Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Deep Space and Ham Radio

On August 5, 2011, NASA launched the Juno mission to Jupiter.  The spacecraft is following a low energy trajectory; it was initially launched into an orbit that won't allow it to escape and go to Jupiter.  It had to do an Earth flyby so that it could be given a bit more speed, a gravitational slingshot, which it accomplished on October 9, 2013.  The maneuver allowed the satellite to pick up an additional 8,800 MPH and set it on path to a July 4, 2016 arrival at Jupiter.
Juno’s launch vehicle was capable of giving the spacecraft only enough energy to reach the asteroid belt, at which point the sun’s gravity pulled it back toward the inner solar system. Mission planners designed the swing by Earth as a gravity assist to increase the spacecraft’s speed relative to the sun, so that it could reach Jupiter. (The spacecraft’s speed relative to Earth before and after the flyby is unchanged.)
Juno is carrying a radio receiver called the Waves receiver; the receiver tunes more than the entire HF (shortwave) radio spectrum; from 3 to 40 MHz for monitoring natural radio emissions from the giant planet.  The lead engineer on the project, Don Kirchner, had an idea for an interesting way to test that receiver.  Don is a radio amateur - a ham, KD0L, and immediately realized that the receiver tunes across all the HF amateur bands, but that one of them offered good conditions for a test of the receiver.  If he could only get hams all around the world to send very slow, synchronized Morse code to the satellite in the 10 meter (28-29.6 MHz) band.

Here's the story:
Techy details here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Digital Design Primer - part I

At work, I think people would tell you that if you're learning digital design from me, you're asking the wrong person.  I stopped doing most of the digital design tasks that come up years ago.  I interface circuits, connect things up, and help architect the analog/digital dividing line in our products, but what a friend once called "gate-slinging" is not my field. 

But back up a minute.  What am I talking about?  I spoke about analog and digital electronics in my "Least You Should Know" series a couple of years ago.  Briefly, analog systems deal with continuously, smoothing changing voltages or currents.  Digital systems deal with discrete levels; the logical "yes or no", "high or low", or "one or zero" you've heard of.  The exact voltages depend on the type of circuit and what it's built of: early logic (Transistor Transistor Logic, TTL) ran off of 5V and ground (anything below about 0.8 volt was low enough to be considered ground).  Some types of circuits ran on 15V.  As circuits have become more dense and more sophisticated with time, the voltages have lowered to where current processors have cores running at 1.8V or even lower.  That actually isn't very important to this discussion about the generalities of digital logic. 

Logic circuits are called that because they obey the laws of symbolic logic codified into Boolean Algebra. The individual elements of a logic circuit are called gates and there's a limited number of possible Boolean operations.  While the vast majority of parts sold as gates have only two inputs, most of them are available with more inputs.  A signal can be Inverted; that is, high turned to low or low to high and an inverter is the most basic gate (these, by the way, are only available as single input/single output parts).  Two signals can be combined in a logical OR, where the output is high if one of the inputs is high, or they can be combined in a logical AND, where the output is high only if both of the inputs are high.  Beginners are frequently confused that the output of an OR is high when both inputs are high, but think of the output as answering the question "is one of the inputs high?", and you'll realize that when both of the inputs are high, the answer is yes, one is high.  There is a logic function that is only true when one of the inputs is true and not for the AND condition, called an Exclusive OR or XOR.  All of these can be made with the output inverted, forming NOR (Not-OR), NAND (Not-AND) and XNOR (Exclusive Not Or).  A NAND gate, for example will have its output low only when both of the inputs are high (HIGH and HIGH is true; the NOT makes it low).   

These gates can be combined into one of the most fundamental building blocks of digital electronics, the flip-flop.  Flip-flops in turn combine into registers, also essential building blocks. 

You might find it interesting that gates existed conceptually long before electronics existed - as did Boolean Algebra; they're not an invention from the 1970s or even 1940s.  In 1881, for example, Charles Sanders Pierce determined that all functions of logic could be implemented in NOR or NAND gates, making these two the "universal gates".  George Boole introduced his mathematics of symbolic logic in 1854. 

Logic circuits made from discrete gates (usually packaged a few to the integrated circuit "chip") are called Small Scale Integration, and are rarely seen today.  Yes, single and low counts of gates are still sold, but they are not used much in industry.  Sometimes they need to be used, though, and it's not uncommon to have several SSI parts in a board full of more highly integrated parts to shift logic levels between, say, circuits that run on 3.3V and others on 1.8V or do other miscellaneous functions.  This is usually referred to as "glue logic".   In the old days, processor boards looked like this:
(from a project log of someone building a DIY computer using 1970s logic)

Some readers will find this overwhelming; some will say, "so what?" and some will wonder where this is going.  Next, we'll look at more modern digital design.  While I might have needed shift registers, gates and switches to generate SPI bus programming for an RF circuit in the 1980s, today I'd probably reach for a microcontroller and write software to do the job, if it was for a low number of pieces used around the lab or something.  If I was going to want to produce a minimum cost device for production, I'd reach for tools to create a custom logic part.   That's where we're going.
EDIT 4/30 2038 EDT : minor typo correction

Something A Little Unusual

I recently found out that one of my favorite standup comics, John Pinette, passed away a couple of weeks ago.  John turned 50 about two weeks before dying. 

This is the first part of six part series that is one John's finest, "I Say Nay Nay".  An hour of comedy.  Not sure, but I don't think there's a single obscene or rude line in the whole hour. 
I could go for paragraphs here about John, but I won't.  Comedy doesn't lend itself to that.  Most of the professionals on the comedy circuit are funny, and have enough good lines to make a show.  Some are so good you hurt from laughing.  An even smaller number just about make you wet yourself.  John was one of those.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Nation With Honor is An Admirable Place

Regrettably not this country. 

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won resigned yesterday, accepting responsibility for the ferry disaster that left nearly 200 people dead. 
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won explained his decision on national television. He apologized "on behalf of the government for the many problems that arose during the first response and the subsequent rescue operation," in addition to "problems that existed before the accident."

"During the search process, the government took inadequate measures and disappointed the public," Chung said. "I should take responsibility for everything as the prime minister, but the government can assume no more. So I will resign as prime minister."
An honorable man.  Compare that response to US response to Benghazi, where far fewer people died, due to incompetent government action.  No one has had so much as a demerit put in the personnel file, certainly no one has been fired, and no minister (cough, secretary of State) has even considered resigning. 

The Citizens' Commission on Benghazi, a group of retired intelligence professionals and retired military, issued an interim report on the terrorist attack last Thursday.   The attack on our "safe house" in Benghazi resulted in the mutilation and murder of Ambassador Stevens along with the deaths of three others, technician Sean Smith and former Seals (/CIA operatives) Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Probably the best summary is that the Libyan war in 2012 marks the point when Washington DC switched sides in the war on terrorism.   "America blundered itself into a war of choice by allying with al-Qaeda.
This is our upside-down world. A bipartisan code of silence has been struck between John Boehner and Barack Obama. Thousands of guns and weapons were handed over to the enemy, and now we are supposed to feign surprise and shock that the September 11th, 2012 attacks in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other brave Americans were killed. It’s still unclear who knew what, when. But where are the voices calling for a permanent select committee with subpoena power to bring Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, John Brennan and the administration’s top intelligence and diplomatic officials to account.
I hate to say it, but "I told you so" ... "I told you so" ... ah, forget it.  A lot of good it does.

Picking back up, as that Townhall piece by Scottie Hughes says, think of this as Fast and Furious, Libyan Edition.
Surely one would think that if we agreed on anything, it would be that in the post 9/11 world al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates are our nation’s enemies. But apparently not. Whether out of indifference or malice, the United States sided with al-Qaeda in Libya. It’s as if the ATF set up a branch in Benghazi and started funneling guns to the enemy, much as they did with drug cartels along the Mexican border.
Gee, funneling guns to al Qaeda, as we're currently doing in Syria.  (Did we send al Qaeda in Libya TOW missiles like we're sending the Syrian rebels)?  What could possibly go wrong?  Don't answer that.

Ready for the really nauseating part?  None of it had to happen.  The whole stinking thing was unnecessary.
Muammar Gaddafi had offered to abdicate peacefully and turn over power, thus avoiding bloodshed and war.

A former admiral, Chuck Kubic was working those negotiations between the U.S. and Libyan military chains of command before he was told to step aside by Washington. Gaddafi wanted only two conditions to step down: permission to keep fighting al-Qaeda and the removal of sanctions against him. The Obama administration was uninterested in peace. They turned down the offer to broker a peaceful exit for the Libyan strongman. And thus months of bloodshed, culminating in the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Read of the Day

I'm indebted to Robb at Sharp as a Marble for setting me on the path to the read for the day.  Robb's piece was "Why I Love Capitalism", and includes a great pull quote from Protein Wisdom's "How to respond to Thomas Piketty’s inequality alarmism, revisited".  The subject is, of course, the leftists' current fascination with income inequality and its poorly-concealed core belief that all income should properly be given to the Glorious Motherland to distribute equally.  Once they take their cut off the top, of course.  The article quotes at length from a great piece by Kevin Williamson at National Review Online, "Welcome to the Paradise of the Real". 

As I usually do, let me drop a pull quote or two - different from Robb's - to whet your appetite to go and read the whole thing.
Measured by money, things look relatively grim for the American middle class and the poor. Men’s inflation-adjusted average wages peaked in 1973, and inflation-adjusted household incomes for much of the middle class have shown little or no growth in some time. The incomes of those at the top of the distribution (which is not composed of a stable group of individuals, political rhetoric notwithstanding) continue to pull away from those in the middle and those at the bottom. The difference between a CEO’s compensation and the average worker’s compensation continues to grow.

But much of that is written into the code. If, for example, you measure inequality by comparing the number of dollars it takes to land at a certain income percentile, with a hard floor on the low end (that being $0.00 per year in wages) but no ceiling on the top end, and if you have growth in the economy, then it is a mathematical inevitability that incomes at the top will continue to pull away from incomes at the bottom, for the same reason that any point on the surface of a balloon will get farther and farther away from the imaginary fixed point at its center as the balloon is inflated. This will be the case whether you have the public policies of Singapore or Sweden, and indeed it is the case in both Singapore and Sweden.

Purely symbolic systems are easy to manipulate, which is why any two economists can take the same set of well-documented economic data and derive from it diametrically opposed conclusions.
Williamson starts his piece with a wonderful parable involving second graders trading SweeTarts for Gummie Worms and their socialist teacher.  If you have time to read those few paragraphs, it's worth it as well.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I Haz A Stale

Seems to be a lot of it going around.  Not so much writer's block, more like tired of writing about the same damned problems all the time. 

For example, I've written on the green alternate energy dreams many times.  But you don't say it better than this.  Even if he does "toots" instead of "farts". 

Nate Beeler at

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Earth Day

As fitting the environmental movement, my tribute to Earth Day is both late and recycled.  The only way it could fit the environmental movement better would be if everything I said was factually wrong.  No can do.  It wouldn't be me.  Herewith a "best of" from my previous Earth Day ramblings.

Earth Day, as most of you know, is a holiday made up in the late 1960s at the start of the national environmental movement.  Ira Einhorn is one of the main founders of Earth Day, if not the guy who started it.  Ira practiced what he preached: he murdered his girlfriend (less stress on the planet) and composted her body in his closet.  (Hey - reduce, re-use, recycle!)
You won't find Ira Einhorn's name listed in any of the Earth Day promotional literature, as the organizers have taken great pains to distance themselves from this man, at least since he became better known for composting his girlfriend in a trunk in his closet for a couple of years in the late 1970s.
I was a science geek in high school in 1970, the first Earth Day, and indoctrinated into the liberal crap of the day.  Who can forget the commercial with the crying Indian ("Iron Eyes Cody", who - BTW - was Italian, not Native American) looking at the spoiled earth.  Caught up in the spirit of the day, we went looking for pollution, and tested a local canal for coliform bacteria.  

The movement led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, probably the best example of an agency that has outlived its usefulness.

I suppose the ethos of modern America requires that I say I want a clean environment as much as anybody.  Long before 1970 and ever since, I've been a fisherman, hiker, camper, cyclist, runner, biathlete (I'm a really crappy swimmer...) and outdoor photographer.  I want a clean, healthy environment.  Nobody wants dirty air or water, nobody wants pollution, nobody wants to make themselves or their children or anybody else or anybody else's children sick.  Can we get away from those useless stereotypes and be grown ups from now on?

That said, 95% of being environmentally responsible is cleaning up after yourself.  Most of the rest of that last 5% is recognizing "there is no such place as 'away' where you throw things".  All you do is relocate your problem from right under your nose to somewhere else. 

I don't think there's anyone alive who remembers the 1960s that doesn't think we're better off today than we were then.  The laws removing lead from gasoline and paint removed tons of the metal from the environment.  Removal of combustion products of Nitrogen from vehicle exhaust, reduction of sulfur emissions at power plants, and mandating catalytic converters to remove heavier combustion products are all big steps.

..... (rather than repost the whole thing, here's a short version of the part on using Vilfred Pareto's law to methodically find and reduce or eliminate sources of pollution.  Chart your problems, smallest to largest.  Go after the 20% of the sources that cause 80% of the problems until you knock them down to minor contributors.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Typically, you're done after five cycles.)

The EPA is there.  I would argue that when the things on their list to clean up are small engines that are rarely used like lawnmowers, or personal boats, the pollution problem is essentially solved.  While I know a lawnmower can produce some visible exhaust, the vast majority of lawnmowers run  very infrequently compared to cars and buses running five days a week or more.  The total amount of pollution they contribute is a tiny fraction of what we started out cleaning up.

The EPA proudly lists a lot of its accomplishments.  There's a lot of items in that list that are more "hall of shame" than "hall of fame".  Take the CFC bans they brag about.  This science has all but fallen apart in the years since the ban, sure evidence that they jumped onto a bandwagon rather than waiting for good science (I love the conclusion to that Science paper, "we don't know what we're talking about and none of our theories work, but don't doubt the conclusions that CFCs are to blame!" - yeah and frogs with no legs are deaf, too)  It has been suggested that the whole CFC ban and Montreal Protocol was expert manipulation of the governments by Dupont Chemical, because their patents on Freon 12 were going to expire and they invented a way to get the world to come to them for the solution, R134!  Does that give you much confidence the EPA regulating carbon dioxide is anything other than a handout to some groups or some people that are going to profit wildly from carbon restrictions? 

DDT?  How many people have been killed by the absence of this cheap, effective malaria preventive (by killing the mosquito vectors)?  One source (below) suggests over 50 million people have been killed by banning DDT. 
"[Any known alternative to DDT] only kills farm workers, and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes. So what? People are the cause of all the problems. We have too many of them. We need to get rid of some of them and this is as good a way as any," said Dr. Charles Wurster, chairman of the Environmental Defense Fund's Scientific Advisory Council and a key promoter of the DDT ban.
I have to tell you that those people feel differently, Dr. Wurster.  Perhaps you and your fellow travelers will do the planet the favor of offing yourself first?  

But go back to that EPA accomplishments page.  They say:
EPA bans use of DDT because the widely-used pesticide is found to be cancer-causing and accumulating in the food chain...
Contrast that with (source):
"The scientific literature does not contain even one peer-reviewed, independently replicated study linking DDT exposures to any adverse health outcome [in humans]," said Dr. Amir Attaran, who is with Harvard University's Center for International Development and is a former WHO expert on malaria who used to support the environmentalists' call for using alternatives to DDT. Attaran changed sides on the DDT debate after he witnessed what happened when South Africa. After intense U.N. and environmentalist pressure, South Africa stopped using DDT and switched to the U.N. Environmental Program's alternative pesticides as a way to control malaria. But the mosquitoes quickly developed resistance to the new pesticides and malaria rates increased 1,000 percent.... (Bold added - SiG)
Not afraid to put his mouth where his moxie was, Edwards took to swallowing a tablespoon of DDT on stage before every lecture on the subject. In September 1971, Esquire magazine pictured Edwards doing just that. The accompanying text explained that Edwards had "eaten 200 times the normal human intake of DDT." He did not even consider this gesture risky. In the one year of 1959, for instance, unprotected workmen had applied 60,000 tons of DDT to the inside walls of 100 million houses. Neither the 130,000 workmen or the 535 million people living in the sprayed houses had experienced any adverse effects. (emphasis added - SiG)
These two examples, gathered in a couple of hours of thought and searching, tell me the EPA is a political body that gets the occasional thing right, but has outlived its usefulness.  Perhaps there's some use for a skeleton crew to administer a few things, but No. New. Regulations. Not. One.  Shutter the windows and bar the doors.  Mr. Speaker, if you're looking for an agency to zero out in the budget and save some money, look no further.
Remember, to really commemorate Earth Day, your lights should be visible from Proxima Centauri.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Techy Tuesday - A Couple of Advances

Most advancement in science and technology doesn't come in sudden, dramatic, "Eureka!" moments.  It comes in steady, incremental advances.  We didn't jump from 8086 based PCs to smart phones in one move, rather the steady application of "Moore's Law" (transistor density in digital circuits doubles every 18 months).  Two such stories grabbed my eye in the last few weeks.  Neither is strong enough to merit a column of its own, but as a shared "lookie here" piece, they're good.

First, researchers at the University of Washington have produced what they call the thinnest LEDs possible, in an effort to improve brightness and strength for flexible applications.  LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are used in millions of applications, from simple indicator lights on power sources to light bulb replacement, to the LED monitors that many of us are using to read this.  UW researchers produced a compound of the metal Tungsten and Selenium, Tungsten DiSelenide, in films a mere three atoms thick.  Researcher Jason Ross remarked:
"These are 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, yet the light they emit can be seen by standard measurement equipment," Ross said. "This is a huge leap of miniaturization of technology, and because it's a semiconductor, you can do almost everything with it that is possible with existing, three-dimensional silicon technologies."
How do you handle films that are only three atoms thick?  Would you believe... masking tape?
Researchers use regular adhesive tape to extract a single sheet of this material from thick, layered pieces in a method inspired by the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to the University of Manchester for isolating one-atom-thick flakes of carbon, called graphene, from a piece of graphite. 
The other story that caught my eye was a new record in solar cell efficiency has been claimed by Panasonic, 25.6%.   This is the first cell to break the 25% barrier for a "practical size" solar cell. 

Practically, this means that solar panels can get smaller for a given number of watts or produce more power for a given area.  Since the amount of energy reaching the earth's surface is considered a constant, it allows the designer to figure out how much area panels will take up.  The "solar constant" is 1200 W/sq yd., and this efficiency says you'll get better than 1/4 of that or 300 W/sq yd. out of panels.  Need 10kW?  10,000/300 is 33.333 sq. yd.s or 300 square feet.  In my series on building a solar panel, I assumed 16% efficiency based on data available.  That efficiency yields a panel that would be 469 sq. ft., 56% bigger.   

I don't know what the theoretical limit is for the efficiency of these cells, but in my view the big deal here is getting down costs by coming up with better ways to make the cells.  As it is, solar panels are a good trade for building in remote locations where the grid hasn't reached.  They're expensive, but so is bringing in power lines over many miles.  If there's any technology that is potentially more disruptive than every house being independent of the grid, I'm not sure what it is. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me

With apologies to the singer Rockwell who sang that refrain in an '80s chart topper...(what I always referred to as "The Cocaine-Induced Paranoia Song")

While everybody is justifiably talking about the NSA monitoring programs, maybe it doesn't occur to you that imaging satellites are big business.  Google Earth anyone?  A lot of those images, especially the really high resolution ones, are taken by hiring small planes to survey areas, but many are taken by satellites. Currently, the US limits satellite images sold to private consumers to half meter resolution.  Companies like DigitalGlobe provide images at this scale for sale to private customers.  They're also rumored to have higher resolutions that are only sold to the US government. 

Another change slipped by without notice last week: DNI Clapper (Director of National Intelligence) recommended that the limit be reduced to half that - quarter meter resolution.  The idea is to make US companies more competitive in the global satellite imagery business.  DigitalGlobe doesn't compete with the NRO, they compete with French, Chinese, and other companies - just listen to the news chatter about the missing MH370 and the constant refrain of "French Satellites images show"... When the half meter, 50 cm, resolution limit was imposed, it was considered a dream goal; that the commercial budgets would never get there.  Today, there is a privately owned platform that achieves 41 cm resolution, and DigitalGlobe is said to be preparing to launch a satellite that will get them to 31 cm resolution. 
DigitalGlobe’s newest satellite, WorldView 3, is scheduled to launch this August. The new satellite will fly at an altitude of 617 km, and provides 31 centimeter panchromatic resolution, 1.24 meter multispectral resolution, and 3.7 meter short-wave infrared resolution. That lower, official, resolution is why DigitalGlobe wants the White House to move as quickly as possible.
It's worth spending a moment on just what this means.  The limit they're talking about is cm is over 9 3/4 inches, and that means two adjacent objects must be that far apart to be resolved as different.  "Resolved" has a rather specific meaning in optics and in this case it doesn't mean you could read, say, 10" tall numbers, or see a 10" long object that wasn't also 10" inches wide.  A 10 x 10" black number on a white background would show a single dark pixel with lighter ones around it.  If you had a 20" AR, for example, on a bench that was three or four feet long and wide, at best it would simply show two pixels as being slightly darker than an adjacent one.  My gut feel is it wouldn't be visible, though, because the 10" applies to length and width.  A 10" long black rod on a white background wouldn't show up.  While a carbine length AR is longer than that new satellite resolution, I still don't think it shows up because it's too skinny.  All your life, you've probably heard "they can read license plates from space".  This doesn't get you there.  You need about 1" resolution for that. 

A friend who saw this story said, "just look up and wave".  A satellite with 25 cm resolution might know there's something there, but wouldn't be able to tell it's a person and wouldn't know you were waving.  That's still some years in the future.
DigitalGlobe's new WorldView3 satellite.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Have a happy and blessed day with your families!  Our (more or less) traditional pork butt is in the smoker and is an hour or so away from the temperature where I'll let it sit six hours.  The differences between a pork butt and the more traditional Easter ham are barely worth mentioning.  If you're interested in longer perspectives on the day, I've written them before here.

Say a prayer for Brigid if you're so inclined.  It has been a rough few months for her and she's One of the Good People (no, we've never met; you can learn that from her writing).

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Goings On

I'm still here.  Everything is cool.  It's just that Mrs. Graybeard and I have a major house project going and things ended up taking more time than usual.  Compound that with the fact that we're both moving a bit more slowly due to the nasty cold and lingering cough (I'm at 4 weeks today, and still can't go without my standby drugs: an asthma inhaler and ibuprofen) and the time it takes to do everyday things stretches out.

Part of our work involved getting some work done on our roof; figuring since the shingles are 19 years old, it would be a good idea to just replace everything.  They didn't finish before the rain.  So the contractor will buying us some new ceiling in the garage.  Meanwhile, lots of stuff had to be cleaned up and dried, and some rags and car washing towels thrown in the washing machine. 

I also spent a lot of time doing 3D modeling of how to move some furniture and stuff around.  You can get lost doing that...

As long as I'm doing a "me me me" post, last month I completed my second guitar course and since it's a much shorter class than the first (6 DVDs vs 20), it just took me a few months.  As with all classes, I'm never as good as I want to be when I'm done, but I know I've made continuous progress and things I couldn't do before are closer to routine.  
Without clear direction of the "go practice lesson 6" variety, I'm floundering around a bit.  I haz a lost.  There's a saying that "the amateur practices until he gets it right; the expert practices until he can't get it wrong".  I find too much of the same thing gets too boring, and I need to mix it up.  Which reminds me of an interview I saw with Joe Walsh as he went on tour for his most recent solo album "Analog Man".   The interviewers couldn't resist talking about Joe's work with the Eagles and other work.  At some point, the Info Babe said something about how not knowing anyone who doesn't love Hotel California, to which Joe replied, "I can tell you the band's a little sick of it".  It's like that, and I can't imagine playing the same song 40 years.  Come to think of it, I also remember Joe talking about another song of his, "Rocky Mountain Way", saying, "if I knew I was going to be playing this for 40 years, I would have written it better". 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More Tales From the Over Regulated State - A Series

Wherein tonight's episode may be called, "Beef prices at a 20 year high?  We haven't even started, yet".

Thanks to catching a few minutes of Mark Steyn sitting in for Rush today, I became aware of a ruling from the FDA that is going to affect beef prices.  Most people haven't thought of it, with the possible exception of folks who have brewed their own beer or wine, but commercial breweries have a big problem with the fermented grain they produce as a byproduct.  They also treat the grain a bit differently than home brewers.  After the most intense period of the fermentation cycle, the major breweries take the beer off the grain and sell the result to cattle farmers as feed, while the home brewer leaves the grain in to ferment out all of the sugars.  Selling the mostly-fermented grain ends up being good for the breweries, good for the farmers and good for "the environment".  The breweries make some money from the mash, instead of paying to landfill, compost or otherwise recycle it; the environment doesn't get industrial quantities of this waste, and the farmers get high quality feed for their cattle.
Farmers have been procuring and feeding their livestock spent brewing grains and grapes for centuries.  These livestock “happy hour” arrangements advance environmental sustainability, engender bonds among local businesses, and financially benefit both parties.  Farmers get low cost whole grain feed packed with fiber, protein, and, of particular importance to livestock in arid climates, moisture.  Alcohol makers save millions by not having to landfill the by-products.
On average, one gallon of beer will yield about a pound of spent grain. One gallon of bourbon yields more than nine pounds.
Brewers and distillers have tons of wet grain left over from making alcohol, and cows just happen to love it. 
The change is that the FDA decided that when a brewery soaks the grain (or grapes) for a short period of time, and sells the residue, they have become food producers and fall under FDA regulations for that.  The new regulations and record keeping the FDA seeks to impose is going to increase the cost of this feed.  I haven't seen it being referred to as becoming cost prohibitive, but any increase ends up in the cost of beef from these cows.

The problem is that the FDA is regulated by a duly passed law called the Food Safety Modernization Act, and FSMA section 116 specifically exempts activities at facilities which “relate to the manufacturing, processing, packing, or holding of alcoholic beverages” which this clearly is.  As one reviewer said, the FDA is rewriting the laws they're supposed to be bound by and striking that exception out of the FSMA.  (And not to pat myself on the back too much, but I warned against trouble from this law long before it was passed.)

There's a couple of possible explanations.  The first is the simplest: the government is expanding like a virulent cancer and the agency sees more ways to dominate industries.  The more rules they write, the more power they have.  Alternatively, as Forbes put it, they are the hammer and everything looks like a nail to them; in this case, they see something that isn't regulated to absurd levels, so they need to make sure it is.  They can't allow anything to happen that isn't regulated, right?  Again, as Forbes put it,
[The] FDA is overstepping its constitutional authority to impose unnecessary controls on a centuries-old, local, safe, and environmentally sustainable practice which financially benefits all parties involved. 
Let's see... proven, traditional technology; safe, environmentally better than alternatives; free market agreement that benefits everyone... how could a agency like something like that?  It needs to be destroyed.  Going to raise your food prices?  Go on food stamps like a good little comrade! 

Of course after a little too much of that Happy Hour grain mix...

Confidential to Michael Bloomberg

If you think you "earn your place in heaven", you're not going. 
“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed,” Bloomberg declared. “I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Good Read

The Feral Irishman linked to the post The Pig Trap on Taxicab Depressions that's really worth your time to read.  It's a bit long and rambling, even more so than my stuff, but has some good ideas in it.  You should read.  An excellent companion to that piece is Borepatch's shorter All Will be Well When the Government Votes in a New People, especially the second half.

The author presents two stories, the first about an early morning fare he had in his cab.  A security professional of some sort, with some extremely lucid remarks on Fast and Furious, the administration and what a new civil war would probably look like.  
These people are playing with matches… I don’t think they understand the scope and scale of the wildfire they are flirting with. They are fucking around with a civil war that could last a decade and cause millions of deaths… and the sad truth is that 95% of the problems we have in this country could be solved tomorrow, by noon… simply by dragging 100 people out in the street and shooting them in the fucking head.”
Chances are it won't be new ideas for most of you, but there's good stuff in there.  Go read.

What’s the difference between fascism, socialism and crony capitalism? In theory, a lot. In practice, nothing.

A Little Florida Stuff

Florida Carry is running a Thunderclap (whatever that is!) to show support for some pro-gun legislation making its way through the sausage-making process.  As I understand it, all I gotta do is embed this:

My usual ranting will follow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Printing, Growing, and Replacing Body Parts

A Dutch Woman received a 3D printed skull a few months ago and is now back to life as normal. The woman had a condition that causes bones to thicken, particularly in the skull. This had caused her skull to thicken to almost three times its normal thickness, which was putting pressure on her brain.
Led by brain surgeon Bon Verweij, MD,  the surgical team labored 23 hours in the operating room to replace the woman's skull with one made of acrylic. Her new skull was 3-D printed by an Australian company, Anatomics (St. Kilda, Victoria) that specializes in the custom 3-D printing of cranial and maxillofacial implants based on the patient's own CT and MRI image data. Verweij performed the operation with assistance from orthodontic surgeon Marvick Muradin, MD.
“The condition initially manifests itself in severe headaches,” Verweij explained in a hospital press release. “The thickening of the skull puts the brain under increasing pressure. Ultimately, she slowly lost her vision and started to suffer from motor coordination impairment. It was only a matter of time before other essential brain functions would have been impaired and she would have died. So intensive surgery was inevitable, but until now there was no effective treatment for such patients.”
Remarkable, but not exclusive.  In the UK, a British man with a rare bone cancer had part of his pelvis removed and replaced with a 3D printed synthetic.
The surgical team used a 3-D scanner to measure the exact amount of bone that needed to be  removed. In this case so much bone needed removing that nothing would have been left to which an implant could have been attached. The man’s leg would have been left unattached to his spine and “hanging,” and it would have been shorter than the other, the surgeon told the newspaper.
His surgery was three years ago.  UK newspapers report the man is able to walk with the aid of a stick.  Sure beats a walker - or being confined to a wheel chair or bed.  

Remarkable, but only the beginning.  There was a story about soft tissue being engineered and four teenage girls with a rare and otherwise unrepairable disease receiving lab-grown vaginas made of their own body tissue, between 2005 and 2008.  This success opens the door to other, more complex organs being grown and printed.  The heart has been targeted, although that may be skipping over lower levels of complexity. 

I've been a major advocate of, and believer in tissue engineering since first hearing of this years ago.  We are currently bringing thousands of young men and women home from battle with missing limbs.  Wouldn't it be fantastic to build them a replacement instead of a prosthetic?  What could be a better way to improve their lives? Think of people who have virtually every other part of their body removed during cancer treatment: liver, kidney, pancreas, intestines, skin, breast, and bones.  Think of the people who tear up a knee or elbow, or develop arthritis, or who lose pieces of ears, or nose to skin cancer.  Wouldn't it be a massive improvement to grow new cartilage and restore full functionality?  How can medicine talk about "quality of life" and not go down this research pathway?

Monday, April 14, 2014

QoTD - Bundy Ranch Edition

From Dana Loesch of the Blaze, as a guest on Megyn Kelly's show (H/T ENDO):
If these cattle were people and they were here illegally.. the department of justice would be running guns to them and the department of homeland security would be driving by with free government phones and EBT cards, but now that they’re cattle they are actually rounding them up and killing them.
Me, I've been pondering that can put hundreds of heavily armed BLM agents on the ground over a rent dispute, with drones high above, helicopters at mid-level, and snipers on the hills, but they can't get off their asses to do a frackin' thing while an ambassador gets raped, mutilated alive and murdered, and two years later there is no official responsibility for how he got hung out to be killed (as if we don't know who it was)  and nobody has had so much as a bad performance review, or a letter left in their personnel file. 

Count me among the folks thinking this is far from over.  I think this whole exercise has been the equivalent of driving a humvee through Falujah to draw fire and see where the insurgents are.  They did this to see what kind of response it gets, monitor communications capabilities among the militia, look at logistics issues, deployments, and the reconnaissance they could get on what sort of resistance to expect.  FWIW, Oathkeepers is reporting that various insiders tell them the BLM is planning a raid on the Bundy home. 
Not only is the BLM not actually backing off of Cliven Bundy, Sheriff Richard Mack of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association has revealed stunning information: on Ben Swann’s radio program, Mack said that he has received intelligence from multiple, credible sources inside the BLM and the Las Vegas Metro that there is “no question” that the federal government is planning a raid on the Bundy home and the homes of their children who live on the property.
As Sheriff Mack says in that interview, it's hard to imagine such a raid being accomplished without bloodshed.  
As Yogi Berra said, "it ain't over til it's over"... and this one ain't over.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Recyclable Paper Coffee Cups?

Let me apologize if I bust the bubble of anyone who thinks paper coffee cups can be or are being recycled.  That also applies to ice cream cups, or cartons, or pretty much any paper container used for liquids.  The only recyclable coffee cups are the porcelain, china or other non-disposable cups that you can wash.  The problem is that these cups and containers are coated in a layer of LDPE: low density polyethylene used for waterproofing, and that gums up the machines used for recycling.

But that might be changing.  According to Machine Design editor Leland Tesch, a company called Smartplanet Technologies has developed a coating called "mineralized resin" that doesn't gum up the recycling machines. 
Smartplanet Chief Technology Officer Chris Tilton told us when cups coated with the stuff go to a paper mill, the plastic contamination from the coating is small enough and dense enough to be filtered out of paper fibers. The point is to make the resulting coating go through the recycling process more like a mineral than like a plastic. But Smartplanet’s coating can be applied with existing equipment normally used for LDPE. The thermal properties of the minerals they add are such that coatings of their substance can go on at the same superhigh speeds as used for conventional LDPE.
But what if we could recycle the plastic cups?  Berry Plastics has developed a cup made out of No. 5 plastic polypropylene, a material which many facilities can already recycle. The material is a good insulator so it can replace disposable foam cups.  They've come up with proprietary methods of making coffee cups that take advantage of the insulating properties with a cellular structure, like foam.  The cup is so durable, it doesn't need to be recycled after one use.  If you had these at home, you could wash them in the dishwasher and reuse them.  More durable than the ubiquitous Solo cup, use it and wash it until it starts to look like it's losing integrity and then toss it in the recycling bin.
Hopefully, we can end up with products that don't cost cities $4000/ton to recycle but that they can only sell for $32/ton, as is the case today. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The 12th Root of Two

Chances are that if that number means anything to you, you're one of the geeky few who are interested in – or aware of – the intersection of music and mathematics.  Stand by for some observations.  Some of this is going to get weird, I'm sure. 

Music is as old as humanity.  Every society ever found has music, and although the scales may not be the same, there seem to be relationships that follow.  Long before humans could measure frequency (or had a word for it) musicians knew that there are tones that are related to each other.  If you play a stringed instrument, for instance, you can hear beat notes between strings and minimize the differences.  The concept of octaves, two tones that were the same musical tone but twice the frequency, was known for a long time, but not by measuring frequencies.

Western music has evolved to be based what's called the "equal tempered" scale; there's a constant difference between tones.  The scale is based on a series of 12 semitones or half steps, or 7 full tones.  Wait – shouldn't there be 14 semitones if there are 7 full tones?  Welcome to the first oddity: there are two places in a scale where no semitone – no half step – exists.  There are only 7 notes in written music: A through G.  In common notation, a scale has 8 notes - you include the ending note one octave above the starting note.  The easiest scale to show is the C scale, which goes from C to C; C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C.  There are no semitones between E and F or B and C.  The number of half steps between the notes of any scale are 2 2 1 2 2 2 1, and music theory students will laboriously derive scales starting on every semitone in an octave.  If you were to measure the frequency of the two C notes, the second C is exactly twice the frequency of the first one.  For example, middle C on a keyboard, so-named because it is the C closest to the center of a piano keyboard, is produced with a frequency of 261.626 Hz.  It is also called C4  - the fourth C on piano.  The next C (usually called High C or C5) is 523.251 Hz.  Why the oddball numbers?  Why decimals with 3 decimal places?  Because the 12th root of 2 is an irrational number, which means it can't be obtained by dividing any integers.  Its value is approximately 1.05946309435929 although the decimal never ends.

That interval of two gets equally divided among the 12 semitones.  That means each semitone step up is the 12th root of 2 times the frequency of the note you started on, and each step down is divided by the 12th root of 2.  Over the years, the world has more or less settled that the A above middle C (just below high C) is 440 Hz, although some orchestras will vary from that.  Chances are if you have an electronic keyboard in your home, though, that note is 440 Hz. 440 * 12th root of 2 is 466.1638, or A#.  A# times the 12th root of 2 is 493.8833 or B.  Times the 12th root of 2 is 523.2511 Hz or C.  That's how this “equal tempered chromatic scale” system works.

If that reliance on the 12th root of 2 isn't weird enough for you, hang on. There are combinations of notes that naturally sound good to your ears, and other combinations that don't.  These combinations are intervals in musician-speak.  Good combinations are the fundamental, the third and the fifth.  These are 4 and 7 semitones away, or 2^(4/12) and 2^(7/12); the combination of these three tones is called a major triad.  If we drop the third by one semitone so that instead of 4 semitones, we only go 3 (2^(3/12)), this has a tone most people think of as somehow “sadder” than the major triad.  It becomes a minor triad.  Any lessons on the blues will tell you blues music is based on flatting the 3rd and 7th.  In other words, humans perceive tones that vary by (2^(3/12)) or (2^(1/4)) and (2^(5/6)) as sadder sounding than (2^(4/12)) and (2^(11/12)).  Why is that? 

Other forms exist by using other combinations of tones.  Some of them add musical "suspense", somehow sounding stressed or unresolved, as if there's some sort of tension between the tones; replacing the 3rd with a 4th in a Sus4 chord.  Others resolve that tension.  Still others blend in so well with the original major triad that you hardly know they're even present.  Maybe an experienced musician will pick out a C2 being played instead of a plain C major chord; most won't, while everyone can hear the distinctive dissonance of a G6 alternating with a plain G major in the opening of the Eagles' "Tequila Sunrise", for example.  

It gets weirder.  You know that meme that all really famous popular songs come down to a very similar 4 chord progression?  The progression is called I V vi IV ( where the lower case vi means the minor form of 6th chord).  It's a meme because it's absolutely true.   Staying with the key of C (it's easier) C D E F G A B C, that turns into C G Am F.  Not only that, but I vi IV V (C Am F G) accounts for another few thousand songs.  Why do certain progressions work together and others don't?  I have a book of chord progressions, and there are many out there.  This particular one is less than a hundred pages long and yet quite possibly contains the guts of every song ever written.

What this means is that some ratios of multiples of the 12th root of 2 are pleasing to the human ear and others aren't.  Why is that?  Yet another weirdness: the value for A (and, thereby, the entirety of music) has changed since the great composers of the 17 and 1800s were alive.  I've heard speculation that if Mozart were alive today he'd be physically sickened to hear his music.  I don't really know how we could know, but while the individual tones would be different, the ratios of the tones would be the same.  I rather think that music would sound strange to a reanimated Mozart, but that he'd soon adapt to it, since the ratios and harmonies are the same.
I've never seen an attempt at explaining the sensitivity to musical tones as evolutionarily advantageous that seems like a compelling argument to me.  The Wiki entry for octaves says that monkeys experience octaves and that it appears to map to mammalian brains in the thalamus, though. so it seems it has been in the hardware for a long time. 

With no reasonable explanation for why it would offer survival advantage to be sensitive to certain separations of tones characterized by some factors of the 12th root of 2, we're forced to conclude one of two things.  Either it's serendipity: happy accident.  It's just there as the random accident of billions of random matings.  Or we can modify Ben Franklin's statement on wine:  it's "... a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."

Now can someone tell me why car horns are in the key of F?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Smart Car Tipping

In the story that struck me funniest this week, vandals went lynching Smart Cars in San Francisco last weekend.  Quoting Newswer:
How did the undersized vehicles look when flipped? "Like they are dachshunds sitting up on their hind legs."
In the old days, Volkswagen beetles were the car kids did rude things to.  You'd regularly see stories about them being moved into impossible positions to drive out of, or carried off.  Although I never did anything malicious, I was one of a group of six high school seniors who picked one up and carried it out of a bad patch of sand it was stuck in.  It was spring break and it was how 18 year olds tried to impress college girls...
Actually, this one is pretty benign.  In several of the pictures the cars look like they were damaged too badly. 

Kind of the San Francisco version of cow tipping.  Now that it's made the news, expect to hear of it happening more often.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why I Think It's Different

Last weekend, I wrote a pretty scathing piece on the way Mozilla treated Brendan Eich for his political views.  I come down strongly on the side that his first amendment protections for political speech were violated, and that this is one of those trends in society that is an endarkening.  I don't want to put words in anyone else' mouth, but I saw similar responses from several, including Borepatch (several pieces; here's one) and Karl Denninger at Market Ticker (example), along with examples I linked to in the post itself.

On the other hand, there has been a current running in the other direction.  Tam compared it to Zumbo and Metcalf being fired; a topic picked up and riffed on by McThag.
I've seen some pretty interesting rationalizations over the past few days from people nominally on my team for why it was okay for Metcalf and Zumbo to be shown the door for offending sponsors or being out of step with their subcultural zeitgeist, but Brendan Eich's ouster was just... zomg... FIRST AMENDMENT!
In my case, I didn't call for Dick Metcalf to be fired and I wasn't even in the shooting sports community when Jim Zumbo got canned, but I see these as very different cases.  I had to look Zumbo's case up: he essentially got fired for the same reason Dick Metcalf did, which had nothing to do with political speech and everything to do with pissing off your customers.  No surprise, it simply isn't good business to piss off your most loyal customers - just ask the Dixie Chicks.  They're still in business in some sense (two of three are off in a new band) but the Chicks are nowhere near the industry presence they were back in '03. 

What Metcalf and Zumbo did was massively, stupidly out of touch with their customers - at best.  In my mind, saying something stupid isn't a fireable offense, but if you say something stupid enough - especially if you're in the public eye - you've got to know it can happen.  People who talk on radio or TV for hours every week are bound to to eventually say something stupid enough to get in trouble for it.   (I think I'll save that excuse for writing a blog post every evening, too.)  Further, I don't think you have free speech protections in business.  How long do you think a marketing guy would last if he degraded his company's products with every potential customer? 

What Eich did was donate to a political cause in his role as a private person, not as CEO of Mozilla (of course; he wasn't CEO six years ago when he made the donation, the promotion was very recent).  Donating to a cause is the very essence of protected political speech.  Denninger argues that there is little that one can do that is more fundamentally political speech, other than voting.

The funny thing about someone in Eich's position is that if he were asked to sign a statement saying he would never go against the corporation's publicly declared position, and then did, I'd think it was a justified firing.  That would the same as saying the price he paid to get that CEO pay, corner office, and seat on the corporate jet, was that he signed away a civil right the rest of us have.   Don't know about you, but I've never heard that he signed away any rights, so he absolutely had the right to donate to whomever/whatever he wanted without retribution. 

I still come down that this was an unjustified firing caused by political correctness run amok.  It was brought on by a loud minority that can't bear the thought that everyone doesn't love them.  Mozilla is mind-numbingly hypocritical in their statements about the firing.  And the CEO of OKCupid, who appears to be the person who started the whole jihad against Eich, and who donated to an anti-gay group as well, is a hypocrite for the ages; a hypocrite of epic proportions. 

Need to download Opera or some other browsers and dump this Firefox/Thunderbird suite.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wait! ... Say What?

This story made the news recently, and was in the formerly-great Scientific American.  Dark beer is better than lighter beer.  They measured concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, created by grilling and found the level reduced 50% by marinating in beer.  Fans of the book Protein Power by the doctors Eades will probably remember that they've been recommending you marinate steaks in red wine since the '90s.  Their recommendation is based on reduction of arachidonic acid, a compound we'd like to limit in our foods (and lives) due to its role in inflammatory processes. (Note: after reviewing three sites, this one seems to offer the best balanced look at AA in the diet).

Beer or wine, marinating before you grill makes sense.  Not mention that it tastes good. 
"Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” - Ben Franklin

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Amateur Digital Voice

There's a large and healthy group of liberty sphere folks who have gotten amateur radio licenses as part of their preps.  Ham radio offers both many more frequencies to operate on and many more modes to operate that dwarf anything obtainable any other way.  I've written somewhat on the topic before but bow deeply in recognition to Sparks31 who has done a great job on many topics. 

In the last month or so, I heard of and looked into a piece of open source software put together by some very technically savvy hams; it's called FreeDV or Free Digital Voice.  FreeDV allows you to put an HF transceiver on the air using digital modulation techniques as advanced as any you'll find.  Let me quote from their intro page:
FreeDV is a GUI application for Windows, Linux and MacOS (BSD and Android in development) that allows any SSB radio to be used for low bit rate digital voice.

Speech is compressed down to 1600 bit/s then modulated onto a 1.25 kHz wide 16QPSK signal which is sent to the Mic input of a SSB radio. On receive, the signal is received by the SSB radio, then demodulated and decoded by FreeDV. Communications should be readable down to 2 dB S/N, and long-distance contacts are reported using 1-2 watts power.

FreeDV was built by an international team of Radio Amateurs working together on coding, design, user interface and testing. FreeDV is open source software, released under the GNU Public License version 2.1. The FDMDV modem and Codec 2 Speech codec used in FreeDV are also open source.
If you want to hear what it sounds like, check out this YouTube video of a test contact which goes back and forth between analog SSB and FreeDV voice.  An important point that they don't mention is that the only reason you can understand both is that the receiver is using FreeDV.  If that software isn't available, the speech will be unintelligible.  This YouTube Video lets you hear what the FreeDV sounds like just coming out of a speaker with no decoder.  It's also a test of the software algorithms in degraded conditions by artificially introducing degradations into speech test clips. 

Side note: I was involved in development of a digital voice system called VDL Mode 3 for the FAA about a decade ago.  Even though it was sent at much higher bit rate and channel bandwidth, it didn't sound that much better than this.  One of its features was digital voice using a commercial (very closed source) digital voice codec developed by a couple of post-docs from one of the big schools.  FreeDV uses an amateur-developed, open source, free codec and sounds good enough when running slightly over 1600 Bits Per Second.  The first thing that jumps out at me about these tests is that the phrases used, male and female speakers, are identical to what we were using.
(The FreeDV GUI
As always, if you think you'll want to get to know this mode, there's no time like today.  And the same provisions for security I've always mentioned go for this one, too.   Amateur modes are designed so that they can be publicly read by default.  I don't know where it's buried in the source code, but I'm sure if a couple of guys modified certain key parameters, they could come up with a version that was intelligible to a much smaller number.  It would be thoroughly illegal for use today, AFAIK. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Jeb, Jeb, Jeb...

No. No. No.

As a lifelong Floridian, I was able to observe Jeb Bush when he was governor a few years ago.  Jeb is competent manager and CEO type, a very effective administrator.   For example, he was governor during the bad hurricane season in 2004, and comparing him to Louisiana's government was like comparing a team of extremely well trained operators to the Korrupt Keystone Kops.
But... No.  First off, he's too big a progressive; too quick to go for government solutions.  Not the guy to go to when you need to drastically reform and curtail the  Plus, he's too big a supporter of the Common Core federal take over of education.  Like many, when W showed up in the primaries in 2000, we thought he was "the wrong Bush"; that Jeb would be the next Bush to run.  Later, we figured W had used up the family name. 

Every bad quality Mitt Romney had that pitted conservatives against him is core Jeb.  Another big government technocrat.  He's the wrong man at the wrong time. 

Plus... can we please have more diversity than another Bush running against another Clinton?

Aside from that, as an update, Mrs. Graybeard has the nasty cold I first came down with two weeks ago.  It's staying more as head cold for her (while for me it dove into my lungs first), and she has conjunctivitis really badly. 

Me, I've been back in motion for a week, but still cough too much and I'm still consuming more than 50% of my calories as cough drops

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Of Course The Stock Market Is Rigged - But ...

Earlier this week "some dood with a book" (Michael Lewis, in the book Flash Boys) made news headlines by taking about the stock market being rigged for the high frequency traders.  His argument is that they get ahead of the market by milliseconds - by buying the fastest network connections money can buy - and take advantage of the rubes. 

Whether this is true or not, I can't tell you.  Predictably, all the cable finance shows, finance magazines and columnists repudiated the idea (for example).  I say "predictably" because to the man (or to the info-babe), they push Wall Street as the only way an individual can build wealth. 

The problem is that the market is rigged, and it's rigged in ways nobody is talking about; it's rigged by a combination of the Federal Reserve and the too big to fail (TBTF) banks.  The endless creation of "money" out of thin air is driving the market prices up.  I've written before that if you try to compare the major market indices to any standard of value: gold, silver, or any commodity, the Dow peaked in 2000 and has been losing value ever since.  Even if you just look at the annual inflation rate reported by Shadowstats and divide the DJIA backwards, you find this. 

If you get nothing else out of my ramblings, get this point: what the Fed is doing to the market is helping nobody but the institutional traders who buy and sell from each other and their infrastructure.  A simple example might help.  If the market is truly healthy and populated by successful companies, they pay earnings or dividends.  Some stocks, especially the tech stocks, value growth over dividends or earnings and the goal is for them to go up in price, perhaps split to more shares at lower prices.  The "blue chip" stocks emphasize dividends and paying stock holders.  According to The Motley Fool, Exxon Mobil, paid dividends of 63 cents per share this past quarter, for shares that cost $97.32 (0.65%)  Five years ago, the dividends were 42 cents per share on shares that cost $69 (0.61%).  So just how has the higher stock price benefited anybody?  The stock costs 41% more today and you're earning marginally lower dividends per share.  You're certainly not earning 41% more dividends for a stock that's 41% more expensive!  Why would I want to pay more for a stock giving me the same percent dividends, let alone paying slightly less?  

But the broker who sells the stock to you is earning a bigger commission based on that higher price. He must love the Fed.
Remember, Janet said if she could make you pay a penalty to save money, she would. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Gathering Darkening

Some years before I joined the blogosphere and more years before I even started reading the liberty sphere, Billy Beck coined the term "The Endarkenment"; the opposite of the renaissance and era of enlightenment, he meant the term to describe the descent into coming dark ages.  America in the opening decades of the 21st century is a dark place, becoming darker by the day. 

I refer in this case to the firing/railroading of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.  Eich's dismissal was clearly because he exercised his protected rights to free speech by contributing money to a political campaign.  Nobody is citing evidence that his behavior to anyone anywhere had anything to do with his dismissal - if they were, it would be million point type headlines on every newspaper.  No, the root of his problem is that he believed something counter to the orthodoxy he's required to believe; "Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of proposition 8".  It's pure McCarthyism; nothing less. 

Mozilla made a statement that is laughably idiotic to try to cover this up:
Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.
Earth to Mozilla:  No.  No it's not hard.  Allowing free and meaningful speech means allowing free and meaningful speech.  It means you have to give up being rabid control freaks.  It means accepting that you will hear things you don't like.  Period.  If everyone agrees, it isn't free speech, it's a choir singalong.  If everyone agrees there is no need for free speech.  If your idea of convincing someone of your opinion is firing them and ruining their life, you're not interested in free speech or opinions, you're interested in having power over other people and dominating them.  In a word: Mozilla, you're scumbags. 

California, in its infinite idiocy, has decided that it will publish lists of everyone who contributes to any cause.  That means thugs of all stripes will mine that information and attempt to destroy anyone who disagrees with them.  All evidence says that this group will continue their attempts to destroy anyone whose opinion on Prop 8 is doubleplus ungood unacceptable.

Everyone is quoting Andrew Sullivan on this topic, and it's easy to see why.  Andrew has the opposite opinion on this topic from Eich, but he understands the problem to its root. 
Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.
Andrew, you and I probably agree as often as a stopped clock and an atomic clock, but I'm 100% with you on this.  This is absolutely not a gay issue and this isn't a left/right issue.  Some of the best comments on this come from Tammy Bruce and other gay commenters.  This is no less than one of the key founding questions of our country: are people entitled to an opinion that conflicts with the orthodox belief system. 

I'm an engineer.  Human psychology, especially deviant psychology is almost incomprehensible to me in its illogic.  An aspect I've never understood is how someone who has been abused and then is freed of that abuse can want to inflict that same abuse on others.  I think the healthy reaction would be to dedicate one's life to ensuring no one else suffered abuse again.  The people who railroaded Brendan Eich are the kind of people who would get out of abuse and then celebrate that they could do the abusing now.  It's a mental illness I can not comprehend. 

Rod Drehrer at the American Conservative has a good quote to sum this situation up.  Mr Drehrer: you have the floor:
I do not want to live in a world in which gay people get fired for their sexuality, when their sexuality has nothing to do with their ability to do their job. But the kind of people who ousted Brendan Eich want to live in a world in which expressing the “wrong” opinion about same-sex marriage makes one unemployable, even if that opinion has nothing to do with their ability to execute their professional responsibilities. This is not going to end well.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

It's Time for the End of an Error

It's time for the end of an error.  It's time to arm the Army.  It's time US soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors were allowed to defend themselves in Ft. Hood and every other base in the US.

If these men and women were on any other piece of property in Texas, they could defend themselves against an armed crazy person by concealed carry. 
There is simply no rational argument against it.  The country routinely brags this is the best trained fighting force in the history of the world, but they're not well-enough trained to be trusted being armed at home?  But we trust them to be armed on bases around the rest of the world?

I don't care who started it; I don't care how far back it goes; I don't care if it's a D thing or an R thing because it's a stupid thing.  I don't know how this idea got started in society that if some aggrieved soul has a problem with anything he goes into the nearest gun free zone and starts killing people, I just know that it has to stop.  The fact that the uniformed military has not just the ADD-ridden high school snot, but Achmed, L'il Kim and a half dozen others gunning for them just means they need self defense the most. 

Last night, Megyn Kelly on Fox impressed me twice in the opening few minutes of her show.  First, she announced that the shooter's name Will Not Be Mentioned on her show; there's enough evidence to convince her that's what most of these psychos want.  Within seconds after that, she was hounding a Texas senator (I think) about why concealed carry isn't allowed on bases.  Concealed carry has a great track record of stopping this sort of thing.  It's time to stop the stupidity and let people protect themselves.

About Last Night

I feel compelled to to tell y'all something.  Last night, I wrote that Janet Yellen admitted to being a disciple of "soviet economist" Yuri Pavlovovich.

To the extent I can verify this, there is no such person as economist Yuri Pavolovovich.

Yuri Pavolovovich is a plot device - in that the made up character helped to develop the "story". 

To be even more specific, Yuri Pavolovich is a special type of plot device.  Yuri is an April Fool's joke.  Anyone can pull an April Fool's joke on April 1st.  How many of you have ever had one pulled on you on April 2nd?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Has Yellen Folded Already?

Almost under the radar, Fed Head Janet Yellen declared on Monday that the economy is too soft and the Fed was going to need to keep the monetary stimulus going "for some time".  In a prepared speech given in Chicago on Monday, she said the "extraordinary measures" will be kept up for the foreseeable future. 
While policy makers have slowed the pace of their monthly asset purchases over the past three gatherings to $55 billion from $85 billion, Yellen said the central bank’s commitment is strong to helping sustain progress in the job market.

“Recent steps by the Fed to reduce the rate of new securities purchases are not a lessening of this commitment, only a judgment that recent progress in the labour market means our aid for the recovery need not grow as quickly,” she said. “Earlier this month, the Fed reiterated its overall commitment to maintain extraordinary support for the recovery for some time to come.”
Stocks - of course - were up after the pep talk, with the S&P 500 Index rising 0.8% to 1,872.72 at 10 a.m. in New York. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was up three basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 2.75%.  Unless you're very new here, you know that I've been saying the growth in the stock market is all artificial, coming only from federal reserve stimulus funds.  Compared to even a flawed commodity standard like gold today, the stock market is down considerably since 2000. 

But the interesting thing that's being reported (Bill Bonner) is that Yellen has admitted to colleagues that she's a disciple of Soviet economist Yuri Pavlovovich.  Who?  Yuri Pavlovovich was a young man and otherwise unknown economist when the Bolshevik Revolution shook Russia.  Young, but not stupid, Pavlovovich was shrewd enough to figure out which way the wind was blowing and set about ingratiating himself to "Uncle Joe" Stalin.  Once in the Kremlin, he studied how to improve the results of the Federal Reserve's Soviet central planning. 
The central concept of Pavlovovich’s pensĂ©es was that people do as they are told to do. Few people are original thinkers. Few are willing to defy authority.

The job of the ruler, he figured, was therefore merely to direct human action in a way that was salutary. People, he reasoned, could be enticed, lured and ordered to do many different things. The challenge for the elite in charge of the economic system was to find the course of action most beneficial to citizens… and to themselves.

“Policy should direct people where they ought to go,” was one of his famous dicta.   Give them a bottle of vodka or seven years in a gulag. That will help make up their minds,” was another.
Unfortunately for Pavlovovich, Stalin appeared to have decided that he didn't really need this economist's opinions and had him assigned to the German front in the winter of 1941.  There, incoming Panzer troops were even less fond of his ideas than Stalin and he met his untimely demise.

The similarity to Janet Yellen's own views, as well as those of every central banker we can think of, is obvious.  The whole of Quantitative Easing to Infinity has been to give us that choice of the vodka or the gulag.  In the central bankers' minds, it doesn't matter that the average borrower has more debt than they can live with, it just matters that they need you to keep borrowing.  Get drunk and borrow!   It's better than a deflationary death spiral! 
As the Fed tries desperately to raise inflation (and are succeeding) the central bankers live in morbid fear that if we consumers don't see prices rising badly enough, we'll save our money and not take on as much debt.  To you and me, seeing prices going down would make us feel better; less like the "typical, middle-class American" in this Steve Breen cartoon.  But to central bankers, you and I being able to successfully save for retirement or life in general is the death knell of their control.  Savers simply must be destroyed.  Omelet; eggs; you know.  You're the egg.