Friday, May 31, 2013

Are We In the Age of Robots?

Author Bill Laumeister of Maxim Integrated (Maxim ICs) writes a thought provoking column in Electronic Design online.  He starts with an unusual analogy and goes from there:
Two thousand years ago, Roman citizens would count their slaves to determine how many tasks could be accomplished. Early in the twentieth century, people counted their electric motors to answer the same question. Today we count microprocessors.
He goes on to consider the microprocessor as a robot; “a mechanical or virtual artificial agent.”.  Like most of you, I grew up on Isaac Asimov's robot stories, "I Robot", and more.  I think of robots as having a body that moves around, or, at least a machine with major portions capable of movement.  My CNC mill is more like a robot, my desktop PC less like one, although both contain microprocessors.
Asimov said, “I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.”2 We agree. If we removed microprocessors from our homes, our standard of living would plummet.
Absolutely agree with both of them.  Processors are becoming one of the  most common features of our world.  Laumeister writes:
But back to Moore’s Law, which has been modified slightly over the years, but the concept is solid. Today we say that transistor density on ICs doubles about every two years. This is akin to compounded interest in banking and has held true for the last 48 amazing years. To illustrate, in 1971, Intel’s 4004 processor had 2300 transistors. In 1978, the 8068 had 29,000 transistors. In 1989, the Intel 486 had 1.2 million transistors. In 1999, the Intel Pentium III processor had 9.5 million devices. Then 2010 found Intel processors with 774 million transistors and 2013 dawned with 2.27 billion transistors. (chart)

As exceptional as the density increase is, the rest of Moore’s prediction has also come true. The price of microprocessors has declined, so they have proliferated everywhere. You can now buy little processors for less than $1 each. In high volumes, they only cost pennies.
(backgrounder on Moore's law here in pdf.  As an aside, with 2.27 billion transistors in a new processor of which many thousands will be made - and that's this year alone - I believe that mankind has made more transistors than anything else our species has ever made, even screws and nails).

Using the approach in his first paragraph, he goes about counting motors (158), electrically operated machines (87),  and finally microprocessors in his house (278).  I suppose it comes down to your definitions, but his assertion is that programmable processors that do things for us are robots.  He's the first writer I've read to assert this, and it doesn't sit well with me.  A Neato XV vacuum cleaner is a robot.  A processor controlled porch light, while handy, isn't. 
Unlike the Roomba, which takes a random path around the room to vacuum, the Neato maps the room with its little laser sensor, then uses the same sort of overlapping rectangles method that people use. 

Everybody seems to agree that robots in my sense will be becoming more of a part of our lives.  Anthropomorphic or humanoid robots are likely to remain an area of research interest because researchers seem convinced it's the Next Big Thing.  Robots that are essentially physically compatible with humans, hands of similar size and geometry, able to fit through the same doors and into the same transports, will fit more easily into our environment.  Getting one to wash the dishes or pick up odds and ends will need less adaptations to work in our environment.  Long time readers might possibly remember my post about humanoid robots two years ago, and the emphasis of researcher Heather Knight to make robots able to live better in human society.   There's a fine line between making robots that move with us, and fit in with us in our homes, but that don't creep us out.  To be honest, some of the robots I see do creep me out a bit. 

We have definitely entered the age of robotics, they're just not home robots walking around helping us.  The fastest growing portion of the robot industry is the service robot sector.  I believe robotic "waiters" like these from China will be coming here.
Although maybe they won't look quite as Lego-like.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mid-Week Techy Overload

Back to work today after a 5 day weekend, and overloaded with some neat techy stuff to let everyone know about.

Back in 2010, I ran a post on a 1W Laser That Sets People on Fire.  It was a very popular post for a long time.  Today, I get news of one with 3 times that amount of power made from the laser diode in a Digital Light Projector (for you true geeks, that's a 5 dB increase).  This is the technology behind DLP movie theaters. 
They call it a lightsaber on Gizmodo, but of course it really isn't.  The beam goes on forever like any other light; it doesn't suddenly stop 3' from the emitter, and you can't hit another beam with it to duel in a shower of sparks.  But at 3W, it does cut a lot of stuff open and start a lot of fires.  (and will blind you in an ohnosecond)...

Next, it's virtually a tag line I use that I like to make stuff of all kinds, from electronic projects to woodworking to metalworking and even some software.  There's a relatively new word for people like me: Makers, and a Maker Faire movement around the country.  EDN writes on the Bay Area Maker Faire held last weekend (5/18&19).   If you've never seen pictures from one, get on over there.  Everything from personal drones, to a car covered in plastic lobsters and fish that sing (the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir - I'm not making this up) to robots and this walking pod-thingy which would fit right in at Burning Man (a story in itself). 

Speaking of making things, if you could use a way to make plastic parts that aren't too big or too critical - we're talking maybe some gears or parts to repair your ice maker, not an AR lower - you might want to look into a 3D printer kit.  This one appears to be decent low end printer with some support, at about $800 (650 Euros).  Other groups make them.  I expect that relatively soon, we'll find that service bureaus will open similar to the paper print shops we have today.  We'll send our files to the shop and pick up the plastic parts later.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Can't Talk. Busy

So one of my all time favorite pictures:
By the great Terry Border.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

On this memorial day, I've seen a familiar haunting image from 2005.  Donald Sensing links to it as, "a single image continues to haunt".  And it does.  But this one still haunts me in deep ways.
In case it doesn't seem familiar:  
In a final act of loyalty, Hawkeye, the dog of slain Navy SEAL U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson walked up to his fallen master’s casket during the funeral in Rockford, Iowa, and then laid mournfully down beside the body for the rest of the proceedings
Hawkeye refused to abandon his "master".   Petty Officer Tumilson was one of the 30 I wrote about a few weeks ago.  One of the group that members of our administration are being accused of setting up or being complicit in the killings of.

Hawkeye refused to abandon his friend.  Unlike the employees of the state department who abandoned four of their coworkers to die in Benghazi.   

If only our administration had the loyalty and pure, raw character of a dog.

To all who served, thank you.  To those who served and didn't come back, words will never suffice.

EDIT 1855EDT: The typo monster stole a word.  I swear, right after I hit "publish" it vanished!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Being Proven Right By Unfolding Events

If you're a regular here, you know I take it on the chin when I make a prediction and clearly get it wrong.  I want to take a minute and claim that I think I got one right a while back, and the current IRS scandal is my evidence.

Over on the bottom of the right column, in my list of my most read posts in the history of this blog, I have the story of the raid on the Gibson factory in August of 2011.  The story seemed big because the raid was based on the Lacy Act, a hundred year old act that had recently been given new dentures.  The article opened with this simple question:
"Where were you when owning wood became a felony?"
and centered on the fact that the way the Lacey Act is worded, virtually anything in your possession made out of wood would probably violate the letter of the law.  We're all felons, at the mercy of whatever JBT decides to arrest us.  Here's a snippet, but to get the full feel of it, read the whole thing:
Henceforth, all wood is to be a federally regulated, suspect substance. Either raw wood, lumber, or anything made of wood, from tables and chairs, to flooring, siding, particle board, to handles on knives, baskets, chopsticks, or even toothpicks has to have a label naming the genus and species of the tree that it came from and the country of origin. Incorrect labeling becomes a federal felony, and the law does not just apply to wood newly entering the country, but any wood that is in interstate commerce within the country. Here are some excerpts from a summary:
What made Gibson so bad was that the raid was predicated on the idea that Gibson bought Indian wood that they believe complied with every law on the books, but the Feds raided Gibson based on the Feds' interpretation of Indian law - not even their interpretation of our law. 

A couple of days after that posting, August 28, 2011, to be precise, I wrote a piece that pointed out
One of Gibson’s leading competitors is C.F. Martin & Company. The C.E.O., Chris Martin IV, is a long-time Democratic supporter, with $35,400 in contributions to Democratic candidates and the DNC over the past couple of election cycles. According to C.F. Martin’s catalog, several of their guitars contain “East Indian Rosewood.” In case you were wondering, that is the exact same wood in at least ten of Gibson’s guitars.
Gibson's CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, is a Republican who donated to several Republican candidates and gets raided.  His competitor who contributes to Democrats (and contributes more, by the way) uses the same products and doesn't get raided.  At the time, I pointed out several things that "stink like yesterday's diapers" to use a line from Roger Rabbit.
Gibson is the only guitar company targeted by the Obama DOJ under the Lacey Act -- Tennessee is a right-to-work state.

Fender, Taylor, Rickenbacker, Danelectro, Carvin, MusicMan, and ESP are in California; Spector is in New York; Martin is in Pennsylvania; Guild, Ovation, and Hamer are in Connecticut; Alvarez is in Missouri; B.C. Rich is in Kentucky; Heritage is in Michigan; Washburn is in Illinois. --  All are forced-union states. [emphasis for Martin added]
Does the similarity of Obama's National Labor Relations Board slapping down Boeing for opening a non-union shop in Right-to-Work South Carolina seem like too far to reach for an analogy?
 Eric Holder's Department of Justice has proven itself to be a political organization, that is stunningly corrupt, and not only not interested in enforcing laws, but willing to kill anyone anywhere to achieve their political goals (Gunwalker anyone?  Dealing with drug cartels to allow them to move cocaine into the US?).  The entire administration plays politics as bloodsport.  After all, resident Obama told a group of Latino voters, to "punish our enemies", and told followers in '08 "if they bring a knife, we bring a gun".

Does it seem even remotely out of character that they might try to destroy Gibson for being a non-union shop, or for not contributing enough money to democrats?  I don't think so either. 
(This is not my Gibson (Epiphone) Les Paul, but a catalog picture that looks strikingly similar to mine.  My contribution to Gibson's defense fund).

I may be reaching, but I think the emerging story of the use of the IRS as a political bludgeon is strong evidence that this whole affair unfolded as I'm describing here.  "Someone" in the administration/DOJ noted that a profitable company wasn't paying enough tribute into their corrupt little empire, or working with enough union goons, and got the raids on Gibson trumped up.  Can I prove that?  No.  I don't know if there are any "real journalists" who will run down a story like this; I don't even know if Gibson thinks it's worth spending money on it.

Mr. Language Person Visits

Mr. Language Person was an occasionally-used persona of humor writer Dave Barry, and I used to enjoy the Q&A format answers like this:
Q. I have trouble remembering the difference between the words ''whose'' and ''who's.'' Should I put this in the form of a question?

A. In grammatical terminology, ''who's'' is an interlocutory contraption that is used to form the culinary indicative tense.

EXAMPLE: ``You will never guess who's brassiere they found in the gumbo.''

''Whose'' is the past paramilitary form of ''whomsoever'' and is properly used in veterinary interrogations.

EXAMPLE: ``Whose gwine spay all them weasels?''
Well, I can't compete with that, but I can link to a neat article on Mental Floss - 38 Wonderful Foreign Words We Could Use in English.  Like:
1. Kummerspeck (German)
Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon.
Enjoy both of them.
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The "I" Word

I'm going to venture into a topic I've never gone into in depth, immigration.  I'm rather sick of being accused of being a hater and racist simply because I oppose open amnesty and open borders, but I really don't care anymore.  I know where my heart and motivations lie.

What got me thinking about this is the ongoing clash of civilizations in Europe.  We see the mass immigration from mostly Muslim countries in Africa, the Mideast and Asia flooding Europe as we see mass migration from Latin America in the US.  Europe is on fire, with the riots and burnings in Sweden going into their sixth day - and when the news reports it's because of "youths", you have to work to determine they're primarily Muslim youth.  The only new aspect of the riots in Sweden is that they're in Sweden - rioting and burning cars is almost an annual summer sport in France.  An increasing number of European nations now have "No Go Zones" where local Muslim populations scare the police out and the governments have given up control by default.  Most European "soft socialist" states have an underbelly of Muslim youths that haven't - and won't - assimilate into their new cultures.  Cap that with incidents like the murder of an off-duty British soldier by Islamic extremists this week and you can see an ascendant Islam taking over the European continent if the Europeans don't wake up in time.

Let me detour to say that if this short overview is offending you because you view Islam as a "Religion of Peace", or you think Islam and Christianity are comparable, or you think I'm racist for saying this, you are simply ignorant.  Don't be upset, ignorance is curable, it's stupidity that's not curable.  Go spend a day or two reading the history at Gates of Vienna.  Read about Geert Wilders and what he's gone through.  Read about the murder of Theo Van Gogh.  I could go on all day.
I believe it was in 2003 - maybe somewhat earlier - that a friend pointed me to Pat Buchanan's book "The Death of the West", and I see it has been revised as of 2010.  It's quite an eye-opening read.  If "Demographics Are Destiny", western civilization is in for a really rough century.  At least since the second World War, the West has been living a pattern of declining birth rates and expanding social structures.  The pattern has been that as child mortality dropped, and birth control became widely adopted, women worked more outside the home, bringing more prosperity, which led to families getting smaller because there wasn't as much need to have large families to ensure some children survived.  It has been said prosperity is the best birth control.  As families got smaller and became more mobile, elderly grandparents were less able to depend on family to help them; that was accompanied by an expanding state social structure.  As Western families get smaller and birth rates drop below replacement rates, tax revenues go down (all other things being equal) making the expanding states impossible to maintain just when they're most needed.  To solve that paradox, Western societies have almost all imported immigrants.  It has not necessarily turned out to be a smart strategy.

I refuse to spend much time on emotional arguments, like how hateful it is to deport children of illegal aliens who were dragged here and grew up in the US.  We're talking a couple of percent (at most!) of the immigrant problems.  I'd gladly say let them all stay if we fix the parts that are downright broken.

We need to close our borders.  Look at a map or a globe: what defines a nation?  It has borders that separate it from other nations, borders that define where different laws and cultures are in place.  Those borders need to be managed and controlled, just like every other nation on the face of the earth manages its borders.  Compare US immigration policy and enforcement to Mexico's or any other place.  We are orders of magnitude more welcoming of immigrants of all types.  And please don't give me this "but we're a nation of immigrants" line.  All nations are nations of immigrants and all have been made up by the movement of peoples between nations.  Who isn't a nation of immigrants?  Myanmar?   And besides; immigrants that came over a hundred years ago - like my grandparents on both sides - are demonstrably different than today's immigrants.  The immigrants from Ellis Island a hundred years ago didn't have a government handout system to fall back on.  They either made it based on their own hard work or they didn't survive here and went home.

We need to know who is coming in and control that.  This all I really want.  We should know if an immigrant really is a farm worker, and not a Hamas operative.  

Who says we can't be selective about immigrants we allow into our country?  Why shouldn't we choose immigrants to make our country better?  What moron came up with the idea that we allow everyone in that walks across the border?  Most countries in the world will make sure that at least you're not bringing in communicable diseases, but we apparently don't even do that, and get outbreaks of tuberculosis (and other diseases) in our country.  Sounds like a smart idea to me.  Who's more valuable to our country: a construction worker from Guatemala or a Ph.D. Engineer from Spain?  They're both Hispanic so don't start on that; don't you think the Ph.D. might contribute more to GDP?  A lettuce picker from Tijuana or an M.D. from Germany?  Look, I know we're neighbors with Mexico and Canada, while Europe is much farther away.  Maybe we should have a closer arrangement with them; fine, as long as we know who's coming in.  But the high ratio of Latin American immigrants to Europeans isn't because they're not interested in coming, it's because the 1965 Immigration Law made it harder for Europeans to come here.  I say we should use immigration to make our country a better place - give preference to professionals and high achievers from any place on earth, not to low achievers just because they're our neighbors.  If the intent of allowing the people into our country is to improve the demographics and increasing tax revenues to support the aging population, you want the higher achievers.  If you don't care about improving the country but want a voting demographic that will deplete the country faster, and loyally vote for whomever gives them handouts, you want the low achievers.  I think that shows how the system is running. 

But the biggest reason I'm opposed to the status quo is that it's immoral to treat immigrants the way we do.  We make people from Asia or Europe go through years of process and hassle to get here legally, while ignoring the millions who just walk into the States and into virtual slavery.  Illegal immigration is the 21st century version of slavery.  By denying them legal status and legal entry into the country while encouraging them to come with tons of incentives, we're perpetuating a system of abuse of the workers that come here.  Corporations seem to be more than happy to pay them less than legal citizens, and we creating an underclass that can be taken advantage of.  The majority are under-educated compared to Americans, so they have 50% higher rates of poverty.  They represent the vast majority (over 70%) of the increase in the uninsured.  They use welfare programs at almost twice the rate of born citizens (173%).  (Source, Census data excerpted here)  The biggest problem with the immigration system we have now is that it's morally bankrupt and wrong.  We're creating a slave class in the name of keeping our lettuce cheaper.  It's not worth it. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mr. Airplane, Meet Mr. Thunderhead

Every pilot knows that there are times in the flight when control of the airplane does not reside solely in the cockpit.  Most will admit that a big thunderstorm is not something to fly through.  Thunderstorms can have terrible downdrafts, wind shear, turbulence and hail.  It doesn't matter if you're flying a small home built or a commercial jet liner; if you don't have your wits about you, and a bit of luck, you could have far more excitement than you'd like.

This is an Airbus (mumble mumble) after going through a bit of a hail storm en route to (mumble mumble).  I'm told by my source that this was in early 2012. 
In addition to the obvious windshield damage, note the nose over the weather radar is crushed in.  I don't know if the radar continued to work.  The windshield doesn't look very good from the inside, either, but these pilots are all instrument-rated and the planes have every system there is; they don't really need to see the runway. 
“There is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime.”
 – Sign over Squadron Ops desk at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, 1970.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why The Next 3D Printed Gun Should Be .45ACP

Earlier today, Borepatch linked to a story on Forbes about further experimentation done with a 3d printed gun, plastic barrel and all. 
One evening late last week, a Wisconsin engineer who calls himself “Joe” test-fired a new version of that handgun printed on a $1,725 Lulzbot A0-101 consumer-grade 3D printer, far cheaper than the one used by Defense Distributed. Joe, who asked that I not reveal his full name, loaded the weapon with .380 caliber rounds and fired it nine times, using a string to pull its trigger for safety.
When I first heard about the idea of printing a gun, I thought the barrel would be the hard part.  Plastics just wouldn't hold the pressure, or so I thought.  But a few weeks ago, it popped into my head that anyone knows that to make a vessel hold higher pressures, you just increase the wall thickness.  The gun might not end up looking like other guns, but it would indeed be functional.  Here's the barrel they used.  Doesn't look like your typical pistol barrel, but it worked.  This is after 8 shots.  They pulled it after that number, out of caution.  (Forbes)
There are limits, of course.  To make a scuba tank that would hold 70 cubic feet of air at 2000 PSI, I don't think you'd want a plastic tank the size of a small room.  Sorry - don't remember how to do the calculations off the top of my head.  (Bad blogger!  Lazy blogger!!  Why, I ought to rub your nose in your Marks Handbook!!). (Whaddaya mean schizo?  Who's schizo?  Us??)  I'm sure a real M.E. would know.

When I saw that Cody Wilson ran his first tests of the Liberator with .380, I was impressed.  I thought for sure he'd run .22LR.  But I never bothered to do what I did I today, look up chamber pressures for various common cartridges. It turns out the SAAMI chamber pressure for .22LR is 24,000 PSI, but .380 is 21,500 PSI.

And the SAAMI pressure for .45ACP is 21,000, even lower than the .380 they've already demonstrated. 
Screen capture of the "Lulz Liberator" that fired nine successive shots. 

The original FP-45 Liberator of WWII fame was .45 ACP.  Smooth bore, so it was inaccurate.  This one has a rifled barrel (you can print rifling in place!), so it has the potential to be more accurate - though bigger because of being plastic rather than sheet metal.  So what are you guys waiting for? 

Video of the Week So Far

Go over to Sense of Events and watch the RC helicopter video

And then consider it as a homemade drone...
that's how I reacted...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


From Gunslinger's Journal, a quote from a comment on American Thinker
There was a time when the IRS acted against Al Capone. Now, under Obama, the IRS acts like Al Capone.

There was a time when the DOJ fought crime syndicates. Now, under Obama, the DOJ is a crime syndicate.

There was a time when the FBI investigated crime syndicates. Now, under Obama, the FBI investigates for a crime syndicate.

There was a time when the ATF stopped Gun Running Gangs. Now, under Obama, the ATF is a Gun Running Gang.

There was a time when the TSA protected women's privacy at airports. Now, under Obama, the TSA inspects women's privates at airports.

There was a time when the DOD left no man behind. Now, under Obama, every man has to watch his behind (double meaning intended).

There was a time when people in India dreamed of coming to America to get Health Care. Soon now, under Obama, people in America will dream of going to India to get Health Care.

State of Shock

The damages from yesterday's Moore, Oklahoma tornado are just mind blowing. The Blaze has a collection of 83, but I'm sure there must be others out there, too.  Several sources are carrying the story that the tornado dumped more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Several meteorologists contacted by The Associated Press used real time measurements, some made by Schumacher, to calculate the energy released during the storm's 40-minute life span. Their estimates ranged from 8 times to more than 600 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb, with more experts at the high end.
(A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., and passed along to rescuers Monday, May 20, 2013.  Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Every place I'm hearing is reporting that the churches are the first ones in with trucks full of pretty much everything.  Glenn Beck's charity, Mercury One, which his businesses pay all expenses for, is there as well.  The folks there have lost everything and will need help for a while.  Ask yourself what you'd need if suddenly your house was scattered over a square mile, and your clothes, food, and all your most precious possessions were all gone. 

Give if you can to whomever you feel comfortable with. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

New Florida Record Burmese Python

Jason Leon, a south Florida resident, was driving an ATV around the Florida City area with some friends when he noticed a snake's head sticking out of the brush.  He got off the bike, grabbed the snake behind its head and started pulling it out.  And pulling... and pulling.
“I’m actually really mad I had to kill it,” Leon, 23, said Monday. “But at one point it coiled around both of my legs and my waist, and I wasn’t going to take a chance on letting that thing get to my neck.”
So he killed with a knife.  The snake measured 18 feet 8 inches long and weighed 128 pounds, a new state record.  Here, three people at the University of Florida lab in South Florida pose with the snake to put that size into perspective:

The Burmese python is an invasive species here in Florida, especially the Everglades.  There have been statewide hunts for them, organized hunts, and challenges to chefs to develop recipes for pythons and the other invasive species we have problems with.  The python permit is a year long permit that allows you take several different species of reptiles. 

Waiting for the inevitable "tastes like chicken" or "18 foot long hot dog" jokes to start...

Read more here:


Sunday, May 19, 2013

My Recent Life in a QoTD

One of the best personal examples of the quote is John Lennon himself, who once said:
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"
My mom is 90, and still living on her own, about a 2 1/2 hour drive south of me - my dad passed away over 30 years ago.   Tuesday morning, I woke to a text message received the night before from my older brother, who lives about 20 miles from her.  She's in the hospital, again.  Sounded fairly serious when it happened.  She fell, but this time managed to snap her left femur, near the distal end, and broke one of her cervical vertebrae - though thankfully not seriously. 

She had surgery to reduce and repair the femur on Wednesday, inserting a rod in the bone and (I think) gluing everything back. Then, because of age and general condition, they installed an inferior vena cava filter to reduce chances of a problem from a clot.  I call this the NAPA/Fram surgery because the concept is instantly recognizable to anybody who has replaced a fuel filter.  Two surgeries in two days.  IVC Filters are used instead of anticoagulants because of the chances of her injuring herself and bleeding out.  The broken vertebrae seems to be either a lateral process, or the one that extends back, the spinous process.  They're treating it with a neck brace to keep her from moving the chip.

They said when she got back into ICU from the femoral repair, she was demanding to go home.  That's not going to happen, yet, but she will be going into an extended rehab place for a while. IMO, she's not "out of the woods", but she can see the light.

She was tired, but looked good to all of us yesterday.  My brother was saying that although the far end of the femur was off, dislocated sideways, and her thigh had cramped up, she was not in pain.  Doctors thought maybe she had ripped a nerve apart, but tested her by squeezing toes and asking her which toe it was.  Being able to feel her toes properly seems to indicate no major nerve damage.

There are plenty of projects I have in the stack and plenty of things that need to be done around here.  We have squirrels that are stealing every last zucchini that starts to grow.  We have to do hand to hand combat with the tomato worms.  I have a project to get my shop reorganized.  But life is happening.  I don't expect to suddenly not be here for days on end, but I wasn't expecting what's happened, either.

John's later life (after the Beatles) and death are a somber embodiment of that quote.  He had just released a new album (Double Fantasy) that marked his return to actively recording after a five year absence, headlined by a song appropriately called "Starting Over".  
Say what you will about his politics, the cops saw John Lennon as a good man at heart. At a time when the city was too cheap to buy body armor for its police, the union had started a “vest fund,” and John Lennon had made a five-figure contribution. The cops knew it and appreciated it. In the days and weeks that followed, until it was certain that the killer had acted alone, Yoko Ono and Sean had free bodyguard service from a rotating crew of volunteer off-duty police.  - Mas Ayoob

I Never Noticed This

But it's true...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tab Clearing

A little lighter than the last post.

Are you into comics or comic-themed movies like Iron Man 3, the Avengers, Superman?  (We went to see Iron Man 3 last weekend and thought it was a lot of fun).  An excellent resource is Bleeding Cool. Loaded with great art, along with news on all those movies or shows and even graphic novels (paper?  how quaint...)  I didn't know there's apparently going to be a TV universe from Marvel this fall, a new show called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Trailer here

And speaking of comics, or cartoons, this one sure seemed to summarize how well our leaders in Washington take responsibility when things aren't going so well.

Gary Varvel on

Ever wanted to really know how a GPS receiver works?  I mean at the deepest levels?  A friend sent me this link to a home made GPS receiver project.  A little homebrew radio section, a Raspberry Pi single board computer, a Spartan 3 FPGA evaluation kit and a whole lot of experimenting.  In a time when most people have a GPS on their phone, you might wonder why anyone would want to do this.  Clearly, you don't know about The Knack.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Logical Extension

Let me propose a thought experiment.  If you could know what you were likely to die of and when you were likely to die, would you want to know?  Let's leave out Twilight Zone-style "seeing the future", and restrict ourselves to genetic things.  (The TZ did a story centered on a camera that could see five minutes into the future).  As the genomic research of the last 10 years progresses and grows, more of us will be faced with this question.  And the logical extension of knowing that you have a genetic tendency that will probably kill you is that you might want to do something about it. Would you want to know if there was nothing you could do about it?

By now, everyone has heard the story that Angelina Jolie voluntarily had a double mastectomy to minimize a genetic chance of breast cancer.  Angelina watched her mother die of the disease and discovered that she herself carried the BRCA-1 ("bracka 1") gene.  It's said that she reduced her chances of developing the disease from almost 90% down to 5%;  I assume mostly because breast tissue isn't confined entirely to the visible breasts and it wasn't all removed.  Angelina drastically reduced her chances of getting a pretty terrible disease, but at a pretty rough price.

Angelina's choice is as close to a no-brainer as you get in this subject.  As much as the average guy loves a good set, breasts aren't exactly necessary to survival.  You don't have to go into the body's core to remove them.  It's not like she had to remove her liver because she's genetically inclined to develop terminal liver disease.  Livers are necessary to survival.  The surgery isn't likely to affect her health in any other way. 

But this post isn't about breast cancer, and it isn't about her in particular.  It's about that question: would you want to know?  Even if you couldn't do anything about it?  Let's say you knew you had a genetic tendency to die of a certain kind of brain tumor, and you were likely to die young.  You can't remove your brain to reduce the chances - unless you're a politician.  I had a friend die of a brain tumor about 10 years ago.  From first symptom to death took less than two weeks.  Is the logical extension of what she did to commit suicide?  There are really no other alternatives at present.  But ... kill yourself to avoid a fatal disease?  Is that going too far?   

Here's a personal example:  I'm getting to be an old guy.  I heard an oncologist once say that prostate cancer was the male analog of breast cancer, except many times more common.  WebMD says, "About 80 percent of men who reach age 80 have prostate cancer cells in their prostate."  Should we older dudes have our prostates removed pre-emptively?  Prostates aren't conveniently located outside the body core where they're easy to remove; it's a delicate surgery that can bring unpleasant complications like incontinence for life.  Thankfully prostate cancer isn't usually a very aggressive disease, and at that age (80), they're not likely to treat you as aggressively as they would if you had prostate cancer at 50 or 60.  I don't know what the right answer this, but it seems you just face it. 

Let's say the men in your family tend to have massive heart attacks and die by 50.  You're 40; do you put in stents pre-emptively?  When?  I say yeah you get stents (or whatever tech is called for), and doing it at 40-45 is approximately right.  Would a doctor agree to that?  What are the odds they hurt you badly or kill you while putting in the stents? 

Is that going too far?  How far is too far?

Anybody here ever read Dr. Barry Sears, the guy who created the Zone diet empire?  In an early column about him, (I think) he said he was led to research diet and heart as a young biochemist because all the men in his family had died young of heart disease.  He had his own "genome research" that told him he was likely to die young, and worked hard to change that.  I think he said he's the only man in his family to live past 50. 

Look at it this way: we're all born with a fatal condition.  Life is a 100% fatal, sexually transmitted condition.  Cancer is a hellish disease, and the treatments are as awful as the disease is.  But it's not like it's the only awful, fatal, or degenerative disease out there.  Do you want to know if you're going to get an awful disease that's going to lead to long, painful, sickening treatments?  Do you kill yourself in advance?  You absolutely won't get any other disease.  If you wait until you're diagnosed, you get more life, but maybe it's too late to do anything.  Despite the nice numbers on cancer survival we hear, it's early detection that's driving it, not better treatments.  On the other hand, again, the only thing we're sure of is that everyone will die of something.   If you know you're going to have a lot of pain, say, doesn't a bottle of sleeping pills and a nice glass of your favorite wine or spirits sound better?  Before you're in too much pain or too messed up to do it.

Am I going too far?  I'm not being coy, I just don't really see a bright-line difference, just fuzzy gray areas.  Once you cross the Rubicon of saying you're going to cut off or cut out body parts to avoid a disease you will probably get, not to treat a disease you have, I see it as a question of how much you cut before you say it's too drastic.  Maybe we crossed that ages ago when someone cut off a mole they were concerned about.  It's doing something ordinarily unthinkable to minimize the chances of something unbearable.  I'm inclined to say suicide is too far because of my ethical system; but if you told me you were cutting off a hand or a foot to end the pain of arthritis, I wish I knew a better way, but I don't think I'd criticize you.  If you told me you knew you had Alzheimer's and were going to end it all before you became a burden on your wife, I would argue that's too far.  But like I say, I see suicide as too far. 

What do you think?
(The Twilight Zone)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Gun Industry - A Bright Spot In Obama's Amerika

There have been some interesting moves announced in the last few days.

ATK has bought the Caliber Company for $315 Million - Caliber is the Parent of Savage Arms/Stevens.  This gives the company a top-class gun manufacturer to go with their firm base in the sporting firearms business:
ATK will integrate Savage within its Sporting Group business. ATK's Sporting Group is the established leader in sporting and law enforcement ammunition and shooting accessories. ATK's ammunition brands include Federal Premium, CCI, Fusion, Speer, Estate Cartridge and Blazer. ATK's accessories brands include BLACKHAWK!, Alliant Powder, RCBS, Champion targets and shooting equipment, Gunslick Pro and Outers gun-care products, and Weaver optics and mounting systems.
(Savage Model 12 Palma rifle)

Ruger, as I've talked about before, has had great growth in its stock prices, and more demand than they can keep up with.  They've announced they'll be opening a third manufacturing facility.  
According to Mr. Fifer (CEO) and the slides shown at the Annual Meeting, they have identified three "attractive sites" in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas. Ruger is not planning to build a plant but rather is seeking a manufacturing facility of about a quarter million square feet that is not being used currently. Fifer says they are looking for something relatively new, that has "phenomenal electricity", and good transportation  that is located in a community that is Second Amendment friendly. The community should also have a good existing workforce and a number of engineers.
This should allow them to get up and running in less time than putting up a building.

Finally, Remington has announced that they'll be expanding an ammo plant.
Some companies have been reluctant to add additional manufacturing capabilities; if the demand for ammo comes to a point before they can recoup their costs, the manufacturers will be left holding rather large bills. Domestic ammo manufacturers have been operating at capacity for nearly a decade straight because so many companies are reluctant to expand.

Remington isn’t one of those companies. They’ve pledged a whopping $32 million to expand their Lonoke, Ark. plant with the construction of an entirely new manufacturing facility. The expansion is expected to be up and running at full capacity by the summer of 2014, with ground broken for the new building by the second quarter of this year.
I've got to say that poster Inagada Davida (great name) at Angry White Dude has written a very interesting perspective on the ammo shortages, Got a Brick of .387 Boomenlouder?, with a few facts I had never heard.
This ammo shortage actually started back at the beginning of Gulf II- what was that, 2003? Mobilizing an army to go halfway around the world is no mean feat. To save ourselves some time and effort, we called on our allies. One thing the Middle East is already set up for is war, right?

We borrowed 2 billion rounds of 5.56 from Israel alone. That manuever saved something on the order of a Panamax cargo ship’s worth of logistics. Ever been on a Carnival cruise? That’s a Panamax ship. Picture one full of .223′s. The deal we made with Israel was that we would replace their ammo with US made ammo as soon as possible. That’s one deal, for one caliber, with one ally. God knows what else we swiped from whom.
Note his assertion of borrowing 2 billion rounds from Israel a decade ago agrees with the statement that ammo plants have been at capacity for a decade.  Go read. Worth your time.

Go Give TSM A Visit

Kevin celebrates the 10th anniversary of The Smallest Minority, by re-posting his first post and updating it. 

When I first applied for my concealed carry ticket and started researching gun blogs, Kevin's was one of the first I found.  I still read him all the time. 

Go wish him a happy blogiversary and a huzzah or two.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lord Monckton: The Dollar Is Dying and With It, America

Concerned American over at Western Rifle Shooters Association links to this article by Lord Monckton on the end of the dollar and America.  (More properly, he's Lord Christopher Monckton of Brenchley but has more titles than that "50 Shades of Adultery" series of books.)  Writing on our economic problems comes as a surprise to me because I've only seen him talking physics and debunking the global warmening zealots.  I had no idea he ventured into economics. 

Lord Monckton opens:
Obama has done it. He has brought America down. It only took him just over four years. The Republicans could have stopped him. They didn’t
I'm not sure they could have - and you probably know I'm not a reflexive Stupid Party fan by any means. Certainly through the 2010 elections, every branch of government was in the Evil Party hands, so no amount of wrangling could have stopped them from doing whatever they wanted.  After 2010, there has only been a Stupid  Party majority in the house, and they couldn't stop the senate from doing anything.  I think the last count in the prestigious world record for the Number of Times the House Resolved to End Obamacare is 31.  They could pass a bill every week and let it die in the Senate. 

Much of his analysis echoes what I wrote here on May 5 and on other occasions.  Don't fall for the line that the Chinese need us; we're practice.  Once their own consumer market is running at full stride, they don't need to ship goods here.  Yes they own some of our debt, but they're getting out of it and making deals to trade in currencies other than dollars.  I pointed out years ago, the Chinese aren't just buying gold, they're buying gold mines  and they're encouraging their citizens to buy gold, too.
First, the dollar will cease – no, make that “is already ceasing” – to be the world’s reserve currency. China, as I have been warning you she would, has realized the dollar is finished. So she is quietly making startling progress with bilateral and multilateral deals to replace the dollar with the yuan as the world’s currency of choice.
Watch some of the straws in the wind. China and Korea have come to a little-noticed agreement that international trade between them will no longer be denominated in U.S. dollars, but in yuan, or Won.
He goes on to offer some practical advise:
So, what should you do to protect yourself and your family? First, get rid of every dollar you have. Dollars are now all but worthless. When the crash comes, they will have no value at all.

In hard times, most financial instruments – currencies, stocks, bonds – are not worth the paper they are printed on. Get rid of them now. Buy silver coins. They will quintuple in price once the crash sets in, and they are small enough to be fungible when the dollar dies.

Buy land, some of it well-wooded, some of it arable, some of it grassland. You will need the timber to power your steam tractor. Gasoline will be a costly rarity. And make sure you can defend yourselves. Starving mobs are no respecters of persons. Do what the Mormons do: Get three months’ supply of imperishable foodstuffs and hide them in the basement.
You might like to go read it.  It's largely my usual views and advice, but since he's a Lord and not some random Internet Dood, you can quote him to your friends.
Edit 05-14-13 1957EDT  Forgot a Title

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Range Day

I was looking at some of my old posts (not too self-referential), and noticed that I've been posting about wanting to pick up a Scout rifle in .308 since July of 2011.  Long story short, I finally have one.  I bought a used but well pampered, early model Savage Scout and after a couple of weekends with other things interfering, got a chance to try it out.  First step, of course, was to zero it for my eyes and preferred way of using it.  

This is benchrest shooting with a Caldwell lead sled, what we usually use, at 25 yards to set the zero, with my first few shots numbered.
As you can tell, I adjusted the scope backwards the first time.  Once I got it dialed in, it was pretty automatic.  Although I didn't take any pictures of it, due to limited time downrange, Mrs. Graybeard tried it out and her first shot (fresh target) was about one diameter (.308) below the cross hairs and on the vertical line.  After 10 shots she had a slightly better centered version of the hole in the middle in this picture.

I'm not used to shooting 100 yards with low power optics, and this rifle has a low power scout scope, so the group opened up to fill the inner two inches.  The wind started to shift from into our faces to quartering off the right, so it was slightly left-biased until I realized what was happening.  No pictures.  Tried to take one through the spotting scope, but it didn't work out.

Now let me pass on something we discovered that really works out well for us.  Some of you may recall that I refer to Mrs. Graybeard as "the diminutive but deadly".  Because she's under 5' tall and I'm over 6', we regularly find "one size never fits all".  For our last few range trips, we brought an astronomy chair we've had for 25 years, very much like these from Company Seven.  Here's a photo of it alongside her 10/22.   
These chairs are designed for the seat to be moved up and down infinitely adjustable because the viewing position changes with the elevation of whatever you're watching through the telescope. It makes it very easy for either of us to get into the right position at the rifle.  I'm guessing not many shooters will think of using an astronomical observing chair for shooting, but keep it in mind as an option.  Even comes in tactical black ;-).

And in case I have to tell you, major calibers are fun! 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Despicable Behavior from Our Leaders

As most of you will remember, a couple of months after the completion of the raid that killed Bin Laden, a Chinook carrying 30 men was shot down in Afghanistan.  It as Aug. 6, 2011.  The 30 included 17 members of the Dev Gru/SEAL team VI operators, five Naval Special Warfare personnel, three Air Force Spec Ops and a crew of five Army aviators.  A short bio of each of them is here.

Thursday, the families of four of those men called a press conference to call attention to several questions about the mission that they can't get answered.  "Accompanying the families of these dead Navy SEAL Team VI special operations servicemen will be retired military experts verifying their accounts of how and why the government is as much responsible for the deaths of their sons as is the Taliban."  (emphasis added - SiG)  If the reality here is as described, it represents completely despicable behavior on the part of the military and civilian leadership. 
1. How President Obama and Vice President Biden, having disclosed on May 4, 2011, that Navy Seal Team VI carried out the successful raid on Bin Laden’s compound resulting in the master terrorist’s death, put a retaliatory target on the backs of the fallen heroes.
2. How and why high-level military officials sent these Navy SEAL Team VI heroes into battle without special operations aviation and proper air support.
3. How and why middle-level military brass carries out too many ill-prepared missions to boost their standing with top-level military brass and the Commander-in-Chief in order that they can be promoted.
4. How the military restricts special operations servicemen and others from engaging in timely return fire when fired upon by the Taliban and other terrorist groups and interests, thus jeopardizing the servicemen’s lives.
5. How and why the denial of requested pre-assault fire may have contributed to the shoot down of the Navy SEAL Team VI helicopter and the death of these special operations servicemen.
6. How Afghani forces accompanying the Navy SEAL Team VI servicemen on the helicopter were not properly vetted and how they possibly disclosed classified information to the Taliban about the mission, resulting in the shoot down of the helicopter.
7. How military brass, while prohibiting any mention of a Judeo-Christian God, invited a Muslim cleric to the funeral for the fallen Navy SEAL Team VI heroes who disparaged in Arabic the memory of these servicemen by damning them as infidels to Allah. A video of the Muslim cleric’s “prayer” will be shown with a certified translation.
This last one is particularly disgusting, adding, as it does, insult to their deaths.  While prohibiting the expression of any Judeo-Christian faith, a Muslim Imam delivered a prayer that cursed them - it  included the following:
Amen. I shelter in Allah from the devil who has been cast with stones.
In the name of Allah the merciful forgiver.
The companions of “THE FIRE”

(The sinners and infidels who are fodder for the hell fire)
ARE NOT EQUAL WITH the companions of heaven.
The companions of heaven
(Muslims) are the WINNERS.
Had he sent this Koran to the mountain, you would have seen the mountain prostrated in fear of Allah.
(Mocking the GOD of Moses)
Such examples are what we present to the people, so that they would think.
(repent and convert to Islam)
Blessings are to your God (Allah) the God of glory and what they describe.
And peace be upon the messengers (prophets) and thanks be to Allah the lord of both universes
(mankind and Jinn).
That last link, to Gateway Pundit, contains a video of the press conference.  The video is over 3 hours long, so I haven't watched it.

The 30. 

I'm not saying the brass should fall on their swords, but if I was responsible for this, I don't think I could look myself in the mirror.  Add this to an executive branch and state department that apparently let an ambassador and three other men die for the elections. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Best "Stairway" Cover Ever

In an alternate or parallel (or maybe even serial) universe, this was "Stairway to Heaven":

Everybody else in the known universe did a cover of Stairway, why not alternate universes?

To get real for a minute, the Beatnix are an Australian band that covers Beatles music, and did this bit in a TV show in the early '90s.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

QoTD Plus Fresh Diatribe

The best quote I've seen is actually from yesterday, but Og, Neanderpundit wrote about Rachel Lucas commenting about the controversy over why no one wants to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  Rachel wrote: 
"So I just want to understand why this guy’s corpse is so different from the corpses of other mass murderers, even other terrorists. Where do we usually bury murderers in the U.S.? Why is it such a big deal with this particular one?"
Which Og hits out of the park.  I'll only lift one paragraph; go RTWT:
He was wrong to not be an angry tea partying caucasion. This robbed them of the opportunity to use this to point out how those hateful and spiteful and stupid red state hickbillies are always the ones responsible for violence of every kind.
Over the intervening few weeks since the Boston Marathon bombing, I've heard talking heads mention a couple of terms that make my ears almost swivel like the cat's ears:  "WMD" and "mass murder".  Let me start out with a simple question:


Since when does a home made bomb in a pressure cooker qualify as a Weapon of Mass Destruction?  I haven't seen estimates of its yield, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was about as powerful as hand grenade or two at once, and I'd love some input for guys who have seen real bombs from a respectful distance.  Any bomb techs drop by?  I'd die of surprise if it was a powerful as a  1 or 2000lb bomb, and we drop those like confetti in Afghanistan.  I can imagine some hungry federal prosecutor liking the idea of calling it a WMD, but, with all due respect, Mr. Fed Prosecutor, do you really want to tell the people in East Douchbagistan that we've been dropping WMDs on them since 2003?

(A group of infantrymen in the crater from a single 1000 pound bomb, Viet Nam, 1967)

And "mass murder"?  A few months ago, we were all talking about a story in Mother Jones or something because they analyzed mass murders and decided no armed civilian had ever stopped one.  Crazy right?, but embedded in there was the idea that a mass murder was defined as over four deaths and in the cases where civilians had interdicted, the killers never made it as high as four killed.  The death toll at Boston stands at 3; at least I've not found more.

As awful as it was, Boston was neither mass murder nor a WMD. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Ammo Scare of 2012-2013

I know I'm not the only one of us that gets Cheaper Than Dirt! emails, but I was just astounded at this offer.  Graphic picked out of their sales flyer;  I know I have some of that same exact ammo that I paid about $12 a box for. 
While nobody predicted the incredible run on guns and ammo that started as soon the anti-gunners started talking new controls and a new AWB, I started hearing about potential shortages back in February of 2012.  Anti-gunners started talking more restrictions as soon as there was blood on the floors at Sandy Hook to dance in and that's when the buying curve went vertical. 

It's starting to look as if the prices and quantities of some items are starting to catch up.  30 round metal AR magazines are back in the $15 range, instead of the $100 Cheaper Than Dirt was asking in January.  I see PMags at $20.  As I write this, Natchez has 230 grain, FMJ, .45 ACP Remington UMC in stock at $40 (limit 5).  If you want a better price on that PMC 9mm 115 grain, Surplus Ammo has it for $40, much less than the CTD ad.  On the other hand, while .223 is hard to find and expensive, even a good old standby like .30-06 is around and more or less normal price.  (And from Surplus Ammo...)

I'm hearing that AR pattern rifles are showing up in the $800-$900 range again, and there are good numbers at our local shows. 

There's a phenomenon that shows up in panic markets.  Some percentage of people say "it's going to be scarce so I'd better stock up".  That causes a run on the product which reinforces the idea that it's scarce, which causes more people to buy more "just in case".  We've been going through quite a bit of that in the gun and ammo markets this year.  I hear stories about guys who can be at Walmart when the ammo shows up buying it up and selling at 2 or 3x the price at shows.  The best thing that could happen here is nobody buys their ammo. 

It's easy to say chill (I have "notify me when in" emails at two places for this), but we know there's a real surge going on and all we can do is wait it out.  If you absolutely need a box of 9mm 115 grain, you can order that $60 box from CTD; it is there.  If you can hold out until more is available, well, the market price correction worked, didn't it? 

(usual disclaimer - no connection to any of the sellers other than just buying from them)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Eurofascists Outlawing "Unapproved Plants" - Including Home Gardens

As is often the case with breaking news events, the story is changing since this original report, but Natural News broke the story into the US that the European Union is currently working on a proposed law that would:
... make it illegal to "grow, reproduce or trade" any vegetable seeds that have not been "tested, approved and accepted" by a new EU bureaucracy named the "EU Plant Variety Agency."

It's called the Plant Reproductive Material Law, and it attempts to put the government in charge of virtually all plants and seeds. Home gardeners who grow their own plants from non-regulated seeds would be considered criminals under this law.
While the law hasn't been passed, and is still in the process of being changed to resolve complaints, it's a thoroughly fascistic piece of legislation.  It's hard to know exactly what problems they think they're addressing, but it probably helps to think you're a factory farmer faced with industrial quantities of sprays and all the other junk they put down.  But never mind that abstract stuff, it's probably just protectionism for the cronies that produce the hybrid seeds. 

A seed company from the UK, "The Real Seed Catalogue", has been following things carefully and has a web page dedicated to the new law.  A few extracts that seem important:
The key last minute concessions that were made - and this really was only due to public pressure, because they were not in the draft just 3 days previously - are as follows:
  • Home gardeners are now permitted to save and swap unapproved seed without breaking the law. [italics added - SiG]
  • Individuals & small organisations can grow and supply/sell unapproved vegetable seed - as long as they have less than 10 employees.
  • Seedbanks can grow unapproved seed without breaking the law.
  • There could be easier (in an unspecified way) rules for large producers of seeds suitable for organic agriculture etc, in some (unspecified) future legislation - maybe.
We are checking out what the next step is. It appears that next it must go to Parliament for modification or approval, so there is still the chance of changes for better or worse. We must all campaign to make sure only improvements are made!
(Note: isn't nice that the masters have deigned to permit you and I to swap "unapproved" seeds!  And they'll permit us to grow and supply unapproved seeds as long we don't form too big a company.  What a bunch of crap.)

The situation is too fluid to really know what's going on.  If you're in the UK or the EU, and I know I get some visitors from over there, there's a couple of petitions to sign against the proposals and to make better proposals.  The Noah's Ark (Arche Noah) petition and the Seed Sovereignty petition.  (This is the Noah's Ark project that is a monster seed bank under cold storage in Norway, dedicated to preserving true biodiversity through stockpiling heirloom seeds).  And we need to keep an eye on this kind of thing on this side of the pond. 
(18 varieties of tomatoes, a gardener's favorite)

Monday, May 6, 2013


In the event of an extended unpleasantness that effects power distributions, the name of the game turns into energy storage and management.  Quite simply, energy is life.  Energy sterilizes things, cleans things, cooks food, even moves things.  Energy storage has historically been in the form of solids: think firewood, coal or peat.  Liquid storage, such as diesel fuel, gasoline or liquified natural gas (LNG) are products of the petroleum age and it's really difficult to beat the energy density they provide.  But batteries are the natural for electrical energy storage, especially if the electricity is generated by solar cells, wind or water turbines. 

I won't go too much into batteries, I've talked a lot about batteries in these pages.  This is more about some practicality of "care and feeding" of your batteries. 

There's about a half-dozen different chemistries for rechargeable storage batteries on the broad market.  The most economical batteries for energy storage are lead acid, but the lead plates make them the heaviest type of battery.  Lithium batteries, in different detailed chemistries, are lighter (the reason they are often preferred for electric cars), and can have excellent energy densities, but they're more expensive than lead acid batteries.  There are Lithium Ion, Lithium Phosphate, and Lithium Iron in common use.  A compromise in terms of expense, weight, and ease of use is Nickle-Metal Hydride (NiMH), and improvement over the older Nickle Cadmium (NiCad) batteries.

There are two big facts you need to be aware of.  All types of rechargeable batteries have a number of cycles that they will handle, and have less capacity the more cycles they go through.  In addition, all batteries will discharge themselves over time, so you will need to charge them on some sort of schedule even if life is idyllic and your AC power is there 100% of the time.  I read those two facts to say I should treat my batteries as close to ideally as I can; so they have as much life and capacity left as possible when I need it.

I said in my solar panel project that deep cycle, AGM (absorbed glass mat) type lead acid batteries seem to be the best storage battery for this use and I still think that (more info here).   If you get one of those, a charger like this Schumacher I picked up at Walmart for $50 is all you really need.
AGM deep cycle batteries are the same chemistry as car starting batteries, but the differences in construction and use leaves little in common.  For optimum life they shouldn't be charged with a simple car charger like this one.

But what if, like me, you have a hodgepodge of batteries?  Some NiMH, some NiCads, sealed lead acid (Gell Cells) and some Li-Ion?   For about 6 or 8 years, I've been using a smart charger that is no longer manufactured for this task.  Called the CH-777 Plus, made by Maha, I could stick pretty much any battery in the house on it, lead acid, Ni or Li chemistries.  A few weeks ago, I managed to blow it up while reviving the battery for my cordless drill.  After a bit of shopping, I ended up ordering a charger from Amazon, only that one was obsolete and out of stock, too.  I spoke with the guys who were the actual seller and ended up with this one.  It will charge any chemistry Lithium battery, NiMH, NiCad, and lead acid.  It is very programmable - to the point where you really can't use it without programming it. 

"Wait a minute, old man, did you just say 'reviving the battery for my cordless drill'?"  If you read about rechargeable batteries, you'll find references to most of them losing capacity if they sit around too much.  I find it to be the bane of cordless power tools.  Whenever I go to pick up my drill/screwdriver, the battery is dead.  A way to rejuvenate many older batteries is to discharge and then recharge them. One feature the TAZR charger has that I was looking for is the ability to do a calibrated discharge of the battery.  It allows you to program the current (up to 1 Amp) and discharge the battery to a known level.

This weekend, I had a 9 year old APC UPS tell me it needed new batteries.  When I pulled them out, one said it was fully charged and fully discharged at the same time.  Dead.  The second said it was charged but allowed me to discharge it (it was very slow - only at 0.2 or 0.3 A even though I programmed it for more).  After recharging it, it discharged at a constant 1 Amp with no trouble.  Discharging and recharging recovered a 7AH sealed lead acid battery.

Now how we get power into the charger to charge batteries if the grid is down is a bit involved, so a story for another day.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Structural Problems Taking Down The US

An essay by John Hawkins on Townhall yesterday got me thinking about the structural problems that are combining to take down the US.   Hawkins opens with a quote from Machiavelli that is the root - the thing we need to focus on the most:
“And what physicians say about disease is applicable here: that at the beginning a disease is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose; but as time passes, not having been treated or recognized at the outset, it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. The same thing occurs in affairs of state; for by recognizing from afar the diseases that are spreading in the state (which is a gift given only to a prudent ruler), they can be cured quickly; but when they are not recognized and are left to grow to the extent that everyone recognizes them, there is no longer any cure.” — Niccolo Machiavelli
Now, Hawkins lists demographics as the biggest problem: in particular, the baby boomers.  He talks about the number of retirees in the next couple of decades: "In 2010, there were 40 million Americans 65 and older. By 2020, that number is projected to be 55 million; by 2030, 72 million.".  That is absolutely a problem, but it's inherently a self-limiting problem.  The problem is that various agencies have promised $124 Trillion in unfunded liabilities and there is simply no way to pay those obligations.  Since things that can't go on won't go on, those promises simply won't be paid.  That wouldn't be so bad if the social structures of a hundred years ago were in place.  Just as I live a few hundred miles from my surviving parent, my kids live over a thousand from me.  A hundred years ago, or 150, families stayed closer together.  Parents worked until they died, yes, but the pace and amount slowed down with age and children helped support their parents.  While the current "twenty-somethings", at least the ones I can see, seem to be tending toward larger families, it's hard to estimate if they can contribute to helping grandparents whom they hardly know to survive. 

In my mind, you can't be intellectually honest about the demographic problems without talking about "the A word" - abortion.  A recent study out of New York said an incredible (to me) 41% of all pregnancies in the city are aborted.  It's probably hard to get really accurate numbers, but even Wikipedia reports that since Roe-v-Wade was decided, approximately 50 million abortions have been performed in the US.  50 million more people in the US, and their offspring, would have a large effect on paying for those unfunded liabilities.  And while the majority polled seem to agree that an abortion should be "safe, legal and rare", only a tiny percentage of abortions, 0.5 to 1.0%, are due to the classic, emotionally-charged argument; "you wouldn't want to deny an abortion to a teenaged girl raped by an adult?" which we hear all the time.  The vast majorities cited in the polls summarized on Wikipedia cite reasons more related to inconvenience to the mother. 

Still, going back to the opening paragraph, this is an easy problem to recognize.  To use Machiavelli's medical analogy, it's not finding a clump of cells the size of pencil point, it's a tumor the size of a watermelon.  The root cause is political: politicians making promises that they can't possibly deliver on.  Being lawyers, for the most part, they don't understand exponential functions (I'm being charitable here).  Because it's always easier to promise more and let someone else worry about it - "kick the can down the road" - they have an incentive to be irresponsible.  They promise future payments and benefits to keep getting elected, when to keep those payments going requires exponentially increasing numbers of people.  To butcher a quote, "hard work and discipline pay off in the long run, but laziness and spending pay off now". 

If you've visited here before, you know I'm a deficit hawk.  I think our debt, today 107.1% of GDP, is a threat to the very existence of our country.  But the deficit is a symptom, not the disease.  The disease is politics and, to be honest, at least partly the result of us - we, the people - being willing to believe the con men.  These promises are too good to be true, and we all know "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" (too good to be true).  From the view of the congress critter, he has someone paying him if he adds just a little more spending on one side, and on the other side a small part of the population that wants him to cut spending.  For reasons I'll get to in a few lines, the spending has a very visible good outcome and a not very likely negative outcome.  Of course they'll spend more.   

Just as our large debt is a threat to our very survival, our constantly growing government is a threat to our survival.  The number and cost of government regulations is growing every day, the difficulty of starting a business is getting ever harder and our choices about everything from what soda to drink to what light bulb to have in our house are slowly, but surely being taken away from us.  I've often quoted Harvey Silverglate's idea that the average American commits three federal felonies every day.  And it's a central theme to my recurring "Tales From the Over Regulated State".  From their standpoint, it's a feature, not a bug. 

The corruption of our political system, with gerrymandering and voter fraud, makes politicians even less concerned about voters.  With reelection rates approaching certainty, unless they're found with "a dead girl or a live boy" (as they used to say) they're in office for life; consequently, it's more frightening for Michael Bloomberg to threaten to find primary opponents for Democrats that won't follow his directives than to face the normal voting process.  Hawkins says,
Nancy Pelosi could NEVER be beaten by a Republican, but if Planned Parenthood or United Auto Workers got angry at her, either could conceivably fund and support another Democrat who could beat her. What all this means in practice is that politicians in both parties are far apart ideologically and have a strong incentive (their job) not to cooperate with each other on anything that may upset a special interest.
While I disagree that politicians in both parties are far apart ideologically - with some exceptions for one or two true conservatives - his point that the system is in the hands of people like Bloomberg and Soros, or special interest groups like the UAW and SEIU, is absolutely right (or the Koch brothers and big oil, or whomever leftists currently think are running everything).  

Ever heard of root cause analysis?  It's a structured technique for problem solving, in which a problem is investigated until the most fundamental root cause of the problems is found.  A very common implementation is the "five whys?"; the idea is you keep asking why? to every problem that comes up, and typically hit the root cause in no more than five "why?" answers.  The root cause here is the growth of the federal government and concentration of power in it that results.  When it becomes easier and more profitable for companies or groups like those to lobby the government than to try to win in the market, that's when things go downhill.  This structural problem is what has to be unwound to save the country.  Returning to Machiavelli's observation on problems again:
"...when they are not recognized and are left to grow to the extent that everyone recognizes them, there is no longer any cure."
And that appears to be where we are.