Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Migrant Caravan Manipulation Continues

Last spring, when the "Migrant Caravan" to the US/Mexico border was going on, I did a piece talking about how we're all being manipulated by the media on this.  Since there's another caravan going on, I tried to determine if the same forces are in play and the same game is being played.

Short answer: Yeah.  You bet.

Representative Matt Gaetz from the NW part of Florida posted this video to Twitter, showing a couple of guys going through the caravan crowd handing out money.

It should be obvious, right?  Here we have thousands of people migrating a long distance and leaving whatever home and life they had.  They have to eat.  They have to "function".  The military saying that "an army marches on its stomach" doesn't just apply to armies.  Furthermore, take a look at he people in this freeze frame: do they look poorly dressed?  Do they look like destitute refugees?  Not to me.  To me, they look fairly well dressed and even fairly affluent. 

How much money are we talking about?  Talk show host and Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham is being widely quoted for this tweet.
Who is funding the migrant “caravan”? Each migrant’s passage can cost as much as $7K each. Per capita income Honduras is $2.3 K.
A rough number for the cost of moving this caravan becomes trivial with this estimate.  Given I've heard estimates of 4000 in the crowd, that says it's a $28 Million dollar effort to rush the US border.

At the American Thinker, Daniel John Sobieski writes the funding comes from the Honduran government and Non-Governmental Organizations funded by George Soros.
It is doubtful that such sums came from the kiddies' college funds.  Evidence of Soros funding of an earlier "spontaneous" migration have been found among the tentacles of support that flow from his Open Society group coffers
The article linked, though, is from last May, and mentions the groups I talked about back then.   The organization taking the lead is “Pueblo Sin Fronteras”.  The name translates as "people without borders", but a more poetic translation might be Open Society, the name of one of Soros' pet organizations.  "A World Without Borders".
“The caravan is organized by a group called Pueblo Sin Fronteras, but the effort is supported by the coalition CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, which includes Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLIN), the American Immigration Council (AIC), the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RICELS) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) – thus the acronym CARA,” WND reported. “At least three of the four groups are funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation.”
It looks like this story is a duplicate of the last "caravan of central American refugees" story from last spring: much more "AstroTurf" than "grass roots".  By the way: did you happen to notice that Judicial Watch says there's 3.5 million more registered voters than living adults in the US?  Funny, that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Disney is Working on Robotic Stuntmen

An interesting little story on Machine Design about the effort to make autonomous robots that can take the place of stunt actors in dangerous scenes.

The story follows the development of a simple "BRICK" (Binary Robotic Inertially Controlled bricK); through a Parkour robot that was tested on an air hockey table; to a 7' tall stick that flips end over end; to a stick that bends, somersaults, and always lands on its "back" (sort of a simplified version of human bending their knees up and somersaulting), and finally to the anthropomorphic robot seen in the 40 second video above (which resembles the title character in Avengers: Age of Ultron).

It's a straightforward progression; methodically adding complexity until finally the humanoid looking robot is flung from a wire cable and maneuvers with "no strings on me".  I can see simple tasks like these being done by robots, but I'm still skeptical of the "robots will take all the jobs" idea that's so prevalent. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shop Improvements In the Works

The battery adventure was a diversion from the real work going on for the next project.  I have some improvements in mind.   In what I see as the order to do them, they are:
  • Build a new front onto my enclosure replacing the bifold doors, and more importantly, allowing me to get to the machine's table without scraping the top of my head on the aluminum rail
  • Resurrect the ability for my CNC Lathe to cut threads.  
  • Look at improvements to the spindle on my big mill, the G0704.  This is aimed at a few things:
    • Ability to start, and stop the spindle from the CNC code - this is fundamental in the real world.
    • Ability to set the spindle speed from the CNC code.  The GCode command exists for this and I think most all of the "real" machine shops do it.  
    • Together, these mean a new motor.  I will do this with an eye to roughly doubling the speed of my spindle.  Which will require new bearings for spindle
    • After this, I'm considering being able to tap (thread) holes under CNC control.  This one, frankly, isn't super important to me, but it looks like the I can accomplish that without adding much cost to the motor and controller improvements that do the first two.  
Changing the front of the enclosure has been on my mind for the last several months.  The bi-fold doors are convenient and give good access to the mill's table, but they're only 25" tall.  If I walk up to the enclosure without ducking, the bridge of my nose hits the top rail.  I need at least another 6 or 8" clearance.  (In fairness, I built this to Hoss' plans and Hoss is in a wheelchair.  The relatively low top rail isn't an issue.)  I spent some time looking at other enclosures online and like the idea of doors that can slide out of the way.  I come up with something like this. 

The new front would be framed entirely of 1x2 standard dimensional lumber.  The doors will slide in grooves routed in the top and bottom horizontal pieces, and will be able to slide past the ends, which will allow lots of access to the inside.  When the doors close, the center door will overlap the two side pieces to keep chips and splashes inside.

Moving to threading on the dedicated CNC lathe was something that re-occurred to me during the flame eater build.  I had to thread some small pieces; nothing I threaded was beyond the size capabilities of the Sherline.  When I built the CNC lathe, it was always intended for threading more than anything else, and after some trials and tribulations I was able to get a few test pieces threaded.  Unfortunately, that was 10 years and several garage re-organizations ago; it barely runs.  In fact, today I wanted to check some aspects of how it ran and it wouldn't run properly.  The cross slide (holding the tool) only moved in one direction, away from the chuck.  The motion to advance the tool into the work was fine.  It took a bit of troubleshooting to find out it was simply a connector that needed to be unplugged and replugged.

In the intervening years, the Sherline world has gotten more sophisticated, with high resolution position encoders and people driving their spindles with stepper motors for complete control of position.  I don't want to overcomplicate this, but I also want it to be dependable for little things like that wrist pin yoke I just made that 3 turns of a 32 TPI thread on it. 

The spindle motor almost is lower priority because it works as it is, it could just be better (and I guess all of these improvements are like that).  Another aspect of the spindle motor upgrade is that a lot of guys update the power of the motor on the 704, because the rated 1 HP is a little light.  I don't mind that as much, but from what I see while getting familiar with what's out there, I'll probably end up in the 1-1/2 to 2HP size by the time I'm done.

Why double the speed?  I have a "speeds and feeds" program called G-Wizard; what that gives me is a good starting point for how fast I should spin the cutter (RPMs) and how fast the table should move in Inches Per Minute (IPM).  Virtually every time I cut aluminum, it tells me to set my spindle to as fast as it can go, giving me the warning that the spindle being maxed out is bad for tool life.  I think doubling the spindle speed will allow me to cut at RPMs less than the max. 

I'm still contemplating the next big project, and I'm thinking of a simple internal combustion engine.  I understand they're less fussy than the flame eater.  I naively told Mrs. Graybeard that I'd like to make something like a single cylinder lawnmower engine.  There's a popular "first IC engine" by a guy named Webster who the engine is usually named after. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Adventures of SiG in 18650 Land - Part 2

I concluded part 1 of this little series by saying I purchased two Panasonic NCR18650BD batteries (BD is the important piece of the number that calls out these particular cells); these are sold as 3200 mAH, and capable of 10 Amp surges.  I don't anticipate surge current being an important part of my application, but it's a "nice to have" feature.   I found the data sheet for the batteries, which is useful and going to be part of my basis here (pdf warning).

Are my batteries really what they're sold as?  If I put them on my computerized battery analyzer, I should be able to measure that 3200 mAH if the seller is honest, right?  Well, maybe.  Welcome to the world of specsmanship - writing specifications to sell a product and sound like the best while not lying.   Jumping to the conclusion of the story, let me show you a plot of the battery discharge when running at 1A, or roughly 1/3 of capacity (usually written as C/3).

My measured capacity was 2900 mAH.  Is that a good value for a battery sold as 3200?

The first thing to note is that the data sheet never shows a number as high as 3200; in fact, the datasheet says they claim to be rated for 2980 mAH at 20C, although they're almost universally sold as 3200 mAH.  The highest "Typical Capacity" it shows is 3180, and I'm willing to say that's "close enough" to 3200 to be where that number comes from.  Here's the important table from that sheet.  I don't see an explanation for the values in blue - I'm guessing they're the minimums over the temperature range. 

My plot (above) cuts off the discharge at a voltage of  2.8V/cell, that's the red horizontal line (you can read it says 5.6V - there are two cells in series in this test).  The datasheet's discharge tests turn off the battery at 2.5V/cell.  If my system cut off at 2.5/cell instead of 2.8, that would push the capacity up. Does that close the difference between 2900 mAH and 3030?  It might well.  (Ignore the vertical line, I clicked the wrong button starting the test.)

Another factor to know is that the charge lasts longer and looks like higher capacity when the discharge rate is lower.  There is a chart showing the apparent capacity difference for charge rates of 0.2C (606mA), 0.5C (1015mA), 1.0C (3030mA) and 2.0C (6060mA), and the capacity appears around 10% higher at the lowest discharge rate of 0.2C.   What discharge rate is used for their specification?  I don't see it listed.  When I was involved in specifying batteries at Major Defense Contractor, around 1992, the usual practice was that rechargeable batteries were rated a C/10, or 0.1C. 

Based on everything I can see, I can't convince myself these batteries aren't exactly as specified.  They appear to be in the range of 3000 to 3200 mAH capacity and behave like I think they should. 

The two Panasonic batteries on the charger. 

Now for an example of bad.  This weekend was the annual ham radio swapfest in town, and a seller was there with some 18650s.  He was selling batteries marked something like 72 or 7600 mAH and 4200 mAH.  As I implied yesterday, I don't think anyone can really get 7600 mAH out of a battery this size, so I bought a pair of the 4200 mAH cells just to experiment on -- and I don't think anyone can get that capacity, either..  

I know that one of the ways to cheat on making a battery is to just put less "goop" in it: both electrodes and electrolyte.  As regular reader Reg T said, one can weigh the batteries.  I weighed the two good batteries on a Horrible Freight scale.  They weighed about 94 grams.  Then I put the two hamfest batteries on the scale:

Gee, they're supposed to get 1000mAH more out of the battery with 45% less stuff in them?  Nah.  Ain't gonna happen.  Physics is a bitch about the "you don't get something for nothing" stuff.  Don't even think about trying it.  So I tried charging and discharging.  Since I had run my first test on the good batteries at C/2, 1.6A, I set these to run at C/2 or 2.2A.  They lasted 10 seconds.  To cut the story (which really could have been cut at the weight), I kept reducing the discharge rate, alternating charge/discharge cycles and never got anything close to even half of their stamped rating; they weigh 55% of the good batteries, so perhaps they should be closer to a 1600 mAH performance.

The best I got out of these batteries was about 250 mAH.  I can't know if these were good and went bad because of bad storage, if the seller bought them expecting they were good and was cheated or just what.  All I know is that I can demonstrate these batteries aren't what they're sold as.  To be honest, I expected them to be junk, just maybe not this bad.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Adventures of SiG in 18650 Land - Part 1

I'm just envisioning a lot of  people saying "what?"

The generic term 18650 refers to a battery that has become very popular in the last couple of years.  The leading 18 refers to the cell diameter and 65 refers to its length, both in millimeters.  I have no idea what the trailing 0 is supposed to mean.  They're quite a bit bigger than the familiar AA battery, and those dimensions show the 18650 to be very similar in size to what's referred to as 4/3A at 17x67 or 4/3 Fat A at 18x67.  (There are literally about 85 standard sizes for batteries other than AAA, AA, C and D cells).

There may be an exception, but every 18650 cell I've seen is a Lithium Ion battery and most tend to be higher current capacity than a AA rechargeable.  The picture gets more complicated from here.  I'll pick that topic up in few minutes.

If you have a tactical flashlight like a Streamlight, Ultrafire or some other brands, you may know about these batteries because they have become very widely used.  Likewise, they'll get used without your direct knowledge in things like the power banks available for charging your phone on the go.  For example, one like this, which based on its ratings and size, is probably a single 18650 cell with the required circuitry.  I believe they're at the heart of things like car jump starters I've talked about before, but their use in laptop battery packs is probably where industry first cranked up to make lots of these batteries. 

I started down this road into 18650 land because of a battery powered light I found while looking for something else.  Not a flashlight, it's a bike headlight leftover from the days when the only time I could ride my bike this time of year was after dark.  (It's long since obsoleted by the manufacturer, but it resembles this one).  I found this light and a pair of batteries, long since forgotten.  Due to their shapes, I'll call them the bottle and the brick.  Both were Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, NiMH; the bottle measured more like 5 cells (over 7V open circuit after 16hours on a trickle charger) while the brick measured more like 4 cells (over 5-1/2V).   I believe the brick was the battery I used with this headlight while riding.

You would probably think it would be remarkable if they worked after years in storage.  I did, too.  After several discharge/recharge cycles, it turned out that the bottle would run the headlight for a while, while the brick wouldn't.  Neither was "good", but the bottle was better.  It's capacity curve looked very reasonable when supplying 1 amp, for over 2 hours.  When I say it's not "good", it's not like a new battery and can't be charged faster than a trickle rate for 16 hours.

I had started to think that it would be nice to have this bright light available in the aftermath of a storm, or any other blackout.  Lights are always good.  After some effort, I was able to measure the current the headlight drew, which allowed me to size how big a battery pack I would need: it would have to be over 4V and rated one amp*hour for every hour I wanted it to run it at max brightness.  As a test, I ran the headlight for over two hours on maximum brightness from a pack of 4 AA NiMH Eneloop Pros that I borrowed from a handheld radio, just as my "1AH per hour" predicts.  That meant I knew I could just buy another pack of those, but I got interested in the capacity of the Li-Ion batteries.

A quick search of Amazon and eBay showed a bewildering assortment of 18650s.  Worse than bewildering, I would say a preposterous assortment.  One the one hand, you have reputable  companies like Samsung selling a 2500 mAH rated battery - identical to the smaller AA Eneloop batteries I tested - while on the other hand you'll find companies you've never heard of selling batteries rated almost four times that capacity.   I'm not a battery designer, but I understand what goes into them and how they work.  While it's true that in a given sized battery, current can be increased somewhat by increasing the surface area of the electrodes, the capacity in mAH depends most on the battery size.  As a result, I honestly don't believe anyone on earth can get 9800 mAH out of any 18650-sized battery, if the companies with a good reputation are claiming 2500 mAH. 

Worse than ridiculous claims for batteries, the marketplace is also full of outright fraud, counterfeit batteries and counterfeit components.   After some looking around, I found a site dedicated to a niche use, home made battery packs for home made electric bikes.  That site ended up having lots of good solid information, including this gem:
Here is a video of disassembling an 18650 shell that has a very tiny 4.2V battery inside. Counterfeits are everywhere these days!

If you begin shopping for loose individual 18650 cells, and you find advertisements for 4200-mAh cells that put out 30A per cell…they are lying (Trustfire, Ultrafire, etc). An authentic Ultrafire cell is not horrible, but again, there are lots of counterfeits.

Buy some samples of the cell you think you want to use. Set-up a current-drain pulling the same watts that the cell is rated for, and…if it is too hot to hold in your hand after 5 minutes, its a fake. It may even look exactly like an authentic Samsung, Panasonic, or LG cell. Once you find a trusted vendor, only buy cells from them.
Using this guide, I narrowed my search to a few part numbers, eventually settling on Panasonic batteries rated for 10A surges and 3200 mAH, then found a seller on eBay with a decent package at a good price

More adventures in 18650 land will follow.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Next Big Thing - HD Haptics

Haptic technology is around now.  Haptics is using technological means to cause physical sensations to a technology user.  The easy example is the use of a vibrating motor in your phone to tell you a message is there; it's a way of communicating back to the user through physical sensation.  The Wikipedia definition (first link) contains a pretty useful summary.
Haptic or kinesthetic communication recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user.[1] This mechanical stimulation can be used to assist in the creation of virtual objects in a computer simulation, to control such virtual objects, and to enhance the remote control of machines and devices (telerobotics).
This is about what's coming.

Wired magazine used to have a meme for tech articles, where they would give a summary of some technology approaches saying the well known way was "tired", while the new advanced one was "Wired".   Electronic design puts a new spin on it with this lead into the article.
Tired: simple haptics that make smartphones vibrate with new message alerts.
Wired: haptic technology that recreates the sensation of pressing a physical key on a touchscreen.
Inspired: high-definition haptics that imitate the texture of a sweater’s fabric so that people shopping on their devices can feel before they buy.
That last one could shake the retail sector to its core.  One of the reasons Mrs. Graybeard and I go to brick and mortar stores to shop for clothes is to see what the fabric feels like.  If you could run your fingers over the screen of a phone or tablet and get an accurate simulation of the feel of that fabric, I can see massive impacts to the already-decimated local malls.

Perhaps you've seen the ads for places like MTailor that use an app to command your phone to take pictures of you.  Other services also say you'll answer a handful of questions.  They send you a custom tailored shirt - for roughly twice the price of your local department store's shirt.  Combine that with the high def haptics to feel the fabric choices and it seems like a combination that could take custom shirts made by using an app from a fringe small business to mainstream.

The company behind this is Boreas Technology, a startup company with 12 employees.
To recreate that touch sensation requires piezoelectric actuators that can generate a precise amount of haptic feedback. These parts are unable to function without large amounts of power, keeping them out of things like smartphones and wearables. But Boreas Technologies, a startup, introduced on Tuesday a high-voltage, low-power driver IC built from the ground up for these actuators. And it could help change things.

“The electronics required to operate these actuators has not been very efficient, preventing companies from using piezoelectric actuators in consumer products,” said Simon Chaput, chief executive and founder of Boreas. Changing that could move more responsive and realistic haptics into applications with power and thermal constraints. That could include not only smartphones and wearables but also home appliances and cars.
The market leader in drivers for these piezoelectric actuators is analog electronics giant Texas Instruments and Boreas is looking to capture parts of the market, which is expected to grow to $13.7 billion by 2022. Whether Boreas is the company that makes this reality or not is hard to say, but I think it's predictable High Definition haptics will succeed.  Between online shopping and gaming, both of which are among the biggest businesses, there will be plenty of push to make it happen.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Why I Don't Live on the Beach in One Picture

A montage of Mexico Beach, Florida from yesterday and Gilchrist, Texas from 2008.   Hurricanes Michael and Ike respectively. 

The picture on the right came to mind immediately after seeing early reports out of Michael - I knew I had posted it in the early days of this blog, 2010.  The point of that post is that people talk about a "TEOTWAWKI" event like an EMP, a monster solar flare, the magnetic poles reversing or even a Screaming Meteor of Death, but something like this is many times more likely, and for all the people whose homes used to be on the scattered concrete pads visible in those pictures, this was the end of the world as they knew it.  

Hurricanes are part of the forces that shape the planet.  Beaches are not permanent.  If you decide to live on "shifting sands", you may outlive your house and you may not.  Either way, exactly when your house is no longer there is not your decision. 

The official death toll for Michael was three a little while ago.  The AP article (first link) says:
State officials said 285 people in Mexico Beach had defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Michael. More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in.
As we said Wednesday night, the storm intensified so radically, so fast that they may have thought it was too late to get out of town Wednesday morning.  There's really only two ways out of Mexico Beach: the best is probably US98 to 231 and then I-10; the other is a back road, 386.  Being stuck in traffic or broken down in a car isn't much better than being in one of those houses - probably worse.  Searches are ongoing, but I think three fatalities is low by quite a bit.  Maybe low by a couple of orders of magnitude.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Aircraft Wing vs. Two Pound Plastic Drone

Courtesy of Digital Photography Review's newsletter, we get this video of two pound drone hitting an aircraft wing at speed (238mph).

The University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) has published a video showing the damage caused by a consumer drone when it strikes the wing of a fixed-wing aircraft. The test simulated life-like conditions, the end result mimicking the collision of a quadcopter with the wing of an aircraft at 383km/h (238mph).

Despite weighing only 952g (2.1lbs), the drone tore a large hole in the wing, ultimately causing damage to its main spar. UDRI's group leader for impact physics Kevin Poormon said in a university release that the drone caused "significant damage" to the structure. Both the video and test results were recently presented at the Unmanned Systems Academic Summit.
The "main spar" of a wing can be thought of as its backbone and the way the wing attaches to the aircraft.  We have a pretty good idea of what a couple of pounds of bird can do to an aircraft engine, but this is new research (AFAIK).  It's quite dramatic; it doesn't rip the wing off the the aircraft, but you can envision controlling the aircraft just got a lot harder.

Reports of "near misses" (near collisions) and actual collisions between drones and manned aircraft are increasingly common.  DPReview goes on to add:
Earlier this year, a video surfaced of a drone pilot operating their UAV directly above a passenger jet as it left McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.  Similar reports of reckless activity have surfaced in recent months, such as an investigation into a possibly drone-related helicopter crash earlier this year and a drone-plane collision in Canada late last year.
There was a lot of talk on other blogs about cheap hobby drones carrying small explosive devices; maybe that's not the only way of thinking they might be used.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hurricane Michael As A Worst Case To Consider

Some time during the mid '80s  or early '90s, after Mrs. Graybeard and I had moved into this house, the newspaper we got at the time (The Orlando Sentinel) published an article on a county Emergency Operations Center planning event.  The scenario was designed to tax the area's ability to respond to a worst case hurricane.  The scenario had the storm coming into central Florida from the east over open Atlantic to maintain strength the most until impact.  Then (IIRC) the storm slowed to a stop far enough off the coast to start lashing us with hurricane force winds while the hurricane intensified over the warm Gulf stream to chart-topping strength.  I think it intensified to a category 5 hurricane then came ashore slowly crossing the state east to west in the middle. 

The projected destruction was mind blowing.  Virtually nothing along the barrier island - what locals call "beach side" - survives a direct hit from a Cat 5 hurricane.  Very little within 10 miles of the coast survives.  Even very few of the buildings and launch structures on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center were said to be able to survive a category 5 storm with a 15-20 foot storm surge.  I thought that blockhouses designed to survive an exploding rocket falling on them would laugh off a little 160 mph wind; the EOC said otherwise.  Or said they didn't do well under 15 feet of water. 

Long time readers might recall we caught a lucky break with Hurricane Matthew two years ago and had only tropical storm force conditions.  We had a Cat 1 storm conditions with Irma going up the other side of the state last year.  Before that, we had hits from Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 (a few weeks apart) and Erin in 1995.  Going back to childhood, I lived through Cleo, Betsey and Donna.  Over the years, we've had more tropical storms than I recall because they're not really worth counting.  So I claim some level of "cred" when it comes to these storms. 

Today's Michael is the worst case I can recall.  The thing only got named on Sunday the 7th, three days ago!  Yeah, the precursors were there a few days longer, but only us weather geeks who check the tropical weather every morning know that.  The vast majority of people who got hammered today probably heard about it on Monday.  Or yesterday.  They either heard "evacuate NOW" or "your preparations must be rushed to completion.  Tuesday evening was too late.  This morning the storm was starting and it was way too late.  Then the storm did the worst thing it could possibly due, it explosively intensified right up to the moment of landfall.  Early reports are calling it Category 4 with winds at 155, which is 2mph below the low end of Cat 5, and the third lowest central pressure in history.  It's truly a storm for the record books. 

Yesterday, it was still a category 2 and then cat 3 storm until as late as 11PM (bottom of that page) with 125 mph winds.  Just 14 hours later the winds were 155.  Wind damage scales as wind speed squared, so the factor is 155^2/125^2, over 1.5 times as strong in 14 hours. 

When I look at storms like this, I try to figure out what I can learn from it.  Would I stay or would I go? 

The storm surge reports I've seen have been 9 feet or less, compared to forecasts of 12 feet.  Most of that is due to the shape of the gulf bottom helping the winds pile up the water along the shores of the panhandle east of Apalachicola.  One of the reasons I bought this house is that we drove around looking for neighborhoods that don't flood.  We're high enough above sea level that it would take much more storm surge to reach us.  Facing a cat 2 storm that everyone was saying should make 3, I would have stayed.  If I was on the beach a couple of feet above sea level looking at a storm surge higher than my house?  Aside from the fact I wouldn't live there, yeah, I'd get out. 

What if I had known it would make it to the cusp of Cat 5?  I don't think I could have known that in time, because we would have needed to be out by Tuesday evening.  I probably would have stayed until this morning when it was too late to go and treated it more like something serious.  Maybe camp out in an inner hallway with a mattress in case the roof leaves. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

If Spray Painted Antennas Aren't Your Thing

How about 3D printed antennas.

For most amateur applications, certainly below 440 MHz, the consumer-end commercial printers aren't going to be big enough to print a full sized antenna, but printing pieces like insulators, or even plastic radiating elements that are spray painted with a conductive paint to make them conductive all seem to be within the capabilities of these printers.

The problem with low end printers is surface roughness.  Most of them work by hot filament extrusion and the prints often look and feel rough - the much more expensive stereolithography (liquid resin) printers produce a smoother surface.  At HF (2-30 MHz) through the VHF Ham bands (30-300 MHz), the roughness is going to be too small in terms of a wavelength to affect the performance of anything you print.  At higher frequencies, though, this sort of surface roughness can have marked effects on performance. 

(Example of a lumpy, bumpy 3D filament print from

A group of workers at Antenna Test Lab Co. ran a series of experiments on ways to improve the surface and measured how much the treatments helped the performance.  The results are reported by Microwaves & RF magazine.
To help RF/microwave engineers better understand the capabilities of antennas produced by 3D printing, Antenna Test Lab Company modeled printed, metallized, and tested a family of 15-dBi standard-gain horns for use from 2 to 40 GHz. The company is a professional antenna test laboratory with anechoic chamber (Fig. 1) to isolate antennas under test from outside RF/microwave energy sources and signals.

Some trial-and-error is involved in the process of producing and characterizing these antennas, especially over such a wide frequency range, but the benefits of 3D printing can be dramatic. For example, commercially available standard gain horns are typically quite expensive, with price tags ranging from $500 to $1500 depending on frequency range. Once the expense of learning how to print RF/microwave antennas has passed, compare those prices to the cost of producing a 3D standard gain horn at microwave frequencies for about $1.
$1 vs $500 to $1500?  Not many engineers will pass up that kind of savings.  They went on to print these standard-geometry horn antennas in a wide range of sizes to cover the frequencies they wanted to research.  Shown here:

For size comparisons in your mind you can think that antenna in the background is about the size of a big salad bowl (or you could look at the respirator right front).  This antenna was printed in sections and glued together.  The smaller, higher frequency antennas were printed in one session.  All of these follow the same geometry and are only scaled in overall size to account for the different frequencies (their mounts were probably scaled as well).  The standard antennas have a standard gain, which is 15 dBi (15 decibels above a theoretical isotropic antenna that's perfectly omnidirectional; a decibel (dB) is a ratio of two numbers, 10*log (ratio) when dealing with powers or intensities).

As expected, they found that the printed horns acted like they were tuned to the right frequencies, but they had less gain: 5 dB instead of the expected 15. 
The first test antenna was an X-band horn (8 to 12 GHz) with an easy-to-print 4-in. aperture. Two copies of the antenna were printed to evaluate two common shielding spray paints: “841 Super Shield Nickel” and “843AR Super Shield Silver Coated Copper.” Each copy of the antenna was given two coats of the shielding spray paint, with suitable drying time between coats.
That's when they decided to go after surface roughness.
Smoothing the plastic surfaces of a 3D-printed antenna is a necessary step in achieving the target gain performance from those surfaces once they are metallized. Sanding is one way to smooth the 3D layer surface roughness, but it’s time-consuming. The funnel shape of the horn also results in triangular facets that are enclosed and tapered, forming a surface that’s not practical for power sanding tools to work on.

After experimentation, it was found that “solvent smoothing” required the least time and effort with satisfactory results. Acetone is a useful and well-known solvent for ABS plastic prints, and it worked well with prints from a smaller ABS filament printer. The large-format printer uses only PLA filament, for which there does not seem to be a readily available solvent. Some research did reveal that dichloromethane (methylene chloride) was a candidate solvent for PLA plastic, and was found to be highly effective at softening and smoothing the plastic’s surface roughness.
Acetone is widely used as a solvent, it's still in nail polish remover, but methylene chloride is a bit more hazardous to work with.  It's a bit less common and the authors argue it's being phased out in favor of less toxic solvents.  They worked outside with gloves, respirators and full safety gear. 

The combination of smoothing the surfaces followed by the conductive paint succeeded and the printed antennas more closely approached the ideal gain.  Yes, doing that work reduces the "$1 vs $500-$1500" differential we mentioned, but I'd believe it still represents a good savings. 

It's worth noting that in their experiments, the nickle-based shielding (conductive) paint never performed as well as the other one they tested.
The nickel-based version of the conductive paint apparently exhibited several decibels loss at all frequencies, even following smoothing of the plastic horn surfaces. The silver/copper-based point, on the other hand, worked well to 26 GHz. From 26 to 40 GHz, the small horn exhibited about 3 dB loss (12 dBi gain) even when the plastic surfaces were smoothed by application of the solvents.

The 3-dB loss could be overcome by sanding the horn completely smooth with a small file, brushing with solvent, and recoating the surface with conductive paint. Since this Ka-band horn is only 1 in. in size, its soft plastic walls can easily be filed smooth in a manner of minutes. This extra smoothing step allowed it to achieve very low shorted aperture return loss while also reaching the expected 15-dBi gain when tested in the anechoic chamber
To sum this up, a 3D printer can be a useful accessory for making passive and radiating portions of an antenna.  If you're operating above "a few" hundred MHz, you might want to smooth the radiating elements with solvents or sanding - replace "you might want to" with "you'd better" if you're operating above about 2 GHz.  After smoothing, radiating structures should be painted with silver/copper shielding paint - this appears to be what they used.  

Monday, October 8, 2018

Drexel University's Spray-On Antennas

Courtesy of the American Radio Relay League's weekly ARRL Letter, we learn of a new material for spraying antennas onto insulating substrates, with more features than simply spraying conductive paint.  The new material is called MXene (pronounced "Maxine") and is a new form of titanium carbide developed at Drexel University being described as a two dimensional conductor, like the better known graphene.  The MXene antennas were shown to be 50 times better than graphene and 300 times better than silver ink antennas.  The MXene form of titanium carbide is easily dissolved or suspended in water and then sprayed onto test substrates with an air brush. 
"The ability to spray an antenna on a flexible substrate or make it optically transparent means that we could have a lot of new places to set up networks," said Drexel Wireless Systems Laboratory Director and engineering professor Kapil Dandekar, a co-author of the research published recently in Science Advances.
Wait.  "Optically transparent", as in "invisible"?
“The thinnest antenna was as thin as 62 nanometers — about thousand times thinner than a sheet of paper — and it was almost transparent. Unlike other nanomaterials fabrication methods, that requires additives, called binders, and extra steps of heating to sinter the nanoparticles together, we made antennas in a single step by airbrush spraying our water-based MXene ink.”
The buzzword in radio design these days, like so much of engineering, is the Internet of Things (IoT) so naturally they talk about that market for printable, virtually invisible antennas, or printed antennas that work better than any current technology allows.  There's a belief that people will want antennas embedded into their clothes, possibly onto their skin, and many other parts of day to day life.
“The MXene antenna not only outperformed the macro and micro world of metal antennas, we went beyond the performance of available nanomaterial antennas, while keeping the antenna thickness very low,” said Babak Anasori, PhD, a research assistant professor in A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute.
The group initially tested the spray-on application of the antenna ink on a rough substrate — cellulose paper — and a smooth one — polyethylene terephthalate sheets — the next step for their work will be looking at the best ways to apply it to a wide variety of surfaces from glass to yarn and skin.

“Further research on using materials from the MXene family in wireless communication may enable fully transparent electronics and greatly improved wearable devices that will support the active lifestyles we are living,” Anasori said.
Drexel researchers discovered the family of MXene materials in 2011, so they're not really a new discovery.  They've spent the last seven years gaining an understanding of their properties, and considering possible applications.  The layered two-dimensional material, which is made by wet chemical processing, has already shown potential in energy storage devices, electromagnetic shielding, water filtration, chemical sensing, structural reinforcement and gas separation.

Doctoral student Asia Sarycheva with an antenna printed onto a small square of plastic.

Nowhere in the Drexel or the ARRL articles do they mention the practical question of "how do you hook it up?"  For hams who need to keep a low profile due to Home Owners Associations, an invisible antenna might be just the thing.  Hang up a sheet of clear plastic with an antenna printed on it?  A clear plastic yagi antenna?   My experience with HOA people is they'll still complain.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

On Believing Allegations: An Analogy

I've never told this story, but it's about something I was involved in over 30 years ago.  You see, I was the principal product designer on the Apple Macintosh computer.  I worked remotely, and almost exclusively with Steve Jobs.  I would direct Steve, telling him what can be done, and correcting his strange visions of whatever "insanely great" meant at any given moment. 

I have exactly as much evidence as Dr. Fraud has.  My main corroborating witness is unavailable for comment. 

I've never told this story, but it's about something I was involved in over 160 years ago.  You see, I was the inventor of dynamite.  I know you've heard that Alfred Nobel is the inventor, but I showed him how to do it.  We worked some of the details together. 

I have exactly as much evidence as Dr. Fraud has.   My main corroborating witness is unavailable for comment.

And that's the difference between making an allegation and having corroborating evidence and witnesses.  Just thought I'd share that.

And just because this is one of the funniest pictures on the whole story.

Stolen mercilessly from but with credit to Raconteur Report

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Get Your Kids Into STEM Fields

Ran across this illustration.  I don't know that it's true, but I've fact checked these folks on things before and they were right.

Unless your kid can be an NFL superstar, or a superstar in any professional sport, they can do better as an engineer.  They don't distinguish the engineering specialty and that varies pretty widely.  Sites like this one comparing fields are pretty easy to find.

Plus, they'll never blow out a knee or suffer CTE from solving problems (although it might feel like it at times). 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Lockheed Martin Proposes Huge Lunar Lander for NASA

According to Ars Technica reporting, aerospace/defense giant Lockheed Martin, known around here as "Lock-Mart, your one stop defense super store", has responded to a NASA request for proposal for a lunar lander, proposing a mega-version of the Lunar Excursion Module from the Apollo program.
The company's proposal for a "crewed lunar lander" is fairly ambitious. The 14-meter (46') single-stage spacecraft can carry up to four astronauts to the lunar surface, where they can stay for up to 14 days before the vehicle's engines blast it back into lunar orbit. This vehicle would be twice as tall as the Lunar Module used during the Apollo missions to the Moon nearly half a century ago. That vehicle carried two astronauts for short stays of no more than a few days.

"There is a lift elevator platform to get the crew down from the cabin to the surface," said Lockheed Martin principal space exploration architect Tim Cichan in an interview with Ars.

The lander would have considerable dry mass—22 metric tons—and would require an additional 40 tons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel for its sorties down to the surface of the Moon from the proposed Lunar Gateway. The vehicle's preliminary design uses four modified RL10 engines, but other engines could be employed. The reusable vehicle could be re-fueled on the surface of the Moon or in orbit and should be capable of at least five to 10 flights.
Essentially twice the size of the Apollo LEM in every category.  Four astronauts instead of two; 14 days on the lunar surface instead of "a few", and a single stage rather than two with one left behind on the moon forever, giving this vehicle the opportunity to last "five to 10" flights instead of single mission.  An interesting point is that NASA didn't request a proposal for anything this big.
In March, the space agency solicited information from industry about medium-sized landers on the scale of 500kg, which could scale up to a 6-ton human-class lander. Lockheed's proposed lander is considerably larger than anything NASA has requested so far. "What we chose to do is jump to the end game," Antonelli said of the design.
At 62 tons instead of the "could scale up to a 6-ton" size, it really is a jump to the end game.  They say the lander is usable for a Mars landing with no modifications.

Anybody who read Heinlein's classic novel, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" knows the saying "TANSTAAFL" - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch - and thinks of it as a law of space travel.  More precisely, it's a law of "life, the universe and everything" and space travel just happens to be part of that.  A lander this big can do a lot for you but that comes at a lot of cost. 
There are some questions about this approach. One is that the vehicle would require a lot of fuel, 40 tons, all of which initially will have to be launched from the surface of Earth and transferred into lunar orbit. This would require a costly Space Launch System-class rocket launch all by itself. Alternately, the fuel could be launched to low-Earth orbit by smaller rockets and then be transferred with a solar electric power tug from there to lunar orbit. Eventually, if NASA and commercial companies figure out how to mine lunar water, this hydrogen and oxygen could come from the lunar poles.
Read that last sentence again: it says that it might not be as bad if humans figure out how to mine lunar water at reasonable costs.   This has been theoretically possible for quite a while, but nobody has demonstrated being able to do it in the hostile environment of the moon's surface at any cost.  Oh, and in that second to last sentence, "...transferred with a solar electric power tug..." - those tugs don't exist either.

NASA has said that it won't decide the "date and method" for a human return to the moon until 2024, so nothing is going to happen about this in the short term.  My bet is that nothing happens about it in the longer term either.  If we are ever to be able to reduce or eliminate the deficit, it's getting to be time for NASA to no longer be involved in this.  Yes, I think there is a place for NASA; in my mind, that place is new pure science and aeronautics research.  They're involved in too much routine stuff; see this comparison of the costs of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and similar launch vehicles.  Most or all research flights should be unmanned.  There is room to learn better ways to live in space, but I think human spaceflight is largely understood.  I'm sure there are things left to learn, especially about deep space travel (beyond the moon), and I'm even more sure there are things to learn about habitats and colonies on the moon and planets, but that's something NASA and the private sector can work on together. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Shameless Pluggery Ahead

Pardon me if you've read this before, but reloading and shooting supply store Widener's has announced a new contest:
We are giving away “Free Ammo For A Year” to one lucky Widener’s fan. To win all they have to do is subscribe to our blog newsletter by following the link below:
They're doing this to bring attention to their new blog, which (of course) is put up to keep people coming by the website.   

I thought I'd pass this on.  I've already entered the contest and in the interest of full disclosure, they're going to send me some ammo and enter me in another drawing for a Widener's gift card.  If memory serves properly, I've placed a couple of orders with Widener's in the past, but I've never been a very steady customer.  The same goes for pretty much every company in the market. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

DC Politics vs Reality

This was a lesson that real life organized to reinforce in my mind this week.  The enormous difference between actual courts, actual laws and allegations vs. the DC circus we've been watching for weeks. 

I had jury duty this week in the circuit court.system, Florida's 18th judicial circuit which includes my county and the next one over.

The short version of the story is that much like the other four or five times in my life I've responded to a jury duty summons, I didn't serve on a jury.  The longer version is that the process has gotten more efficient in the county over the 36 years I've lived here and I reported Tuesday (not Monday for the whole week).  A first group of 50 potential jurors was called out and sent to a court to start their selection process.  After that, 30 of us were called to a case we had already been assigned to.  We spent the day yesterday going through jury selection and still didn't complete that.  We were instructed to report back at 10 this morning for the down selection.  10AM turned to 10:30 and then 11:00.  Finally, at almost noon, the bailiff who had been assigned to corral us came to bring us back to the courtroom.  We were then told that the state and the defendant had come to a settlement, told us not to underestimate how important our being there and being willing to go through the process was, thanked for our service and allowed to leave. 

The important part of the story has little to do with the actual case and jury duty selection process.  The important part is that every time we were addressed, be it by the clerks in the office coordinating the candidate jurors, the judge who was responsible for the case, or the state's attorneys, the story of our judicial system was emphasized.  The foundations of our system of trial by jury being established at the formation of our nation, how it's woven into our constitution, and how it's one of the major developments of the enlightenment, flowing down from King Henry the 2nd.  The state's attorney started by telling us how our job is to protect our fellow citizens from the immense power of the state - as wielded by him.  The state's attorney and the judge said over and over that we must presume the defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, we were asked to swear to being able to presume the defendant innocent, swear to treat the facts the same regardless if presented by the state or the defense attorney, and more. 

Every step of the way was couched in the terms of the presumption of innocence and that no one is convicted unless that state proves it beyond a reasonable doubt. 

And given the three ring circus of Spartacus and the Seven Dwarves we've been forced to watch for weeks, now, all of that sounded mighty nice to my ears.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Organ Harvesting for Transplant from Living Donors

Not a horror story from the Mideast perpetrated by ISIS, but a reminder of a column I wrote well over 6-1/2 years ago.

The Weekly Standard reports in it's September 17th edition about a push in modern medicine to allow organ harvesting from living people.
In its September 6, 2018, edition though, NEJM has outdone itself. With Belgium and the Netherlands already allowing the conjoining of organ donation and euthanasia, and with Canada debating whether to follow them off that moral cliff, the journal has published a radical proposal that would demolish the ethical foundation of transplant medicine—the “dead donor rule.”

The rule requires that donors be declared dead before vital organs are procured and that the surgical transplant procedure not be the cause of the donor’s death.
In the NEJM piece “Voluntary Euthanasia—Implications for Organ Donation,” Dr. Ian M. Ball and bioethicists Robert Sibbald and Robert D. Truog urge that those rules be loosened in countries where euthanasia is legal.
Although some patients may want to be sure that organ procurement won’t begin before they are declared dead, others may want not only a rapid, peaceful, and painless death, but also the option of donating as many organs as possible and in the best condition possible. Following the dead donor rule could interfere with the ability of these patients to achieve their goals. In such cases, it may be ethically preferable to procure the patient’s organs in the same way that organs are procured from brain-dead patients (with the use of general anesthesia to ensure the patient’s comfort).
Looking back at my piece from 2012, it's remarkable how similar its predictions are to today's situation.  In that piece,  bioethicist authors in the Journal of Medical Ethics were saying that “killing by itself is not morally wrong” and that killing a human was no different than killing a weed.
“[I]f killing were wrong just because it is causing death or the loss of life, then the same principle would apply with the same strength to pulling weeds out of a garden. If it is not immoral to weed a garden, then life as such cannot really be sacred, and killing as such cannot be morally wrong.”
Today we find that legal euthanasia in Belgium and the Netherlands is not limited to the terminally ill. In Canada, the euthanasia patient’s death need only be “foreseeable,” whatever that means, and even that vague limitation is under court attack.
Conjoining euthanasia with organ donation would thus send the insidious message to vulnerable people that their deaths have greater social value than their lives. For the particularly vulnerable, that could be the point that tips their decisions. Moreover, following the path the authors urge would transform a life-saving medical sector into one that also ends lives, imposing on transplant specialists the dual role of both healer and killer. 
Today, as in that 2012 story, the advocates in the New England Journal of Medicine are saying it's not killing to take the organs out of someone who is of no use to society.  In the 2012 article, they referred to people who have no abilities.  The NEJM piece depends on an invidious health-care rationing measure known as the QALY (“quality-adjusted life year”), which is an almost identical concept.  Adoption of the QALY has the effect of limiting care to the disabled and disadvantaged whose lives are bureaucratically rated as lower in quality than the lives of others.  If a 35 year old lawyer or other professional needs a liver or a kidney, it's not unethical to whack a 70 year old or a 10 year old to get one - even if that person isn't done with it quite yet.

Hippocrates.  DeAgostini for Getty Images

This is stepping too far for me.  To argue that it's not immoral to kill someone with impaired or nonexistent abilities leaves the gaping question of "who decides?"  Who defines what abilities allow someone to live?  In my view, bioethicists have no marketable abilities and are only employed because they're in a society so rich it pays for people to come up with ideas like this.  Does that mean it's ethical to kill bioethicists? 

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Latest Meaningless Drivel on the "Opioid Epidemic"

This weekend saw a story about Clay County, Tennessee, with the hook to reel in readers being that  pharmacists bought, “270 pain pills for every man, woman, and child” in the county.  You're supposed to say, "oh my God, that's terrible!" or "those poor people!" or perhaps just cluck like a chicken.  Personally, I say, "what would a normal number be?"

I think it ought to be obvious that in one year, “every man, woman, and child”didn't take 270 pain pills.  That would be almost 3/4 of one pill for the year.  Clearly, some people needed to take some regularly while the vast majority didn't.  I can speculate: if someone has an acute pain crisis, surgery or an injury, say, they may take four pills a day for a couple of weeks, call it 60 pills.  That reduces the 270 pills for the entire population to a smaller number.  If the entire population took that one course of pain pills (they wouldn't have), you're down to 210 per person.  The story offers no such details, nor does the DEA provide them. 

Clay County doesn't have much in the way of population.  According to the news story linked above, about 7800 people, and its one city of any size, Celina, has four pharmacies.  The owner of one of those pharmacies, Tara Anderson, says, “I haven’t done anything I’m trying to hide.”
She says there's a need for pain medication in Clay County because of an aging workforce of manual laborers, who are now feeling the physical effects of their jobs.
Sound familiar?  Isn't this what Aesop at Raconteur Report wrote about opioids in Northern California last year?   (Parts 1, 2, 3, Final)

Bouncing back to the original news report:
It's that high volume of opioids for such a small population that caught the attention of federal agents.
Again, no information on exactly what the "high volume" is.  Is this 2.0 standard deviations higher than other cities with similar populations?  (I doubt it, but for illustration).  Three standard deviations?  Is it twice the normal amount?  10x?  20x?  We simply have nothing to judge this with.  With no contextual information, the whole story is based on a meaningless number.

Instead of going through drug store records, the DEA might be better off looking at the Census records.  If the population is largely older manual laborers, as pharmacist Ms. Anderson says, it may be totally legit.

Short version of my conclusion: I think there's a deliberate attempt to conflate prescription opioid problems with illegal heroin overdose.  We don't have a prescription drug problem, we have a "junkies shooting adulterated heroin problem".  So why the public ruse?  The old advise to "follow the money" leads me to the company that makes naloxone, the anti-narcotic drug administered to people in overdose.  It was being pushed that virtually everyone should carry it everywhere as a lifesaver; it was even pushed on librarians to have it available for the library junkies who OD while watching internet porn in the library (do you have that where you live?).  The price of naloxone had gone up 17x.  Going down that rabbit hole led directly to Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration.

Going on a wider view, that led directly to the US government making deals with the Sinaloa drug cartel for purposes that aren't clear.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The SpaceX Falcon at 10

On September 28, SpaceX and industry watchers quietly commemorated the 10th anniversary of the first launch of the Falcon 1, the first version of the SpaceX booster that is quietly forcing the rest of the world to play catch up; even the Russians announced plans to develop a reusable booster to keep up with SpaceX.  Ars Technica passes on the story of the eight desperate weeks that saved SpaceX from ruin.
Three times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, SpaceX tried to launch a Falcon 1 rocket from Omelek Island in the Pacific Ocean, a coral shelf perhaps a meter above sea level and the size of three soccer fields. Less than two months after the last failure, the money was running out. SpaceX had just one final rocket to launch, with only some spare components left over in its California factory.

“We all knew that the stakes were incredibly high,” Zach Dunn recalled of that feverish period in 2008. This time, the Falcon 1 had to work. And the kids knew it. Barely a year out of graduate school and just 26, Dunn nonetheless was a senior engineer over the rocket’s first stage. “It was tense. There was a lot of pressure.”
Omelek was a temporary facility; so small it's uninhabitable during a launch.  Omelek was a place where they lived dormitory style and worked tirelessly in preparation for the launch (as have generations of other folks at NASA, in Russia and the rest of the launch industry).  Before launch, everyone evacuated the smaller Omelek to go the control center on nearby Kwajalein - "Kwaj" - one of the best-known pieces of "downrange test facility" in the Pacific.

The pressure was intense. 
They bunked in a double-wide trailer, cramming inside on cots and sleeping bags, as many as a dozen at a time. In the mornings, they feasted on steaming plates of scrambled eggs. At night, beneath some of the darkest skies on Earth, they grilled steaks and wondered if the heavens above were beyond their reach. Kids, most of them, existed alone on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was the middle of nowhere, really.

And they worked. They worked desperately—tinkering, testing, and fixing—hoping that nothing would go wrong this time. Already, their small rocket had failed three times. One more launch anomaly likely meant the end of Space Exploration Technologies.
Today, it is difficult to imagine the world of aerospace without SpaceX. United Launch Alliance, Arianespace, the Russians, and the Chinese likely would still dominate the launch industry, with their prices a closely guarded secret. A decade ago, these industry titans saw in Elon Musk just another gnat to be swatted aside like so many who had come before. The idea of reusing an orbital rocket to lower the cost of access to space? Laughable. Mars?!? This funny sounding guy from South Africa couldn't even put a small, single-engine rocket into orbit.

This, and more, lay on the line September 28, 2008, when SpaceX sought to finally become the first company to privately develop a rocket that successfully reached orbit.

“That's something that only nations had done before, because the barriers to entry were so high,” Chad Anderson, of the Space Angels investment group, said about privately developing an orbital rocket. “Going from zero to one is really, really difficult. And that’s what SpaceX did. That guy and that company have been swimming upstream, and fighting, for so long to get that ball rolling.”
The video of the first successful flight in SpaceX history is still on YouTube, along with videos of less successful flights, like the oh-so-close third launch.

Falcon 1, vehicle 4, just prior to the first launch, on the pad on Omelek island.

It's hard to overestimate the importance of this successful launch.  Every engineer on the team was literally betting their futures on being able to do it.  Even Musk says that if they hadn't succeeded, it probably would have been the end.  Instead, they got a contract to launch the Malaysian RazakSAT satellite into orbit on the Falcon 1 in 2009.  Chad Anderson, of the Space Angels investment group, says that turned the launch business, which he termed "essentially a cartel", upside down.
“To launch a satellite before SpaceX, money had to be no object,” Anderson said. “It could be $90 million, or $170 million, or whatever they happened to want that day. These are incredibly formidable barriers to entry for a new venture.”

Price transparency, and SpaceX’s introduction of the Falcon 9 rocket in 2010 at a price of $60 million, helped bring down these barriers to entry. Over time, this unleashed a wave of innovation in satellites and brought spaceflight into the realm of wider entrepreneurship.

Anderson said that, before SpaceX began flying the Falcon 1 rocket, there were a few dozen privately funded companies, globally, engaged in spaceflight activities. Today, there are 350, and they have raised $15 billion in private capital.
Today, SpaceX is flying the 5th version of the Falcon 9, so named because it uses 9 of the Merlin engines that carried the Falcon 1 into orbit.  Many, though not all, Falcon 9 boosters can be recovered - it depends on the launch energy requirements (essentially the weight of the payload to orbit and the exact orbit required).  Just as it took them a few tries to get their first successful launches, it took a few before they successfully landed boosters.  Now they're making the recovery of the booster seem pretty routine.  Flying a recovered booster is cheaper for the customer, so several have flown and been recovered more than once.   

Engineer Zach Dunn with the Merlin first stage engine that later carried the Falcon 1 into orbit.  At the time, Dunn was 26 and just out of graduate school.  Within a year, he was in charge of the first stage.  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Do We Have Security in the Capital, or Kabuki?

My dominant thought when I saw Arizona Flake Jeff Senator cornered by a couple of left wing activists in an elevator is "why is there no security?"  "What did these twits have to do to get into the capital and harangue a senator? "  I can't visit a friend in the hospital without going through metal detectors, emptying my pockets, and getting photographed.  Did they? 
The women who confronted Flake were Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, sexual assault survivors who are now being hailed as activists who may be “changing the course of history.”

Archila, a Queens resident, is the co-executive director at the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), an organization that works toward creating an “inclusive, equitable society” by advocating for “communities of colour, immigrants, working families, youth, women and the LGBTQ community.”

Gallagher, a New York resident, isn’t linked to the CPD directly, but is “just a passionate person,” the Miami Herald reported.

She had been in Washington for a week demonstrating against Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Both, of course, are funded by Dr. Evil, George Soros (H/T - 90 Miles from Tyranny)

I think these two are too self-centered to do it, but think to yourself what if one of them is wearing a suicide vest?  Get close to the senator and go in blaze of glory?  I always thought the capital was too well protected, but if someone can get that close there are lots of options without firearms or explosives.  Remember when Korean Fat Man Dear Leader Kim Jong Un had his brother assassinated by a girl walking up and wiping nerve agent on his face?  Unless they get body cavity searched, they can get enough VX into the building to do this. 

I don't know what kind of security they have, but I suspect it's not as much as they need.  They'll find that out in due time. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

This Just In

Best running ever.

The trick is that it only starts up at room temperature, and then runs until it heats up too much.  It will run about a minute and stop.  After that, it tries to turn over, where it will run for a few seconds at a time.  It might be that the best position for that alcohol lamp flame is moving, but knowing where to put the fire is not exactly documented.  Nor is there anyway I know to calculate it.  It's pure trial and error. 

I frankly don't know how much more can be learned out of this.  It's possible a slightly bigger piston would get it to the state I've seen other videos, where the cylinder has to be preheated with the lamp or a torch, and then it runs solidly.  It's also possible the issue is something else (that I don't see or understand).  It might be time to finish the hardwood base it's going to be mounted to and call it an engine.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Cody Wilson Replaced at Defense Distributed

Thanks to a link at Shall Not Be Questioned, I find from the Austin Statesman that Cody Wilson has resigned from Defense Distributed.  Wilson has been replaced by Paloma Heindorff, who had been the company’s vice president of operations.
“I am extremely proud to say that over the past few days the entire team a Defense Distributed has recommitted to enabling the sharing and publication of CAD and 3D-printed firearms,’ Heindorff said at a news conference Tuesday. “This resilience, I truly believe to not only been characteristic of our company as a whole, but also the ideas that we have worked so hard to promote.”
I've been following Wilson, his printed Liberator and Defense Distributed since the earliest days. For those who haven't been following the story, the designs for the Liberator were first released to the world in 2013, and then DD was sued by the US State Department for violating the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).  The case was winding (? winding is too fast... what's the word for how snails move?) through the courts. 

Three years later, it was 2016 and the Trump administration took over.  DD argued they weren't exporting guns, they were publishing software describing something and publishing software has been recognized as free speech.  The DOJ advised the State Department to settle with DD, saying that "software is free speech" is settled law and they'd lose the case, so they offered to settle.  The settlement was set to go into effect at the end of July.   

Cody Wilson, of course, has recently been arrested and quickly extradited to the US for paying an underaged hooker.  Count me among those who think that whole thing transpired a little too quickly, a little too cleanly and smoothly to be convinced it's legit, but Heindorff made it clear that Wilson is on his own as far as his defense costs go, and that DD would continue their operation.
Heindorff said the company would not be paying for any of his legal expenses but would use the $400,000 it had raised so far from donations to fight the federal court case against it.
Heindorff said the company would continue on the same track to make its 3D-printed gun plans publicly available online, despite Wilson’s leaving the company.

“He’s been an incredibly powerful figurehead,” Heindorff said. “But this is about an idea.”

She said Defense Distributed had received about 3,000 orders for its weapons plans since the court order and that her team has been “shipping them out like crazy.”

“I cannot be more proud of my team right now,” she said. “We didn’t miss a beat. No one blinked. No one has missed a day at work. We’ve all come in. We’re still shipping. We have no intention of stopping.”
It seems where they are in the process now is as I described it at the end of last month.   A group of states decided it was too dangerous to let mere deplorables have access to the plans and sued to block their release. A judge agreed that unwashed normal people were a danger and ruled DD couldn't give the plans away.  So DD said, "OK, if we can't give them away, we'll sell them - for whatever you'd like to pay". 

It appears the DefCad fundraiser is still fund raising, with $54k left to go to get them reveal their second "new contract".  And, as before, you can go to the top level site, pick out the designs you want and get something for your bucks.  Either way, every time someone downloads or gets a file, a gun grabber cries.

Paloma Heindorff, new CEO of Defense Distributed.  The Austin Stateman says, "Heindorff previously worked in the creative industry in New York City before moving to Austin to work for the nonprofit Defense Distributed. She called its efforts to fight the federal government the “most elegant and effective activism” she had ever seen."  I noticed she has CEO-speak down in those statements from the press conference.