Saturday, November 17, 2018

3D Printing Metal Parts Without A Metal Printer

There's no doubt that 3D printing as an industry continues to grow, and the technology is pushing into all sorts of new areas.  Solid Concepts printed the first full metal 1911 in 2013, using a process called Direct Laser Sintering in which a laser heats a metal-bearing powder causing the metal to melt and flow in a layer.
[see video ] [I]in overview, the machine contains a tub of a specially formulated powdered metal, and the laser heat is used to fuse particles of the powder into solid metal. The tub is lowered a small increment (.001"?) and the powder re-leveled, allowing the laser to sinter the next layer.  Layer by layer the part is built up until the final shape is there.  Post-processing - clean up, heat treating, and finishing - is required.
It's cool, but it shouldn't be the only way to get metal gun parts using a 3D printer.

Do you have a class ring from school?  How about other commercial jewelry?  The vast majority of commercial jewelry is made through a process called lost wax casting (overview here), in which a wax model of the jewelry piece is embedded in a ceramic mix which is fired to harden the ceramic (called investment) and then further heated until the wax melts and runs or burns out of the mold - where the wax is "lost" in lost wax casting.  Finally, the metal is cast into the cavity in the ceramic which is identical size and shape to the initial wax model.  The technique is also widely used in manufacturing of many things. 

There are thousands of home hobbyists who cast silver or gold jewelry at home (or in a club or Makerspace environment), and these metals melt at high temperatures.  Sterling melts at 1640 F, while pure silver melts at 1761 F.  Pure gold melts at 1945F, and different karat gold mixes melt at lower temperatures.  By contrast, aluminum melts at 1220 F but iron melts much hotter: 2802.  For any engineering use, you should check the melting point of the alloy, but the point is that the process is certainly compatible with aluminum alloys, and with the right torch (to get that higher melting point), casting steels seems to be within reach.

But what about the mold?  A few minutes of searching found three different videos showing plastics designed for 3d Printing molds that will be cast in metal.

Moldlay filament is used in this video, which features a home made printer designed to be easy to put together.

MachinableWax's Print2Cast printing filament specifically made for metal casting 3d printed models is introduced in this video.

Wrapping up these there is PolyCast™, another filament designed specifically for the metal casting industry; and the video demonstrates what the industrial process looks like.  

I'm deliberately avoiding the subject of green sand casting molds made from wood or other things in the shop; this sort of casting is part of a lot of home shops.  This is just concentrating on  3D printing.  Because of the flail about 3D printed guns.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Is A New Grand Solar Minimum Upon Us?

That's the prediction Dr. Valentina Zharkova advances in a presentation of her "Climate and the Solar Magnetic Field Hypothesis" presentation at the Global Warming Policy Foundation in October, 2018.

Dr. Zharkova's work has appeared here before, with the first time in 2015 predicting a decline in solar activity to Maunder minimum levels last seen in the Little Ice Age.
Their predictions using the model suggest an interesting longer-term trend beyond the 11-year cycle. It shows that solar activity will fall by 60 percent during the 2030s, to conditions last seen during the Maunder Minimum of 1645-1715. 
Some link somewhere led me to a summary of Dr. Zharkova's talk over at Signs of the Times (SOTT) which says:
The information she unveiled should shake/wake you up.

Zharkova was one of the few that correctly predicted solar cycle 24 would be weaker than cycle 23 - only 2 out of 150 models predicted this.

Her models have run at a 93% accuracy and her findings suggest a Super Grand Solar Minimum is on the cards beginning 2020 and running for 350-400 years.
There are two videos of her presentation; the short "highlight" video is 20 minutes long and the long one is an over an hour and a half (93 minutes - the last 33 are a rambling Q&A that's not worth much).  Watch the long one; the 20 minute video is very low content density - almost content free.  Having watched her talk, I think the last sentence in that quote from SOTT misinterprets something she said.  She didn't say the next minimum would be starting in 2020 and running 350-400 years, she said there's a cycle of grand minima that occur on roughly 350-400 year intervals (time mark 53:40 in the video shows it).  The solar minimum that we appear to be going into is expected to last from "2020 to 2053". 

Dr. Zharkova's work is on the solar dynamo, the magnetic fields that create virtually everything we see on the sun.  It began by observing the sun and attempting to come up with a model to explain the patterns we see.  Reviewing this work and trying to see the differences between this and some of her publications which I've talked about in the past, it's very similar to the research published in Nature.  That 2015 prediction was based on two Principal Components measured over perhaps three cycles (~33 years). 

In the current work, she includes more terms of the Principle Components, four terms instead of two.  Adding more terms should produce a better model fit.  (A familiar example might be using more terms in a construction of a square wave by adding Fourier series components.  If you use two sine wave harmonics, it doesn't look square at all, but as more terms are added, the wave you're constructing gets more square.)

While we've all heard on stock market service commercials the disclaimer that, "past results do not guarantee future performance", I'm inclined to weight Dr. Zharkova's team's predictions favorably based on her predictions about this cycle.  The strong part of her predictions is this track record.  The weak part is that while it's a smart, modern technique from Digital Signal Processing, it still depends on observations from a short period of time.  While it matches these observations well,  I still don't know how well it can be extrapolated over thousands of years.  She makes comparisons to ancient sunspot observations, and the predictions and observations are in agreement, but the data to compare predictions to is very sparse.  One observation every couple of solar cycles isn't much of a test.

My usual way of looking at predictions like this has always been that I'm wary of predictions for another Maunder minimum on general principles.  It was both severe and at the dawn of solar observation.  We simply don't have detailed data of anything before the Maunder that we can compare current conditions to.

Dr. Zharkova does predict that weather is likely to become colder due to the solar minimum, and then adds in the motion of the sun in the solar system, the Milankovich cycles. She says emphatically and repeatedly that she's not a climate scientist, she's a solar physicist, which sounds to me like, "I'm not a climate scientist; I'm a real scientist".  That's worth a few points, itself.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Time to Start Paying Attention to DC Again

Better worded as "time to start paying attention to the attention whores".  At least keep an eye on them.

Hat tip to Miguel at Gun Free Zone for an article on, and link to the text of, the first of what will certainly be many attempts at gun control bills, HR1175 introduced by New Joisey Democrat Frank Pallone.  My gut feeling is that this might pass the house on a straight party line vote and then will be shuffled under a desk in the senate and never see the light of day - if the Senate has any sense and the President doesn't try to push it like he did banning bump stocks.  However, as someone said, "never underestimate the ability of Republicans in groups to do stupid things".

The bill is going after the ability to build a gun from parts by banning basically everything. The bill is called: the “3–D Firearms Prohibitions Act” but that's a lie.  The only place 3D Firearms are ever mentioned is in the title.  It's about outlawing the ability to build or repair your own guns.  

The first section is titled:  Do-it-yourself assault weapon ban,” and it takes the approach of declaring gun parts as banned hazardous products under section 8 of the Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 2057). They include any "firearm receiver casting or firearm receiver blank or unfinished handgun frame", which they specify is not actually a gun, but that "after purchase by a consumer, can be completed by the consumer to the point at which such casting or blank functions as a firearm frame or receiver for a semiautomatic assault weapon or machinegun or the frame of a handgun."  Note this wipes out not only the entire 80% AR lower market, and the newborn 80% handgun market, but it also wipes out the much smaller market for "0% lowers". 

 Then they go into destroying the sales of parts for guns by adding that "An assault weapon parts kit. or  a machinegun parts kit," are hazardous products and are to be banned as well, when they add the definition:
the term “assault weapon parts kit” means any part or combination of parts designed and intended to enable a consumer who possesses all such necessary parts to assemble a semiautomatic assault weapon;
Any part means any part, from a replacement sight to replacement stock or barrel, or anything they so deem.  This would make it illegal to sell replacement triggers, or replacements for each and every spring, pin and metal piece in a fire control group.  Anything. 

The issue with regulating buying parts is that it also makes it impossible to repair your guns, which will make them the only piece of private property you own that you're not allowed to repair.  If every single component has to be serialized and tracked from "cradle to grave", parts get more expensive, probably get harder to find and the industry is probably decimated.   Of course to the guys behind this bill, everything we consider negative is part of their goals.

Oh, when they use the term "semiautomatic assault weapons", they are also specifically talking about pistols and shotguns.  This isn't about ARs and AR pistols, this about anything other than revolvers - or anything beyond single shot black powder.  Anything semiautomatic is lumped into this bill.
(4) the term “semiautomatic assault weapon” means
(A) a semiautomatic rifle or semiautomatic shotgun that has the capacity to accept a detachable ammunition feeding device; or
(B) a semiautomatic pistol that has—
(i) the capacity to accept a detachable ammunition feeding device; and
(ii) any one of the features described in subsection (b);
(6) the term “semiautomatic pistol” means any repeating pistol that utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fixed cartridge case and chamber the next round and requires a separate pull of the trigger to fire each cartridge;
(8) the term “semiautomatic shotgun” means any repeating shotgun that utilizes a portion of the energy of a firing cartridge to extract the fixed cartridge case and chamber the next round and requires a separate pull of a trigger to fire each cartridge.
There's a lot of space in the bill dedicated to everything getting serialized, and creating agencies of the Federal government that will administer serializing.  As Miguel points out, serial numbers never solve crimes, but they provide traceability and make it easier for the government to know who owns what and that is all they care about come Confiscation day.

This seems largely put together from other old failed laws, unless they've been feverishly working on the bill for the last couple of weeks - but it doesn't look like it was "worked on".  According to the header, it was introduced on November 2nd.  Judging by news reports, it seems the lame duck session has just started, and they're already involved in identity politics wars over Comrade Peloski's bid to be Speaker again.  Seriously, do you guys have any arguments that aren't identity politics or assigning free will and intent to inanimate objects?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

It Looks Like That Indonesian Boeing 737 That Went Down Was Boeing's Fault

Word is breaking today on Ars Technica that the Indonesian Lion Airways Boeing 737 Max that went down two weeks ago was due to failure of a system on which Boeing had released almost no training information.
On November 6, Boeing issued an update to Boeing 737 MAX aircrews. The change, directed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), came because Boeing had never provided guidance to pilots on what to do when part of an updated safety system malfunctioned—the very scenario that the pilots of Indonesia's Lion Air Flight 610 faced on October 29. Not knowing how to correct for the malfunction, the aircrew and their passengers were doomed. All aboard were lost as the aircraft crashed into the Java Sea.

First approved for commercial operation by the FAA on March 8, 2017, the MAX is just beginning to be delivered in large volumes. Lion Air was one of Boeing's primary foreign customers for the MAX, which is also flown by Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and Air Canada. The Lion Air aircraft lost in the accident was virtually brand new, delivered by Boeing in August; this was the first accident involving an aircraft touted for its safety.
In what I can only describe as incredibly shocking, Boeing never told pilots about one key new safety feature—an automated anti-stall system—or how to troubleshoot its failure.

In aviation, the word "stall" doesn't mean what it does in a car.  The engines are running, it's that the aircraft's wings can no longer achieve lift.  An aircraft's wing can only generate lift over a relatively narrow range of angles to the oncoming air, called the angle of attack (AOA).  This graphic, from Ars, illustrates an example.

From the top down, the nose is angled at 6 degrees to the horizontal for cruising.  More lift can be achieved by increasing that angle, which is done by raising the nose, and maximum lift (for this wing) occurs with the aircraft at a 15 degree angle.  The aircraft can go beyond that while maintaining lift but as it does, the lift goes down as the region of separated air gets larger, eventually destroying the ability to lift.  In the right conditions, passengers can see the air separating on the top side of the wing, usually during takeoff, and it appears as fog forming in the area shown as the "separation point" in the middle figure.

The way the original piece said, "Boeing issued an update to Boeing 737 MAX aircrews. The change, directed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)" sounds like an airworthiness directive (AD);  ADs are generally considered serious in the business because they mean the aircraft isn't considered safe to fly unless the subject of the AD is fixed.  The November 6th update raised an outcry from pilots in the US.
Allied Pilots Association spokesperson and 737 captain Dennis Tajer told Reuters that his union members were only informed of a new anti-stall system that had been installed by Boeing on 737 MAX aircraft after the Lion Air crash. “It is information that we were not privy to in training or in any other manuals or materials,” Tajer told Reuters.

Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told Bloomberg, “We don’t like that we weren’t notified.” Southwest has ordered 257 737 MAX aircraft; American has orders for 85 still pending.
In the past, aircraft had manual ways of notifying the pilot that it was going into a stall, by sensing the AOA and when it got into regimes likely to stall, turning on motors that shook the control stick or yoke in the pilot's hands.
But the new system in the 737 uses data from the aircraft's AOA and airspeed sensors to proactively counter pilot error, adjusting the aircraft's controls to push the nose down if the sensors indicate the aircraft could stall.

Initial data from the investigation of the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 indicates that the AOA sensor was providing "erroneous input," according to a Boeing statement. The aircraft had recently had an AOA sensor replaced, and had experienced additional unidentified issues; a maintenance technician was aboard at the time of the crash, but not because of the AOA sensor.

The faulty AOA sensor data may have caused the aircraft's trim system to lower the nose down in order to avoid a stall. This would only occur during manual flight; when in autopilot, the AOA sensor data would not have affected flight controls.
It's worth emphasizing here that the issue is that Boeing never mentioned this system in training materials with the new Max deliveries and nobody in the air crew knew what to do with erroneous AOA data because they were never trained in what to do.  A system the pilot didn't know was on the aircraft failed and caused the aircraft to behave unexpectedly.  

Boeing has apparently released new training materials; materials that should have preceded delivery of the first 737 Max.  The text of the Service Bulletin for the newly delivered Maxes is in the Ars link. 

This one strikes close to home.  I've met a few people in that program at Boeing.  When I retired from Major Avionics Corporation, some of the radios (and radar) for the Max were things I'd designed in the past.  It's hard for me to wrap my head around a screw-up like this. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Farewell to Stan Lee

Stan Lee, probably America's most prolific story teller of the 20th and early 21st century left us today at age 95.  The last I heard, within the last couple of months, he was working on the coming Marvel Cinematic Universe movies currently in the production process.  That tells me it was probably not a long lingering illness.  That's A Good Thing.

To those kind of peripherally familiar with Stan, he was the creator of Spider Man, but he was more than that.  He gave life to a host of story lines in the Marvel comics, many of which have been turned into move franchises.
As the guiding force behind the spectacular rise of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, Lee — and his artistic collaborators — devised characters that broke the mold of conventional comic-book superheroes: No longer were they one-dimensional costumed crusaders who were all good, struggling against villains who were all bad.

Marvel's superheroes, which Lee developed with Marvel artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, battled not only complex villains but also their own personal demons in stories that have been praised for their “wit and subtleties” — ingredients that greatly expanded the appeal and readership of comic books.
But the character that Marvel had the most success with was Spider-Man, which Lee and Ditko introduced in August 1962.

Spider-Man's alter ego, Peter Parker, was a bookish and alienated teenager who gained his superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider.

Although the web-slinging crime fighter clashed with various villains, he was still the same geeky Parker: a bookworm who is bullied by football players, ignored by girls and lives with his motherly aunt, who reminds him to wear his galoshes in the rain.

“You ask the audience to suspend disbelief and accept that some idiot can climb on walls,” Lee said in a 1992 Washington Post interview, “but once that’s accepted, you ask: What would life be like in the real world if there were such a character? Would he still have to worry about dandruff, about acne, about getting girlfriends, about keeping a job?”
Among fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe a part of every new movie is watching for Stan Lee's cameo appearance.  This thread on Reddit has the canonical capture of them all; reproduced here at lower resolution.  Unfortunately, it stops about a year ago, before the last few movies. 

This shows almost the complete Marvel phase 1 through phase 3 movies except for the last few: Black Panther, Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Ant Man and the Wasp - in that order. Coming in 2019 will be Captain Marvel, with the introduction of Brie Larson as the eponymous lead (I just don't get enough chances to use the word 'eponymous'), and then Avengers 4, which settles the majority of damage done in Infinity War.  To some degree.  Probably.
Avengers 4 is the end of Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 3. Sony will technically kick off Marvel’s Phase 4 with Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel on July 5, 2019. Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man, but his story takes place in the MCU, proved by Captain America: Civil War.

That’s it for Marvel's confirmed Phase 4 release dates, though we do know Marvel has greenlighted a Black Panther sequel, a Doctor Strange sequel, and another Guardians of the Galaxy movie to complete the trilogy. Expect to see those characters back after Avengers 4.
There I go getting all ramped up over the coming movies.  This is supposed to be a sober, quiet, "so long, Stan Lee.  You've brought me hours upon hours of fun, escapism, and lighthearted entertainment.  I'm going to miss you."

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Battle of Quotes

Mike Miles at 90 Miles From Tyranny posted this Twitter exchange a couple of hours ago:

Nice reply, but I was thinking more of something like, "Not like a souffle at all.  Millions of people have made souffles, but not once in recorded history has anyone made socialism work".  I try to underline this if socialism ever comes up in conversation.  Everyone's heard the argument, "it failed because the wrong people were in charge"; the argument is "since it's been tried since thousands of years before it had a name, and nobody has ever been the 'Right People' that made it work.  What makes you think you're so special?"  

But I don't have a Twitter account or a time machine to go back and answer it. 

Then I thought of this one that says it better than I can. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Happy Birthday Devil Dogs

Not in the Drakes Cakes sense, but to the US Marine Corps.  November 10th is the day traditionally celebrated as the founding of the Marines in 1775 at Tun Tavern, making this the 243rd anniversary.  Which means there were "US Marines" before there was a US.  What did they call themselves in 1775?

As I've said before, everyone knows there's a constant din of the different services poking fun at each other, but I don't have a dog in these fights.  Never was in any branch.  The systems I've worked on tended to be for the Navy with some split between the Air Force and the Navy.  All I can say is that I've worked on some of their toys. 

I know that all sorts of kids from all sorts of backgrounds go into the Marines, but I've never met an ex-Marine who wasn't an honorable man.  Considering that perhaps the most famous marine, Chesty Puller, is quoted as having said, “Take me to the Brig. I want to see the 'real Marines' ”, maybe I've only been meeting fakes.

Friday, November 9, 2018

On Account of I'm Sick of Politics Again

Some more fun stuff. 

A couple of weeks ago, a friend called me up about a puzzle he had.  He's a disabled Navy Vet who has a hard time getting around but his only daughter lives far away so he has no family in town to rely on.  I've taken him to the VA hospital in Orlando a couple of times.  That aside, his puzzle is that he has taken up sign making in wood with a router and templates.  I think he's using something similar to this kit from Rockler.  His problem concerned the back side of the sign and how to hang it on the wall.  Turns out Rockler sells a handy template kit for that problem and he bought that one, too. 

His problem was that of the three places to rout a hanging slot, he used only a short one and the setup time was lots longer than cutting the router pass.  He said five minutes to make the setup and a few seconds to make the cut.  He wanted to know if I could see a better way. 

I gathered that how he located the slot was by lining the top edge of the template with the top edge of his board and the long edge (on the right in that photo) over the edge of the board.  Then, while holding the template down on the board, he taped it down to keep it from moving.  I suggested I make something like the Rockler template but which had vertical straight edges on the sides and he could pull it into place in the corner.  I'd make a pair of templates, one for the left and right corners.  As a guide, I sketched up the left corner template in CAD and sent it over to him. 

I could hear the answer without the phone and he lives about a mile away.  So into the shop.  All the measurements came from taking his Rockler template for the slot and the slot's position with respect to the edges. I made two identical pieces of quarter inch thick aluminum for the templates and identical pieces of 1/8" aluminum for the edges.  The two quarter inch pieces were clamped together for all the operations so that the sizes came out the same and the position of the slot in the center were cut in one pass.  Top and side vertical pieces are held by two 6-32 machine screws each.  

To use, they're slapped down onto the board, the right angle edges find and hold the board's corner in a second.  He says he holds them down with painters tape to make the cut.  Dropped the time to make his slot to small fraction of what it was.  

My friend is apparently getting a little business going making wooden signs.  He's asked me for fixture ideas a couple of times since then.  While none of it was in mechanical manufacturing, 40 years in the manufacturing industry has left its mark on me and I've passed on ideas about fixturing to make jobs less fussy. 

Meanwhile, I continue down the road of making my CNC lathe ready to thread.  My optical sensor board is here.  I found the part number and looked up the data sheet to get the part dimensions.  Modeled the part and a way of using it on the Sherline.  (I didn't do the model of the Sherline lathe itself. Just the parts in green and turquoise)

Work never goes as quickly as I'd like, but it's moving along. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Can't Help But Laugh

The news today is all abuzz over the fact that Darth Vader Ginsburg fell and broke three ribs. 

The thing I can't help but laugh over is the rush from some people to donate their ribs or internal organs to the octogenarian. 

When was the last time you heard of a rib transplant? The only thing I could find is some leading edge science?  It's just not done.  Listen, I've had broken ribs before.  It's not a picnic; in fact it hurts like a bitch for the first couple of weeks.  OTOH, transplanting ribs into someone is going to hurt about a thousand times worse.  Getting split open, old ribs sawed off, new ribs bonded in place, sewn back together... 

Her biggest risk for broken ribs is that because of the pain she may not be able to breath deeply enough to ward off pneumonia.  I bet that chance would double or triple if someone actually transplanted ribs into her.  Getting hit by a truck is likely to feel good by comparison.  (I've been there, done that, too - getting hit by a truck - take my word it and don't try this at home: that really hurts, too.) 

Just let her get some rest with some quality opioids for a week or two and she'll be fine - as long as the fall is the only thing that broke those ribs. 

As for the other offers of letting her have "any internal organs", that actually makes more sense except for the part about broken ribs probably not causing any damage that won't heal on its own so there's no need for a transplant.

The only rib transplant that makes sense is transplant those beauties into my stomach!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Premature Congratulations and Big Picture Ramifications

By the time I shut down the computers for the night last night, Andrew Gillum had conceded the Florida Governor's race to Ron DeSantis.  Governor DeSantis had a thin margin of victory, on the order of 45,000 votes, but it was expected to be a tight election.

In the senate race, celebrations from this morning are looking premature this evening.  I recall seeing a statement that Bill Nelson had conceded the senate election to Rick Scott overnight, but most reports this evening say he refused to concede.  The Internet doesn't forget (although it can certainly hide things), but the story is at the Orlando Sentinel.
By tonight, the margin is 0.32%, 26,056 votes in Scott's favor.  State law triggers a recount when the difference is less than 0.5%, and Nelson has requested one, which indicates he has not conceded.  Welcome to Hanging Chad 2.0.  They say we'll know by noon Saturday.

Most of the races went as I voted, although some of the amendments did not.  I'll explain two in particular that passed and I voted against.  First is No. 9, which both bans offshore oil and gas drilling and Vaping in enclosed workplaces.  First, I don't see the sense in lumping these together - they have nothing in common.  Second, I think banning vaping should be left up to the businesses running those workplaces and the state shouldn't be involved.  Third and most importantly, I'm in favor of offshore oil and gas drilling.  Heck, I'm in favor of leasing part of my backyard for fracking.

The other amendment that passed which I opposed bans dog racing.  Sorry, I love dogs (nowadays, just other peoples' dogs) but I don't see anything wrong with it.  Yeah, I've been to dog racing, but not since I turned 18 or whatever it was that made it legal for dad to take me.  Lets say I haven't been to a dog track in 45 years.  Another area I don't see the government needing to be involved in.

The bigger picture I believe I see in the country is one I think I first wrote about back in 2011, that divide we all talk about, the one we call "red state vs. blue state" is really big cities vs. more rural areas.  It can be seen in a map of how Florida voted in the 2012 and 2016 presidential races, from a paper called Your Observer.

There are minor differences between them in the counties - a couple of blue counties went red in 2016 - but the big cities are in the three counties on the southeast coast (Palm Beach, Broward and Dade in north to south order), Tampa in the county numbered "4" on the west coast, and then Orlando and its suburbs in the area marked 7 and 8 in 2016.  The area numbered 1, which I believe represents the highest percent votes for the Democrat is Alachua county, home of the University of Florida.  The counties numbered 3 and 5 are close to the state capital of Tallahassee and home to Florida State University.  No wonder they vote for big government.  (There are big state universities in Tampa and Orlando as well, and big private universities in SE Florida).

This isn't a new phenomenon and I'm certainly not the first to comment on it, but I think it's getting worse.  A new complication comes from the Democratic Socialists of America (no link; you have a search engine if you care).  It's one thing that Occasional Cortex talks openly about getting rid of the electoral college (I've done a couple of posts about that movement this year); just as dumb, the DSA and some of its minions are talking about getting rid of the Senate.  The main argument is that the senate isn't fair because each state gets the same number of senators (I'm not making this up).  To paraphrase Senator Diane Feinstein (D - Uranus) "why should Wyoming’s 500,000 residents have equal have status with California’s 36 million?"  There is no mention that other side of the capitol building houses a body where representatives are proportioned by population.  It's a rather elegant way to try ensure big cities don't rule everything in the country.  But having a few big cities control all those icky deplorables is what the Democratic party wants.

But, hey!  The CATO Institute ranks Florida as the #1 Most Free state in the country.  Details here.

The data only covers through 2016 and we've been #1 since 2014.  Before that, going back to 2000 we were in the top 10 every year except one, and only made #1 in 2014 on Rick Scott's watch.  I can't say it was all his work.  It is, though, easy to break things and from what I know of Gillum's policies, we would have been knocked down to the bottom tiers. 

EDIT 2255 EST 11/07:  Thanks to commenter Aesop for pointing out I barfed the first name of Diane Feinstein calling her "Babs".  Short Attention Span. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

My First Florida Man Story

I'm pretty sure.  Most of the time I remember things and can't find them; tonight I don't remember and can't find evidence. 

A Florida man, from my city, Melbourne, was arrested for threatening to blow up the Supervisor of Elections office
A Melbourne man said he was fed up with political robocalls, prompting him to call the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections and threaten to blow up its office Monday, according to his affidavit.
What makes this a Florida man story is that the supervisor of elections has absolutely nothing to do with regulating or controlling robocalls or the mailings the candidates do.

Well, that plus this:
"During the call, Mr. Chen identified himself by name and even gave his phone number," the Sheriff's Office said.
Blink.  Blink.

I gotta tell you; all disclaimers about violence and bombing offices aside, I kinda see his point.  I'd like to be rid of the robocalls, too.  Thankfully, we will be tonight. 

The other day there was a story that Alec Baldwin punched out a guy over a parking space.  Again, all disclaimers aside, part of me said, "two guys fighting over a parking place in NYFC?  Why is this even news?"  This Florida man story is the same sort of story. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Staying Off Social Media

I used to have a Facebook account.  Closed it several years ago because I could see that it wasn't doing anything for me.  It wasn't worth the price, and no, it's not Free.  The only things FB ever did for me was allow me to swap emails with one or two guys I haven't heard from since high school - and haven't heard from since.  In trade, FB takes everything you do or say and sells it to companies that try to monetize it. 

I've never had accounts on Twitter, Instagram, or any of the startups like Gab.  The only two social media presences I have are this blog with the list of blog friends I read, and I have an account on Pinterest.  There's virtually no person-to-person interaction on Pinterest and I'm not sure why it's considered social media.  The only thing that makes it social is that other people can see what you "pin" (save to a dedicated area of yours).  What tends to happen is that if someone likes what you pinned, they copy it from your area to theirs.  That's all.  If they don't like it, chances are they don't even see it.  I've never had a conversation on Pinterest with another user in the couple of years I've been there.

Google's monopoly is the only social media I stay within the confines of, and I'm always on the verge; always just one more, "that's it", from leaving.  Google links Gmail, YouTube and their other services into a social network of a sort. 

Where am I going?  Why am I writing about this?

It's becoming widely known that social media was designed to get us addicted to it, and that the executives from high tech companies are so concerned about the behavioral changes that it can cause that they're strictly limiting their children's screen time.  From the first link, Computerworld:
If you're a social media addict, and your addiction is getting worse, there's a reason for that: Most of the major social network companies, as well as social content creators, are working hard every day to make their networks so addictive that you can't resist them.
And from the second, Business Insider:
Business Insider previously reported that parents who work in Silicon Valley tech companies are limiting and sometimes banning their kids' access to the devices they helped create. Even tech titans like Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, and Bill Gates have placed restrictions on their kids' technology use, Business Insider previously reported.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, for example, has said that he doesn't allow his nephew to join online social networks. And the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in 2011 that he didn't let his kids use the iPad.
Business Insider links to other stories that underline how the generation of the engineers and programmers raising their kids in Silicon Valley now are strictly limiting screen time.  They see how much time and effort goes into making digital technology irresistible.  I think it's worth noting that the people who get the closest view of how the things work are becoming the first group limiting their kids' exposures to them.

Lately, you can't go a day without reading about a Twitter rant or fight, shadow banning of any opinions other than far left, and other bad things linked to social media.  Would Twitter fights happen in real life; or would they have happened in a real life that hadn't been conditioned by social media responses?   Would incidents like this young twit throwing coffee or whatever on the FSU college Republicans happen in a world that hadn't been conditioned by the instant pleasure/instant rage responses of social media? 

From what I see, social media brings out the worst in humanity, by making the services as addictive as crack cocaine.   I say to work on becoming free of that addiction.  There are online programs to help you get over Facebook addiction, 99DaysOfFreedom - which strikes me as an ironic statement.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Hours Until Polls Open

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the crapfest election we have coming in Florida.  Trying to mimic the announcer at the Indy 500, I changed "Gentlemen start your engines" to "Gentlemen, choose your turd".  In particular,
There has been a lot of ink pixels spilled over the Scott/Nelson choice by fellow Florida bloggers.  It's one of those classic instances of there not being a good choice and I'm not sure I remember a time when the choice in an election included someone I thought was really good, just the lesser of two evils.  In this case, again, it's like digging in the cat box for the cleanest turd. 
This is one of those cases where (I believe) people of good conscience can and will disagree.  I know there are people who will abstain completely and people who will say I can't vote for [insert name here] . 

I've left this choice running in the background of my mind, like a background processor in your computer, and periodically asked myself if anything makes sense or stands out.  A dim concept has emerged from the fog.  

Similar to the "cleanest turd" analogy, the thought is "which one is more harmful?"  I have to come down that Nelson is more harmful.  Allow me to explain a minute.

Rick Scott damaged us badly as the CEO of Florida and the de facto head of the Stupid Party of Florida.  If he goes to the Senate, Scott goes from being CEO (as he's been for most of his adult life) to being the lowest man on the totem pole.  He'll just be one of a hundred in the world's most overpaid debating club.  He has no power over us.  He'll be one of the most junior members and therefore essentially powerless.  He can propose any stupid law he wants, and Turtle Boy just has to ignore him.  If Scott proposes things that the majority opposes, he gets nothing.  I frankly don't know he can adjust his ego from being almost all-powerful, to being the 100th most powerful person in the senate (or even the 90th most important). 

Bill Nelson has been in that sort of check since the GOP took the senate back the latest time.  It's why there's a prevailing opinion that we can work around him.  We can work around him because the situation has him powerless.  I see Nelson as being potentially more damaging.  He has a lot of seniority, which brings power in the arcane world of the senate.  He has been a reliable vote for Chuckie Schumer.  IF the stupid party retains control of the senate, or expands control, and Nelson wins, he will remain in check. If Nelson wins and the legendary "blue wave" happens, giving the majority to the Evil party, he can do more damage. 

Nelson, by the way, screwed over US ham radio operators in a way analogous to how Scott screwed over Florida gun owners, by refusing to vote for a pro-amateur radio bill because it threatened home owners' associations (which I see as intrusive government; Nelson's home field).  Which means both of them have screwed me.  
...Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) has been the lead obstructionist during several stages of efforts to enact the Amateur Radio Parity Act, which has passed the US House of Representatives four times. Lisenco further added that that Nelson’s opposition makes no sense as Florida desperately needs effective Amateur Radio disaster communications during hurricanes, and hurricane season is rapidly approaching.
No senator can do the damage that the CEO of a state and party boss can do, though. 

Neither one is pro-gun.  If the Senate stays "red" and decides it's going to pass national reciprocity or something for gun owners, Scott would vote for it to stay in the good graces of the party; Nelson would vote against it for the very same reason.  If the senate turns "blue" and decides it's going to ban all the things, Nelson will vote for it and Scott will vote against it.  Not for us but to stay in the good graces of the party.  Nelson is absolutely a big government guy while Scott's tenure in the capital shows he's not.  Neither is likely to be influenced by "write your senator" campaigns, unless they see a much bigger picture than just a handful of riled up constituents. 

I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything.  I know some people who will abstain (or have).  I know some people who held their nose and voted one way of the other.  I'm just sharing my thinking in the hopes it might be helpful to someone else. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

“Breakthrough” Fuel Cell Could Advance Widespread Use of Fuel Cells

"Breakthrough" might be a loaded word to use when describing alternative energy sources, which always seem to be just beyond reach, but Machine Design uses it to describe a new type of fuel cell from Georgia Tech.  There, a team of researchers under Principal investigator Meilin Liu developed a new fuel cell that runs on methane at temperatures comparable to automobile engines. The key to developing this fuel cell was the discovery of new catalyst.
The catalyst does away with [high-]priced hydrogen fuel by making its own out of cheap, readily available methane. And improvements throughout the cell dramatically cooled the operating temperatures customary in methane fuel cells. Methane fuel cells usually require temperatures of 750 to 1,000°C. The Georgia Tech fuel cell needs only about 500°C—a notch cooler than automobile combustion engines, which run at around 600°C.

That lower temperature could trigger cascading cost savings in the ancillary technologies needed to operate a fuel cell, potentially pushing the new cell to commercial viability. The researchers express confidence that engineers can design electric power units around this fuel cell, something that has eluded previous methane fuel cells.
Fuel cells and the circus of trying to put them in cars (which have never been sold at a profit) are not new topics around this blog.  I'm always trying to keep an eye open for new technologies that might change the dynamics of the field and turn the "$100k car they can sell for $40k" into something more practical. As I said a while back:
I'm not suggesting that nobody works on these things, that's how big breakthroughs happen, I'm just suggesting the odds for that aren't very good and that those R&D projects should not get funded out of tax money. 
This new catalyst fuel cell could be the real thing.  The transition from laboratory to production is famously difficult and a lot of ideas die along the way.  Back to Machine Design for the gritty details:
The research was based on a type of fuel cell with high potential for commercial viability, the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC). SOFCs are known for their versatility in using different fuels. If the new fuel cell goes to market, it still might not power automobiles for a while. Instead it could first land in basements as part of a more decentralized, cleaner, cheaper electrical power grid. The fuel cell would be about the size of a shoebox, not counting the other equipment needed to make it run.
Cascading innovations, including a brand new one, let researchers reimagine the fuel cell, making it run on methane at lower temperatures. The ruthenium-nickel based catalyst, here in green, was the latest materials innovation in the new fuel cell. (Credit: Georgia Tech/Liu lab)

“The hope is you could install this device like a tankless water heater,” Liu says. “It would run off of natural gas to power your house…That would save society and industry the enormous cost of new power plants and large electrical grid expansions.

“It would also make homes and businesses more power independent,” he adds. “That kind of system would be called distributed generation, and our sponsors want to develop that.”

Hydrogen is the best fuel for powering fuel cells, but its cost is exorbitant. Researchers figured out how to convert methane to hydrogen in the fuel cell itself via the new catalyst, which is made with cerium, nickel, and ruthenium and has the chemical formula Ce0.9Ni0.05Ru0.05O2 (abbreviated CNR).

When methane, water molecules, and heat contact the catalyst, nickel chemically cleaves the methane molecule. Ruthenium does the same with water. The resulting parts come back together as hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO), which researchers put to good use. Although CO causes performance problems in most fuel cells, in this one they can use it as a fuel.

H2 and CO move on to other catalyst layers that make up the anode, the part of the fuel cell that pulls off electrons, making the carbon monoxide and hydrogen positively charged ions. The electrons travel via a wire creating the electricity flow toward the cathode.

There, oxygen sucks up the electrons, closing the electrical circuit and becoming O2 ions. Ionized hydrogen and oxygen meet and exit the fuel cell as water condensation; the carbon monoxide and oxygen ions meet to become pure carbon dioxide, which could be captured.
The ability to create its needed hydrogen out of methane is very strong advantage for this fuel cell.  Among the drawbacks of current fuel cell-based cars are the high pressure hydrogen tanks involved; one source said the Toyota fuel cell vehicle is using 11 lb tanks at 10,000 PSI.  Assume that about half the hydrogen is replaced with air, and you get a nice explosive mixture with an energy of around 300 Mega Joules (MJ) - equivalent to about 300 sticks of dynamite or nearly nearly 80 lbs of TNT.  Fuel tanks over 11,000 MJ are being planned for trucks.

This fuel cell looks to be able to eliminate the hydrogen tank.  Whether it can be "safe" or not is going to involve a lot of engineering.  I always assume that anything capable of producing or storing energy is potentially unsafe, from the gallon gas can for the lawnmower to the starting battery in a car, to smaller batteries, too. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Something I've Been Predicting For Years Seems to be Happening

Far enough back that I don't clearly remember when this dawned on me, I came to the conclusion that full time employment is going to go away.  There will always be some, but companies will reduce the amount of employees they hire and instead rely more free lance contractors.  The reason: too may regulations bring too much cost to comply with those reg.s.  Every time congress passes a new law to "protect workers", the costs on companies go up, impacting more workers.  A simple example is from back when Obamacare was mandated: my insurance premiums went up (doubled?) but my deductibles skyrocketed.  The company could have provided the same plan, but it would become a "luxury Cadillac plan" and they would have had to pay the "Cadillac tax" for providing better insurance.  That means they're paying twice: once to the insurance companies for the better coverage, and then paying the for the privilege of buying a more expensive plan.

Today, Human Resources costs have gone up so much that small companies are outsourcing their HR tasks to service contractors.  If you're a small company, perhaps around the 50-employee mark, the amount of time required to ensure compliance with the many laws interferes with the other things managers need to do.  As a result, they hire HR service companies to ensure they're meeting all the regulations. 

In the case of big engineering/manufacturing companies like the one I'm retired from, they will probably only keep the people who are their technology leaders as full time employees.  There will be fewer new graduate engineers hired: big companies were typically where new grads went for their first job because they're too expensive for a small company to make productive. Perhaps those companies will soon be a few percent long-term employees, maybe twice that percentage in promising young engineers, but the majority of the "heavy lifting"; the jobs that require experience and the engineering judgement that experience brings, will go to contract engineers.

What brings this to mind is that over the last few months I keep seeing articles like this, with the theme that by as soon as 2020, which is about 15 months from now, the number of Americans who will be contract employees or self-employed in other ways will reach as much as 50% of the workforce.  The exact number or percentage varies with the source, but there's wide agreement on the general trend.
“Americans are increasingly disillusioned with the notion that a successful career means climbing the corporate ladder,” FreshBooks CEO Mike McDerment told Quartz. “Whether or not the shift to self-employment occurs at the velocity our study indicates or not, the real significance is the mindset shift of the American workforce.”
You may have heard this referred to as "the Gig Economy"; you don't have a full time position anywhere, but you have a handful of part time jobs that you do as needed.
According to a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute, up to 162 million people in the United States and Europe are involved in some form of independent work. That said, as scary as change is, we need to embrace the gig economy as central to the future of American work. This shift has already begun to turn the age-old advertising industry on its head. The explosion of smartphones has turned everyday consumers into content creators, giving brands seemingly unlimited options outside of the traditional creative agencies and making content available with greater speed and lower costs than anything ever seen.  
What does the Gig Economy look like?  For people who would fill minimum wage jobs, perhaps they have gigs with Uber or Lyft.  Perhaps people will make income from AirBnB or something similar.  It seems that with online shopping growing as it is, delivery services and couriers will be a growth industry.  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics put together an overview with some ideas of the kind of jobs being talked about.  I can envision work being easiest to find for people with trade skills such as appliance or air conditioning repair.  They can can probably sign on to work on installations for the big home improvement centers for as many hours as they'd like.  Not to mention the apps like Takl that are setup to for this sort of worker.

This is not written in hopes of showing everyone what a beautiful future we're heading for.  It will be hard, especially for the less-skilled workers.  On the other hand, that has always been the case.  This seems to be a pretty reasonable assessment of the concept of the Gig Economy.

(From statista - as it says)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Some Astounding Halloween Facts

From the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).
  1. An estimated $575.26 million total will be spent on Halloween pumpkins alone in 2018, according to Finder, at an average price of $3.89 per pumpkin. That will exhaust about 80 percent of the US pumpkin supply.
  2. An estimated 95 percent of Americans plan on buying candy during the Halloween season, spending a total of $2.6 billion. 
  3. Americans are projected to spend some $9 billion total on Halloween in 2018, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a couple billion dollars more than was spent on federal elections in 2016.
  4. Americans will spend, on average, a record $87 per person on Halloween in 2018, according to The Balance. (Meanwhile, more than half of Americans don’t have enough money in savings to cover the cost of a $500 emergency.)
  5. A single business produces nearly half of all costumes worn during the Halloween season, Bloomberg News reports. The company? Rubies Costume Co., the world’s largest manufacturer and designer of costumes.
  6. The top five most popular candies during the Halloween season, according to, are: 5) Starburst; 4) Reese’s Cups; 3) Snickers; 2) M&Ms; 1) Skittles. These five candy brands will sell 55,000 tons of candy (11 million pounds) during the Halloween season, according to The Daily Meal. Skittles alone will sell 3,487,101 pounds.
  7. Americans spend more money on costumes than any other Halloween expenditure ($3.2 billion). The most popular costumes in 2018? Adults: witch, vampire, zombie, pirate, and Avengers characters. Kids: A princess, random superhero, Batman, random Star Wars character, and witch.
Some of those number boggle my mind.  11 million pounds of just those five candy brands (in #6)?  3.5 Million pounds of Skittles alone?  Maybe it's because candy isn't a routine part of our lives, and with Precious Grand Daughter and family a thousand miles away, we're hardly around candy at all, but that's a jaw-dropping amount of candy.  The Daily Meal has an article on the 25 most popular candies for Halloween, ranging from licorice at #25 with a mere 17,000 pounds being sold to that 3.5 Million pounds of Skittles.  Although I counted in my head, from #25 to #6 added up to about another 11 million pounds of those candy brands, bringing the overall total close to 22 million pounds of candy being sold.

Halloween trick or treaters, from the FEE article.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Space Can Be Spooky

An appropriate Halloween deep sky photo, this is a nebula cataloged as IC63 (for Index Catalog), seen in the direction of the north circumpolar constellation Cassiopeia.

The cloud looks like a ghost rising out of a foggy patch.  I see a head facing left, perhaps with a ridged helmet, and shoulders, and can follow it down to a body.  This is a portion of an image copyright Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Obs.) and featured on the Astronomy Photo of the Day for the 26th.  To borrow from the description at APOD:
About 600 light-years distant, the clouds aren't actually ghosts, but they are slowly disappearing under the influence of energetic radiation from hot,luminous star gamma Cas. Gamma Cas is physically located only 3 to 4 light-years from the nebulae, just off the top right edge of the frame. Slightly closer to gamma Cas, IC 63 is dominated by red H-alpha light emitted as hydrogen atoms ionized by the star's ultraviolet radiation recombine with electrons. ... 
This was cropped from a larger photo at the APOD link. In that photo, the field of view spans about 1 degree or 10 light-years at the estimated distance of the field of view.  That would make this cropped view around 1/2 degree.

Monday, October 29, 2018

US Poverty Ended a 20 Year Decline When LBJ Declared War On It

There's a quote attributed to Milton Friedman that goes, “if the government were to take over the Sahara Desert, there would be a shortage of sand in five years.”  There's some dispute over that (there seems to be dispute over virtually every famous quote), but the sentiment is right on. It's a wonderful description of the ineptness and incompetence of the big governments.  It has been used to describe the Soviet Union, Sweden and Dubai - and I'm sure that's just the ones the quote reference found.

In this case, points out that poverty in the US had been in decline for 20 years, from 32.1% the end of WWII to 14.7% when LBJ started his famous War on Poverty in the State of the Union speech of 1964.
Since 1966, the first year with a significant increase in antipoverty spending, the poverty rate reported by the Census Bureau has been virtually unchanged…Transfers targeted to low-income families increased in real dollars from an average of $3,070 per person in 1965 to $34,093 in 2016…Transfers now constitute 84.2% of the disposable income of the poorest quintile of American households and 57.8% of the disposable income of lower-middle-income households. These payments also make up 27.5% of America’s total disposable income.  [Emphasis added: SiG]

The FEE article is by Daniel J. Mitchell, who's a good guy to read if you're interested in smaller government and free market economics, both of the subjects here.  The article gives large chunks of text to different authors with extended quotes, like I'm doing in quoting his piece, so it gets a little messy to keep all the attributes in place.

When you look at the numbers in that quoted paragraph: 84.2% of the disposable income of the bottom quintile of American households, 57.8% of the disposable income of the next quintile up, and 27.5% of all the disposable income in the country, it's a bit shocking.  Not surprisingly, this huge amount of money being thrown around has negatively impacted incentives to work.  Quoting from Mitchell, quoting from the Wall Street Journal (paywalled):
The stated goal of the War on Poverty is not just to raise living standards but also to make America’s poor more self-sufficient and to bring them into the mainstream of the economy. In that effort the war has been an abject failure, increasing dependency and largely severing the bottom fifth of earners from the rewards and responsibilities of work…The expanding availability of antipoverty transfers has devastated the work effort of poor and lower-middle income families. By 1975 the lowest-earning fifth of families had 24.8% more families with a prime-work age head and no one working than did their middle-income peers. By 2015 this differential had risen to 37.1%…The War on Poverty has increased dependency and failed in its primary effort to bring poor people into the mainstream of America’s economy and communal life. Government programs replaced deprivation with idleness, stifling human flourishing. It happened just as President Franklin Roosevelt said it would: “The lessons of history,” he said in 1935, “show conclusively that continued dependency upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber.”  [Emphasis added - SiG]
I find it interesting that even FDR realized that the lessons of history show that dependency on relief  destroy the national spiritual and moral fiber.  It's almost as if he read Ben Franklin (1766)
“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
The problem with providing 84.2% of the disposable income of the lowest income quintile is the perverse incentives it provides for people to not do anything to improve their lot in life.  If they do improve themselves, their taxes go up and their disposable income goes down.  It's the Welfare Cliff.  That linked article is over four years old, but it shows in graphic form as well as numbers that a single mom is better off with a $29,000 job and welfare than taking a $69,000 job!  A quote in the FEE article updates the numbers a little but the conclusion is roughly the same. 
The welfare cliff drops off when income exceeds that $29,000 and the combined benefits and pay stays below that level until income exceeds $69,000.  Combined pay/benefits climbs from $30k to $43 and then drops off even more when income goes from $43 to $44k.  Going from $43 to $44,000 is a 2.3% raise in pay, but that leads to a roughly 23% decrease in total pay & benefits.  Would you turn down a 2.3% raise if led to 23% less take home pay?   If that single mother stayed sober and didn't put every dime she received up her nose,  $29,000/year is the peak lifestyle on this chart until work pay reaches over $70,000/year.
Welfare programs have constructed a trap there's no way out of.  Who wants to go to school nights, probably while raising kids, and basically turn themselves inside out for 8 to 10 years, only to find their new pay rate drops their welfare benefits and they would have done better financially just sitting home and taking the welfare checks?

How do you get rid of this?  Mitchell (at FEE) reports:
Folks on the left think the solution to high implicit tax rates (i.e., the dependency trap) is to make benefits more widely available. In other words, don’t reduce handouts as income increases.

The other alternative is to make benefits less generous, which will simultaneously reduce implicit tax rates and encourage more work.  
Of course, making the benefits less generous would lead to large scale screaming and protests from both the Free Shit Army and their government enablers.  Not to mention every invective known to man will be thrown at us - plus a few never-before-heard insults.  Hater. 

It's an axiom as true as any that you get more of things you subsidize and less of things you tax.  The open, free market was reducing poverty for 20 years until the War on Poverty started subsidizing it.  There has been no progress in 50 years.

Mitchell included a link to his blog, where he included this helpful diagram to show just how the Federal Welfare state works.  Get out your magnifiers and have fun!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Letting Out the Magic Smoke

Some of you understand that perfectly - so skip to the next paragraph.  "Letting out the magic smoke" is one of those jokes that I think everyone in electronics shares.  The standard form is that while they teach a lot of theory for technicians, all electronics is actually operating on magic smoke, not "transistors" and all the other made-up parts they talk about.  You can verify this because if you ever let the magic smoke out of the package, the circuit will never work again.  *

When I talked about moving threading onto my CNC Sherline lathe, I neglected to talk about the whole effort relying on a circuit I built back around the end of 2008, and that I was trying to understand how to make that work again.  After studying everything I could dig up to resurrect the the box and how it interfaced to my CNC controller, I decided it was time to hook it up and look for signs of life.  When power was applied, the magic smoke came out and I'm sure it will never work again.  (By the way, magic smoke stinks with a bitter, acrid smell.  A small source fills a room.)

Let me back up a minute.  When threading manually on a lathe, what those gear combinations do for you is to set the pitch of the screw in the spindle.  That is, they're setting how far the cutter moves along the screw in one revolution.  A 32 turns per inch screw moves the cutter 1/32 inch per turn; a 40 tpi screw moves it 1/40 inch and so on.  A side benefit of "locking" the movement of the cutter to the rotation of the screw is that the cutter always starts a thread at the same point on the screw's circumference.  Under manual threading like this, I'll start the cutter at some point on the screw, advance it along the screw toward the head, and stop when I reach a mark I've cut into the shaft.  Then I'll back the cutter out of the thread (a few thousandths of an inch is fine) and turn the shaft the other direction, so that the cutter goes back past the end of the screw and start of the thread.  Finally, I'll advance the cutter farther into the work by a small amount and cut another pass along the thread.  This process is repeated until the thread is cut.

If there are no gears connecting the spindle and tool (which is what I'm moving toward), how does the system synchronize the cutter and the screw being cut?  The CNC software will do that, but needs to know the position of the shaft of the screw.  That's done with something that tells the software where in a rotation the top is.  Years ago (the end of 2008), I made this little circuit box and, after some experimenting, got threading to work.  Here it is while I was getting it to work the first time:
The red oval is around the part that blew up (a Schmidt trigger for the curious, 74LS14).  What went wrong?  I simply misread a spot on the 10 year old diagram for the control board I was hooking the wiring up to.  I read VBB as VCC.  No excuse.  As a result, I put 20V on this part, which ordinarily runs on 5V.  Ooops.

On the right, four wires (orange, green, blue and white) are visible, the last three in big loops.  These are connections for the heart of the box, an optical sensor.  This part, barely visible at the right wall of the box, shines an infrared LED onto the reflective shaft of the motor, and then senses the reflection.  A small strip of black tape breaks up the reflection, which creates a pulse going to the computer when that tape passes under the optical sensor.

Part of getting this approach working is ensure you can cut a spiral groove on a blank. This was my first successful attempt at that from early 2009.
The barfed looking left half of that: not really threaded, not really not threaded, was another experiment that went bad and led to doing the scratch test.

I started looking for the parts to build another optical detector like the one I had, and found the transistor I used is obsolete and hard to get.  Looking around, I found that CNC4PC has a slightly different optical sensor for not much more than I'd pay for one of those transistors ( had the transistors for about $18 each).  The major difference is that while mine worked by reflection, this one works on transmission.  The sensor has two arms with the LED on one side and the phototransistor on the other.  A common use would put a disk with a hole through it onto the spindle and let the disk spin in that slot between the two arms, so that when the hole lines up, the software knows the index position just happened. 

So now what?  Now I figure out how to build the disk with the hole or slot in it, and how to mount both the disk and the sensor.  My little box goes away and the new little board goes inside the CNC controller box. 

* I imagine that like all specialized fields, electronics has its own jokes, legends and lore.  I didn't hear about the smoke theory until I was in the field for quite a while, maybe a decade.  Before that, the joke was that microprocessors ran on IBM theory.  Itty Bitty Men inside the components did everything.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

It's Looking Like Falcon Heavy Was A Successful Product Launch

Since it was so visible from my backyard, I naturally covered the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.  A couple of weeks later, I covered a review of the "heavy lift landscape" on Ars Technica that became one of my top 10 most popular posts. 

I say this so newcomers to the blog know I've been on the story for a while.

This week, ARS Technica reports that the Falcon Heavy seems to have caught on well with its intended customer base.  Part of that, I'm sure, is because (as ARS put it), "The Falcon Heavy is an absurdly low-cost heavy lift rocket". The other part seems to have something to do with the flamboyance of America's Favorite Huckster, Elon Musk, and the first mission which famously flung a Tesla roadster into solar orbit.

It's easy to forget that when the rocket first launched, the critics were saying that the company's Falcon 9 rocket had become powerful enough that it could satisfy the needs of most commercial customers, and that, "The Falcon Heavy is just a vanity project for Elon Musk."  It's as if the critics never expected customers to sign up for the big rocket.
At the time, the rocket only had a couple of launches on its manifest, including the six-ton Arabsat 6A satellite for Arabsat of Saudi Arabia and the Space Test Program-2 mission for the US Air Force. However, since that time SpaceX has seen the rocket certified for national security missions by the US military and has signed several additional launch contracts.

Last week, the Swedish satellite company Ovzon signed a deal for a Falcon Heavy launch as early as late 2020 for a geostationary satellite mission. And just on Thursday, ViaSat announced that it, too, had chosen the Falcon Heavy to launch one of its future ViaSat-3 satellite missions in the 2020 to 2022 timeframe.
Both Ovzon and ViaSat cited the ability of the Falcon Heavy to deliver heavy payloads "direct" - or almost directly - to geostationary orbit.  The Heavy's ability to do that direct-to-geostationary-orbit profile was the hidden meaning of the test flight.  The thing is, it didn't have to be the red Tesla, glitzy launch it became.  NASA was offered a more or less "free" launch if it wanted something delivered into deep space, but they had to follow the mission profile itself, which was a test flight.  That first test flight could have launched another mission for NASA and not the red Tesla/Starman publicity stunt. 
On the day before launch, SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained that the rocket would demonstrate the capability to send payloads directly to geostationary orbit by firing its second stage after a prolonged shutdown during which the rocket would coast. “The six-hour coast is needed for a lot of the big Air Force intel missions for direct injections to GEO,” Musk said
The ability to do the six hour coast, about twice as long as the longest coasts the Falcon 9 rocket has ever made, was absolutely not lost on the satellite industry.  It was watched closely, as you'd expect it would be; we are talking millions of dollars in cost impact to these companies, after all.
This turns out to have been a shrewd move. The demonstration flight of the Falcon Heavy apparently convinced not only the military of the rocket's direct-to-geo capability but satellite fleet operators as well. The Falcon Heavy rocket now seems nicely positioned to offer satellite companies relatively low-cost access to orbits they desire, with a minimum of time spent getting there in space.