Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tales From the Police State

Apparently underage drinking is such a threat that officers need to hop on hood of a car, point guns at college aged girls and break their car windows.  For buying bottled water. 
A group of state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents clad in plainclothes approached her, suspecting the blue carton of LaCroix sparkling water to be a 12-pack of beer. Police say one of the agents jumped on the hood of her car. She says one drew a gun. Unsure of who they were, Daly tried to flee the darkened parking lot.

"They were showing unidentifiable badges after they approached us, but we became frightened, as they were not in anything close to a uniform," she recalled Thursday in a written account of the April 11 incident.
The state Alcoholic Beverage Control is reviewing the case - anyone want to bet the agents will be chastised for being a bit too "authoritah complex"?   No, I didn't think so. 

The two sides tell completely different stories.  The two girls were stopped by someone showing badges, according to the ABC spokesdroid.  The girls, meanwhile, said, “They were showing unidentifiable badges after they approached us, but we became frightened, as they were not in anything close to a uniform,”.  Fresh from watching a campus program to sensitize them to the dangers of rape,
The woman was on edge after spending the night listening to stories from dozens of sexual assault survivors at an annual "Take Back the Night" vigil on Grounds, said Daly's defense attorney, Francis Lawrence.
Sounds like the "Take Back the Night" vigil did a good job of making the girls think anyone who might talk to them is intending to rape them. 

The whole thing seems to be a horrific misunderstanding.  The agents horribly overreacted - I mean, if two 20 year olds had a case of beer instead of bottled water, so what?  Does it really warrant that sort of reaction?  Talk about a crime by definition rather than something that's truly wrong... The girls, for their part, say they were going to drive to a police station: they wanted the flashing blue lights and the uniforms!  They dialed 911 and stopped when a patrol car showed up.  The whole incident happened because the plain clothes officers freaked out the girls, and when the girls reacted, the officers overreacted.  Culturally, police will never want to allow someone to walk away.  It's surprising things like this don't happen more often.  

No matter what, it still doesn't justify hopping on the car, pulling guns on the girls and trying to break into their SUV.  If they had been running out of a bank, alarms ringing, carrying bags of cash - yeah, sure.  For college age women walking out of a store with something they bought - never.  Never.   
In the eyes of far too many in that uniform, though, there are only two kinds of people in the world: cops and perps.  They're not about to let someone react the way these girls did.  Hopefully, state prosecutors will have some more sense.

More Tales From the Over Regulated State - A Series

In this case, fluffy cotton tails.  For reasons that are logical only to bureaucrats, the USDA has a thing about regulating bunnies.  Not women in skimpy costumes, the small, furry animal kind.

Some of you may remember an incident in May of 2011 where the USDA threatened to fine a Missouri family about $4 million for selling over $500 worth of rabbits.  This week we read magician Marty Hahne, who uses a small bunny in his act, has been ordered by the USDA to provide a written disaster plan for his little prop, er, partner, umm  Blogger Bob McCarty has the cartoon and story on his blog:
Hahne writes:
My USDA rabbit license requirement has taken another ridiculous twist. I just received an 8 page letter from the USDA, telling me that by July 29 I need to have in place a written disaster plan, detailing all the steps I would take to help get my rabbit through a disaster, such as a tornado, fire, flood, etc. They not only want to know how I will protect my rabbit during a disaster, but also what I will do after the disaster, to make sure my rabbit gets cared for properly.  I am not kidding–before the end of July I need to have this written rabbit disaster plan in place, or I am breaking the law.
Hahne adds:
  1. The new regulation became effective Jan. 30, 2012;
  2. The written plan must be completed by July 29, 2013;
  3. Hahne and his wife, Brenda, must be trained to implement the plan as written; and
  4. The written plan must be available for review by USDA inspectors by Sept. 28, 2013.
The USDA's rabbit fetish may be as intense and stupid as the FDA's raw milk fetish, and that's pretty far gone. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What's Up With the Precious Metals?

Standard disclaimer first: I'm not a professional at this stuff.  I'm a random internet dood.  Yeah, I usually do what I say.  I've made some good calls and some bad calls.  I put these ideas together by reading lots.

First off, I think we can all agree it's really hard to hit market peaks and bottoms.  I really believe it's more luck than not, even for the best investors.  I saw Jim Rogers saying he had moved to protect his positions in gold and silver last year, getting out of them to some degree, because all assets generally don't move as straight up as they have through the complete bull-market cycle. 
"Most things correct 30 percent every year or two, even in big bull markets – 30 percent corrections are normal and yet gold has only done that once in the past 12 years," Rogers said. "Gold on any kind of historic market basis is overdue for a nice correction."
You gotta like Jim Rogers; not everyone can wear a bow tie like a boss!

I gotta wish I had paid attention to that last winter.  Not sure what I would have done, but gold has been in that correction since the middle of last year, and while a lot of people are predicting a turnaround, they were predicting one a few hundred dollars an ounce higher last month.  (Say the same thing about silver, but drop the word hundred out of that sentence).  The mining stock indices have been hammered, along with the metals, and they don't generally track each other.  It's rather common for HUI or XAU to move counter to the metals; you may have heard the investment advice to invest in both the physical metals and the mining stocks for just this reason. 

Last week, the stock and metals markets went into a snit when the Bernank simply mentioned that the gravy train can't go on forever.  The DJIA has been on a QE-funded roll for months now, creating the illusion of a market and economy in recovery.  The big board average only dropped about 5 percent, though, and then promptly gained back about half of it.  Look at the chart: we're only back where we were at the start of May.
Don't forget that the major brokerages use gold and silver the same way millions of small investors do, too: as a hedge and store of value. Part of the reason for the big drop in the price of the metals two weeks ago was that investors were getting caught short and needed to raise funds.  They went to sell their (paper) gold and ran into a situation with far more sellers than buyers - a situation that is not at all uncommon.  This drove the price down.  I grabbed some silver at what were bargain basement lows, prices it hasn't been in years, only to see it drop another dollar an ounce this past week - which it recovered on Friday. 

In times like this, I always ask myself if the fundamentals of the US and world economy have gotten better, or if it's just oddities of trading.  The answer is the fundamentals haven't improved that I can see.  I'll nod to Jim Rogers again when he said, "Please get worried" about the US economy in 2013 and 2014.
“Be very worried about 2013 and be very worried about 2014, because that’s when the next slowdown comes,” Rogers stated.  “In 2002 we had a recession and in 2008, it was worse because the debt was so much higher.”

He added, “The next time is going to be even worse because the debt is so staggeringly high now. So if you are not worried about 2013, please — get worried.”
Like most of you, I view having some tangible assets on hand, whether it's silver or those wonderful brass/lead/copper assemblies, as essential to the future.  That means a continuous, dollar cost-averaged purchase plan is going to buy cheap some days and expensive some other days.  I can't tell you when it's going to start back up, but I believe as surely as I believe I'm sitting here that it will head up.  There are technical indicators that we could be at the bottom floor of a market that's ready to go on a strong up move
Gold (GLD) is undergoing a significant correction after making a huge run from the 2008 low below $800 to $1900 in August of 2011.  Gold is significantly below its 3 year trailing average at $1550 and its 5 year trailing average at $1327.  The last time this occurred was in the late 90’s.  Investors who acquired gold back then saw incredible 660% gains while the equity markets did nothing over the next 15 years.

Cartoon of the Day So Far

The incomparable Michael Ramirez.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Link of the Day

I was starting down this road, but Kevin started before me, and Kevin always wins.  Go read "Faith In Government" at The Smallest Minority

I read within the last couple of days that as much as a quarter of the country trusts the federal government to do the right thing most of the time.  Seems to me that would cover writing big, new laws.  
(Holbert at  He says it like it's a bad thing that congress isn't "moving" on passing new laws.  With a volume of laws and regulations that is enormous and growing, how much could one more law or regulation improve things.  (I note our "friends" at have put 6591 new regulations in place in the last 90 days).   If congress is moving, it's more likely to just be another federal law you break every day without even realizing it. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

False Flag Operation - Amnesty Style

While driving home yesterday, I was listening to a couple of reasonably conservative representatives taking apart the senate amnesty bill.  The commercial that followed, though, was a poetic homage to the bill, paid for by some "conservatives for something or other" group.  Hard to believe, I thought, considering even Rubio is saying he's getting phone and email bombed saying nobody trusts them.  Must be a false flag operation.

A little searching revealed Breitbart showed it really is a false flag operation - by liberal Mark Zuckerberg.  Yeah, the Facebook dude. And a bunch of stupid RINOs.

As I've said many times, I hate day to day politics.  I believe the bill passed because the ruling class doesn't care even the slightest bit what the voters think. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On Quantum Computing

A followup to the story on quantum computing; a private email from a commenter included a link to an interview with Dr. Eric Ladizinsky, Chief Scientist at D-Wave, the company working on the quantum computer contract I talked about Monday (and who seem to have an interesting video library I think I need to poke through) 

There's a tremendous amount of interesting detail thrown around in that interview, and it really stuck its hooks deep into my brain.

Quantum physics describes conditions that seem alien to us because they deal with a world we can't see everyday.  Photons, "particles" of light, can act like waves or particles depending on how we treat them.  In perhaps the most famous example, "Schroedinger's cat", Dr. Schroedinger speculated about a cat in a box with a radioactive emitter, constructing the thought experiment to explain how the cat was both fully alive and fully dead at the the same time. Part of the puzzle is we don't understand why we don't see these behaviors all around us.  After all, quantum behaviors are very visible in the ultra-microscopic world of subatomic particles and atoms, but we're made of atoms, just as is everything else we see.  Dr. Ladizinsky talks about the fact that in his quantum computer, a loop of super cold niobium wire has all of its electrons going in one direction and at the exact same time the same piece of wire has all of its electrons going in the opposite direction.  Their niobium wire is exhibiting quantum behavior in a macroscopic object.

I've heard quantum mechanics poetically described as, "the dreams that stuff is made of", and I've heard it said, "if you're not shocked by what it says, you haven't understood it".  It was the perfect example of a theoretical pursuit that had no practical use for so long that it's interesting to see it turning into (potentially) multibillion dollar industry.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Unexpected Voice Blasts the Central Banks

H/T to Bayou Renaissance Man for this article which reports (via Reuters) that the Bank for International Settlements, the BIS, has blasted the governments of the developed world and their central banks for not trying to get their economic houses in order and fix things before they break for good.
The Basel-based BIS lambasted firms and households as well as the public sector for not making good use of the time bought by ultra-loose monetary policy, which it said had ended up creating new financial strains and delaying rather than encouraging necessary economic adjustments. [emphasis added]
The BIS is sort of an uber-central bank; like the mother ship of central banks.  For them to say this is roughly translated as, "You idiots!!! We've been trying to give you time to get your sorry asses in shape so that the whole freaking world doesn't collapse, and what do you do?  You blow it on hookers and coke!!! "  Well, alright, maybe that's what I would have told them, but I think that's what they were thinking. It's arguable, of course, that there's a global plan among the elites to destroy the world's economy - so that they end up on top, but they're already on top, so this way, they'll be on   

The problem is that they can't jump start the economy by leaving the current absurdly loose fiscal policy in place (the latest Federal Reserve "bond purchases" are creating over a trillion dollars a year from nothing).  As Denninger says,
I have said since 2007 that the path of "bailout and lowering rates" in all of its forms could not possibly work.  It cannot work because a person who has too much debt cannot make themselves financially healthy by borrowing more money any more than you can drink yourself sober.

Nor are the effects a mere palliative or even purely psychological -- they have real impacts on real people in that currency dilution through credit issuance destroys purchasing power.  Giving people more and more handouts as the private sector is destroyed and its ability to produce squandered is not sustainable -- period.
Monetary inflation, what he means by "destroys purchasing power",  is the stated goal of the central bankers; it destroys individuals but helps central banks and nations.  (And Janet Yellen, the rumored replacement for the Bernank, is also a fan of inflation, too, arguing for inflation when Greenspan wanted to drive inflation to zero. )
We are now collectively in worse shape than we were in 2008 because we have issued trillions of additional credit into the system for which there is no matching production.
I've used a quote from Dr. Alan Bartlett before "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." - Back to KD:
Exponents are a bitch.  The longer you wait to deal with any problem that has a compound factor (that is, "X% per year") the worse it gets and the damage increase is not linear it becomes exponentially worse over time.  A 10% fiscal deficit that is "counteracted" with something like QE (which is what we've run, more or less, since 2007) doubles in 7 years -- not 10 -- and then it doubles again in another 7.  In 21 years it is not three times the original problem's size it's eight times larger!

We've already doubled down -- and doubled -- the pain we needed to take in 2007.  It will be four times as bad, and we will not survive it as a nation or society, if we let this go on for another seven years.
Sometimes it's a bitch to be able to do the math.  To see what's coming and not be able to convince anyone with any power that we have to change course or epically bad times are coming.  But this ain't the Frobenius method, this is arithmetic.  Even an honest lawyer should be able to see this.  (Hmmm - you know the old saying, the corrupt lawyers give the other .01% a bad name?).  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Setec Astronomy

A movie I really enjoyed in the 90s was Sneakers, kind of a sleeper film starring Dan Akroyd and Robert Redford.  Ignoring their obvious liberal slant, the concept behind the film was rather ingenious.  A mathematician had developed a way of factoring enormous numbers quickly with a custom piece of hardware.  The Big Deal is that all modern cryptography relies on polynomial factoring, and what protects your data is the low probability that a computer could guess your public key so that it can factor your encrypted data.  Whenever you hear something like "it would take the fastest computers longer than the age of the universe to decrypt your messages", that depends on a whole cascade of assumptions, not the least of which is that computers never change in a materially important way. 

The title of this post, by the way, is an homage to that movie.  The term "SECTEC ASTRONOMY" haunts the group for a while until, while playing anagrams with Scrabble tiles, one of them rearranges the letters to spell "TOO MANY SECRETS". 

Don't look yet, but everything may be about to be turned upside down.  Thanks to a link from the Vulgar Curmdugeon, to MIT Technology Review's "Google and NASA Launch Quantum Computing AI Lab"  Quantum computing has been talked about as the next important milestone in computing and has been worked on for about 20 years, as I recall. 
While regular computers symbolize data in bits, 1s and 0s expressed by flicking tiny switch-like transistors on or off, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, that can essentially be both on and off, enabling them to carry out two or more calculations simultaneously. In principle, quantum computers could prove extraordinarily much faster than normal computers for certain problems because they can run through every possible combination at once. In fact, a quantum computer with 300 qubits could run more calculations in an instant than there are atoms in the universe.
All of this is highly experimental; the company making the computer D-Wave has had detractors saying its approach is flawed, it won't work, and all the usual things said about new inventions since long before the Wright brothers.  Mind you, I'm not saying this approach will, but the quantum computation problem will be solved and quantum computers will be available to do something, I'm sure. 

The tie to the movie is that last sentence, about running more calculations in one instant than the number of atoms in the universe.  That means this machine could break every code we know of that relies on factoring large numbers.  It's the Sneakers machine.  And while you may not be able to buy one, a partnership of Jeff Bezos ( and the CIA has put up $30 million to fund research, and that's to get the first machine going.  It's likely to cost quite a bit.  Which is still chump change to, the CIA, the NSA and all those agencies that would love to peer into every secret transaction in the world.  Not to mention the mafia, who, like in the movie, would love to break into every bank in the world. 
(The D-Wave computer)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

You'd Better Like Your Water Supply

According to a fascinating piece of audio recorded in Tennessee and posted at Sense of Events, if you complain about your water quality and the water department thinks it's fine, you could be charged with terrorism. From the Tennesseean:
“We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously,” said Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, according to audio recorded by attendees. “But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.”
Just. Wow.  So, if the water is good according to their tests, which you're apparently not allowed to question, and you think there's something wrong with the water and tell someone, that's terrorism? 

It's to ensure you have the proper Oliver Twist regard for your government.  "Please, sir, I want some more."  You'll take what we give you and you'd better be grateful for it. 

Picture of the Day

This showed up in the traffic today:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Nomination for a Lesser Known Grammy

Gun Shy Tourist links to this, which I nominate for "Best Use of Tannerite In A Music Video - 2013":

Sure, I find the trigger discipline uncomfortable but you just see so darned much of that sloppiness that seeing it in a video just isn't that upsetting.  What stood out to me was seeing the guitar explode (2:48).  I'm hoping it was one of those $20 eBay specials and not a real guitar.

Cartoon of the Day So Far

Chip Bok -

Silver at under $20, like it was on Thursday, because the stockbrokers are in a snit about their crack supply being cut back?  "Back up the truck, sweetie, I need to fire up the forklift."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Syria - Obama Continues US-Destructive Foreign Policy

We've done it again.  The administration has determined that the US is going to support the enemies of Syrian strongman Assad.  The rebels are going to be supplied with small arms, - and arms are reaching them already - the very arms that administration's propaganda corps has been telling us are useless against an army, are going to be used for exactly that.  Syrian jihadist fighters, unlike you, will not be subject to a background check or big tax and long waiting period to get fully automatic weapons.

Let's be absolutely clear: we have no business in Syria.  There are no good guys to side with.  The government troops have gone beyond "ethnic cleansing" to just "population cleansing" - killing anyone of any age or sex who they think might be against them.  Children are forced into fighting.  The rebels are essentially Al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood  jihadists; these are the guys shown in a well-circulated video cutting out and eating the heart of a government soldier the rebel had just killed.  The government soldiers aren't much better, if any better at all.  Buck Sexton, National Security reporter for the Blaze says, “The level of violence and viciousness and evil that is going on in [the Syrian] conflict is well beyond what I think most people understand,” he continued.  “The viciousness is impossible to overstate.”   There's a 10 minute video at that Blaze link, but it's radio audio, an interview with Sexton from the region.  Listen to it.

There are no good guys.  It's not a war of democratic rebels against a tyrannical government, it's a war to see which evil tyrants get to rule.

Donald Sensing over at Sense of Events wrote it about on Wednesday in "No Justification for Syria Intervention", and goes over both political and Just War Theory approaches to see if he can find justification.  No.
In Syria, however, even if the Obama administration was inclined toward Realpolitik it would find there is no upside for American power interests in intervention. Simply put, the outcome of the  civil war there is wholly immaterial to the national-security interests of the United States. The fight is not a fight between repressed Jeffersonian democrats and their cruel oppressors. It is a fight between what we may understand as a Stalinist regime in power and a fascist movement that wants to replace it.
In fact, the list of places in the world where the US would be morally justified in mounting military action to defend the innocent is very long. But it would be impossible for us to do so. And that requires exercising another principle of war, distinction or discrimination. If not everyone, then who and why? If there is an especially compelling reason we should intervene in Syria and not Lower Zambezi, then let advocates make it. But they do not even attempt.

There is neither a strong moral nor national security case to be made for US intervention. Intervention fails both just war theory and Realpolitik.
But the problems are bigger.  Assad's Syrian government is backed by Iran, their puppet Hesbollah, and Russia.  This isn't the cold war anymore; we don't need to oppose whomever Russia supports.  And it has gotten pretty weird out when Vladimir Putin makes more sense about our choices than anyone in DC. 
"You will not deny that one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras. Are these the people you want to support?," Putin told a news conference.  [Note: Intestines?  It was his heart, Vlad.  Still, you're 95% right. - SiG]
The Mideast is on the verge of collapse, and it threatens to pull the whole world down around it.  
Syria and Egypt are dying. They were dying before the Syrian civil war broke out and before the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Cairo. Syria has an insoluble civil war and Egypt has an insoluble crisis because they are dying. They are dying because they chose not to do what China did: move the better part of a billion people from rural backwardness to a modern urban economy within a generation. Mexico would have died as well, without the option to send its rural poor - fully one-fifth of its population - to the United States.
The best case here appears to be that two sides declare a draw and go back to living in absolute squalor - since they've destroyed the country.  Possibly, the Syrian rebels could win and it ends up a Muslim Brotherhood state, like Eqypt; starving, squalid, horrible conditions, sliding down into complete collapse.  Possibly an Al Qaeda state.  The other cases go considerably worse, from a wider Mideast war, through involvements that spread to include Turkey, more of Europe, or potentially even World War III.  
(Free Syrian Army machinist works a mortar shell on a large lathe)

For the last five years, the US has made bad call after bad call in foreign policy.  This is just another.  We are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood to the highest levels of government, to our detriment.  We have no business in Syria. 

As someone said, "it's not that the War on Terror is over: it's that we switched sides"

Thursday, June 20, 2013

To My Fellow Florida Gunnies

This is about HB-1355.  If you don't know what that is, read the next paragraph and the link. 

I've sent some money to pretty much every pro-gun group at one time, from the NRA to the 2AF.  For the last month, I've gotten an urgent letter from NAGR every couple of days saying "you've got to call Scott right now and tell him not to sign HB-1355!!!1!!!".   Yesterday I got that email and an email from the NRA saying, "you've got to call Scott right now and tell him he has to sign it!!!!!"  Now, I knew Marion Hammer and the NRA were instrumental in writing the bill, but I didn't know what's actually in it.  Jon Gutmacher put up a post on the bill this morning.  If you're on the fence, go read it. 

For those who don't remember the name, chances are you've seen his book, Florida Firearms Law, Use and Ownership, which is universally recommended in concealed carry classes. 

What he said sure sounds reasonable to me and has gotten me off the fence on this. It's limited.  It has ways for those denied rights to get them back.  It restricts the state more than the people.  I think it's worth supporting. 

About That NSA Data Center in Utah

Yeah, we've all read about that.  The Blaze did a special one hour show featuring it.  It's everywhere:
So how much data can the site store?  Five zettabytes.  How much data is that?  That link uses the analogy that it's 312 billion iPhones.  But iPhones come in a few sizes.  Nice analogy, but I like crisper numbers.

A zetta- anything is 10^21 of them - it's an SI Prefix.  It's always impressive to write those out, so 5x10^21 is 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, which is even less helpful.  At 50 GB in a Blu-ray Disc (BD), which is 9 hours of HD video, 5 zettabytes is 100 billion BDs.  Wait... 900 billion hours of  HD video?  That's over 102 million years of 24/7/365 video they can store.  Srsly, NSA, you think you have enough?  How many copies of Grumpy Cat and pr0n do you want?  (Prediction: soon after the data center is online, we nuke Nigeria after discovering 80% of traffic analysis leads to a banker who wants to share some unclaimed money with us).

Wonder how big it has to be?  Since a terabyte is 10^12 bytes, and enough 1 terabyte drives are out there that everyone has seen one, it might help to think that a billion terabyte drives is one zettabyte.  Poking around Amazon, I see a mid-range 1.0 Terabyte drive for $70.  You'd need five billion of those to equal the storage in Utah.  It measures 4.8 x 3.2 x 0.6 inches, or 9.216 cubic inches.  Five billion of those is 46.08 billion cubic inches.  According to the handy online conversion calculator,  that's 26.67 million cubic feet, or 988,000 cubic yards.  Even if you just stacked 1 Terabyte drives 6 feet high, like standard equipment racks, making a layer 6 feet deep, 26.67 million cubic feet would  cover 4,445,000 square feet.  Which sounds big, but it's not extremely big for commercial building standards: a square only 2108 feet on a side.  Of course, when you're dealing with that much electronics, you'll need to run power to them, data buses, cooling, support computers, lots of spares and lots of infrastructure.   A lot of room.  Easily twice that 2108'.  Maybe three buildings a half mile long on each side.  Or one building that's three stories tall.

A good set of pictures is here at Business Insider.  Before I get any responses about being a shill for the NSA, to best of my knowledge, I've never worked on anything that ended up there, nor have I ever worked for the NSA.  Except for being a taxpayer.  In that sense I've worked for the NSA; all of us stupid taxpayers have. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Came Up Dry

For the last couple of evenings, I've been trying to run down information on the higher-up at the IRS who was the instigator of the special probes of liberty-oriented groups, Carter Hull.  Pretty much everybody online that I could find used the same basic quote I'll use here (this one from Newsboy)
“I was essentially a front person, because I had no autonomy or no authority to act on [applications] without Carter Hull’s influence or input,” said Elizabeth Hofacre, an employee of the Cincinnati IRS office, according to a new report in the Wall Street Journal.

Hofacre’s office, which oversaw tax-exempt applications, reportedly requested help from the agency’s Exempt Organizations Technical unit in Washington, D.C. in 2010 to deal with an influx of new applications from Tea Party groups.

IRS attorney Hull sent Hofacre additional information request letters [pdf] that he’d already sent to two tea party groups and instructed her to use them as a “foundation to prepare and review” cases and prepare her own letters to new applicants.
Hull has apparently pulled his Facebook page and retired.  Obviously not a "spring chicken": he even looks older than me.  Very convenient disappearance, if I do say so. 
I was able to find essentially nothing about him - and the stinkin' NSA didn't even offer me some help, like cached copies of his Facebook page.  I heard Jay Sekulow of the ACLJ on the radio saying that Hull was a well known for being opposed to free speech, often testifying there's no right to it.  So I was searching for every combination of those terms I could find (including on the ACLJ site) and could find nothing.  

Having gone over that pdf linked above, it's his name on it, and he does appear to be the HMF behind the orders to the field offices.  With him out of the way, it's hard to know if it stopped with him, or if someone higher up had him write the briefs (my guess).  Institutionally, it's disgusting that nobody in the IRS stopped to say "they're asking me to do something wrong" and stood up against it.  Institutionally, they're still "The Untouchables" in their minds.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Light Ice Cream

I like to be a content provider, but I'm researching an angle on this administration corruption story that's proving tough to get facts on, so tonight I bow to Sean Linnane on NSA Warrantless Surveillance
When they want to implement the coup, first we’ll lose satellites - the Global Positioning Satellite constellation has the capability to be encrypted at the touch of a button. Only the government and military will have commo. Second we will lose electricity. Easy enough to do; the national grid is computer/satellite controlled. The masses will be in the dark literally and figuratively. Riots will ensue and effective resistance to Government control measures will be mitigated. The Powers That Be, all they have to do is sit back and wait, the populace will take itself down; after a period of time the Department of Homeland Security - think TSA, think ATF; think New Orleans after Katrina, think Waco - can walk into areas, restore order, eliminate any rebel opposition and turn the lights back on.
Big is picture right, but of the 2/3 of a million hams in America, I guess fully half of them are prepared for grid down communications, so strike that part about only the .mil has comms.  No way to guess how many of that 300,000 are prepared for long term, real off-grid living, but hams pride themselves on being ready when everything else is down.  It won't be a bloodless coup. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ever Known Any One Like This?

It's common modern psychobabble that women like to talk about how they feel about problem while men like to solve problems. 

Mrs. Graybeard (who likes to solve problems, not talk about them) and I ROTFLed at this. (or whatever the past tense of that is...)

Catching Up on The News

The show trial of George Zimmerman for the 2nd degree murder of Trayvon Martin is opening over in Sanford with jury selection nearly complete.  The judge has pretty much said the jury will be sequestered for the month or so of trial. 

Gun Shy Tourist at the "Around O-Town Orlando Area Crime Report and Firearms Blog" has links to good summary articles on the events of that night, and the investigative work done by bloggers and alternative media, because (as we all know) the mainstream media is in the pockets of the race-baiting industry on this one.  Links to American Thinker and The Last Refuge with really in-depth work, especially at the second one.  The Last Refuge article is a very deep investigation into what appears to be Trayvon's drug of choice (more or less in his own words), "lean", written by Dedicated Dad.
According to the autopsy report, Trayvon was 5'11" tall and weighed 158 pounds, the "ideal healthy weight" at that height being 160 pounds.  He was not the skinny little boy with the Skittles that half of America still believes him to be.  He was at least three inches taller than Zimmerman and only about 20 pounds lighter.
In the self-defense training I've taken, I've come to a view that whatever happens in a self-defense incident will be treated almost as if it's a dance in a courtroom.  Each move and counter-move changes the role of the parties and makes one the aggressor or victim.  When I first heard about this incident - I absolutely haven't paid as much attention to it as many have - I thought "bad shoot".  As time has gone by, though, it appears that the first reports were wrong (as they often are) or were lies like NBC's (once is too often).  It appears the night unfolded as Zimmerman reported it.  IANAL, but as I read it, when Zimmerman was following Martin, Zimmerman was the aggressor.  However, it does appear that when the dispatcher said, "we don't need you to be doing that" (following Martin) he went back to his truck, and then when Martin came after him, Martin became the aggressor.   That's why this isn't a stand your ground case.  When someone that's roughly your equal in size and weight, and probably your superior in fitness and strength, is straddling you, smashing your head on the ground and trying to get your gun, it's straightforward self defense. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Snowden, The NSA, The IRS and Some Thoughts

The NSA stuff that kid Snowden has made public has been covered everywhere - except here.  There's a lot of sparklies going on to distract us from the important stuff.  The entire incident, though, doesn't appear to be a sparklie. This video clip is from 2008, and an FBI advisor to a movie Shia Labeouf was working on pulled out a random phone call he made two years prior. 

I personally can't stand the mindless news media, "Snowden: hero or a criminal?" thread that's going on.  First, it's a false dichotomy: he's a criminal by definition: he broke the laws on handling classified material.  Don't forget our founding fathers were criminals.  They were citizens of England and broke English laws by rebelling against the King.  Like the founding fathers, though, he could also be a hero.  Likewise the alarm over him saying "Lookie, the US has been hacking the Chinese computers just like they've been hacking us!" is almost 100% content free.  Anyone in a position of authority in either government who doesn't expect every government to be trying to break into their system needs to be fired, at minimum.  It's what intelligence services do, and as Borepatch has been saying lately, there may be friendly governments but there are no friendly intelligence services. 

Remember the Soviet space shuttle, Buran, among the last publicity projects of the USSR?  Pretty striking resemblance to our shuttles, no?  Seen the Chinese J-31 stealth fighter?  Pretty striking resemblance to the F-35 Lightning, no?  Gee, I wonder how that could happen...  (Personally, I think inducing them to copy the F-35 is an attempt to bankrupt their defense industry, but that's just me). 

The real question is the story about the wretched PATRIOT act and the NSA's grabbing all the metadata in America to try and find patterns.  In this matter, Snowden is exactly right when he said,
“Even if you're not doing anything wrong, you're being watched and recorded. The storage capability of these systems increases every year, consistently, by orders of magnitude, to where it's getting to the point where you don't have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you've ever made, every friend you've ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”   
Congratulations:  we have achieved the very definition of a police state.  The founders would have been shooting by now.

I believe an attraction to the Obamanoids is combining the NSA surveillance state with the police state tactics of the IRS (apparently under legal advice of one Carter Hull) - using the IRS as a political baseball bat to intimidate and silence political opponents.  It appears that the IRS targeting of conservative groups actually affected the 2012 election.  This is as bad an example of executive power abuse as I can recall ever seeing.  In the Watergate era, the executive abuse was only against a small number of actual political opponents, not everyday citizens getting together to read history books or pray.  And I keep reading and hearing that although Nixon was accused of using the IRS against opponents, it was never proven he did. 

This is what I think the whole thing is about under the Obamanoids.  They are using the security state to gain intelligence on possible political rivals so they can destroy them.  Remember the case of Jack Ryan, who was running against Obama for Senate from Illinois?  How previously sealed divorce records were suddenly available, causing Ryan to drop out of the race and putting Obama up against a last minute substitution of Alan Keyes?
Ryan would have walloped Obama in the Senate race. But at the request of -- again -- the Chicago Tribune, California Judge Robert Schnider unsealed the custody papers in Ryan's divorce five years earlier from Hollywood starlet Jeri Lynn Ryan, the bombshell Borg on "Star Trek: Voyager."
Getting sealed court records opened is virtually a trademarked move of Axelrod and the Obama camp.  Can you imagine if they have an opponent's entire life history, thanks to pervasive, 100% NSA data collection.  In the last couple of years I've heard several Stupid Party candidates say that their opponents had unexpected dirt on them, such as lists of websites they visited. Tapping that NSA database?  Does this sound like the Chicago way to you? 

The Evil Party has a seriousness about how it plays politics that can't be overstated.  I'm not saying they won't openly cheat, or lie or steal elections.  I'm saying they prefer to look legitimate, like any other Chicago businessman. 
EDIT: 2205  Forgot a title, which is handy to have.

Insider View

You might have heard a lot of squawk about the Air Force telling airmen not to view the things that NSA whistle blower (leaker) Snowden released, because it could land them in jail. 

As someone who has worked in DOD and other classified programs, I realized what they were saying.  Old NFO explains it as well as it can be explained.  As they used to tell us in security briefings, just because something has been leaked and it's well known, doesn't mean it has been declassified.  It would be illegal to look at the leaked data on the computer system they're talking about, because it's still classified and it's illegal to put classified material on that system.  Yeah, insert obligatory talk about stupid rules here, but if you're an airman dealing with that stuff you often have to just say "rules are rules" and do what they say.  Not only is Ft. Leavenworth federal prison not nice this time of year, it's never nice.  

Instead of this being tyrannical, as Old NFO says,
"they are doing their folks a favor by preventing them from committing, however unwittingly, a security violation they would “legally” have to be prosecuted for."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Runnin' On Empty, So Tech!

Running low on go tonight, so a little tech news.  This is a development that is probably going to be a Big Thing, if the cost/benefit curve works.  It will bring microprocessors and controllers into places they haven't been, yet. 

American Semiconductor announced the first physically flexible microcontroller recently.  In the description it sounds like a typical low end processor:  "The FleX-MCU is an 8-bit RISC microcontroller with 8KB embedded RAM operating at up to 20MHz with a 1.2V core and 2.5V I/O. It includes multiple serial interface peripherals, including UART, I2C, and SPI." (for the techies that understand what that means).  The difference is the final form is flexible. 
In the background is conventional silicon wafer; although at 6 or 8" diameter it's small by today's standards.  Today's top of the line microprocessors come off wafers the diameter of large dinner plate.  Wafers have the look and feel of a gray mirror, with extremely fine, small squares on one surface.  In the gloved fingers in the foreground is the proprietary FleX system they've developed.  This is a polymer with  microcontroller chips built on it.  There are silicon layers and metal layers, all so thin the resulting processors can be wrapped around a standard number 2 pencil. 

Imagine a book reader that instead of being a rigid tablet, could be rolled up into something easier to put in a pocket.  Perhaps tablets that can be folded like a wallet.  Processors will end up in flexible things like clothing, perhaps for health monitoring, starting with military uniforms and working down the cost/benefit curve through hospitals to individuals.  And I'm sure tons of things I can't even envision.  Ubiquitous computing is ubiquitous.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Truth Behind Overpopulation

Chances are that all your life you've heard about how overcrowded the earth is.  It's a basic tenet of militant environmentalists, who always seem to talk about saving life on Earth by destroying humans - as if we're not a native animal on the planet.  It's basic to Agenda 21, the massive UN program.   From the story in that link I posted two years ago:
Central to the plan is the idea of being carbon neutral.  That's right, "global warming" or "climate change" or whatever they call it this week, is the basis for mass murder on a scale that Mao, Pol Pot, or Hitler could never aspire to.  You see, to quote from this piece at End of The American Dream, the population must be reduced:
  • CNN Founder Ted Turner: "A total population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal."
  • Dave Foreman, Earth First Co-Founder: "My three main goals would be to reduce human population to about 100 million worldwide, destroy the industrial infrastructure and see wilderness, with it’s full complement of species, returning throughout the world."
  • Maurice Strong: "Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?"
Gee, the moderate guy only wants to kill off more than 95% of the human race.  See the current world population is around 7 billion people.  For Dave Foreman, 100 million out of 7 billion is 100 out of 7000 or 1.4 %.  At 300 million, Ted Turner would generously let 4.3% live.
So how bad is the overpopulation that we need to kill off billions of people?  John Robb at Resilient Communities runs this graphic of how large an area the population of the world would consume if we housed them in the style of six different cities.
This shows, for example, if we housed every single person on earth with the population density of Paris, they would fit into the area of three states: Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.  If we used the population density of New York City, the entire population of Earth could fit into the area of Texas.  Likewise if we used more generous the suburban spread of Houston, the whole population of the planet would fit in the middle states of America.  I concluded the talk of genocide with this speculation:
Around 20 years ago, I heard that the entire population of the world would fit in Jacksonville, Florida, without resorting to vertical high rise buildings.  It would be austere, but they would fit.  ...  Even today, you still could fit every man woman and child in the world in the area of Jacksonville, but each person would only get 3.5 square feet, so it would pretty much be shoulder to shoulder.  According to the Wiki, the area of the state of Florida is 65,755 square miles.  Given the 7 billion people in the world, if you spread them evenly across the state, every person in the world would get 261.9 square feet.  Not a big room (unless you're in NYC), and small by US standards, but generous compared to much of the world.  Of course, the infrastructure would take room, so you'd probably need to spread them out, but I suspect everyone in the world would fit comfortably in the southeastern US.  And we need to kill off 95% of them because they're taking up too many resources? 
Sure, there's more to providing for a population than putting them in these areas, which is Robb's whole point.  His whole blog is focused on developing communities that provide their own food, water and energy and therefore need minimum help from today's global web of imports.  But any of these colored areas is a tiny fraction of the land on the planet.  It's true that there are many areas on the planet unfit for farming or cultivating - or that we wouldn't want to.  The next time that some greenie starts rambling about needing to have fewer children to save the planet, patiently explain the entire population of the world could fit in Texas and live comfortably.  See if their head explodes.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Do Stupid Things, Pay Stupid Prices

As I've mentioned before, Mrs. Graybeard and I have a small boat, the kind of small boat found in the yards and carports of much of America.  An aluminum V-hull boat, 16' long.  Seats about three with full fishing gear. 
I'm not gonna lie: the last time we had a boat was around 1990, and while we've had this one out maybe 10 or 12 times, I'm still not really sharp at that whole launching and retrieving up the ramp sequence.  So today, while returning to dock, I got into one of those "America's stupidest home video" moments - feet on the deck while stretching out to reach for a piling - and fell out of the boat into the saltwater lagoon.

There's only one positive thing I can say: I didn't get hurt. 

On the other hand, in my left front pocket was my iPhone 4s.  In another pocket was a magazine filled with .380 JHPs (the gun was safely in a bucket in the boat).  In other pockets were my wallet and car keys, with remote control door lock fob. 

It took us less than a half hour to get home to where I could immerse the phone in water and isopropyl alcohol.  By that time, the phone's light had come on and it was hot to touch.  The battery drained down and it has been dead ever since. 

Realizing it was time to pay the "stupid tax", I tried to call my local AT&T store and after minutes in voice mail purgatory, ended up talking with a guy somewhere who told me my two year contract would be available to renew on July 23.  Don't want to go without the NSA monitoring me for 6 weeks, but when I told him I needed my phone and contact list, he told me they could get me an iPhone 5 if I renewed my contract and he could get me a chance to do that now instead of waiting if I "act now".  I wasn't ready to tell him to sign me up for a two year contract, though.  Backed out of that and off we trundled to the local AT&T store. 

My AT&T store left me feeling conflicted.  I've never felt quite so... serviced.  Not as in "what great customer service!"; more like "the farmer had his female hogs serviced".  They actually got me running in the sense that they gave me a SIM card to revive my 4 year old 3GS, I'm trying to restore my calendar now, so I suppose it wasn't that bad.  I can make phone calls and get my basic functionality back.  What got me is the only option to replace my phone they gave me was to sign up for their TV/ISP package, Uverse.  Ever heard of it?  I get offers in the mail all the time.  By snail mail, once a week for sure, by email, every couple of days.  So on the one hand, if I even try this Uverse stuff, I can renew my contract and get back to where I was before hitting the water.  On the other hand, why can't I just buy a replacement phone? 

So here I am with a broken phone and they won't sell me a replacement without getting me to sign up for their cable TV, which I don't particularly want.  I'm sure it's fine, but I regularly ask myself exactly why I haven't pulled the cable out.  I sit down to watch about an hour of cable a week, maybe two, if good gun or fishing shows are running.     

Yesterday was spent working on the boat.  Today was spent trying to recover from falling out of the boat.  Wouldn't have even been in the boat except to check out yesterday's work.  There's a lesson in there somewhere...

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Coming Revolution in Small Scale Production

As a part of reading up for the other night's post on 3D printing vs. milling machines, there was a link to this book, Fab, by MIT physicist Neil Gershenfeld.  Dr. Gershenfeld. runs the "Center for Bits and Atoms" at MIT, which describes itself as, "... an interdisciplinary initiative exploring the boundary between computer science and physical science. CBA studies how to turn data into things, and things into data." I'm not sure when I've come across a more interesting guy.

He does a pretty good talk on TED, but while that talk struck me as a bit disconnected and rambling, this talk at The Edge seems better to both Mrs. Graybeard and I.  Dr. Gershenfeld's summary is this:
We've already had a digital revolution; we don't need to keep having it. The next big thing in computers will be literally outside the box, as we bring the programmability of the digital world to the rest of the world. With the benefit of hindsight, there's a tremendous historical parallel between the transition from mainframes to PCs and now from machine tools to personal fabrication. By personal fabrication I mean not just making mechanical structures, but fully functioning systems including sensing, logic, actuation, and displays.
Personal fabrication has the potential to completely turn everything we think in the order of producing and consuming upside down.  Dr. Gershenfeld goes on:
We're approaching being able to make one machine that can make any machine. I have a student working on this project who can graduate when his thesis walks out of the printer, meaning that he can output the document along with the functionality for it to get up and walk away.

In support of this basic research we started teaching a class, modestly called "How To Make (almost) Anything," where we show students how to use the millions of dollars of machines available at MIT for making things. This was meant to be a class for technical students to master the tools, but I was wholly unprepared for the reaction. On the first day a hundred or so students showed up begging to get into a class with room for ten people, saying "Please, all my life I've been waiting for this. I'll do anything to get in." Some would then furtively ask "are you allowed to teach something so useful at MIT?" There was a desperate demand by non technical students to take this class, who then used all of these capabilities in ways that I would never think of. One student, a sculptor with no engineering background, made a portable personal space for screaming that saves up your screams and plays them back later. Another made a Web browser that lets parrots navigate the Net.
I strongly recommend you watch the video on that page.  There is powerful stuff going on.  We've all heard talk of the "Digital Divide" between rich and poor; he says he has seen computers sitting in villages because there's nothing useful to do with them. 
The World Bank is trying to close the digital divide by bringing IT to the masses. ... Rather than the digital divide, the real story is that there's a fabrication and an instrumentation divide. Computing for the rest of the world only secondarily means browsing the Web; it demands rich means of input and output to interface computing to their worlds.
3D Printing and CNC machines are part of filling this fabrication and instrumentation divide.  Add in a personal injection molding machine on Kickstarter, (more info here) and you start to see the megatrend developing.  Small lot production folks are in a bind.  It can cost a lot to make a mold for injection molding (which allows you to mass produce cheap parts), but the surface quality you get from the mold is miles ahead of what you get on low end 3D printer. 
 If you want to make small, commercial-quality plastic parts or prototypes, it can cost $5,000 to $10,000 or more to make a steel mold. Then you send the mold to China, where a manufacturer will use large hydraulic molders to make 10,000 parts at 1 cent each. But if I only need 10 parts a week and want to make them quickly, on demand, there's no practical way to do that.
By the way, if you have a CNC mill, you can make your molds (yes, it's a specialty you'll have to learn).  A small production company can start with a 3D printer and small injection molding machine.  The difficulties of producing good, clean, injection molded parts go up quite a bit as the items get bigger, but this would fill many applications for typical small parts.

In the end, personal fabrication isn't about making personal versions of what Walmart sells for yourself.  It's about making something that nobody sells, or something that not enough people know about or care about.  It's about things with too little demand for the big companies to turn on the production machines.  Or it's about making the right thing you need just when you need it, when you're in "rural India or the far north of Norway", as Dr. Gershenfeld demonstrated.  Just as broadcasting with three networks has turned into narrowcasting with cable systems that carry hundreds of specialized channels, manufacturing is going to turn to more personalized products, too. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Unpleasant Case of Sarah Murnaghan

Sarah Murnaghan is the 10 year old girl who needs a lung.  She has been quite in the news this week, as Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius refused to intervene into an existing process intended to determine the optimum distribution of an exceptionally scarce resource: donated lungs. 

Through a roundabout path, I ended up at an insightful article by Ace of Spades on that encapsulates what bothered me about this whole incident.  You should read the whole thing.  (Thanks to Robb, I bounced through Popehat who does an excellent imitation of the Screwtape Letters, "Screwtape Embraces the Internet").

A federal judge has ruled that little Sarah can be put on a different waiting list; rather than waiting for a pediatric lung, Sarah can be put on the list waiting for an adult lung.  Adult lungs are about 50 times more available than pediatric lungs because, thank God, children rarely die of traumatic brain injury leaving behind most organs.

The problem is what this whole episode says of the coming of Obamacare and life in general.
Oh I don't mean to say I don't feel sympathy for this little girl.

But I mean this:  Her family will succeed in politicking on her behalf.  With ObamaCare coming, and bureaucrats patrolling for whether it's cost-justified to save your life or give you that new hip, our health care will increasingly consist of politicking -- going to our government to plead for special favor, enlisting the media and, for the well-heeled, even PR companies.

Our nation is no longer one of rights or ownership.  It is now one in which we merely plead to the courtiers of government for favors, or to keep something we have in our possession.
Sarah got her special place on the list because of a judge.  More to the point, Sarah  got onto this list by popularity contest.  Her parents worked the media and the public as deftly as any PR expert ever could.  Like the author of that piece, I don't mean to say I don't feel sympathy for Sarah or her parents.  I can hardly imagine the depths of their desperation at losing their daughter.  The public lobbying campaign they waged was a natural reaction. But what they really did was move to save their daughter's life at the expense of the life of another adult who needs that lung. With scarce resources, like lungs to transplant, it's inevitable that saving one kills another. 

What's coming is a time when exactly who gets a transplant is whomever polls better on Twitter, or who gets more Reddit Updings.  In an era when all resources are scarce (all single-payer health services are like this) the right diseases will get treated; the unfavored diseases, not so much.  If you have one of those rare diseases that only a handful of people get, especially if it has an expensive drug or surgical treatment, so sorry, you need to plan for your funeral.  Congress had a lobby full of women in pink T-shirts and ribbons when the budget was being set, so the money for your disease went to breast cancer.  (Or an lobby full of women lobbying for autism research - whatevs). 

This is what I can't stand about big government and big government health care systems.  To get what you should be able buy, you need to grovel and beg to the government.  You need to put on PR campaigns, and you probably need to be photogenic. I'm sure it would probably help to spread some donations around.  It aggrandizes them and diminishes us all.

As an engineer, I say the answer to the transplant problem is tissue engineering, and the solution to 10 year old girls needing lungs is genetically engineering a cure for cystic fibrosis.  Unfortunately, you can expect less medical research due to the Obamacare taxes.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On 3D Printing And Making Guns

A little diversion on the subject of making guns and stuff. 

In broad terms, there are two ways of making things: additive and subtractive.  Most of us have made things out of wood, even if it's just from a mandatory wood shop class we took in school.  Woodworking is a great example of a subtractive process.  You start out with boards, cut away portions to cut elements to size, maybe cut away portions to make strong joints, or thin the the stock down to size with a plane.  Of course, it started out as a tree, so a lot was cut away or thrown away to get the lumber you started with.  Sculpting, as most of it seems to be done, is another subtractive process.  As one sculptor said, start with a block of marble and cut away everything that doesn't look like (his finished piece). 

In contrast, there are additive processes, where you put down only what you need.  A rough example would be slip casting ceramics, where you pour a water-clay mixture into a mold, and form a layer of the ceramic on the inside of the mold.  You eventually remove the mold and are left with a thin layer of clay that is then glazed (or not) and fired.  Likewise, in lost wax casting, widely used in the jewelry industry, a wax mold is embedded into a ceramic that dries and sets up hard, then fired to produce a copy of the wax mold inside the ceramic, and molten gold (or silver, palladium, platinum...) is poured into the mold, putting down just the amount needed.   

Clearly, 3D printing is an additive process; the subtractive process is usually just called machining. 

Quite some time ago, I did a piece on The Futility of Gun Control, in which I linked to a piece by Popehat called "The Third Wave, CNC, Stereolithography, and the end of gun control".  In that piece, he talks about 3D printers and CNC machine tools and was really right on target.  As someone with the kind of low-end, home CNC machines he talks about, I really think the emphasis on 3D printing lately, and especially the bedwetting over 3D printing a gun, is a bit excessive. 

For $1300, your local Staples will get you into a Cube 3D printer.  I'm not even sure if that really gets you started, and I'm less sure you could build anything other than a single shot gun that might be as dangerous to you as someone you need to shoot.  For about two bills more than that price, you can home build a basic CNC RouterGizmodo just ran a piece on a Shopbot at $5000, with a work area of about 24 x 18 x 2".  Clearly intended for thin stock, like making signs or cutting things out of plywood, this is almost 4x the price of the 3D printer, and while it can make serious stuff, I don't believe you could finish an 80% lower on it.  Check out the video on this page of a couple that makes a cool triple bunk bed for their obviously delighted daughters.  They milled what looks like plywood or MDF and assembled it themselves. 
Note that the cool machine they show in most of the pictures in that article isn't this little $5000 machine, it's Shopbot's $40,000 five axis machine.  Personally, if I was going to drop $5000 on a ready made machine, I'd get one of these from Little Machine Shop:

This is a Sieg (Chinese) CNC machine with a work envelope that's 10.2" × 4.3" × 7.1"; smaller in XY than the desktop Shopbot (it's not designed for quarter sheets of plywood), but tall enough to cut that fire control pocket.  It will cut aluminum, steel, stainless, titanium, brass, and other really useful materials along with wood, plastic and wax (useful for models).   Its list price is $500 less than that Shopbot, but it weighs 275 pounds so it will cost a bit to ship it and get into place in your garage.  By the way, this is considered a mini-mill.  It's not a big machine by anybody's standards.

We can get into the particulars of machines another time.  The 3D printer, as I see it, has only one thing going for it: it doesn't require much from the user to create a piece that has been designed and is known to work.  The same thing can't be said for the CNC milling machine, which needs some knowledge of machine shop practice from user.  You need to know, for example, the way you clamp your work down can change its dimensions enough to matter.  The 3D printer, to the best of my knowledge, isn't terribly dangerous.  It can burn you if the plastic is hot, but a well designed machine is probably not going to let a user stick their fingers into places where they can get hurt.  A mill, on the other hand, is capable of cutting steel, so your finger isn't going to offer much resistance!  On the other hand, if you know it can take your hand off, you tend to keep that in mind, and there's no reason any adult who can cook on a hot stove, or shoot safely, can't use machine tools safely.

Finally, I have to say that no matter what you get, it's just the start.  For the CNC machines you'll need design software and very likely software to turn part shapes into the instructions for the machine.  For the printers, you'll need 3D modeling software, too.   Some of them seem to be shipping proprietary software with their printers. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


31 years ago today - this evening, actually - Mrs. Graybeard and I were married. 

Like most folks, we've gone through some trials, but not too many.  More times than I deserve, very dark clouds turned out to have thick silver linings.  There were times when I thought we wouldn't get to see even 20 years, no matter how much we both would have wanted, but we did.

Remember: the only time you can say "it's all downhill from here" is when you're over the hill.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Building Electronics

If you're of a certain mindset and a certain age, the name Heathkit is going to get a reaction from you.  You're probably getting all warm and runny inside just thinking about it.

For the rest of you, the Heath Company, apparently still existing in some form, was founded in Chicago in 1926 selling kit airplanes.  Later, (as I've heard the story) when they got hold of some electronic parts that were WWII surplus, they started the electronic kit business that made them legendary, and moved to upstate Michigan.  Most of the people that are all warm about them are thinking "Benton Harbor, Michigan" right about now.  

What made Heathkit great was their manuals.  They realized that they needed to be as explicit as possible and they needed to guarantee your success, or folks simply wouldn't buy the kits.  They needed to make them as foolproof as possible, and their manuals remain a monument to the draftsman's art today.  Here's an example, a view of a page in one manual:
Their designs and products were solid, rarely stellar (all IMO, of course); what sold them was two things.  First, in the days of this sort of assembly, doing the hand work yourself could save you a substantial part of the cost of the electronics; perhaps 30 to 50%.  Second, there is an undeniable moment of magic when you turn on something you built yourself, possibly hundreds of parts and hours upon hours of work, and it works.  As the electronics industry moved from hand-wired, hand-soldered things like this (I actually owned one of these HD-11s!) over to printed circuits (AKA printed wiring boards), the portion of price that was labor went down, reducing the incentive to build the kit. 

That said, they produced some products that are still revered in ham radio circles, and some unique items like color TVs with test equipment built in to align the fussy sets yourself.

Over the last couple of years, there have been rumors they're starting up again, and rumors they're not.  They appear to be there again at the expected URL.    And if you're tragically geeky and want to do a very in-depth survey that takes about half an hour, don't tell anyone I told you it's here

BTW, the first "major" Heathkit I built was this one, when I was 13. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Same Chart, Different Conclusion

Mike "Mish" Shedlock over at Mish's Global Trend Analysis posts this chart in "Lowest Core PCE in History; "Flation" Perspective"
As you can see by the title, PCE is the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index. You can also see my main gripe with it: it excludes food and energy spending.  Just like most of the governmental data. 

Mish looks at the last year of lowering PCE, calls it "disinflation", and concludes:
...the hyperinflationists missed the boat by a mile. 
If there's anything ominous here, it's that personal consumption has been in pretty steady decline since mid-2011.  That's despite the Fed monetizing just over a trillion dollars per year in QE3 and the previous money creation moves.  They've inflated the price of stocks and bonds, but haven't brought about recovery.  Basically, as so many of us have said so many times, the Fed is running out of ammo.  When you create a few trillion dollars out of thin air, the next hundred billion has less effect (see marginal utility function - Econ 101).

This chart says spending on other things is down.  I think the explanation is pretty simple.  Food and energy are inflating in price.  If incomes aren't keeping up with the inflation in those prices, a higher percentage of income has to be spent on food and energy than the other things in the PCE.  If anything, this shows just how misleading it is for the government to exclude food and energy costs from their measures of inflation. 

It doesn't mean the hyperinflationists are wrong.  Again, hyperinflation isn't "inflation on steroids", it's economic collapse caused by lack of faith in the currency.  Sellers demand more and more payment until a runaway failure happens.  And besides, this economic mess isn't over.  The real S hasn't even started Hitting The Fan yet.  Wait till the Yen collapses.  Or the Euro.  Or wait 'til anyone borrowing money in the form of government bonds insists on inflation compensation.  The price of the 10 year bond has been going up for a few weeks lately - and there's a clear uptrend since mid '12.  If this keeps going, interest rates are going to have to go up.  The US can't survive interest rates at what they really should be. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The College Bubble

Divemedic over at Confessions of a Street Phamacist has a good article on the college bubble we're going through, Higher Cost, Lower Value.  Not just the cost bubble, although that's necessarily a big part of it, but the need for college in general.  It's a topic I've written on before, too.  He has some good examples:
In 1880, it cost: $400 per year to attend Vassar. This included tuition, room, board, heat, light, and laundry service. Adjusted for inflation, $400 in 1883 equals $9,635 in 2013.
$300 per year to attend Georgetown. This included room, board, and tuition. Adjusted for inflation, $300 in 1883 equals $7,126 in 2013. Georgetown law charged $150 for the entire law school tuition, and $100 for the entire series of medical school lectures.

Since 1980, inflation has caused everything to more than double in price. What cost $1 in 1980 now costs $2.15. However, every dollar in college tuition in 1980 is now $5.98. That's right, college tuition is rising at a rate that is 5 times higher than inflation.
This inflation in college prices is a terrible burden to today's students, and yet it's brought on almost entirely by the academic sector in collusion with the federal government.  Student loans, now the dominion of alone, are available in essentially unlimited amounts.  There are only so many chairs in the colleges around the country, so the combination of demand for those chairs and assures any price will be met. 

Another place where government (at all levels) pumps the education bubble is by insisting on certain qualifications to be "allowed" to work in an area.  Divemedic writes:
In the 1980s, it was possible to be a Physician Assistant with only an Associate's degree. Now it requires a Masters. The school itself is still two years, but it now requires a Bachelor's degree for entry. What the degree is in does not matter.  Nurse Practitioner was a master's program, now it is becoming a PhD program.  Registered Nurse is fast requiring a profession requiring a BSN. [Emphasis added: SiG]
It doesn't matter what your degree is in, as long as you have one??  Only someone with an advanced degree could come up with something that crazy.  If you don't need to know something from your undergrad degree to understand the material, it's nothing but a "weed out" requirement, to limit the number of applicants.  The only thing it could possibly demonstrate is that you can take on four years of steady work.  Four years in the military would prove much more grit and determination.  It just means the admissions office doesn't have to think about whether a student can really make it, if the student can't color in one bubble:  Bachelor's Degree: Yes () No ().  If there are no scientific principles called on that one needs from undergraduate work, the undergrad degree shouldn't be required.   This sort of "requirements inflation" leads to needing a bachelor's degree to do manicures or a state license to braid hair.  This sort of rule does nothing to protect consumers; it just protects practitioners in the field.

In an article I did in April of '11, (second part of the one linked above) I wrote:
There are many jobs that simply can't be taught without the student doing the task.  There may be no better example for "you can't learn it by reading a book" than shooting.  You can read all you want, but sooner or later you need to master your physical gun handling.  As another example, I've ground a few telescope mirrors.  Like shooting, you can read all about concepts, but nothing other than actually doing it will teach you how to do it; it's a task overwhelmingly controlled by the feel, the sound, and the behavior of the glass in your hands.  Things like this were taught by apprenticeship before the gentrification occurred that says we need everyone to attend college.  I have tremendous respect and admiration for opticians, machinists and other workers who can exceed the accuracy of their tools and produce works of mechanical art.  On the opposite end, surgeons go through an internship and residency where they learn the hands-on work of surgery.  This is nothing if not an apprenticeship, for people who already have eight to 10 years of college.
One of the reasons we press for college is how badly the public school system sucks.  Divemedic points out, "Abraham Lincoln took the Bar exam, and never even completed the third grade.", while Ann Coulter has pointed out that Frederick Douglass, a freed slave who taught himself to read, left behind a body of work with a vocabulary that modern law school students can't understand.  When faced with blank stares from high school graduates, and long searches to find one who can read a ruler and understand simple paragraphs, companies start asking for more education.  Instead, they should be demanding public schools either get better or shut down.  And, yes, it is that bad; I've had to hire hourly workers for manufacturing companies - I've seen adults who can't read a ruler myself, 30 years ago.

Divemedic has a graph of college tuition vs. inflation.  How about this Cato institute graph of SAT and other test scores vs. spending and staffing in public schools?  This shows no matter how much we spend on public education, achievement remains the same. 

For all of recorded history, until the last hundred years or so, education was done at home or with a local person with the right temperament for the task.  Schoolmarm used to be a respected title, not an insult.  Today, there are those trying to restrain or eliminate home schooling because home schooled students routinely outperform their public-schooled cohorts.  A German family who came to the US so they could home school their children has been a target for deportation by the administration saying they have no fundamental right to school their own children.  Excuse me?  A citizen has no right to not use the public schools? 

As the cost of college goes up, students really need to ask themselves if they're acquiring real, marketable skills or if they're just going to 13th to 16th grade of public school.  The "requirements inflation", demanding higher degrees for the same job, is a tougher nut to crack;  you'd be hard-pressed to find a school, organization or politician with the guts to say anything against that.  Majoring in Poetry is nice, and society might need a couple, but do you really want to go into debt $35,000?  (70% point of the population, according to Fidelity)  I heard a young woman in a radio interview saying, "somebody has to teach poetry, it might as well be me"; if that's your attitude, be prepared to eat a lot of beans and Ramen noodles for the next 20 years.  If my son were a high school senior today, instead of 30-something, I'm not sure I'd recommend college.  If you don't know what you want to do and what sorts of jobs you could work in that you could live with, maybe a couple of years trying a few things, or enlisting in the service would be a better choice.  In other words, don't go just to go.