, and a bunch of other more minor expenses that we find we don't have - or have quite a bit less often.  Furthermore, it's a general rule that as we get older, we need less because we've bought it already.  Sure, we need to spend money on repair and replacement of some things, and some new things, but how many people do you know who have regular garage sales or donations or even rent a storage warehouse because they have too much stuff?  That's what happens as you approach retirement age.  We're spending less because our expenses are lower, not fear.
    Millions of Americans aren’t doing that, however, which has put the U.S. in a perverse situation. Younger generations aren’t saving enough as their income slips further behind previous generations. Older Americans meanwhile sit atop unprecedented piles of assets built through stock market and real estate booms.

    Yet these retirees, or at least the affluent ones, aren’t spending it. It turns out they’re afraid of the unknown.
    At a retirement planning seminar held at work, the number one fear in this room full of people approaching retirement was ... outliving their money.  Given that fear, what's the most likely thing people are going to do?  Watch their spending.  Bloomberg goes on to say that on the average and adjusting for inflation, retirees are entering their 80s richer than they were in their 60s and 70s.  That's saying their savings are still returning for them.  That's a good thing not a bad. 

    Yet there are forces in society who want you to spend.  The article quotes several sources as studying the "problem" of why retirees are spending as much as these experts think they should.   They ask why.
    Notice the wording of the least common fear, "dying before I can spend all my savings", is actually the opposite of the most common fear in the seminar where I worked, "spending all my savings before I die".   The other two big fears are more in line with it.  Not being able to live my desired lifestyle (I'll add "on what I have saved") and not knowing how much I can spend tie directly to this fear of outliving our money and being financially ruined by disease or one of the ravages of aging.  No one wants to live out their last days, cold, homeless and starving. 

    One of the researchers behind this is Texas Tech University Professor Christopher Browning, who actually says, we need to "train people to spend".  He says that even as retirees live longer, healthier lives, they’ve become more pessimistic about the economy, the stock market, and their own financial situation.  They go on to say that financial planners and advisors should emphasize teaching retirees about ways to generate a more stable income, something more like a regular paycheck.

    No.  The answer is to let the free market set interest rates and not the central banks.  The central banks are the single biggest threat to retirees and their earning powers.  There's no way of knowing how many retirees they've actually killed.

    The problem facing everyone who attempts to live on savings in retirement is Yield Purchasing Power and that's 100% a function of the Federal Reserves' ZIRP and the phony money we're forced to use.
    A generation ago, 1979, one could earn a decent retirement income with the interest on savings of $100,000.  Today, it takes 1000 times that, $100 Million to earn that income.  How many of us have $100,000,000 in savings to retire on?  

    What does this mean for anyone with less than what they need to support themselves—$100M and rising? They must liquidate their capital, and live by consuming their savings. It’s terrifying to anyone in that position—which means anyone in the middle class.
    The whole purpose of the horrible ZIRP policies, policies that have distorted our economy into some sort of abomination, is to "train people to spend"!  It's the most likely reason for the worldwide war on cash: to force people into spending.  Right now, if they charge negative interest rates, you can stick your money in a safe, like they did in Japan, or you can invest in Bank of Sealy.  If there's no such thing as cash, you can't stick cash in a safe.  You're screwed.  You're forced to either spend your money or watch it evaporate.  It gives them nearly total control over you. 

    The real problem with all the policies intended to "train people to spend" is that there's no real data showing it works.  The planners say, "if we make it hard on savers, it will make more sense for them to spend".   Instead, real people seem to be saying, "if the interest rates are so low, I really need to save more".  The problem of an economy based on debt is that when people don't need to constantly buy more, it crashes the economy.  That's what the whole "train people to spend" is all about. 

    We shouldn't be burning off our savings and if we had a real-money economy, we probably wouldn't need to.  From my piece on Yield Purchasing Power from '15,  I quoted from someone using the analogy of thinking of our savings as a family farm we've built and grown over our careers.
    To come back to the analogy of the family farm, people should think in terms of how much food it can grow, not how much food they can buy by selling the farm. The tractor is good for producing food, not to be exchanged for it. Why, then, do people think of the purchasing power of their life savings, in terms of its liquidation value?
    Why? We're forced to by Fed and the central banks. 

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    Video of the Day

    Andrew Klavan does just over three minutes of what the news sounds like to me these days.


    Tuesday, May 16, 2017

    A Rotary Axis for the CNC G0704 Mill

    When I first started out on the G0704 conversion project, it was always in the long range plan to make the mill a large version of the Sherline/A2ZCNC hybrid I was coming from, and part of that was to add a rotary axis and make it a four axis CNC machine.  When I bought parts, I planned for the fourth axis: four of the big NEMA 23 571 in-oz motors, four stepper controllers, and so on.  I chose the rotary table that would be used early last fall and caught it on a Black Friday sale at Wholesale Tool.  Things like this don't go on sale very often, and I was glad to get it for 20% off (IIRC).

    Today, I completed the modification to the rotary table and got it running.

    Now considering I've had the table since around December 1st, you might want to ask why it took me so long to get it running.   Especially considering I finished the mill in early February, and have been tweaking and improving it ever since.  It's really a simple story.  The first time I tried to pull the crank handle to see what it takes to mount a motor, I couldn't get the handle off.  So I said, "some day when I have some time" and there it sat.  Well that reason and not having a pressing need for it. 

    The trick was to assume the handle could be persuaded to come off with a few light taps of a hammer on a screwdriver wedge, which it did.  The handle covered a pair of concentric cast iron disks, which is probably one casting finished differently on each layer.  It had three holes in it, although they weren't used.  I compared the pattern to one of the leftover "Phase 1" motor mounts I made over a year ago, and found that holes didn't line up, but that I could add new holes to my motor mount and drill and tap two new holes in this piece.  It looks something like this.  You can see the two new holes on the left and right of the centerline:
    With the two new holes added to this, and the motor mount drilled to match, it was simple to put together.  I had some threaded standoffs leftover from Phase 1 as well; some that were too long some that were too short.  Clearly, I used the long ones, which were cut off and re-threaded. It went together with no issues whatsoever. 
    The motor mount is held to the rotary table (far right) with two 8-32 screws; the motor is attached to the threaded standoffs with 10-32 screws, as the standoffs are attached to the motor mount.

    Now that it's done, it's probably going to get put aside for a while.  There are no projects in the queue that require one.  A rotary axis is essential for some projects, simplifies some and has no use in others. 

    For those of you who are new to this subject, and wonder why someone would do this, here's a brief overview.  Rotary axes can be introduced parallel to the two main Cartesian axes.  The rotary axis parallel to X is generally called the A-axis and is most common.  One parallel to the Y axis is called B.  Aside from an A-axis, like mine is mounted, the most common "next step" is a full five axis CNC mill.  The guy whose plans I bought for my starting point, Hoss, has used this rotary table to make a "Fifth Axis" version of his mill.  He says he didn't use it enough to keep it and just left the rotary table in place.  The drawback to fifth axis mills, besides the cost of the machine, is the cost of the CAM software to take advantage of it.  That's the main reason I'm sticking with using it as an A-axis. 

    Monday, May 15, 2017

    Researchers Provide New Data on the Stagnation of Middle Class Wages

    The National Bureau of Economic Research issued a paper (behind a paywall) last month that the Washington Post reported on last week.  The message that American wages have been stagnating since the 80s or 90s is terribly optimistic.  The wage stagnation has been going on since about 1960.

    On average, workers born in 1942 earned as much or more over their careers as workers born in any year since, according to this research — and workers on the job today shouldn’t expect to catch up with their predecessors in their remaining years of employment.
    Assuming workers born in 1942 were working by 1960 to 1962, those people have probably earned as much or more than workers born 40 years later and starting work 2000 to 2002.
    The new paper includes some “astonishing numbers,” said Gary Burtless, an economist at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution who was not involved in the research. “The stagnation of living standards began so much earlier than people think,” he said.
    The study examined career earnings for workers born in every year since 1932, and differentiated between men and women.  Those who didn’t work or only rarely worked were excluded, focusing instead on those who spent at least 15 years in the labor force.  Wage and salary data from the federal Social Security Administration was used to calculate the career earnings of the median worker born in each year.

    One of the difficult traps in a study like this is normalizing the wages to constant dollars, which they state they've done, but about which the Post article says nothing.  The original is behind a paywall, so I can't tell from there either.  Chances are they used something based on official CPI numbers, which we know are not only manipulated wholesale, but the manipulation methods change over time.  This raises a flag with me, but I don't think it's fair to dismiss the study over just that. 

    The charts they produce are like this, showing the wage vs. time progression for various groups that started working in particular years.  Their incomes at ages 25 and 55 were compared.  In this plot, the fist cohort were 25 in 1960.  The cohort that was 25 in 1967 started out making almost 30% more and their earnings 30 years later were only about 8% higher.  You can see how the cohort that was 25 in 1980 started out at the same adjusted wages as those from 1967 and in 2010 they were making less than a worker from 1967 at the same age in that workers' life. 
    According to the paper's abstract:
    First, from the cohort that entered the labor market in 1967 to the cohort that entered in 1983, median lifetime income of men declined by 10%–19%. We find little-to-no rise in the lower three-quarters of the percentiles of the male lifetime income distribution during this period. Accounting for rising employer-provided health and pension benefits partly mitigates these findings but does not alter the substantive conclusions. For women, median lifetime income increased by 22%–33% from the 1957 to the 1983 cohort, but these gains were relative to very low lifetime income for the earliest cohort.
    The chart for women:
    The Post adds:
    The study, published Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, has not been peer reviewed, so other economists may yet challenge both specific results and the paper’s general conclusions. All the same, the research offers an answer to a couple of important questions that have been nettling economists.

    In particular, the results show that more unequal incomes are not just a result of a widening gap between younger and older workers. Even among older workers, typical incomes have been falling while the wealthiest have been enjoying more and more of the economy’s gains. Poorer workers — who tend to be younger — will earn more as they get older, but they are not likely to earn enough to make up the difference.
    The short version to me is first of all, "it's worse than we think", and that leads to the question of "why is this happening".  I've written on the topic of the decline in wages several times and have had a tendency to think it correlates with going off the gold standard to debt-based "phony money" in 1971, but the problem predates that by a decade.  Which is not to say going to debt-based money couldn't be a factor in the problem since the 70s, perhaps exacerbating the root problem.  Nothing says problems can't have more than one cause.  The researchers don't offer any mechanisms to explain, saying that perhaps they're looking in the wrong places and need new avenues of research. 
    In the past, a good guide to forecasting typical career earnings among Americans of a given age has been their average income they were 25.

    The implication, Guvenen argues, is that economists should search for explanations for households’ current financial woes in the youth and childhood of today’s workers.

    “We are maybe looking at the wrong place for the solution to stagnation in wages and rising inequalities,” Guvenen said. “To understand higher inequality, we should turn and take a closer look at youth.”
    I'd like to see the same type of study done across other economies.  Most people will say it's because of off-shoring or outsourcing jobs or blame it on the Evil Rich People.  Bill Bonner had a good summary in a piece I quoted a year ago
    Most economists (and politicians) have blamed world trade for stagnant U.S. wages. The median wage in China is only $8 a day. No wonder U.S. factory hands can’t catch a break; who can compete with that? 

    But Germans compete with the Chinese, too. And their wages have gone up! In real terms, after adjusting for inflation, wages in France and Germany have been going up at a 0.7% rate for the past 15-20 years.
    So why are wages in France and Germany going up while American wages are going down?   

    Sunday, May 14, 2017

    Mother's Day

    Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there.  To the rest of you, if you're fortunate enough to be able to: call your mother.  Since Mother's Day is historically the busiest day for the phone system, you may have to try a few times. 

    Mike Myles over at 90 Miles From Tyranny links to a neat piece on Live Science with five pretty cool facts about mothers that aren't well known.
    I got up at 4 to start a pork butt in the smoker, and have been poking it along for just over 10 hours.  We have a few to go.  Enjoy your day.

    Saturday, May 13, 2017

    WTF, Tillerson? I Thought You Were Sane

    From Watts Up With That,
    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed his name Thursday to a document that affirms the need for international action against climate change, adding further uncertainty to the direction of climate policy under the Trump administration.

    The document, signed by Tillerson and seven foreign ministers from Arctic nations meeting this week in Fairbanks, Alaska, says the participants concluded their meeting “noting the entry into force of the Paris agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”

    Called the Fairbanks Declaration, the document says the leaders signed it “recognizing that activities taking place outside the Arctic region, including activities occurring in Arctic states, are the main contributors to climate change effects and pollution in the Arctic, and underlining the need for action at all levels.”

    After vowing that the U.S. would “continue to be vigilant in protecting the fragile environment in the Arctic,” Tillerson said this about current U.S. climate policy:

    “In the United States, we are currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change. We’re appreciative that each of you has an important point of view and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns. We’re not going to rush to make a decision. We’re going to work to make the right decision,” he added, pausing ever so briefly before ending with the phrase, “for the United States.”
    Before a bunch of you start up with, "the parties are both the same":  (1) I've said that more times than it's worth linking to, and (2) the only thing Trump had going for him was that he was an outsider and he hired a guy like Tillerson who was an outsider - screamed at by the left because he was from Exxon and was supposed to be sane.  Some outsiders, huh?

    What we see in the Trump administration is what I always thought would happen with a third party president.  Both parties and the deep state apparatchiks organize against him and prevent him from doing anything.  Yes, he has accomplished several nice things, but they're almost all executive orders, and while I think the fewer of those the better it's looking like the only things he'll get done are by executive orders. 

    Eric Worral, the author at Watts Up, concludes with:
    While the Paris Treaty Agreement was never formally recognised as US Law, the advice of the White House counsel is that it could still impact the decisions of US courts when considering vexatious legal challenges to oil and gas drilling activities brought by environmental activists.

    Friday, May 12, 2017

    Machining The GB-22 Is Done - Pic Intensive

    Just an update on the progress on the GB-22.  A really good question is, "what's taking you so long?" and I don't have a good answer except that I'm not a real machinist, I just play one on the Intertoobs.  It's taking me time to try to decide how to do things so that I break the least amount of parts.  Hopefully, none of my work holding schemes fall apart and send dangerous projectiles around the shop.  Also hopefully, I don't break delicate tools.  Well, I achieved the first one. 

    My concern is that long "diving board" spring that forms the trigger.  It's a piece of steel about 1-7/8 long and 1/10" thick - that ends in a big, chunk of metal 1-1/8 by 3/4 (the trigger).  I didn't want that to be unsupported at any time.  In my last update, I said I'd cut four passes: (1) a 3/8 wide end mill (EM) to remove most of the metal, leaving a thin skin on every surface, (2) a 1/4 EM to get final sizes and shapes, (3) a 1/8 EM to cut the slot and back of the trigger, and (4) a pass to cut the slot in the frame for the trigger to move. 

    After a lot of consideration, I thought I should cut the 1/8 wide slot first. Nothing unsupported here.
    For orientation, that's the top screw in the grips, and the four things in the upper right are 1/8" spring pins.  I broke the first of two cutters here.  I was cleaning chips out of the groove and bumped the emergency stop button for the spindle.  It took me a couple of seconds to realize what was going on and hit the start button again, and when I did, I think it broke a flute off the 1/8" EM.  A little while later, the cutter snapped off, and while picking up the pieces noticed that the flute was broken off.  I was able to change bits and get going again, with just a minor delay to re-zero the Z-axis. 

    Next I questioned why I should bother with the 3/8" EM pass at all.  I spent a bit of time with my feeds and speeds calculators and my CAM program getting different tool path to compare and seeing what difference it makes.  Cutting the whole thing with the 1/4" bit is slower than just the 3/8, but the 3/8 is followed by the 1/4 and the combination doesn't really seem to be appreciably faster than just going with 1/4", so that's what I did. 
    This is one pass along the top of the frame with the 1/4"EM fairly deep; right to left at this point.  At the end of this operation, the extra steel was removed.  This is a milestone!  And it freed up the raw material for the next GB-22 frame.
    (note my high-tech cover to keep the exposed ballscrew from getting coolant spray and chips on it - a ZipLoc bag and duct tape)

    Finally, it was time to cut the most delicate cut, that 3/32 wide slot in the frame.  Like I said, this cut made me nervous, and I thought the way to fix that was to add a threaded hole in my tooling plate and add one of the small clamps from my Sherline.  I drilled and tapped a hole for the cap screw, that ordinarily rides in a Tee-nut on the Sherline.
    With that in place, I needed to stick the 3/32 EM farther out of the holder than I'd like, more like 3/8" than 1/4".  This was done with a simple file that just went to points at the start and end of the slot, advance the cutter from start to end, raise the cutter above the work, go back to the start, lower it to the next level and do it over.  When I completed the cut, it was at the wrong depth, and while trying to figure out why it hadn't cut to the proper depth so I could fix it, I broke that cutter.  I was able to complete the cut and with it, machining of the frame.
    There's some work to be done before I can assemble it: some file work on the seer to get the shape right, some corners to square up here and there, minor stuff.  

    A minor word on software.  This is a software intensive hobby, between CAD, CAM, the Machine controller and so on.  I mentioned a "speeds and feeds" calculator that I'm using and I'm impressed enough with it to recommend it.  Speeds and feeds refers to the RPM of the cutter (or work, in the case of a lathe) and the rate that the axis motors feed the work into the cutter.  This is a recurrent problem for all sorts of machine work and has generally been solved with tables, graphs and look-up data of all kinds.  I had been getting pitches from CNC Cookbook for a while for their GWizard software and always put it off, thinking it was too fancy for my Sherline, hobby-class machine.  When I got the big mill going, I figured it might be time to take a more critical look.  They offer it on sale regularly and I picked up a copy of both the GWizard and the GCode Editor as a package last time.  It's on sale again for the next week, so you might want to check it out.   If you use a spindle motor of 1 HP or less, it's a one time purchase.  If you want to enter higher horse powers, you'll have to buy annual (or life) subscriptions.  (No financial connection or interest, yada yada)

    Wednesday, May 10, 2017

    .02 on the Comey Firing

    I guess I'll contribute my two cents on Trump's firing of James Comey, like so many other folks are doing.

    My only complaint about the actual firing is that it should have happened around Inauguration Day or weekend.  Maybe by robocall as soon as the Oath of Office had been administered.  "Hello Director Comey, this is a recorded message from your President Trump.  You're fired.  This has been a recording".

    I try to be consistent here, and in life in general.  I said Comey had made the FBI a laughingstock after his July Cop Out last summer, in a piece on July 6th
    The director of the FBI has singlehandedly struck a mortal blow to the rule of law in America and simultaneously turned the FBI into a laughing stock agency that no one can possibly take seriously anymore.  We have transitioned into that dangerous territory of a nation Without Rule of Law.
    I stayed consistently hard on him throughout the campaign.  Like in early October when he complained people were calling him a weasel
    You don't carry water for anyone? Listen, Director Weasel, I've had those clearances and I don't believe for a nanosecond that I would have been treated like Hillary. I don't know anyone who has had those clearances who feels they would have been treated that way.
    You hung the weasel name tag around your own neck. Don't get mad at us for using it.
    Or in late October, when there was an article that he was sick of the beating he was getting for being such a weasel.
    Maybe I watched a bit too much of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. during my junior high and high school days, but his lack of spine was disgraceful for an FBI agent, let alone director.  As I said before, everyone may assume that he went full weasel on this because of concern for showing up dead, but I thought guys in his position weren't supposed to be so easily intimidated.
    I checked my reactions when conservatives were supposed to suddenly love the guy, when he did his couple-of-days reversal on Hildebeest.  Just to make sure I didn't suddenly act as though I liked the guy.  I think I did OK.  
    Does this matter?  In a reality where Comey thoroughly discredited the FBI (and then gets mad when everyone talks about them being weasels), it's hard to say.
    If there's one thing I hate with a burning rage about modern politics is that it has turned into some sort of crappy substitute for a team sport.  You know: when "their guy" does something it's the most horrible thing in the history of History, but if "our guy" does the same thing, then it's no big deal.  Along that line of thinking, there's the predictable outrage of people defending Comey who were calling for his firing a few months ago.  There's a recording from last night where Colbert tells the audience the breaking news of Comey's firing and they cheer.  Colbert is aghast saying something like "Huge Trump supporters here!"  Rush suggested it's not that they're Trump supporters, but because they can't keep track of whether they're supposed to love him, like last July when he let Hillary get away with all those felonies, or hate him like when they decided he cost her the election.  I think he might be right. 
    Can't resist the Ramirez cartoon - for the third time. 

    Tuesday, May 9, 2017

    Bob Owens Gone at 46

    I must admit to feeling like I'd been gut punched on hearing of the rather untimely passing of Bob Owens to an apparent suicide - not that there's ever a "timely".  I just don't expect it in someone almost 20 years younger than I am.
    No, I didn't know Bob.  I never spoke with him, never texted; I don't Twitter and I killed my Facebook account a couple of years ago.  I only know him from reading his writings on Bearing Arms and seeing him on TV a few times.  Still, like I remarked about feeling affected when Carrie Fisher died, for some reason I got to feel like I knew him.  Perhaps the writing style, the subject, those indefinable somethings that come across as personality. 

    It's always sad to see someone feel so desperate in life that they feel that's the only reasonable answer (if, indeed, it's what it appears).  I feel terrible for his wife and kids.  His co-editor at Bearing Arms, Jenn Jacques, seems to have been hit pretty hard as well as you might imagine.  People who have had a family member or close friend take their own life often have a hard time with it and it can spread in a family.

    It's particularly nauseating to read the comments on Breitbart from the anti-gun forces.  Miguel at Gun Free Zone captured some of the disgusting comments from the CSGV.  It's a given that they will dance in the blood of any tragedy involving a gun, but it's particularly disgusting today.

    Monday, May 8, 2017

    It's OK If Migrants Rape Me; I'll Heal, Says Teen Czech Girl Scout

    On the far side of the Atlantic, the debates in the scouting community are a bit different than here in the Collapsing States of America.  On our side, we debate whether people should use bathrooms that match their "factory standard plumbing fixtures".  In Europe, they're actually debating whether Europe survives.  Even if they don't know it, as is the case with this young girl.  PJ Media tells the story.  
    This past May Day, much ado was made about one Czech Scout, Lucie Myslikova, who dared to confront a Neo-Nazi demonstrator while wearing her scouting uniform. Google the event and you’ll get a slew of headlines about the teenager who “Stood Up to the Far-Right” and the photo of the “girl standing up to a skinhead” that went viral.
    The media went into full-tilt fawning mode.  A schoolgirl crush on a schoolgirl, if you will, and emphasized that angle, not the discussion itself.  It's such a dramatic image!  That'll sell us some magazines!!

    But what were the girl scout and the "Neo-Nazi" actually talking about?  It becomes a bit harder to find out than you might think.
    What, exactly, was she discussing with the skinhead? “The nation,” “borders,” and “migration.” The details of the discussion were quickly brushed aside by Western media anxious to highlight the image of a young woman confronting an adult male—something Fortune was so impressed with that they spun it into a montage of photographs of women staring down men at political rallies across Europe.
    It turns out, you need to read French to find out.
    If you want to know what she actually said, you’d have to translate an article that appeared in the French language publication the Paris Match. There, buried in the last paragraph, is a quote from the exchange between the Scout and the Neo-Nazi regarding immigration. When the Neo-Nazi asserted the teen would be “violated by those she defends,” Myslikova replied, “Even if something happened to me, the physical wounds always end up healing.”
    It's hard to be that naive, but I'll cut her some slack for being a child.  She has clearly never heard of nor seen someone who was killed by the "physical wounds (which) always end up healing".  It's a stunning ignorance of reality in the name of some globalist's diversity agenda.  The European death wish in one sentence.
    A girl wearing a Scout uniform willingly acknowledged that she could be raped by an immigrant, something that is happening to women across Europe in record numbers. Then, she essentially reasoned, I’ll get over it, and the Western world lifts her up as a hero. She justified rape in the name of political discourse. A Girl Scout opened herself up to sexual assault for the sake of her political beliefs.
    France may have voted for their perceived lesser of two evils, but what they did is ensure that the Islamization and subsequent destruction of Europe will proceed unabated.  About eight or ten years ago, I heard Mark Steyn saying if an American wanted to go see the great capitals of Europe, they had about five years before the trip would be meaningless.  I think he got it pretty close.  Yes, there are one or two bright spots in Europe, but the Dark Ages are descending.

    Sunday, May 7, 2017

    A Little GB-22 Update

    Let me lead with the conclusion: I'm not done yet.   

    On the other hand, I'm very close to making the last piece, the frame itself.  All of the other pieces are cut and ready, mistakes have been left in place, and recovered from as best as can be.  The frame is to be cut from a piece of 3/16" thick steel and looks like the brownish piece here:
    The turquoise colored piece is there to take up room, so that when I tell my CAM program to make tool paths to cut that frame out, it doesn't waste time cutting away that area.  My plan is to cut the main outline out with a 3/8 square nose cutter (End Mill) and leave a bit of a skin on it - about 25mils thick.  This cuts away the majority of the frame, cuts away most of the metal inside the trigger guard and that large open area in the top of the frame, where the slide goes.  This gets followed by another machining operation with a smaller cutter, 1/4", that gets everything except for the area around the trigger and that small gap extending to the left.  The small slot between the trigger and the frame will get cut with a special cutter bought just for that.  

    I hold this on the machine to cut with those screw holes in the handle: 10-32 screws threaded into a plate that holds it for the cutting.  Up in the frame picture, around where the barrel mounts, you'll see four 1/8" holes.  Those line up with matching holes in the barrel holder and 1/8" spring pins make the mechanical connection.  Since 1/8 is in that awkward range that's too large for a #4 and too small for a #6 screw, I'm undecided on how to firmly attach those holes to my tool plate.  Today, I did a test cut to ensure the system could hold a piece of sheet metal down, withstand a generous cut (in aluminum), and come out the right size.  Because the piece of 1/16" aluminum I had was too small to cut the entire outline, only one of those four was available, so I added two special tooling holes to hold the plate in place and used the spring pins as fasteners.  It was all rock solid.  Those extra holes are visible in this picture on the left side of the frame and just in from the right edge of the frame, below and to the right of the real pin hole. 
    This is the result of the test cut and came out as expected.  My next move is to go to on to the steel plate. 

    I showed the barrel and holder a month ago; here are the three parts of the slide, the sides and the shorter middle piece.  Note the fancy cuts on the left edge of the short piece.  That had to be done by the CNC and tested out to make sure it worked.  The two long pieces, BTW, are not supposed to be beveled on the end facing the camera.  Oops.  Purely cosmetic, so "no harm, no foul".  Since I don't have metal white-out, these will stay that way. 
    I'm pretty bad at estimating how long it's going to take to finish this, but I'd hope to get the first rounds through it this week.  I had no idea what to use for the spring that drops the firing pin onto the round (the firing pin is just visible as a nub above the centerline on the right hand piece).  I found a few bad ballpoint pens around here and grabbed the strongest spring to try.  I need some grips.  In the CAD world, I took a pair of 1911 grips and modified the hole spacing to fit the handle, since 1911 drawings are widely available.  Scaling the whole grip to make up for the hole spacing being different made them too narrow, though, so I need to start over.

    How do you test a pistol you've made?  How do you fire the first round?  I'd like to go to my club range when nobody's around and try a few different things.  Maybe the typical "long string"?  I have some subsonic .22, and that might be quiet enough to use inside the shop.  Just to make sure the spring is strong enough.  A subsonic 22 shouldn't be any louder than a nail gun or a hammer, right? 

    Some of you may be unaware that Mark came up with a closed bolt version of the GB-22.  I haven't heard anything about plans being available, but I signed up for the mailing list, so I'd hope they'd let those of us who bought the originals know about that.  Along another interesting path, the ECCO Machine video channel upgraded the pistol to a .380 centerfire, the GB-380.  People are having fun with the basic idea of the GB-22; this guy answers my basic "how do you test it?" question by firing a blank in his shop. 

    Saturday, May 6, 2017

    Got an Android Phone? Ultrasonic Tracking is Growing

    In November of '15, I reported on a story about how advertisers were embedding ultrasonic tones, 18 to 20 kHz, in TV ads and using it for a whole new level of user tracking.  These tones are beyond normal human hearing, but within the bandwidth of most phones' audio paths.
    These sounds, above the range of human hearing, are embedded into TV commercials or are played when a user encounters an ad displayed in a computer browser.  While you can't hear the sound, nearby tablets and smartphones can detect it.  When they do, browser cookies can now pair a single user to multiple devices and keep track of what TV commercials the person sees, how long the person watches the ads, and whether the person acts on the ads by doing a Web search or buying a product.  Of course, they also know the location of all those appliances, too. 
    While I don't see how they could know "how long a person watches the ads" - you could leave your phone in the room with the TV or computer and be somewhere else.  I could see, though, that if your phone shows you were exposed to a TV ad for something and some time later did a web search on that subject, they might conclude you saw it and were influenced by it. 

    In that article, I wrote about industry-leader SilverPush, a rapidly growing (50% per quarter) Indian software company.  Under pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, they promised in March of '16 that they were going to kill off their product, a Software Development Kit (SDK) that allows others to write software that does the tracking and correlating.  Yesterday, ARS Technica reported the use of their SDK seems more widespread than ever.
    As of January, there were 234 Android apps that were created using SilverPush's publicly available software developer kit, according to the paper, [pdf warning] which was published by researchers from Technische Universitat Braunschweig in Germany. That represents a dramatic increase in the number of Android apps known to use the creepy audio tracking scheme. In April 2015, there were only five such apps.
    A representative sample of just five of the 234 apps have been downloaded from 2.25 million to 11.1 million times, according to the researchers, citing official Google Play figures. None of them discloses the tracking capabilities in their privacy policies.
    SilverPush is denying everything.  Founder Hitesh Chawla said his company abandoned the ad-tracking business in late 2015.
    "We respect consumer privacy and would not want to build our business foundation where the privacy is questionable," he told Ars. "Even when we were live, our SDK was not present in more than 10 to 12 apps. So there is no chance that our presence in 234 apps is possible. Every time a new handset gets activated with our SDK, we get a ping on our server. We have not received any activation for six months now."
    In a case like this, I trust the German researchers over the software company.  The team that did the research says all 234 apps positively contain the SilverPush SDK.  That means phones that have the apps installed are silently listening for ultrasonic sounds without the knowledge or consent of their owners.  On the other hand, the researchers were unable to find any ultrasonic beacons in TV audio, although they thought their tests were too limited in time and scope to really know.  For their part Google said everything in the Google Play store had to meet their requirements for developers to "comprehensively disclose how an app collects, uses and shares user data, including the types of parties with whom it's shared."  They never answered the question (from ARS) asking why none of five apps cited in the research findings disclosed the SilverPush functions.  As of yesterday, when the ARS published the story, those apps were still in the store. 

    There are uses for this technology that are considered ethical.  Marketers can track the whereabouts of shoppers as they move throughout a large department store. Promoters using other companies' audio-beacon technologies can also use them to push ads or coupons to people who are near a certain store or service. The researchers said two services—Shopkick and Lisnr—use ultrasonic beaconing for legitimate purposes such as these, and they disclose the tracking prominently.
     (Graphic from the Technische Universitat Braunschweig pdf)
    There are some other possible uses that are considered rather less ethical.  Note in particular the last sentence here:
    Advertisers, for example, may use the beacons with no disclosure at all to measure how often a particular TV ad is viewed. The technology can also be covertly used to perform cross-device tracking that allows marketers to tie a single person to the multiple media devices she uses. The researchers said the beacons could similarly be used to identify people using the Tor anonymity service.
    The German paper was presented at the recent (late April)  2nd annual IEEE European Symposium on Security and Privacy in Paris, France. In the paper, the researchers wrote:
    In summary, an adversary is able to obtain a detailed, comprehensive user profile by creating an ultrasonic side channel between the mobile device and an audio sender. Our case study on three commercial ultrasonic tracking technologies reveals that the outlined tracking mechanisms are not a theoretical threat, but actively deployed (e.g. Shopkick and Lisnr) or at least in the process of being deployed (e.g. SilverPush).
    I'm somewhat paranoid about privacy (a blogger with a pseudonym?  Who would've guessed?) and this technology creeps me out.  I don't want things running on my devices that I don't know about.  It even creeps me out when the Weather Channel app puts a little footer on my iPhone that says, "Good morning" and uses my name.  My policy on all software is "when I want something out of you, I'll ask you".  This stuff brings to mind the increasingly prophetic scene in Minority Report, where Tom Cruise's character is walking into a store and the ads are calling him by name - everything targeted at him.  Along with everyone else in the store creating a constant cacophony of ads.  I don't like the idea of being watched, listened to or tracked at all, and I don't particularly like the idea of ads being shoved in my face all the time.


    Friday, May 5, 2017

    The Diet Sodas and Strokes Study - Junk Science?

    Back in late April, the "scientists say" study of the week became a study from the American Heart Association's journal Stroke which said drinking as little as one diet soda a day led to a nearly 3x relative risk of ischemic strokes (loss of blood flow) or Alzheimer's disease.  (The exact numbers were 2.96x for stroke and 2.89x for dementia)  The conclusion of the piece was that artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with the increased risk while sugar-sweetened soft drinks were not.  The press immediately jumped into action saying "one diet coke a day triples your risk!". 

    So what's going on here?  Is this meaningful?  Is it presumptuous of me to call a study in a prestigious journal junk?  Stay tuned...

    To begin with, the study used nice-sized groups; sure I'd like to see bigger (by at least 10 or 20x and preferably 100x) but they weren't really small groups of < 100 like you sometimes see.  They used 2888 participants over age 45 in the stroke portion and 1484 over 60 in the dementia portion, and the study was conducted over a long time, from 1991 to 2011.  That sort of makes me wonder why it took them until 2017 to announce this, but perhaps they had "bigger fish to fry" and were looking for other associations first.  The biggest disadvantage is that it was a Prospective Cohort study, which attempts to find associations.  How the study was completed was by food-frequency questionnaire at 3 to 4 year intervals,   So, real quick, how many diet sodas did you drink per day in 2014?  This sort of recall by questionnaire stuff just isn't very accurate.

    No study of this kind can prove cause and effect, it can only show that two things are associated with each other.  The cliche' example is that firemen are associated with house fires, but nobody thinks firemen are the cause of house fires.  Just like the firemen being at house fires, it may be that they're associated for a different reason.  A prospective cohort study can't prove cause and effect but is useful for finding associations to study with double blind, controlled studies.  Those, unfortunately, are ferociously expensive, and therefore completely impossible to conduct for 20 years, like this one.  There some minor disclaimers for really strong effects, if a plausible mechanism is postulated. 

    The thing about this study and its reporting that immediately gave me grief is that it said, "artificial sweeteners" as if it was one compound or class of compounds.  Not even close.  It implies that they're all involved in some sort of mechanism, but no such mechanism is known.  Artificial sweeteners?  Aspartame is a dipeptide,  which is chemically more like a protein (extremely simple...) than a sugar; saccharin is an aromatic compound, unlike sugar or aspartame; in contrast, sucralose is a sugar, just not metabolizable and acesulfame (or Ace K) is another aromatic.  I think those are the sweeteners mostly found in diet sodas although my "artificial sweetener recall questionnaire" doesn't show what was in diet drinks in the 1990s.  The sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol and so on are, well, sugar alcohols and are probably more like a sugar than the others mentioned but they're used more often in other foods than sodas.  All of those compounds are handled differently by the body, so it makes me ponder what could they have in common.  If this disparate group of compounds is doing something, it can't be chemical. 

    The authors didn't actually put forward an explanation, just the usual refrain: "more research is needed", which is fine; "more research" is what researchers do.

    I have a suggestion.  What they've found is that people on diets drink diet soda.  They've found a correlation with something else; people who may have been told they were at risk for Something by their doctors are trying to lose weight, or "get healthy" and are cutting out sugars because of that.  Or they're dieting because they think they should for some reason.  The people in the over-45 stroke cohort or the over-60 dementia cohort who are still drinking sugary drinks are the exception, not the norm.  To say the strokes or dementia associate with drinking diet sodas is looking at the problem backwards.  The risk didn't come from the diet sodas, it came from whatever caused them to start drinking diet soda in the first place.  Find out what the people who were drinking sugary drinks and did not have strokes or dementia were doing that allowed them to do that.  Other than having chosen better parents.

    What's my interest, other than just curiosity?  I typically have one diet soda per day; I can think of days when I've had two, but I can think of plenty of days when I haven't had any.  Mrs. Graybeard and I refer to studies like this as he-who studies, or just he-whos: he who drinks one diet soda a day triples his risk of a stroke or dementia.  The media loves he-whos because they require no thought and can be dramatic; just present the press release.  Sodas in general and diet sodas in particular are demonized by a certain segment of society so there's a ready audience.  I look at sodas like everything else:  there are trades involved, everything has a cost/benefit ratio.  Don't think changing from sugary soda to diet soda will fix all your problems, but I don't think changing from soda to unsweetened tea or plain water will fix all of your problems either.
    Hey, I said I had one per day, didn't I?  Just kidding.  Image stolen from.

    Thursday, May 4, 2017

    Star Wars Day

    Ironic day for the house to pass the health care bill.  Why?  I think everyone is familiar with the Star Wars line, "So this is how liberty dies.  With thunderous applause." - spoken by Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) in Star Wars III - Revenge of the Sith.  The line is given as she watches Emperor Palpatine tell a cheering Senate that he had taken all their power away to form a Galactic Empire.  By all accounts, that line was written as a slam on George W. Bush.  Today we could just as easily say, "so this is how the 'repeal Obamacare' promise dies."

    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Tales From the Over Regulated State # 24 - Respect Our Authoritah

    Does your area have those automated red light cameras that generate automatic traffic tickets if it "thinks" you've run a light?  Pushed by a handful of companies that sell the cameras as revenue streams (once they take their third - or half), they spilled into the country a decade ago.  Some had infiltrated my area at one time, but now appear to be going away.  This story, though takes place in Oregon, which is nearly as far as you can get from here and still be on the CONUS.  Reason Magazine online has the story.
    When Mats Järlström's wife got snagged by one of Oregon's red light cameras in 2013, he challenged the ticket by questioning the timing of the yellow lights at intersections where cameras had been installed.

    Since then, his research into red light cameras has earned him attention in local and national media—in 2014, he presented his evidence on an episode of "60 Minutes"—and an invitation to present at last year's annual meeting of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

    It also got him a $500 fine from the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying.

    According to the board, Järlström's research into red light cameras and their effectiveness amounts to practicing engineering without a license. No, really. Järlström had sent a letter to the board in 2014 asking for the opportunity to present his research on how too-short yellow lights were making money for the state by putting the public's safety at risk. "I would like to present these fact for your review and comment," he wrote.
    Are you familiar with the term PE, or Professional Engineer?  In some disciplines of engineering, notably civil engineering, state governments started regulating who may design or sign documents accepting responsibility for designs.  Wyoming appears to have been the first, in 1907.  As an electrical engineer designing products for a few military and commercial suppliers, I've never needed to apply for a PE, so I never went through the process, but it's required in certain areas.  For example, if someone is going to design a house, a PE must sign off on the drawings for the building inspectors.  I like to think of it this way:
    That may seem like I'm making fun of PEs, but I'm not.  I'm making fun of the bureaucrats who think having a PE sign drawings will keep bad things from happening.

    In this case, the Oregon State Board is saying that because Järlström doesn't have their blessing, he not only isn't allowed to look at their designs, it's illegal for him to do so.  Järlström has sued the state, as you might expect, and is being aided by the Institute for Justice.
    "Criticizing the government's engineering isn't a crime; it's a constitutional right," said Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, in a statement. "Under the First Amendment, you don't need to be a licensed lawyer to write an article critical of a Supreme Court decision, you don't need to be a licensed landscape architect to create a gardening blog, and you don't need to be a licensed engineer to talk about traffic lights."
    It turns out the reliably leftist utopia of Oregon guards their authority over engineering quite jealously.  The board
    investigated a Republican gubernatorial candidate for using the phrase "I'm an engineer and a problem-solver" in a campaign ad. The candidate in question, Allen Alley, had a degree in engineering from Purdue University and worked as an engineer for Boeing (and, of course, wasn't trying to lie about his lack of an Oregon-issued licensed but merely was making a freaking campaign ad), but

    It doesn't stop there. In 2010, the state board issued a $1,000 fine for illegally practicing engineering to a local activist who told the La Pine, Oregon, city council that a proposed new power plant would be too loud for nearby residents.

    The board once investigated Portland Monthly magazine for running a story that described a young immigrant woman as "an engineer behind Portland's newest bridge." The woman in the story did not describe herself as an engineer, but the magazine's editors included that description in the headline, the board concluded.
    In Järlström's case, what he did was what thousands of other engineers or techno geeks have done.  He looked at the design for how long lights remained yellow, found it was outdated so he figured out how to make it work better.  In stories like this, someone finds a better way, starts a company and sometimes even becomes the next Gates, or Woz or Musk.  But not in Glorious Peoples' Republic of Portlandia.  In Portlandia, it got him fined. 
    He did a little Googling and found the formula used to set traffic-light times. The length of time a traffic light stays yellow is based on a relatively straightforward mathematical formula, originally drafted in 1959. Mats realized that the formula is incomplete, because it fails to capture the behavior of drivers making right turns. After developing a modified formula and even corresponding with one of the formula’s original creators, Mats started to reach out to others in the scientific community, government officials, and the media.
    It's truly a ridiculous case.  The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying said  “critiquing” the length of yellow lights and talking about his ideas with “members of the public” made Mats a lawbreaker because he’s not an Oregon-licensed professional engineer.  They also told Mats that he couldn’t refer to himself using the word “engineer” either.  Järlström actually is an engineer by degree from Sweden, and has held various problem-solving jobs that go with that training, he just doesn't have the state's blessings. 

    It may be ridiculous, but it's classic leftist elitism.  Much like how blessings from the wise and wonderful state magically grant "The Only Ones" in law enforcement the ability to always handle firearms with near-infinite wisdom and safety, the board is saying only their blessings in the form of their PE license magically allow thinking.