Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Few More Trouble Tree Seeds

In the comments to yesterday's post on the coming troubles, most people went down the good cop/bad cop rabbit hole.  Yeah, I'm the one who brought up the subject, but that wasn't my emphasis.  Liberty's Torch put up a good post on the Cop Conundrum today, covering some of the biggest questions.  My point was in the last major paragraph (where conclusions are usually found):
So I ask you: how is this indoctrination of ISIS children different than the indoctrination by Al Sharpton, Saul Alinsky, Frank Marshall Davis, and the others who trained generations of black Americans to believe the police want them dead?   
In the case of the race-baiters like Sharpton; the communists like Alinsky, and Davis; or the community dis-organizers/destroyers like Obama, Holder, and even as high in the White House as Valerie Jarret herself, we see behavior deliberately aimed at isolating a group as "others" with all the potential for horrific acts that comes with assigning "otherness" (which seems to be a historical precursor to genocides).  To these people, the others are the police, but when the argument is that police are racist it adds another element to the story.  Sharpton's charge assumes all police are white, or at least that they hate blacks.  It's nothing less than trying to start a hot race war in this country.

I know there are those, including Francis Porretto at Liberty's Torch, who look at the patterns of black on white crime in the country and say the race war has actually started.   (Francis, I don't mean to put words in your mouth; it's just how I read you.)  I know many have warned about being perhaps a bit more aware while out in public.  There's no way you can stay more than 50 feet from everyone while you're out Christmas shopping or in the crowd watching tonight's possum drop, so since you can't have that element of time, you need to get as much advanced warning as you can.  Crank up that situational awareness level.

But, again, that's not the only thing to be aware of and watching.  Just as the US left is depicting all of us as "others", so is ISIS in the way they're indoctrinating their followers.  There is a possibility that ISIS, who is already in the US, could mount some sort of attack here.  Buck Sexton, National Security Editor from the Blaze and sitting in as anchor on Glenn Beck's program, presented a list of the top 10 threats to the US in 2015, as developed by the Council of Foreign Relations.  Not that I particularly trust the CFR, but their list is:
  1. The intensification of the conflict in Iraq
  2. A large-scale attack on the U.S. homeland or ally
  3. A cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure
  4. A severe North Korean crisis
  5. The renewed threat of Israeli military strikes against Iran
  6. An armed confrontation in the South China Sea
  7. The escalation of the Syrian civil war
  8. Rising violence and instability in Afghanistan
  9. Increased fighting in eastern Ukraine
  10. Heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions
Inspire, the English language e-zine from Al Qaeda has been advocating more lone wolf attacks, including on airliners.  Lone wolf attacks, like the hatchet attack on NY city police officers a few weeks ago, the attack on the Canadian parliament, or the Sydney Lindt Chocolate shop, now seem to be what they're calling for.  Presumably, this means that they've found they're unable to plan larger operations and can only mount smaller ones.  
There's a balance between situational awareness, which can appear to be paranoia, and having too much paranoia, but I think we're entering a particularly dangerous time in recent history.  Our enemies realize the we're under weak leadership and that this is a good time to do whatever they want.  Add in the fact that those idiot voters didn't give Obama a congressional majority but elected the Stupid party, and there's additional displeasure at home, too.  I'll conclude with something Michael Bane posted, in that entry I referred you to yesterday:
I think many of Obama's most ardent followers thought for sure that by Year 6 we'd be in the Workers' Paradise, with Obamaphones and caviar for everyone...except those of us working to pay for it all, of course. Our role would be to "check our privilege," shut up and keep paying taxes.

And now those most ardent followers, especially the media, for who the phrase useful idiots seems to be tailor-made, are really really pissed off. No Obamaphones! No social justice! The narrative is failing! For the media sycophants, the race hustlers, the hate America Faux revolutionaries, that dacha by the sea is fading away as we speak.
In his 1938 text The Anatomy of Revolution (you've read it, right?) Crane Brinton noted that the revolutionary "moment" occurs not at at the lowest ebb of a culture, but rather when rising expectations are thwarted. Progressives rode the rising expectation of "fundamental change" right up until they ran smack into the American exceptionalism. Despite what one might read from the pampered elites at Brandeis University -- "Amerikka needs an intifada...enough is enough" -- the proletariat are not rising up in support of the progressive agenda. Quite the opposite.

With professional "protesters" fueled by a sense of rage over lost opportunities and missing Obamaphones, enabled by a 24-hour news cycle controlled by our blood enemies and given tacit approval by our supposed leaders, we potentially face a level of violence not seen since the 1960s. And that's not even counting the increased threat from those other fascists for the Middle East!
One of the hostages who escaped from the Lindt Cafe - I've never seen her identified.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sowing The Seeds of A Crop of Trouble Trees

It's the time of the season for everyone to be cranking out their "best of the old year" and "what's to come in the new year" stories.  I don't want to go full tilt in either direction, but I want to pass on my thoughts about a few things that stand out to me, probably over the next day or so. 

Of course, one of the big stories of 2014 was the sudden war on the police.  Like everyone I regularly read, I'll recognize that there have been too many incidents of what can only be described as police getting away with murder and mayhem that any of the rest of us would be killed for.  There certainly are bad cops.  On balance, though, I come down with the guys who say that most cops are not bad cops and the ones who are doing wrong should be prosecuted like the rest of us would be.

The fact that there are some bad cops is not an excuse to execute random guys.  In my book, there's never an excuse to execute a random person.  If a particular person has violated you, how could executing someone in another city who has never seen you or spoken to you ever be rational?  (Deviant psychology never made sense to me, not that I've wanted to try to wrap my mind around that corkscrew logic.)  Yet we see it happening more often, now, with attacks in North Carolina, El Lay, Tarpon Springs, Florida, and Flagstaff, Arizona.   

We all know the Great Sage Barbie once said, "Math is hard", but the shooters need to know that since the majority of cops are good, the percentages say they're probably shooting good guys and shifting the balance of the forces to bad cops.  They are definitely shifting police to a more offensive standing and being more likely to shoot. 

On the other hand, this to be expected.  For at least one complete generation, if not two, every child who listens to the race hustlers has been taught that the cops are out to destroy them.  Like Comrade de Blasio himself.  Friday, Michael Bane wrote an excellent post "A Harsh Reality", and put it this way:
A couple of days ago before Christmas I wrote a really searing blog post on the complicity of our so-called "leaders" on the LEO assassinations in New York. I decided, upon reflection, not to post it. I thought I needed to make some different points...yes, Barry and Eric and Al and Bill are complicit in the delegitimizing of the police that led directly to the deaths. The concept of delegitimizing the agencies of representative government by the creation of chaos is one of the standard — and most reliable — tools of the leftist/fascist revolutionary.

The idea is to "prove" that the government no longer has control of its own streets or that, in fact, the legitimate authorities are actually agents of oppression (the war on cops); to "prove" that the legal structures of the representative government no longer work (the war on the courts and the grand jury system); to "prove" that the legal protections of the old system are insufficient responses to the "new" social environment (the war on due process waged in many arenas, including on college campuses on the so-called "rape culture"); to "prove" that the leftist/fascist concept of "social justice" cannot be met by the existing representative government and therefore demands a new system.
You should go RTWT - a couple of pages, but good.  Michael, like me and many other gun bloggers, feel that this is going to get worse before it gets better.   As the Investor's Business Daily puts it, the "The Left's War on Cops Has Begun".
There's little doubt where the blame lies: with the race-baiters and communist organizing groups who have taken their cues from the wink-and-nod encouragement from political leaders at the top.

Leaders from President Obama to de Blasio have embraced the radical "narrative" that all police are "Bull Connor"-style predators on black people, along with the de facto message that the police do not have the right to defend themselves in a confrontation.
It doesn't take much reading to find that ANSWER and other communist groups are pushing these demonstrations. 

Step back for a second.  Several observers, like Bayou Renaissance Man for one, have expressed concern about ISIS lately.  For one thing, there are credible reports that ISIS is in the US already, with it being widely reported that the terror organization is/was planning to blow up the Memphis/Arkansas bridge over the Mississippi.  Meanwhile, the US is hampered by a leadership that simply doesn't understand ISIS, according Major General Michael Nagata, special forces commander in the Middle East.  In my mind they don't just "See No Islam" as said in that article, they have no desire to.  They believe that if they just talk with ISIS, the group will abandon their lifelong held views and just love us - possibly the most vain, hubristic thing you'll ever hear.  

ISIS was also called out recently for training small children, 10 and under, including training them to decapitate blond, blue-eyed dolls.  The idea, of course, is to desensitize them to the brutality; to make children think beheading is a Holy thing, and not an act of barbarism.  I'm sure you'll all remember the stories of the Australian jihadi's son holding up a severed had with pride and happiness.  (Pictures here but content warning for the squeamish)

So I ask you: how is this indoctrination of ISIS children different than the indoctrination by Al Sharpton, Saul Alinsky, Frank Marshall Davis, and the others who trained generations of black Americans to believe the police want them dead?   
Michael Ramirez.  It took me a few seconds to realize that was a hand controlling the puppet and not bizarre pants. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Little Lighter Fare

I noticed Rev. Paul posted on the new Gibson guitar he got for Christmas; it's one of the Les Paul models.  For you non-guitarists, "Gibson Les Paul" is kinda like "General Motors Chevrolet"; more like a brand than a specific model.  There are many models in the Les Paul line every year, and the style is even produced by other brands, where they're usually called LP style.  For example (standard disclaimers: no relation, just to show what I'm referring to, this instrument will probably give you scabies... etc.).  Counterfeit Chinese copies have become so common that they even have their own name: Chibson.  If you're bored, try entering Chibson in your favorite search engine.   

And, yeah, I have one.  There's a picture on the right column farther down the page.   

Anyway, the lovely Mrs. Graybeard added a new guitar to my collection this Christmas.  Theoretically, I wasn't supposed to know about it, but since we talked about guitars and alternate instruments a lot, it wasn't that big a secret.  The instrument is a Dean Spider Resonator acoustic guitar, and the only Dean guitar I've ever played. 
The finish is quilted maple, and I really love good quilted maple on a guitar.  The back and sides are also quilted maple, and it's a really beautiful instrument that is well-built.  Intonation is perfect out of the box (which is good considering I can't figure out how I'd adjust it). 

Spider resonator is the style of resonator, that large chrome cover with cutouts in it is covering the spider resonator, details at that Wikipedia page.  I've always heard this type of guitar called a Dobro, but that name is copyrighted, like calling any copier a Xerox or any adhesive bandage a Band-Aid.  Historically, the name Dobro was originated by the inventors of the resonator after they left National Guitars, so it was always their trademark.  The latest owner of Dobro guitars is none other than Gibson, as parent company of Epiphone!  Which means this post comes full circle.  (Side note: anybody remember Paul Simon's "Graceland"? - "The Mississippi Delta is shining like a National guitar"?  Picture the reflection off that chrome guitar.)

There's a style of resonator that's intended to be held horizontally on your lap or by its strap if you're standing; this Dean is intended to be held like a conventional acoustic guitar.  Resonator guitars are often played with a glass slide on one finger, and the tone you get is unique - yet recognizable if you listen to any blues or blues inspired music.  Here's where I inject my "too white and nerdy".  My allergist has me use a nasal spray called Dymista which comes in a brown glass bottle.  A few seconds on a tile saw takes off the top and bottom of the bottle leaving a brown glass tube, not unlike a beer bottle neck (except thinner glass).  I'll use the allergy spray bottle as my glass slide.   I need to write something like "The Bad Nose Blues".  

If you've never heard slide guitar in blues before, and even if you have, listen to this piece, which is more of rip-roaring, country-rock virtuoso piece by Sue Foley and Peter Karp. Sue Foley is on the pink paisley Telecaster and Peter Karp is on the National resonator guitar with the glass slide on his pinky.  

EDIT 2051 EST:  I said Sue Foley was playing at "plaid pink Telecaster".  That's paisley.  Hey, they're both words that start with "p".  My typing went on autopilot.  (Yeah, I know, plaid to the bone).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Count Me Skeptical on the North Korean Hacker Story

Not to stomp into Borepatch's security territory too much, but I've had a hard time believing the story that North Korean hackers broke into Sony and stole terabytes worth of data.  The complete set of computers in the whole country is something like four working Commodore 64s and while they certainly can (and do) send students with the aptitude to China to work in cyber attacks, it just seems hard to imagine they could have much of a base of computer savvy people in the country.  It requires better nourishment during pregnancy and child growth to develop working brains than a country that's forced to eat grass and sand can provide.  

Then I find an article in Fast Company that real experts are rather skeptical of the story, too.  Marc Rogers, for one, puts together a pretty good case against it being the North Koreans. 
So in conclusion, there is NOTHING here that directly implicates the North Koreans. In fact, what we have is one single set of evidence that has been stretched out into 3 separate sections, each section being cited as evidence that the other section is clear proof of North Korean involvement. As soon as you discredit one of these pieces of evidence, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down.
Gordon Chang is a lawyer/analyst/pundit who specializes in watching China and developments in China and North Korea.  He's probably excessively pessimistic about China, his book on the coming collapse of China is going on 14 years old, but he's still one of the more knowledgeable people in the pundit class.  Chang's view is that if NK did it at all they certainly didn't do it alone.  China and North Korea have a symbiotic relationship; China economically exploits the reclusive state for cheap labor, and resources while the North Koreans get most of their food from China and their only air travel is through and over China.  North Koreans attempt to escape north into China, the border is said to be easier to cross than the border into South Korea, and China plays a loose game of returning some but not others.  It seems natural that any North Koreans with the right skills (or potential) would get sucked north into China.

Chang believes that North Korean cyber attacks would have had to originate in China.  China is much better equipped for that sort of attack; think massive cube farms of hackers at work all day long.  Some of them could have been from North Korea.  At the absolute least, China would have known about the Sony attack, though.

Catherine Herridge, the Chief Intelligence Correspondent at Fox News, reports that sources in the US say there's evidence that points to China, as well as Russia and Iran.
The U.S. investigation into the recent hacking attack at Sony Pictures Entertainment has turned up evidence that does not point to North Korea as the "sole entity" in the case, but rather, raises the possibility that Iran, China or Russia may have been involved, an intelligence source told Fox News on Thursday.
The source pointed to the sophistication of malware “modules or packets” that destroyed the Sony systems -- on a level that has not been seen from North Korea in the past -- but has been seen from Iran, China and Russia.

There is no evidence of a forced entry into the Sony systems, pointing to an insider threat or stolen credentials. And the first emails sent to Sony, described as blackmail or extortion, included demands unrelated to the movie.
The idea of the Sony hack being an inside job from a disgruntled employee or something like that seems likely to me.  There are just too many things about it that taken together make it unlikely that it was the North Koreans.  At least in my book.  Now, if it was the world's greatest publicity scheme to get millions of Americans who wouldn't ordinarily go see (what seems to be) a mediocre comedy to change their plans and go see it in some sort of patriotic/1st amendment fervor, that would be a funnier story than Seth Rogan and James Franco could come up with. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Stupid Computers

This computer is a pretty mid-range box,  not a graphics or engineering workstation at all, but not a bare bones entry box either.  It's a 2011 Dell Inspiron 560, going on three years old.  It has a 1 Terabyte drive, out of which I'm only using about 250 Gigs.  Considering how much of my day I spend here, I thought I'd try to increase the speed and looked into my options for a faster machine - without plunking down the price equivalent of a full battle rifle.

As Borepatch was pointing out recently, Moore's Law seems to have ended in the last couple of years.  This means the amount of processing horsepower has stopped doubling every semiconductor generation (about two years), and the current processors aren't much better than when my Dell was made.  His source also pointed out processor speed hasn't really advanced in about a decade, either.  Getting clock speed above the mid-3 GHz range is going to involve solving some tough problems that relate to handling microwave signals (make no mistake: 3 GHz is microwave!), and I wouldn't be too surprised if speeds don't go up appreciably for another 10 years.

There have been improvements in computers; the two big trends have been fattening the internal pipes: bringing everything in the box up in speed, and improving power consumption.  My desktop at work is marginally faster than my home box, but most notable to me is the speed of loading programs and booting windows.  The reason for the better speed is that there's a fatter pipe between the disk drive and the rest of it.  There's a Solid State Drive in it, and I decided to go looking down that road.  Solid state drives are the same technology as in USB thumb drives; electrically erasable programmable read-only memory, or EEPROM.  Electrically erasable and rewritable while being called read-only memory may sound like an oxymoron, but it's a technology that can keep data intact without power applied, unlike the dynamic random access memory or DRAM from which your computer executes its programs.  EEPROM is slower than DRAM, but still many times faster than mechanical hard drives.

Figuring that I really wasn't using that much memory, I bought a 128 Gig SSD.  The day has been rather a disappointment, as far as the computer goes.  I ran the Samsung migration utility and it seems little more than just copying everything to the new SSD.  It didn't change any references whatsoever, so, for example, any program that had a desktop icon link to a program on the C: drive still refers to the C: drive even though that program in on the SSD and the computer thinks the SSD is a higher letter.  Everything, including Windoze, still runs from my C: drive, making the SSD a high-priced, very small capacity, additional drive.  I can't get my BIOS to recognize the old hard drive and the new solid state drive both as options to boot from, and when I do convince it to try to boot from the SSD, it can't; the migration utility must have left important stuff out.  

The battle will resume tomorrow.   If you're old enough to use a computer, you've probably seen this cartoon:
(as an aside, I never thought I'd link to a blog about "all things beauty: makeup, hair, fashion, and more!", but she's the source of this cartoon!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

It's sort of annual tradition on my part to put up this post, or at least the essence of it, since I revise it regularly.
On this night 46 years ago, Christmas eve of 1968, Apollo 8 was on the world's first mission to the moon. Like sailors sailing out of sight of land for the first time, man was leaving the safety of shore for the first time. We were becoming a space-faring population.  Here on the ground, 1968 had been a tumultuous year but we were united in watching the Apollo 8 mission in a way few things have united Americans.  

I'll never forget that message they sent down, that Christmas eve.  Especially after roughly 1:00 into this video.  

Churches, like all groups, have personalities, and in the one I attend, it would be remarkable to toss a wadded up paper ball and not hit an engineer, nurse, doctor, or a tech professional.  It's not news to this bunch that Jesus was probably born in the spring or fall rather than in the dead of winter, or that the December 25th date comes from adapting to the Roman Saturnalia or other pagan holidays; nor would they be shocked if you told them Christmas has more secular than holy traditions associated with it and many things that are totally engrained in the holiday traditions started out as advertising gimmicks.  There was no little drummer boy when the events we portray as the nativity happened - and the scene we call the nativity is a conglomeration of bits and pieces from multiple Gospels, and certainly did not happen within the first couple of days of Jesus' life. 

A friend sent me this contribution to thought on the question of the exact date.
The truth is we simply don’t know the exact date of our Savior’s birth. In fact, we don’t even know for sure the year in which He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. One thing is clear: if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, He certainly would have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, even down to what the baby was wearing – “swaddling clothes”—and where he slept—“in a manger” (Luke 2:12). These details are important because they speak of His nature and character, meek and lowly. But the exact date of His birth has no significance whatsoever, which may be why God chose not to mention it.
I've heard another explanation for why December 25th was chosen. It's close to the solstice, the longest night of the year - which made it the darkest night of the year in those days. Jesus was the light of the world, and the symbolism of bringing light when things are at their darkest fits perfectly with the story. Yes, it has become commercialized; shopping, food and football. I love it anyway. Thank the masters of Madison Avenue - propagandists, really - who have learned how to push our buttons so well; to get us to buy things.

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." -- Dr. Seuss

Hold close the ones you love.  If we're very lucky, this will be the worst Christmas of our lives; everything in life gets better year by year for the rest of our lives.  And if things get worse, we'll remember this as the "good old days".  Either way, hold tight.  And do it "before you dot another 'i' or cross another 't', Bob Cratchit!"

It's one my of my blessings that a group of really great folks stop by here to share my blather - Google says about a thousand of you every day, which blows my mind.  Thanks.
So however you mark this day, enjoy it well.  Spend time with family or friends or both.  Remember the good service members deployed far from home.  If you're Military, LEO, or fire; EMT, Nurse or MD, and are one who must work while the rest of us rest, thank you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

More Climate Change "Phraud"?

Anthony Watts at Watts Up With That does it again, with an expose' on one of the newest climate alarmism buzz-phrases, "Ocean acidification".   Ocean acidification will make sense to someone with high school science background.  Remember that carbon dioxide mixed with water forms carbonic acid?  (also known as club soda, seltzer water, unflavored soda and other colloquialisms)  So if there's more CO2 in the air, and it mixes with the ocean, then the ocean should become more acidic.  It's so obvious that the typical thermaggedon believer will just believe it's happening without questioning.  Oh noes!! The ocean is turning acid, we're all going to die!!!

Sure enough, it has started showing up in congressional dog-and-pony shows.  Chief alarmist appears to be a Dr.  Richard A. Feely, who is a senior scientist with the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL)—which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Feely’s climate-crisis views are widely used to support the narrative.
Feely’s four-page report: Carbon Dioxide and Our Ocean Legacy, offered on the NOAA website, contains a similar chart. This chart, titled “Historical & Projected pH & Dissolved Co2,” begins at 1850. Feely testified before Congress in 2010—using the same data that shows a decline in seawater pH (making it more acidic) that appears to coincide with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.
There's only one problem.   An honest Ph. D. student started to wonder what's going on.   Ironically enough, the honest student is named Mike Wallace, no relation.   
Mike Wallace is a hydrologist with nearly 30 years’ experience, who is now working on his Ph.D. in nanogeosciences at the University of New Mexico. In the course of his studies, he uncovered a startling data omission that he told me: “eclipses even the so-called climategate event.” Feely’s work is based on computer models that don’t line up with real-world data—which Feely acknowledged in email communications with Wallace (which I have read). And, as Wallace determined, there is real world data. Feely, and his coauthor Dr. Christopher L. Sabine, PMEL Director, omitted 80 years of data, which incorporate more than 2 million records of ocean pH levels.

Feely’s chart, first mentioned, begins in 1988—which is surprising as instrumental ocean pH data has been measured for more than 100 years since the invention of the glass electrode pH (GEPH) meter. As a hydrologist, Wallace was aware of GEPH’s history and found it odd that the Feely/Sabine work omitted it. He went to the source. The NOAA paper with the chart beginning in 1850 lists Dave Bard, with Pew Charitable Trust, as the contact.  [Emphasis added - SiG]
As is virtually always the case, when the data isn't cherry picked by a corrupt scientist (my words, not Wallace's or Watts') the problem goes away.  Freely seemingly simply threw out data points that didn't make his graph the way he wanted it.  The pink descending line (lowering pH - or more acidic) is Feely's, the blue line is the true series; the ocean is becoming less acidic. 

Wallace, the honest Ph.D. student, has the great quote to conclude this little story of NOAA fraud with:
“In whose professional world,” Wallace asks, “is it acceptable to omit the majority of the data and also to not disclose the omission to any other soul or Congressional body?”  [emphasis in original - SiG]
A great quote, one which we unfortunately all can answer, but here at Graybeard labs we've found exclusive artist's renderings of the peer review process used throughout climate science:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Winter Solstice

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice; the day the sun stops and stands still in its voyage south and then starts north again. From this point, every sunrise will be a little farther north until June's summer solstice. 

Rev. Paul and those in colder climes may feel happy that going through the shortest day of the year means the days will start getting longer.  It will be imperceptible at first, gathering speed as the calendar approaches spring. 
Yesterday's APOD, the Astronomy Picture of the Day, shows the southern view looking down the Tyrrhenian Sea coast from Santa Severa toward Fiumicino, Italy, and was taken by Danilo Pivato . It's a composite of 43 precisely timed exposures, taken on the solstice in 2005.  

Cool shot, but it's only one day.  Wouldn't it be neat to see the sun's wandering over the course of a year?  Of course it has been done.  It takes a bit more planning, but you just need to take a photograph at the exact same time regularly throughout the year and be sure before you start that the image will fit on the film or sensor.  Once a week is good, round number and you pretty much can't make the exposures too short.  Take the photograph when the sun is high enough above the horizon to record on the winter solstice, and leave the camera pointed at the same place for a year.  Add one longer exposure picture when the sky has a pretty look you like and maybe you can get a picture as pretty as this one.  The photograph shows a curve called an analemma.  The winter solstice sun is the bottom middle of the elongated figure 8; the summer solstice at the upper, narrower end. 
This one was taken by István Mátis from a window in his apartment in Romania (much larger version is here).  He writes,
The discs of the Sun are taken between 11/6/2012 and 1/19/2014 at 7:00 UT, which is 9'o clock in the morning local time during winter and 10'o clock during daylight saving time. The background is made on 1/14/2014 at 7:55 local time, from the original location of the analemma.
More details here.  My guess is that the gaps in the pattern were caused by cloudy days. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Favorite Christmas Song

Regulars here know that I'm somewhat of a blues fan.  I've introduced the outrageously talented Joanne Shaw Taylor,  country blues master (and songwriting partner to Eric Clapton) JJ Cale, and even mentioned my own meager study of the art.

So it might not come as a surprise that my favorite Christmas song is the bluesy, melancholy "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".   The song dates from 1944, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine for Judy Garland's 1944 movie, Meet Me in St. Louis.  The sad tone is understandable; Christmas of 1944 was three years into World War II, and many people had undergone the hardship of losing family members. The war was wearing on the national psyche; the death toll was the highest seen since the Civil War.  They were dark days. 

In a 1989 NPR program, the authors spoke of having written the first drafts of the song and Judy Garland objected to the lyrics, saying they were too sad.  According to Hugh Martin's book:
Some of the original lyrics ... were rejected before filming began. They were: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past / Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Pop that champagne cork / Next year we may all be living in New York."
Martin revised the lyrics getting approvals from Judy and the rest of the production staff.  Eventually, Judy Garland made this recording:

You'll note that at the crescendo of the song, the line isn't "hang a shining star upon the highest bough", it's the more morose "until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow".  Much more fitting to a sadder song written during WWII.   That change (which seems to be the last) was prompted by Frank Sinatra in 1957.  According to Entertainment Weekly,
Among the never-recorded couplets — which [Martin] he now describes as ''hysterically lugubrious'' — were lines like: ''Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last.... Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more.''
Then, in 1957, Frank Sinatra — who'd already cut a lovely version with the movie's bittersweet lyrics in 1947 — came to Martin with a request for yet another pick-me-up. ''He called to ask if I would rewrite the 'muddle through somehow' line,'' says the songwriter. ''He said, 'The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?'''
That request led to the line we hear most often.  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has become one of the most popular songs year after year.  EW says it's second only to "The Christmas Song" (which most people think is called "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).  It has been covered by a gamut of artists from Sinatra to Connie Stephens, to James Taylor to '80s metal band Twisted Sister".  I think I'll go see if I can work up a jazz tone and play it a bit right now.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Russia In Full Tilt Economic Collapse? Not Quite

They may not be in full economic collapse just yet, but you have to look closely to tell the difference.  In the last six months, the Ruble has lost almost 50% of its purchasing power compared to our dollar.  The fall in the Ruble has led to Russians going on a spending spree, getting rid of Rubles and buying hard goods; basically anything they think they might need soon or anything that might be a store of value. 
On his way home from work tonight, with the near-collapse of Russia’s currency on his mind, Maxim Legonkikh made something of an impulse buy.

He pulled into the Porsche dealership and bought himself a brand new sports car. In cash.

“It’s an incredible deal,” he explained. “I’m only here because I need to find a safe place for my money.”
In response, the Bank of Russia (their equivalent of our Federal Reserve Bank) has raised interest rates to 17% in an attempt to halt the collapse, but that doesn't seem to be stopping the slide in the Ruble, which fell to a 16 year low.  On Tuesday, Apple confirmed they stopped sales into Russia; presumably out of concern they'd never get proper payment. 

Russia has been through currency collapse before, with the most recent being 1998, and market watchers are saying this crisis is reminiscent of that collapse.  Consequently, many Russians alive today remember the previous crashes and know what to do.  It's one reason people are going on buying sprees; if the currency is collapsing, money you're holding buys less every day.  You may as well buy as much food and other survival needs as soon as you can.  Anything you think you might need is going to cost more next week, so get it while you can.  Something we read about in Weimar Germany is that people would take their pay in cash and spend it as soon as they could, in order to get the most out of their pay that they could. 

The next big warning sign would either be a run on the banks, or a bank "holiday" (closure).  While I've heard rumors of runs on the banks in Russia, so far they appear to be just rumors or they're just not widespread enough to make news.
Banks in Moscow, including Citigroup Inc. (C), ZAO Raiffeisen and Khanty-Mansiysk Otkritie Bank, yesterday reported a surge in demand for foreign currency as the ruble continued to slide after a plunge in oil prices. The currency has lost almost half its value against the dollar this year, a decline yesterday’s interest-rate increase initially failed to halt.
The higher interest rates might help allay fears of the currency devaluing farther, and Russian banks are trying to calm the situation by paying higher interest.
“The financial system and banks in particular are clearly in danger as a crisis of trust seems to be developing as well,” Smolyaninov wrote. “We believe the worst is yet to come.” [Note: Slava Smolyaninov is deputy head of research for Moscow brokerage UralSib Capital - SiG]
The root of the problem in Russia is the oil price situation I wrote about last Sunday.  The problem is that Russia is so big that this will have effects well outside the country.  Liam Halligan in the Telegraph (UK) fills in details on how a volatile Russia would be a bad thing for all of the European Union.  It's worth a read for the perspective.
The eurozone can’t recover if Germany isn’t strong. The UK, in turn, can’t stage a proper recovery with the single currency area, its major trading partner, on the skids. Last week’s rouble collapse, and the detrimental impact it will have on business sentiment and investment, even if the turmoil ends now, means Russia will contract by 3-4pc next year. That pleases hawkish commentators, given their hope that a deep recession might result in the ousting of President Putin. But it’s bad news for the jobs and livelihoods of ordinary households across the whole of Western Europe.  
Halligan points out the Russia's economy is really stronger than it appears right now; certainly light years ahead of the US economy in at least one regard:
There’s a big current account surplus and government debts are among the lowest in the world. With liabilities in roubles and many revenues in dollars, the fiscal balance actually improves when the currency falls. A mere $2.1bn of sovereign borrowing is repayable next year – which is minuscule. 
If he's right, Russia might have a rough Christmas or a rough few months, but they're fundamentally sound.  In contrast the US is having smooth months that I frankly don't understand when you consider our $18+ trillion dollar debt and $116 Trillion in unfunded liabilities (I like to call that "promises made").  
Russian protesters on 12/12 (source).   The article translates the signs as "Banks make us beggars", and "How to live. Mortgages in dollars".   The first one, at least, is exactly wrong - and you hear similar thoughts here in the USA.  The banks, and especially the central banks, would have zero power to mess with the currency and make people beggars if the governments didn't allow it.  It's the governments that are making us beggars, not the banks.  If governments didn't hand control of the nations' economies to central bankers they could do nothing of the sort.  Of course, then the politicians couldn't run up trillion dollar annual deficits, multi-trillion dollar debts and do all the vote buying they do. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

It's Past Time We Talk About the C-Word

We're only six days away from Christmas!  Ordinarily, I put up this holiday post early in the season, close to Thanksgiving.   To be honest, I was bit bored with it.  As the day approaches, though, it started sounding and feeling more like the truth.  

You see, I love Christmas.  I mean, I've run across people in my life who decorate for Christmas way more than I do, and I've known people who plan their Christmas six months in advance, way before I do.  I know a guy whose house decorations for Christmas put the local shopping centers to shame, and focused his whole year around Christmas.  Maybe if you saw me, or saw my barely decorated little house, you wouldn't think so, but I love Christmas.

Christmas is unique among holidays in America.  It has a very strong Christian tradition (well, duh!) as well as very strong secular traditions, and I love them both.  I love giving gifts to loved ones - and even total strangers.  I love the old favorite songs and the whole feeling of this time.  People in retail will tell you that Christmas often determines whether or not they stay in business.  I'm sure you've noticed that news outlets report sales from the Friday after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) as if they're reporting scores from a bowl game.  Another part of the holiday is the annual struggle to "keep Christ in Christmas" and not overlook the spiritual side of the holiday.  Did you know there is actually a court ruling that tells you how many reindeer (three) a holiday display must have to remain "sufficiently secular" to be legal to display on public property?  If I have three reindeer on display, it's secular, but if it's only two and package of reindeer sausage, I'm obviously trying to convert you!
A 2006 Zogby poll showed that 95 percent of folks are NOT offended when they hear the words “Merry Christmas.”  The real kicker is that 1 in 3 are actually very offended when the words “Happy Holidays” push out the phrase “Merry Christmas.”  This should not come as a big surprise because another poll by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics showed that 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas
Every year you hear about overzealous administrators in some municipality or some place deciding that the most innocuous secular symbols are too Christian.   Take this notice from the University of Maine (emphasis in the original - as well as the two spelling errors in one sentence):
“Just wanted to remind everyone that Aux Services is not to decorate any public areas with Christmas or any other religious themed decorations,” the email states. “Winter holiday decorations are fine but we need to not display any decoration that could be perceived as religious.”

“This includes xmas trees, wreaths, xmas presents, menorahs, candy canes, etc.,” the email says. “What is allowed our [sic] winter themes, snowmen, plain trees without presents underneath, decorative lights, but not on trees, snow flakes, [sic] etc.”

“[T]he university makes every effort to ensure that all members – students, employees, alumni and the public–feel included and welcome on campus. Decorations on the UMaine campus are therefore reflective of the diversity found in our community,”
Hate to break it to them, but candy canes are nowhere to be found in Christian scriptures; nor are wreaths, trees, or decorative lights on those trees.  They are not religious symbols.  And even if they were, the absence of religious symbols isn't a diversity of views; it's presenting only the atheistic view.  Diversity would be to allow other faiths to participate in the displays.  

As we plunge further into the Christmas season, take time to enjoy it and your loved ones.  If you feel a need to get some perfunctory gift for someone you'd really rather not give to, I say don't.  That's some sort of bizarre social ritual, not Christmas.  Don't put yourself in debt for Christmas; even if it means the kids get a "meager" holiday.  It won't hurt them and may just help them.  If you're one of the 45% who recently said they'd just as soon skip the whole thing - I say skip it.  It's still a federal holiday, so you have that going for you. 

(Glenn McCoy)  And just because, here's the cutest ad I've seen this year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Great Cuban Communist Christmas Gifting of 2014

As a guy who grew up in south Miami around the time of the first mass exodus of anyone who could get out of Cuba, as well as many other escapes, I have a different perspective on the administration opening diplomatic relations with the tin horn dictator than I'm seeing in a lot of places.  I've personally known people who risked their lives and came across the Florida Straits to get away from that "socialist paradise".  In my opinion we give up everything and the Cuban people get nothing. 

The most laughable idea of all is that we'll allow Cubans to see what life is like outside their island prison.  As if there's no flow of information into Cuba at all.  Even back in the '60s, friends would mail care packages back to Cuba with supplies they couldn't get there: everything from over the counter, common drugs to clothes like Levis.  Yes, lots of it was stolen by regime officials, but some got through.  Lots of Cubans heard what life was like in this country from family.  But there's an even more direct avenue that I haven't heard anyone say one a word of:  in Cuba, Florida AM broadcast radio pounds into their radios - especially at night.  In the 60s, WGBS, ABC radio on 710 kHz was a clear channel 50,000 Watt blowtorch audible for over a thousand miles.  Today that station is WAQI, (roughly Spanish for Aqui, or "here") broadcasting in Spanish, to south Florida and south over Cuba.  And it's not just them.  On any evening, but especially winter when the daily thunderstorms become less frequent, AM broadcasters from all over the US, Central and South America can be heard there.  How do you think Sears, Walmart, or drug store ads sound to someone in an impoverished nation?  A little tempting?

The next most laughable idea is that "Castro is old.  He'll die soon and it will liberalize".  What makes you think that the power struggles to determine the next dictator haven't already happened?  What makes you think that someone else doesn't want to be "Glorious Leader" over the country so that they can be the ones to skim all the revenue for themselves, and exert total power over the long-suffering Cubans?   Do you honestly think that Castro's going to kick the bucket and the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson is going to show up and make the island a free market paradise? 

That tourism will bring economic boom to the Cubans?  If by that you mean the communist government, then yes, but not the hotel workers and other tourist industry jobs.  They'll get 8% of what the foreign companies spend on the island.  The Cubans will release political prisoners?  True, Raul Castro promised that yesterday, but he promised the same 53 prisoners would be released four years ago.  I wonder how many more times their release will be promised?  Say, I wonder if Cuba will release that cop killer - you know, former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard - who fled to the island to escape the US? 

It's interesting that both Obama and Castro referred to Colonialism, as if the US has ever had any interest in colonizing the island.  (Here's a hint: if we had wanted to, it would be a colony now).  No, this is just a hideous deal.  The Cuban government is giving up nothing.  We're giving up everything.  In the name of "change", changing a 53 year old policy for the sake of changing it, the Cuban people get no promises of free speech, no promises of due process, nothing except 8% of what they might get paid to work in a foreign run hotel. 
Today, injustice has been rewarded and tyranny has been rewarded. Today, the United States has placed a true embargo on the hope, the rights, and the liberties of a nation by rewarding the executioners and condemning their victims. It is amazing that the embargo the United States placed on a tyranny in 1961, is today, December 17, 2014, lifting it off that tyranny and placing it upon that tyranny's victims.
As written by former Cuban political prisoner Juan Amador and translated by Alberto de la Cruz at Babalu blog.
Freed US hostage Alan Gross with his lawyer.  Note the photograph on the wall of Che' Guevara

It may well be that the often-stated premise is true; that our embargo hasn't done anything to bring freedom to the Cuban people.  Neither will this. You can bet on it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fighting Off A Cold

Sorry, no content tonight, so enjoy a good cartoon. 

Michael Ramirez illustrates the mental chasm that says annoying a prisoner is bad, but using a drone strike is just peachy. 

Excellent Kahlid Sheik Mohammed, too. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

About That MHX Spinning Rod I Built

I wrote about a spinning rod I was building a few weeks ago and finished it by Thanksgiving weekend.  With the weather we tend to have in December, it was going to take a while before I could get out to try it, and finally did so this weekend.

I wish I thought to keep exact numbers, but I think it lasted less than 15 minutes.  When we got the boat out yesterday, checking that rod out was one of my reasons for going (as if I need a reason to go fishing).  We were fishing in rocky water about 15' deep.  On one cast, I thought I felt a soft pickup, and struck hard.  Very quickly, the line stopped moving.  This is either a snag on bottom, or the fish diving under a rock.  I leaned back hard on the rod, and within a few seconds, the rod snapped, taking the 10 pound monofilament with it.  There are really no feelings I can compare to that.  It's one thing to loose a fish: that happens.  Imagine the finality of not only loosing the fish but the rod you just spent every spare hour for a month working on.  It's quite a jolt. 
The rod wasn't overloaded.  It's rated for 8-15 pound line, and I was fishing 10 pound.  MHX has a warranty, so I've contacted them to start the process of getting it replaced.  Nothing will replace the rest of the parts on the rod or the time spent building it, so pardon me if I'm not feeling really good about MHX at this point. 

That chartreuse thread I used never photographed well, but that was a really pretty rod.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I'm Told the Frogs Say... (And an Oily Ramble)

I'm told frogs say, "time's fun when you're having flies." 

It has been a bit of a whirlwind couple of days since my last post, but the tree is in place, the shopping is essentially completed, we're completely ready for the holiday break, and even got the boat out this morning for a few hours of fishing (you will note I said "fishing", not "catching"; or as the French say, cherchez le poissons).  It was around 45 degrees or so when we put the boat in the water, but warmed up to about 65 by the time we came back in.  Winds were almost dead calm; the sky was cloudless and a fantastic shade of blue. 

So while burning some fuel in the outboard, it gave me some time to think about the price of oil.  Naturally, regular gas at under $2.50/gallon, as I paid yesterday, makes it a lot easier to live with a boat than when it was around $4/gallon, but what is going on with oil?  Is this going to suddenly reverse?  Is it going lower than $50?  Brent Crude oil from
Since July, crude oil has been falling in price from just under $100/bbl down to a close of $61.85 on Friday.  For most of us, the falling oil prices are a Good Thing; we spend less on running our cars, and boats, along with the more important things like heating houses.  It should show up in reduced prices for things that get shipped across country (short version: everything).  The falling prices, though are having negative effects around the country - especially in the new US oil production fields.  Perhaps more importantly, it's pinching the other oil producing nations.  The BBC presented this graph of the break even oil price for a sample of countries.   The graph omits Russia, which is stated elsewhere to need $100/bbl to break even.
(I hasten to add there are a few quoted oil prices: Brent crude is one price, light sweet crude is another and so on.  I used the Brent crude price to make these two charts consistent with each other.  The exact price to the penny isn't as important as the trend).

While it's impossible for us to truly know what's going on, there has been reporting that Russia is driving this effort along with their proxies in the Mideast.   Others have said it's being led mainly by Saudi Arabia.  Either way, the theory goes that the goal is to get America out of the oil market, so that they can get prices back up.  This idea is supported by some of the things Russia is doing where they can to shut down energy production.  With oil at close to half of what Russia and Saudia Arabia need, that's quite the game of chicken.  "Let's you and me bleed ourselves to death, and I bet I'll stay in the game longer than you do". 

I think there can be a bigger game going on here, though.  The principal power in OPEC is the Saudis.  The Saudis have no use for the Iranians and are frankly terrified of a nuclear Iran.  You can bet your butt that if Iran goes nuclear, the Saudis will go nuclear as well.  For a country that nominally hates Israel, they've quietly agreed to allow Israel to over fly Saudi territory if needed to attack Iran ("the enemy of my enemy is my friend" in action?).  They also want Assad out of Syria and Russia is propping up both Iran and Syria.  I think it's entirely possible that Saudi Arabia could be playing the game to get Putin out of the area, and try to collapse the governments of both Iran and Syria.  Russia's economy is already showing signs of trouble.  If they collapse Putin himself, get him ousted by ballot, by revolt or worse, I think the Kingdom would view that as a good thing.  I also can't imagine the Saudis would be too upset if they found a price for oil that shut down American shale oil production. 

So I think the falling price of oil could well be the result of the Saudis pressing it down all by themselves. I can see Russia and Saudi Arabia working together to hurt us, but I think the Saudis have a stronger interest in collapsing the Iranian government and if it hurts Russia, well, that's just a bonus. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Outfitting the Small Shop - Part 3

When I last updated this, I had upgraded my mill and was able to start taking chips off a steel rod with it.

With the mill in place I started looking into lathes.  Like the milling machines, most of the lower cost lathes you can buy new these days are made in a couple of factories in China, and Seig is again the big name.  Quick sidestep: lathes are usually described by two numbers, the first number is the swing or largest diameter object that can turn over the bed or ways of the lathe, and the second number the distance between the chuck and the tailstock (see below), or between tools called centers mounted in those places, which gives an indication of how long a piece of work that can be held.  A common example is a 7x 12 or 14", which turns an object 7" in diameter over the bed of the lathe and 12 or 14".  Exactly what constitutes a given size can be up to the company selling it.  For example, one seller might sell a 7x14 that another would sell as a 7x12 because it would never hold a piece of work 14" long; they refer to the bed length and not the length with the tailstock in place.  It's best to think of these numbers as rough indicators of the overall size and then compare dimensions between the different brands.  

I had been leaning toward a large tool room lathe, a name typically in the range of a 12 to 13 by 36 to 40" lathe.  These can be rather large machines with large, heavy motors that produce more than two horsepower (a practical limit for a 115 V circuit). 

After weeks of poring over specifications and really pondering what I'm likely to be doing, I decided to look into lathes in the 9x20 class, which fits my expected work envelope with some room for comfort.  I don't really anticipate working on things as large as turning brake drums, but cutting the chamber for a rifle barrel is a real possibility.  To do that, most writers recommend a lathe with a bore through the headstock of 1 1/2" or more.  (The barrel would stick out the left end of the headstock and the chamber area held in the chuck - a very stable position). 

Also bear in mind the big truism/cliche', "How big a lathe do you need?  Invariably about 1" bigger than you have".

I eventually narrowed it down to a choice between a few and then a choice between two, the Little Machine Shop 8.5 x 20, a Seig SC4 and a Precision Matthews PM1127VF-LB . At first glance, they appear wildly different in size, and the PM1127 is certainly a bigger, more powerful, more capable machine.  The LMS 8.5x20 is virtually the same work envelope as what most dealers sell as a 9x20 but with a more powerful motor and power cross feed as well as feed along the axis of the part.  

I set up an Excel comparison matching the accessories (dealers never spec out their machines with the same accessories) to find the final price to put it in my shop.  The PM1127 ends up costing 20% more at $3182 vs. $2638 total (including delivery).  In my case it came down to concluding the PM1127 is certainly more lathe but I'm not sure I'd ever take advantage of it.  I've decided to go with LMS 8.5x20.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Jonathon Gruber Doesn't Bother Me

Jonathon Gruber is having his 15 minutes of ... I'll say infamy instead of fame.  Gruber, of course is that MIT economist caught on video a half dozen times calling the American public "stupid" and bragging that underhanded techniques, outright deception, or simple non-transparency were essential to pass Obamacare.

Gruber's crime, if there is one, is honesty, or as it's called in politics, a Kinsley gaffe.  The ruling class clearly thinks that the public is stupid, and to be honest, the way many people vote supports that.  In the case of Obamacare, the only people who actually voted it for it were legislators, and since not one "stupid" party member voted for it, that means the stupid voters were ... 
Gruber's honesty doesn't bother me, it's the utter and complete dishonesty of the politicians who hired him: Obama and his staff.  Gruber's just a hired gun doing what he was hired to do.  Nobody is ever going to be shocked to hear that politicians lie, right?  That implies that the outrage flowing around now is just for show; the usual, "it's alright if our people _______, it's unforgivable if their people do the exact same thing."  I don't approve of any politicians lying and the absolute worst case is the "we had to lie to pass it because we know what's best for you better than you do".  After all, they're the philosopher kings that are our betters in every way.
Just like, people… lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically — you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever — but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass. And you know, it’s the second best argument. Look, I wish Mark was right, we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.  - Jonathon Gruber, Ph. D. [Bold added - SiG]
Dishonesty is required of liberal politicians.  As Rich Lowry of National Review Online put it:
Complexity is a staple of liberal policy making. It is a product of its scale and reach, but also of the imperative to hide the ball. Taxing and spending and redistributive schemes tend to be unpopular, so clever ways have to be found to deny that they are happening. This is what Gruber was getting at. One reason Obamacare was so convoluted is that its supporters didn’t want to straightforwardly admit how much the law was raising taxes and using the young and healthy to subsidize everyone else.
Gruber, though, is the gift that keeps on giving.  His latest gaffe is to honestly say that he believes in eugenics as Margaret Sanger did.  Much as Sanger wanted to eliminate inferior races, he believes that abortion is a public good because it eliminates "marginal children".  The economic link in the book Freakonomics that seemed the most tenuous to me was the assertion that abortion was responsible for a decrease in crime in the '90s.  It seems that Gruber is the originator of that idea and it was just picked up by Steven Levitt, one of the authors of Freakonomics

CNS News reports that apparently Gruber only doesn't like American minority babies, because of a strong link tying Gruber to the current effort to provide ACA health benefits to illegal immigrants.  If you're an American minority baby, off to the suction machine with you, but if you're from Central America, come right in! 

There is the American academic liberal left in all its glory.  Lie to your face to get social engineering bills passed.  Kill off American babies from undesirable backgrounds.  Invite matching populations from other countries in.  Gruber isn't the problem.  He's the rare idiot who will tell you that he lied to you.  The problem is the people who hire him to lie.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Engineered and Printed Liver Tissue Becomes a Commercial Product

In a headline that sounds like the science fiction of 10 years ago, it was reported last week that biotech company Organovo has started selling 3D printed liver tissue.  They are the first company known to be commercially selling 3D printed tissues.
SAN DIEGO, Nov. 18, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Organovo Holdings, Inc. (NYSE MKT: ONVO) ("Organovo"), a three-dimensional biology company focused on delivering breakthrough 3D bioprinting technology, today announced the full commercial release of the exVive3DTM Human Liver Tissue for preclinical drug discovery testing.  Initially, clients will be able to access the technology through Organovo's contract research services program. This model is intended to provide human-specific data to aid in the prediction of liver tissue toxicity or ADME outcomes (note: absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion - SiG) in later stage preclinical drug discovery programs.

“The liver tissue is constructed from three human liver cell types; hepatocytes, hepatic stellate, and endothelial cells in an organized structure with the cell density and tight junctions of that found in native tissue. Our tissue is designed to replicate the composition and architecture of human liver tissue using these major cell types.”
This is an interesting landmark in the advancement of tissue engineering.  The product itself is a 3D structure of liver tissue, intended for drug testing and other testing uses outside the body, such as for chemical toxicity.  Historically, testing like this is referred to as "in vitro", or in glass testing, named for the glass labware tissue cultures were grown in; contrasted with "in vivo",  or in a living organism.  Rather than test in a way that can harm someone (which is unethical), or extrapolate from a monocellular layer in a Petri dish, this is a liver that is going to give more direct answers with no ethical issues. 
The image above shows bioprinted human liver with CD31+ microvessels (green) forming within the tissue.
Years ago, a surgeon explained to me that liver tissue wasn't very highly structured inside, and that a liver transplant can be done by taking a portion of one person's liver and implanting it in the recipient.  If the vascularization takes place, the portion of liver can grow and take over the rest of available space.  In contrast, something like a kidney is considerably more complex with distinct layers and structures with different functions.  Organovo is aiming at the more complex organs.  While this is a 3D printed tissue, don't make the mistake of thinking that this is anything but a real human liver, "architecturally correct", as they call it.  In this photo, they show the common structure of (left to right) liver, blood vessel, and breast.
While this is intended for testing toxicity, I have to think the Holy Grail here is to print histologically compatible, real human tissue for transplantation.  The Liver Foundation says that over 1500 people die every year while waiting for a transplant; around 200,000 heart bypass surgeries are done every year, a market for commercially produced blood vessels; and approximately 100,000 breast reconstructions are done every year after removal due to cancer.   All of these are candidates for a 3D printed replacement.  I couldn't begin to guess how far out in the future that application might be.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Yeah. It's Kinda Like This

SNL (who seem to be off to a good start this season) roasts the Star Wars Trailer to a crisp.  Go watch.

I especially like Luke's use of the Force.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Taking The Environmentalists and Greenies At Their Word

Watts Up With That posts a "Friday Funny: Over a Century’s Worth of Failed Eco-Climate Quotes and Disinformation".  The article contains all the usual bloopers that many have read, alternating regularly back and forth, between thermageddon and ice age, since the earliest quote in 1922 about warming:
The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot…. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers, he declared, all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone… Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared. Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts, which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds. -Washington Post 11/2/1922
Barely 10 months later, the Chicago Tribune was warning of a coming Ice Age:
Scientist says Arctic ice will wipe out Canada, Professor Gregory of Yale University stated that “another world ice-epoch is due.” He was the American representative to the Pan-Pacific Science Congress and warned that North America would disappear as far south as the Great Lakes, and huge parts of Asia and Europe would be “wiped out.” –Chicago Tribune August 9, 1923
And so it goes, predictions of fire and ice, until today.  Before that, though, Anthony lists some quotes from the stalwarts of the environmental movement.  You can see much of their true agenda in these.  I believe I've printed all of these before. 
Now, lets look into the motivational background of a few typical players in the green climate movement.

On their love for the human race:

Paul Ehrlich, professor, Stanford University: “A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells; the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people. We must shift our efforts from the treatment of the symptoms to the cutting out of the cancer.” John Holdren, now President Obama’s science czar made this statement before taking on that role: “There exists ample authority under which population growth could be regulated…It has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.”

Ted Turner, billionaire, founder of CNN and major UN donor: “A total population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal.”

David Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!: “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.”

David Brower, a founder of the Sierra Club: “Childbearing should be a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license. All potential parents should be required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing.”
As I've noted before, the guy who wants to kill of 95% of humanity, Ted Turner, is the moderate in this discussion!
Thoughts on cheap power
Cheap power is the ultimate lever for multiplying human effort and productivity. The end of worldwide slavery can be directly tied to the advent of steam power, and the availability of cheap electrical power was a key enabler for the creation of a large middle class and the advancement of women’s rights, among many other profoundly positive sociological changes. What do key green players think about cheap power?

Paul Ehrlich, professor, Stanford University: “Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

Jeremy Rifkin, Greenhouse Crisis Foundation: “The prospect of cheap fusion energy is the worst thing that could happen to the planet.”

“Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Coal powered plants, you know, natural gas, you name it, whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers.”

-Of course, that last quote was from Presidential candidate Barack Obama, January 2008.  The guy in the White House has essentially nothing in common with that candidate.  
The human brain is fantastic at finding patterns and correlations - even where none exist.  Do you know a sports fan, perhaps, who always wears the same shirt for a game?  A racer who always goes through the same ritual before every race?   This superstition, that a shirt he's wearing will influence a game hundreds of miles away, is the same thinking that influences these predictions.  Sure they're phrased in words of science, but they're all based on the same thinking primitive tribes go through; the volcano is angry or happy, it must be something we did.  Then they go off and find, or manufacture, some "science" to back it up.   Certainly with the vagaries of weather there's bound to be a few years with an upward trend in temperature or a few years with a downward trend.  The primitives declare it to be "our fault" and we must do something to change to avert the runaway warming or the impending ice age.  The malicious manipulators create models that demonstrate it's our fault and we must give them our money, or sacrifice our lifestyle, or in the really extreme cases of Rifkin, Turner, Foreman, Brower, Ehrlich, and Holdren, we must give our very lives to appease the daemon.  It's like sacrificing a virgin to the volcano. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Inside the FDA

Secret illustration drawn from a photo of an office at the Food and Drug Administration

Not really.  The work of B. Kliban, a cartoonist who sometimes created funny material, and who died way too young (55).  His catalog of cartoons, both his regular work and his cat cartoons, appears on  Obviously, the collection isn't expanding, although with an almost 30 year career, there's a lot of material.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Orion and Beyond

I find that I have an attitude that seems odd compared to many folks I run across.  It's rather common to hear people talk about wishing they were young again.  I wouldn't want to go back to college age, or farther (shudder).  I don't even particularly want to go back to the best years of young adulthood, when we were established and even starting to get ahead.  I'm pretty OK where I am.  If I had H.G. Wells Time Machine, though, I'd push that lever forward, not backward. 

But there are disadvantages to being an old guy, one of which is the possibility of not being around to see this come to fruition.
A friend of a friend took time off from work to witness today's test flight of the new Orion capsule.  As a bonus, the capsule was mounted on a Delta IV Heavy, the most powerful rocket in the US these days, and those are always cool to watch.  The launch time of 7:05 was right around the time I leave for work, but I was planning on going in a little later and watching it. As the count resumed at 7:01, we heard rain starting to hit the roof.  While it was clear at the KSC, it was raining here and we didn't try going out to look.

Orion is the first component to fly in the Space Launch System, the SLS, that ultimately is planned to take a crew to Mars.  There's a sequence of launch vehicles being planned; the smaller one of which has more liftoff thrust and payload than a Saturn V.
The smaller vehicle will be used for missions closer to Earth than a few million miles.  Not just moon missions, but LaGrange point missions.  The larger vehicle is intended for Mars trips.  The smaller vehicle is well into conceptual design and modeling.  It uses upgraded shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters, and the liquid fueled main engines from the shuttle for its core. 

When?  Well, the advertised times have the 70 Metric Ton launch vehicle flying by 2021 and the 130 Metric Ton vehicle by the 2030s.  Needless to say, those are subject to slipping out, especially as the US financial situations worsens (as it seems it eventually must).  Of course, if there's a total collapse, all of this is moot. 

I've written before about my sense of loss at seeing the US lose manned access to space.  The country that put men on the moon now has to buy access from the Russians, who are flying a ship first designed at the dawn of the space age.  In one of his videos, Bill Whittle points out the frightening fact that no one born after 1935 has ever walked on the moon.  Not before 1935, after.  They are all old men, and are leaving us.  In a few years, I expect dear granddaughter to ask me something like, "Grandpa, is it true men went to the moon when you were a boy?"  And that will break my heart.

I've also written about the bigger picture of whether or not NASA should be doing space flight at all:
Should NASA be involved in this sort of program?  Frankly, I don't know.  I believe a project like the International Space Station isn't something NASA should be doing: it's too routine, too commercial.  The truth of the ISS appears to be NASA needed a mission for its shuttle, and the ISS is a natural fit.  NASA should be leading edge; developing new technologies, like hypersonic transports, cheaper ways to orbit, Warp engines and things with long payback periods, things that companies probably would not invest in.  NASA is now institutionally risk-averse.  They've gone from "The Right Stuff" to arthritic bureaucracy, but that's natural for a government organization that's hung out to dry when something goes wrong (see Hubble Space Telescope, Challenger, Columbia...).  There may not be a commercial reason to go to Mars, so NASA should do that.  There are certainly commercial and scientific reasons to go to the moon and set up a permanent base for many things: science research (the far side of the moon is an ideal place for giant telescopes, radio and optical) and mining (Helium 3 can be mined on the moon and may be the next great fuel). This seems like a place for an industry/NASA team to figure out how to do such things.  
Of course, we never get to know the future.  Anyone of us could die tonight.  If the SLS and Orion proceed as planned, I'll be in my 80s when we get to Mars.  Maybe well into my 80s.  Sure would like to see it, though.