Monday, June 30, 2014

Selfie Of the Day

From Curiosity, one of the robotic rovers on Mars in celebration of its one year anniversary on Mars.:
Not an Earth year; the large rover (longer than a Smart Car at 10' long and heavier than one at 1982 lbs.) has spent more than one Martian year, 687 Earth days, on the Red Planet.  APOD says:
The mosaicked selfie was constructed with frames taken this April and May using the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), intended for close-up work and mounted at the end of the rover's robotic arm. The MAHLI frames used exclude sections that show the arm itself and so MAHLI and the robotic arm are not seen.
If you look to the left of that wheel sticking forward, just onto the flat rocks, you'll see a dark gray deposit.  That's some rock dust from the probe's drill and the hole is also visible.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Data Collection State Meets Your Medical Plans

Denninger talks about the merger of big data and your private medical records.
You may soon get a call from your doctor if you’ve let your gym membership lapse, made a habit of picking up candy bars at the check-out counter or begin shopping at plus-sized stores.

That’s because some hospitals are starting to use detailed consumer data to create profiles on current and potential patients to identify those most likely to get sick, so the hospitals can intervene before they do.
Karl's point is about how data mining companies are extracting the information we voluntarily give the stores we shop at and determining how best to sell the data; in this case, to hospitals and doctors' groups.  Things like your Cabela's Club, BassPro Rewards or other loyalty/bonus cards that pay you for shopping someplace collect more than just your name and address; they collect your shopping history.  This goes for grocery stores and any others where you pay by debit or credit card.  This information is up for sale.  As Denninger says:
It would be nice to believe that this is all a matter of consensual conduct but it is not; there is effectively nowhere you can shop, other than by strictly using cash (and probably not even then given the prevalence of cameras at the checkstand) without having your identity indelibly stamped on every single thing you buy.
Back in the '80s, I read a book about this trend when it was first starting.  The author and his wife had just learned that they were expecting their first child, and he was shocked to get email attempting to sell him them a diaper service.  He wondered how they knew such private information, that was literally known only to the couple, their doctor's office, and one or two others.  Pulling on this loose thread led him down the path to how check-cashing cards (remember them?) allowed grocery stores to track your purchases.  It's easier today, with UPC codes on everything, those codes linked to you by your debit card.  From there, he went to "ZIP code demographics"; certain ZIP codes in his city were higher in young families likely to be having children, other codes higher in older couples.  (Example of what a little outlay can tell companies).

The medical angle that the Bloomberg article takes goes beyond this to creepy - if anything, it goes to the heart of the nanny state drive of the nasty little fascist (Michael Bloomberg) himself.
For a patient with asthma, the hospital would be able to score how likely they are to arrive at the emergency room by looking at whether they’ve refilled their asthma medication at the pharmacy, been buying cigarettes at the grocery store and live in an area with a high pollen count, Dulin said.

The system may also score the probability of someone having a heart attack by considering factors such as the type of foods they buy and if they have a gym membership, he said.

“What we are looking to find are people before they end up in trouble,” said Dulin, who is also a practicing physician. “The idea is to use big data and predictive models to think about population health and drill down to the individual levels to find someone running into trouble that we can reach out to and try to help out.”
Sounds all wonderful and cheery, right?  They just want to help; they just want to "drill down to the individual ... to find someone running into trouble...."  In reality, their motivation is not to be fined.  Under Obamacare, "hospital pay is becoming increasingly linked to quality metrics rather than the traditional fee-for-service model where hospitals were paid based on their numbers of tests or procedures."  Hospitals that have too many patients readmitted within a month are now being fined by the government.   So they'll call you into the office, prescribe more pills (which they can monitor refills of to ensure you're taking them) or send you to health camp, so that lots of interests can milk you for more money all the while doing things to you that don't necessarily help you (remember: your "cardio" workout may be killing you).  

It wouldn't be so bad if they really could predict who needed some help, not just who could contribute some funding.  As I've said before, my personal view on "wellness" is that it's a fine thing, but most of what's thought to be true probably isn't.  The lab numbers they keep telling us we should all meet are more likely to simply mean "young and healthy" than reflect a healthy older adult.  How many times do studies which show that overweight people live longer and appear healthier need to be published before they stop being called "paradoxical".  
Study after study has shown that obese heart patients have better survival and have fewer strokes and heart attacks than normal-weight or underweight heart patients with the same severity of disease, says cardiologist Carl J. Lavie, MD, of the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.
To borrow a conclusion from Denninger, 
You are being screwed by this association already.  You will get screwed much more-severely in coming years.

Warmest Day of the Year

H/T to WUWT, we find this graphic from NOAA on the historical date of the warmest day of the year:

I see that for some of you, this week is the historically the peak.  I'm in that zone around the little bump on the east coast of Florida (Cape Canaveral) and while the map says the warmest day falls in the last week of July, I would have said about two weeks later in mid-August.  

Been a busy weekend here.  I think most people have heard the saying, "a boat is a hole in the water which you pour money into"; my version ends with "time and money".

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Aereo Decision

Along with the big supreme court decisions this week that predominantly came down on the side of the constitution (remarkably, by 9-0 decisions), the court ruled that a company called Aereo was violating the 1976 Copyright act originally aimed at the (then) new cable TV industry. The idea is that they are essentially taking broadcast signals and rebroadcasting them without the owners' permissions.

Aere...who?  What?

Loosing my techno-geek equivalent of a man-card, I admit I hadn't heard of them, so when the reporters explained how the service worked, I was all ears.  My simple version of their case is this: imagine you have TV antenna at the end of a piece of cable on the side of your house.  Now what if that cable was really long, like you needed to put the antenna in another yard; or another city.  Now if you make that cable too long, you need to amplify the signal to make up for loss in the cable, so what if you encoded that and stuck it over the internet?  Their argument was that they leased each customer an antenna that received any channel they wanted, ran it to a Digital Video Recorder, and then sent the video to the customer over the internet. 

All this sounds technically feasible, and on a scale of 1 to 10 in interest (10 being most interesting) about a 2.  Then the reporter flashed this picture of the Aereo antennas that are leased and I mumbled loudly enough for Mrs. Graybeard to hear, "but that's impossible.  It can't possibly work the way they're claiming". 
Here's why: antennas are at their most efficient when they're resonant, and they're resonant where their length approaches multiples of one quarter wavelength of the frequency they're tuned to.  This antenna is too small to be an effective antenna for broadcast TV. 

Wait... What? 

Broadcast TV signals, like all radio waves, have a wavelength inversely proportional to the frequency they operate on, so that frequency times wavelength is always the speed of light.  Commonly written as c = f * l.  If you measure c in meters/second, which is the most common unit, c is a nice round number: 300,000,000 (three hundred million) meters/second.  With frequencies in MHz, just divide 300 by the frequency to get the wavelength.  It's easy to see that the wavelength of the UHF TV channel 35 at 600 MHz would be 300/600 or 1/2 of a meter (19.8 inches).  A quarter wave 600 MHz antenna would be 4.92" long.  It's not to say that the antenna wouldn't receive other signals at all, just that they wouldn't be received as well.  As the channel moves farther away (either direction) from 600 MHz, the received signal would become weaker.  The frequencies that carry over the air HDTV signals run from below 100 MHz, nearly 20' in wavelength, up to 800 MHz, 14.76".  This antenna (a dime is 0.7" in diameter) is simply too small to effectively capture over the air signals.  It can't work. 

I can hear the folks who want the service saying, "but Aereo says they use massive arrays of antennas; that has to make it work, right?".  Actually, no.  Antenna arrays are arrays of tuned elements, each one of which is a quarter wavelength, connected in only a small number of ways and effective only at very specific things.  Can it just work if they're all connected end to end and make a lot more metal?  You can connect them and make them longer, but that won't work for all frequencies either.   Yes, putting lots of independent loops in close proximity can make the antennas interact with each other, but this is more likely to be a bad thing than a good one.  (BTDTGTTS) Making broadband antennas isn't a trivial thing, and unique designs are few and far between.  You don't just throw loops of metal together and have it work worth a damn.
Antennas are extremely well studied, and they are so tightly bound by electromagnetics that truly new innovations are extremely, mind-numbingly rare.  Antenna patents are for new applications of old ideas (I have one), and tweaks to existing designs.  Think of it this way: if you could make an antenna the size of a dime work at VHF, one the size of a dinner plate would work for broadcast radio, so why would broadcast stations buy all the real estate they do to put up giant towers?  (My frequent advice to newbies: I don't care who you think is the toughest or strictest teacher you've ever had, Maxwell is a cast iron bitch compared to the worst you've ever had). 

I'm not commenting on the law or the ruling at all.  I don't watch broadcast TV, so I don't have a horse in this race.  It simply doesn't matter to me personally or professionally (much like the LightSquared fiasco I wrote about back in '12), but I do call bullshit on the argument they're making.  If they're claiming they lease an antenna to users and get everything off the air, they're not doing what they say they are.  Maybe somebody told the court it can't work.     

Also note that as I was thinking these things through and getting ready to write this, Mrs. Graybeard found this article on which takes the same approach to the problem that I do - probably because we're both radio engineers and hams. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Headline of the Day

I swear I'm not making this up.  From Fedblog over at Government Executive:

EPA Employees Told to Stop Pooping in the Hallway

I quote:
Environmental Protection Agency workers have done some odd things recently.

Contractors built secret man caves in an EPA warehouse, an employee pretended to work for the CIA to get unlimited vacations and one worker even spent most of his time on the clock looking at pornography.

It appears, however, that a regional office has reached a new low: Management for Region 8 in Denver, Colo., wrote an email earlier this year to all staff in the area pleading with them to stop inappropriate bathroom behavior, including defecating in the hallway.

In the email, obtained by Government Executive, Deputy Regional Administrator Howard Cantor mentioned “several incidents” in the building, including clogging the toilets with paper towels and “an individual placing feces in the hallway” outside the restroom.
Hat tip to Twitchy, in "This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things".   The Twitter feed and the comments at Government Executive have too many potential Quote of the Day candidates for me to pick one, although the article contains this gem (emphasis added):
Confounded by what to make of this occurrence, EPA management “consulted” with workplace violence “national expert” John Nicoletti, who said that hallway feces is in fact a health and safety risk.
The freakin' Environmental Protection Agency needed to hire a consultant to tell them poop on the floors was a health and safety risk??!!??  What do you think they'd do if they walked into your place of work and found poop on the floor?  Do you think the company would ever open its doors again?   

(note: while it's my standard to try to put at least one picture with every post to kind of sum up the story, decorum prevents my doing so in this case).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Photography In a Different Light

I remember my first camera, a Kodak Brownie that took roll film (pretty sure it was this model).  As a 6 year old, it wasn't too hard to load roll film, but even black and white prints were a special thing and getting film not an everyday treat.  I think I still have Christmas pictures I took as a 6 year old.  I advanced through Instamatics with cartridges and flash cubes, finally getting my first SLR in the mid 70s: a Minolta SRT-101 (once I was a working dude).  I won't bore you with the complete history of my photography hobby from 35mm through the start of the digital age to now, which went through bouts of being semi-professional, I'll just say I've always had good quality cameras since that Minolta (which was stolen, but I still have its replacement).  This is to show where I'm coming from as a photographer: strictly old school. 

The camera I count on the most these days is my Canon T3i, a DSLR introduced in 2011.  When I was doing 35mm and 120/220 roll (aka 2 1/4" film) I was an absolute bug for sharpness in photos.  "Tack sharp" is the photographer's buzz phrase and sharpness was my life.  Manual focus and manual exposure control only, baby.  I have a few lenses for my Canon: I never saw much sense in the popular idea of getting a DSLR and then a compromise lens and leaving it on the camera.  I always thought the whole idea was interchangeable lenses that got the best performance at the required focal length.

I've related the story that I ran across a great deal on a Nikon Coolpix S4000 when they were closing out the model and grabbed one.  I've tended to throw this in a pocket when headed to the range or out on the boat, always figuring it was much easier to live with trashing this little camera than the Canon and a lens, especially when my main lens cost about 3x what the Nikon did.  The problem is that coming from my background in 35mm and an obsession for sharp images, the Nikon image quality always disappointed me.  They'd look acceptable in small web images, or small sizes for posting here, but virtually every time I needed to go to 100% image size to look at something in detail, the detail just wasn't there.

Sometime around late March or early April, I decided I was going to replace the Nikon with something that gives higher quality.  Along the way of researching what was out there, I found out about the existence of waterproof, ruggedized, point and shoot cameras.  These are typically waterproof to 40 or 50 feet, freeze proof to 10F, and resistant to dropping or crushing.  With the main uses for this being outdoors, that just seemed like a natural.  The problem was that I didn't like the image quality enough to want to get one.  That's last year's review article, though, and I was kind of tempted by the Olympus TG-3, which had been announced in March, but there were no images.  If the TG-3 had better image quality (IQ) than the previous year's model, I'd get one.  Otherwise, well, I'll figure it out when I get there.

The first TG-3 images started coming out about two weeks ago, and DPReview put up its 2014 review last week.  Guess what?  The TG-3 IQ was not improved at all, that I can tell.  I'd fill this blog entry with pictures if I tried to show you what I don't like, but one writer used the term watercolor to describe the effect.  You know how watercolors look smeared and spread out, not crisp?  That's what the images look like at 100% to me.  The issue is noise, which all photographers of my age called grain because (in those days) it was individual grains of a silver salt in the film.  Modern digital sensors act very much like film, but are followed by custom ASICs that do noise reduction.  Exactly what algorithms are used and exactly how processed the image is are what I'm reacting to.  In my view (and many other folks') the Olympus images are over processed.  Yes, the noise reduction removes discrete grain or speckles, but replaces them with a muddied, low-resolution look.  I'd rather have the grain than the watercolor look. 

Enough with keeping you in suspense.  I finally settled on a Ricoh WG-4 (manufacturer's website) DPReview reviewed the WG-4GPS, a camera with a GPS in it to tag your photos; I got the model without GPS.  But wait... Ricoh the photocopier company?  Last year, Ricoh entered into some sort of partnership with Pentax, one of the historically great camera companies.  Last year's model was the Pentax WG-3.  (To borrow a phrase from Dave Barry, Ricoh and Pentax checked into a motel room and merged repeatedly).  Although it's a bit of a tossup in my mind, DPReview said the WG-4 had the best image quality of the group.  If you're in the market, the Canon Powershot D30 also looked pretty good to me.

I went with the WG-4 for some other features and reasons aside from IQ.  Compared to the Canon, the WG-4 has a macro mode with built in LEDs around the lens for illuminating your subject.  The WG-4 has a faster lens (although lower zoom range) and does better video modes.  It's always a set of trades, but IQ is tops on my requirements.  If the camera doesn't have good images, I won't look at the other features.
This is a cropped portion of a macro shot of my watch, taken out of a 100% size image.  No image manipulation except to crop it.  A reflection of one of those LEDs is visible between the abbreviations DEN and LAX (yeah, Denver and El Lay).  There's an area that looks kind or rough or fuzzy across the bottom: that's a reflection of the shirt I was wearing while I took the picture: I was wearing the watch while I took this.

After 25 test shots, I have to say I'm quite pleased with the IQ out of this camera.  I'm examining this photo at 100% (and more) and the IQ is all I'd ask for.  Yeah, it can be tough to distinguish lens aberrations from plain ol' out of focus from sensor noise reduction, but I think I can interpret what I'm seeing there.  I'm just learning my way around with it, but I think we'll get along just fine.

Oh.  If you're an old-school photographer pining for the old Kodak days, I stumbled across this site.  All I could manage was a Mr. Sulu-style, "oh... my...."

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tell Me Again Why I Want To Be In The Stock Market?

StockTiming.Com posts the following data in today's free subscriber's update.  There is no perma-link; the content will change next week.  But it's worth looking at:
In summary, for a "share" of the S&P 500, you'd pay 25.93% more this year than last year.  But the dividends of the stocks you'd own are paying 10.33% less than they did last year.  You're paying more for worse performance.  The worst price/dividend change was on the NDX, the NASDAQ-100,  where you pay 35.52% more and make 10.6% less.

Tell me again why this is good?

If you're buying and selling stocks, you're selling stocks you bought last year at a higher price, yeah, that makes you some money.  If on the other hand you're trying to "buy and hold", or trying to make income by holding on to these stocks, you're paying 26% more for 10% less returns.  But short term trading isn't supposed to be how stocks are valued.  Price isn't supposed to be based on "bigger fool theory" ("I'm a fool to buy at this price, but I'll find a bigger fool to sell it to tomorrow); that's bubble talk.  Prices are supposed to be based on financial performance of the company. 

It's good for bankers, brokers and day traders, not ordinary folks trying to save for retirement.  401k rules forbid the kind of trading these folks do. 

Makes Sense to Me

Don't know who these guys are, but they sum up my view on this pretty well:
(from the email, but I bet the address is right there in the poster)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

So amid the deepening crisis in the Mideast, the IRS "the dog ate my emails" scandal, the deepening crisis of thousands of kids being dumped across the border and on and on and on, the administration announces a honey bee task force.  The task force, to be co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and EPA Administrator, is to investigate "Colony Collapse Disorder".


Milton Friedman once said, "If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand."  The bees are doomed.  Being the Agr. Dept. and the EPA, they'll also kill 25 million people.

(BTW, if you want me to be serious about the honeybee problems - which are real and are important - sorry.  Not today.  If Obama told me the sun was rising in the east, I'd look west.)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I'm Thinking It's Closer to Midnight

Those of us in a certain age bracket will recall the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a magazine put out a by what always struck me as a peace-nik group.  It featured a clock in one corner of the cover, with hands designating some number of minutes before midnight.  Midnight was the apocalypse;  the atomic war everyone thought was inevitable back during the cold war. Over the life of the Bulletin it went back forth from as far as seven minutes to midnight to as close as two minutes. 

They're still at it and set the clock to 5 minutes to midnight this January. 
“They say the world's biggest threat is the ‘potentially civilization-ending’ outsized nuclear stockpiles of the United States and Russia, along with the growing arsenals in India, Pakistan and China.”
The nuclear arsenals of rational civilizations don't particularly scare me, but if they're setting it to five minutes based on that, I suggest it needs to be pushed up to one or two minutes to midnight.  Not because of a nuclear war but an economic apocalypse that has just jumped up in possibility.  I'm talking about the effects on oil prices of a widespread civil war in the Mideast. 

T. Boone Pickens said last week that if just Iraq's oil were to go off the market, we could looking at $200/barrel oil.  That number has been echoed by other analysts.  The west simply couldn't survive that shock - the economies are too fragile right now.  With $105/barrel oil, regular gas averaged $3.66 this week.  For a rough guess of the effects of $200 oil just double that to $7.32.  That would increase the price of everything, and start a spiral into drastic economic slowdown and then collapse.    

Is that going to happen?  Are you a betting person?  ISIS, the group behind the war in Iraq, isn't shy about declaring they want a caliphate.  Do a Bing News search on Caliphate and you'll find some analyst saying "Not Gonna Happen"  and an administration (DHS) droid saying "The Return of the Caliphate is 'inevitable'".  The thing is, I don't think the establishment of a caliphate is a necessary part of this picture.  The essence is a re-heating of the perpetual Sunni-Shia conflict into an open civil war that takes out oil fields.  While each individual group may want to control the oil fields to fund themselves, the other side will be more than happy to destroy those fields to help destroy their enemies.  So what happens to the price of oil if Iran takes out Saudi Arabia's oil fields?  What if the entire region becomes embroiled in a widespread war?  If one country puts it to $200, where does it go if multiple countries go down? 

Might I suggest that it's higher priority than usual to make sure you're ready to put your apocalypse plans into place at a moment's notice?  Check your water and your food, gas up your cars, verify all your comm links and anything else?  There may only be a matter of hours of notice that it's going all tango uniform.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Operation Choke Point Gets Teeth

Well, this could be trouble.

Remember the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?  Back in 2010 the administration first brought Princess Fauxcohontas, Elizabeth Warren, to our attention in an "end run around the law",  more commonly called "law breaking", by appointing her to head the CFPB, while not actually appointing her to head the CFPB.   
Despite some reporting in the news services, she isn't really in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she's in charge of "staffing up" the agency.  The bill contained specific language that required the head of that agency be approved by the senate, but no less a liberal than Chris Dodd said he wouldn't vote to confirm her.  So rather than go through the senate, President Obama appointed her "to advise him on how to staff up the agency". 
The point of this trip down memory lane is to highlight how the agency was born in controversy and continues that tradition.  

Katie Pavlich, writing at Townhall, writes that the CFPB unilaterally granted themselves the power to shut down any business, anytime they feel like it. 
Last week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, through the power of Dodd-Frank, passed a rule giving the agency unprecedented power to shut down businesses, no matter what the reason, at any time it wishes through a cease-and-desist order. Further, the rule puts businesses at the mercy of the CFPB and they cannot go back into operation until government approval or a court ruling is made over an issue. Subsequently because bureaucratic decisions and court rulings take a substantial amount of time to happen, businesses cannot survive during those waiting periods.
Katie makes the obvious connection to Operation Choke Point, a regulation passed with an easy-to-justify intent of cutting off bank support for businesses doing things like laundering money for drug cartels, but that's being used to pressure banks not to loan money to gun stores and other fully legal, honest businesses just because some politico views the business as "icky" (as AmmoLand writes) .  She goes on to point out that the US Consumer Coalition (just a sign up page) has come out with some strong pushback against the law:
"This unprecedented rule created by the CFPB grants the agency unilateral authority to literally shut down any business overnight. It is a doubling down of Operation Choke Point (OCP), the Administration's program to target lawful industries by intimidating banks from doing business with them. This rule allows the CFPB to immediately issue a cease-and-desist order, which terminates all business practices — and a hearing doesn’t have to be granted for 10 days, effectively shutting down businesses for at least 10 days. This is a 'guilty until proven innocent' tactic of the Administration that goes against every historical notion of justice under the law in America."

"The Administration got caught with their illegal intimidation tactics in Operation Choke Point, and now they are taking radical steps to ensure the goals of shutting down these lawful businesses are met. This is just the next step in using unaccountable agencies, with their ever-expanding agency powers, to meet the political goals of the Administration. This is a much more efficient way of shutting down lawful industries than just relying on intimidation. It is also no coincidence that this rule was released the day that CFPB Director Richard Cordray finished testifying at oversight hearings on the Hill."
I don't know who the US Consumer Coalition is, but I suspect they're funded by check cashing stores and payday lenders, two of the business types being most aggressively attacked by Choke Point.  It doesn't matter much, the statements they make are true if Katie's right, and I read her enough to trust her.

Yesterday: take away bank accounts from icky businesses like payday lenders.  Today: take away bank accounts from icky businesses like mom and pop gun dealers.  Tomorrow: take away bank accounts from people who support icky causes like restoration of the constitution.  Your Federal Government at work. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Shameless Plug

I read Chris Muir's Day by Day everyday, like many of you do.  Have you contributed to his annual fund raiser, yet?  I've been contributing to DBD for a few years, now.

Meanwhile, got a midweek busy going on, so not much to say.

Michael Ramirez at Investor's Business Daily

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Meet the Horsefly

Jeff Bezos made headlines last year on the black Friday weekend when he talked about Amazon looking into using drones to deliver packages.  I had written this off as a publicity stunt, after trying to bound the problem in my head.  How long could a drone fly?  How much weight could it lift?  How many local warehouses would there need to be if a drone carrying my five pound package is to deliver it to my house and return to base in its 30 minute battery life?  They'd need more warehouses than electric power substations. 

Whenever I conclude "I just can't imagine that working" I always have to add "but maybe I don't have a good imagination".  Meet the Horsefly Optocopter, from research collaboration between the University of Cincinnati and AMP Electric Vehicles.   
The newly designed, autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was developed to work in tandem with AMP's delivery trucks, creating a safe, fast and never-before-seen method of delivering goods.

Steve Burns, CEO of AMP, explains the process like this: The HorseFly will be positioned atop a delivery truck, awaiting a package from the driver. When loaded, the HorseFly will scan the barcode on the package, determine the path to the delivery address via GPS and fly away – completely self-guided – to the appropriate destination. Meanwhile, the delivery truck will continue on its rounds. After successful delivery, the HorseFly will zoom back to the truck for its next delivery run and, if needed, a roughly two-minute wireless recharge.

"Our premise with HorseFly is that the HorseFly sticks close to the horse," Burns says. "If required, the HorseFly will wirelessly recharge from the large battery in the WorkHorse truck. The fact that the delivery trucks are sufficiently scattered within almost any region during the day makes for short flights, as opposed to flying from the warehouse for each delivery."
Ph.D. student Wei Wei, lead researcher, alongside the Horsefly.  (Photo from Gizmag and UC)

The UC Press Release continues:
Key to that success and a primary reason AMP teamed with UC has been the researchers' ability to make the HorseFly safe and resilient. In addition to the sophisticated autonomous controller system, the HorseFly will have multiple built-in hardware redundancies (rotors, onboard computers, battery packs). So if, for example, multiple rotors were to fail, the HorseFly and its payload still could be retrieved safely.

"An important part of the HorseFly project is that we make a vehicle that will not drop out of the sky," Burns says. "This is the particular point that UC specializes in and where we are relying on their expertise to help us build such a safe and resilient craft."
I'm suitably embarrassed about saying "that's impossible.  It'll never work".  You just need to think about the problem differently.  Instead of centralized warehouses, decentralized delivery truck/charging stations - essentially mobile warehouses.  The drones don't deliver everything, just the things they're good for. 

Bezos' dream may be closer at hand than we thought.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Steps To Reloading

After the fun show, the rest of the weekend was dedicated to getting my reloading stuff moved out of the tiny space it was in over to the larger quarters.  The hardware is out there, but not all of the supplies. 
Not an ad for RCBS, but my progressive press is on the right, temporarily held in place by some woodworking clamps.  The single stage Rock Chucker is over on the left, lying with its base facing the camera.  Dies, some tools, some bullets and odds and ends complete the picture.  I need to play around with how it feels for a while and decide exactly where they go before I go drilling holes to mount the presses permanently.  I've been looking at pictures of how other folks do this, and all I can say for sure is that I want some more storage.  I'll probably build a set of shelves, say, two or three shelves tall and just about the length of the bench.  I could also use storage for miscellaneous small parts I have.  Maybe a set of drawers or maybe a small cabinet to go under the bench. 

Like reloading itself, building the area will be a series of steps and I'm just at the beginning of the trip.

As always, I'm open to suggestions.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In Honor of Father's Day

For all the other fathers out there.
Just a couple of father's day facts.  Mother's Day is the busiest phone day of the year:
"We found that Mother's Day is far and away the most popular day to place phone calls across the world, registering more calling traffic than any other holiday, including New Year's and Valentine's Day."
Father's Day has the highest number of collect calls of the year:
It gets better. Children often call dad to send their love but do so on his dime: Father's Day traditionally marks the year's busiest collect-call day for AT&T. And those who remember to send greeting cards do so in significantly smaller numbers.
So my wish is simple: enjoy your day.  Have a barbecue.  Do some shooting or fishing or something you like.  Or do Absolutely Nothing.

And if you kids still make collect calls, pay for it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fun Show Day

Today was fun show day here in the Silicon Swamp.  Since we've missed quite a few, we figured we'd go and see what called out to us.  The most noteworthy thing I picked up is something pretty ordinary.  A while ago I came to the conclusion that I might well be the only AR owner in this quadrant of the galaxy who hasn't tried Magpul Pmags.  Today, I ran into a vendor with a box selling them for $10 each so I grabbed a couple .  

The show was busy but not extremely crowded.  Prices on ammo were down and approaching reasonable in many instances.  I saw 1000 round cases of .223 for under $400, and 1000 rounds of .380 for $400.  Both of those have been considerably higher not that long ago (also, both of them were brass, boxer-primed, reloadable ammo, not steel case - bulk Federal .223 and Fiocchi .380). 9mm 115 grain hovered around $17 box - still high by my experience.  .22LR was everywhere at $50 to $65 for a 500 to 525 round brick.  Rough, but not the $95 of 12/2013.  Like most people, I'm harboring a deep fear that this may be the new normal in .22 for the foreseeable future. My more rational side says this is a bubble, and it will pop in time.  The hard part is knowing when. 

For the most part, the show seemed more like the shows from before the December 2012 insanity started.  ARs were plentiful and prices all were more like mid 2012; I saw several under $700.  Lots of handgun inventory, lots of shotguns.  I'm leaning toward picking up a semiautomatic shotgun, but haven't done enough research to decide on models or really what I'm looking for. 

AmmoLand ran an interesting piece by Dean Weingartner last Sunday that I'm sure some of you saw: A Crash In Ammunition Prices is Coming.   His argument boils down to the manufacturers getting caught up on their backlogs:
In classic economic fashion, the bubble was fueled by actions of the Federal government.   Many federal agencies bought enormous quantities of ammunition.  While the quantities were only a small percentage of total production, the raw figures fueled conspiracy theories.  Obama administration actions fueled fear of coming shortages, gun bans, registration of ammunition sales, even potential low level warfare.  All of this led to the current bubble of ammunition sales.

In response, the economy reacted the way that free markets are supposed to work.   Ammunition suppliers started running their manufacturing plants day and night, adding additional shifts.   Importers scoured the world markets, trying to buy everything they could to satisfy the insatiable demand.   Foreign manufacturers bumped up their production to try to fill the desire for more and more ammunition.   Ammunition production was at the highest level ever for small arms, short of war.
Personally, I think it's our duty as patriots to have enough ammo on hand to cause Shannon Watts to lose bladder control (she of the constantly demanding mothers).  We were able to weather the bad shortage periods without cutting too deeply into our ammo supplies, but we also haven't been shooting as often.  That was really due to the many road trips visiting mom before she passed away last Thanksgiving, and the the work we've been doing for the new shop.  A "life happens" interruption, not concern over using ammo.
(Rolling back American Eagle .223 20 round boxes to $8.97 doesn't sound like much of an improvement, but it's a lot better than $10.47!)

To enlarge a bit on what Weingarten says, a person with just a few rounds around the house, or used to stopping at the Walmart to pick up a couple of boxes on the way to the range, is justified in wanting a thousand or two, or a case of 5,000 “just in case”.  Once they have the 5,000, their desire for more drops in intensity.  If everyone had a few cases, the buffer in their supply might well prevent another bubble - or keep it from getting too bad.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Techno-Geek Nerdvana Camping or Survival

Some time in the next 51 hours (from NOW), go over to Kickstarter and check out the BioLite BaseCamp Stove.  As of right now, they have $901,000+ out of a goal of $45,000.  Plus a couple of stretch goals after that one.
BioLite is best known for their Camp Stove - a small stove that burns wood cleanly and uses a thermoelectric generator to produce enough power at 5V to charge USB charged devices.  Some campers eschew technology of any kind and are completely opposed to it.  For my 2 cents worth, a tablet like a Kindle or iPad packs a heck of a lot of useful features to take with you.  Likewise an Android or  iPhone.  Virtually all of these include GPS mappers, and other useful information, or just a book to read when the day is done.  Obviously, it depends on where you're going.  If there's no data service, anything that needs to get data over the air to function is just dead weight. 

The BaseCamp, as the name implies, is big enough to cook for several people (no dimensions, but they say it will cook "8 burgers", whatever that means).  Which means it would be just as useful here in hurricane country or in parts of the country subject to rough winter storms when the power goes out. It produces 5V at 1Amp, which should be enough to put a respectable charge into your devices, even if you don't run the fire a long time.  The value in an extended power outage or grid down event should be obvious.  

Kickstarter means they aren't available now.  They expect to ship in October.  I thought some of you would think this is pretty cool.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Inverse Midas Touch

(Eric Allie at

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Solar Cycle News Update

It's a few weeks early to do my semi-annual Solar Cycle 24 update, but NASA put out a report yesterday calling this the solar Mini-Max. 
According to an analysis Bieseker presented at NOAA's Space Weather Workshop in April, the sunspot number for Solar Cycle 24 is near its peak right now.

They agree on another point, too:  It is not very impressive. 

"This solar cycle continues to rank among the weakest on record," comments Ron Turner of Analytic Services, Inc. who serves as a Senior Science Advisor to NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program.  To illustrate the point, he plotted the smoothed sunspot number of Cycle 24 vs. the previous 23 cycles since 1755. "In the historical record, there are only a few Solar Maxima weaker than this one."
They include this plot, which shows all of the solar cycles observed in human history.  This one is in red.  By my count there are about five that are as weak as or weaker than this one.
As I've posted before, this is the weakest solar cycle in 100 years, which means no living solar scientist has seen a cycle this weak, and our records of what the sun was doing back then have much less data than is now available.  In my mind that means their predictions on what the sun is going to do are more of a stretch than if they were based on cycles that looked just like this one.

My interest in solar activity grew out of the shortwave radio listening hobby I started as a teen.  That was in the cycle right after the strongest one on record, the peak from the late 50s.  Solar activity acts to increase the density of the ionosphere, which raises the frequency at which radio waves are bent back to Earth.  Following the highest frequency that will propagate between two points is generally the way to hear (or talk with) that far point with the lowest loss of signal.  If you're a radio listener, or ham on a low budget, it gives you the best shot at those far points.

Later I became interested in the sunspot cycle and how it affects other, more important aspects of life.  The link between solar minima, like the Maunder Minimum, and little Ice Ages is pretty well known.  Despite what the alarmists say about Global Warmening (or whatever they call it this week), mankind has done better in warm periods than cold periods in our history (huge pdf alert - but fascinating reading).

Although this plot is 5 months from my last posting, it's worth including.

I've always heard it's a Chinese curse to say "may you live in interesting times."  We certainly do, don't we?  


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Autonomous Cars

There was a bit of flurry of news in the last few weeks when Google's long-standing program to develop autonomous cars made headlines again.  The idea isn't new, and has been the subject a long-running DARPA Challenge contest (like the X-Prize for commercial flight to space).  The DARPA Grand Challenge is in its 10th anniversary year.
Design News posts this picture of one of Google's test cars - quite possibly the only car in the world that makes a Smart Car look sexy.  The awkward looking lump on the roof of the car is a LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging or LIght raDAR); an array of 64 lasers used to measure the world around the car.
Built by Velodyne and known as the HDL-64E LIDAR, the new unit operates by making “time of flight” calculations -- it sends a pulse of light and measures the time it takes to come back. Therefore, it knows the distance to every object in a 100-meter vicinity. Its 64 laser lines are oriented on different angles, including up, down, and everything in between. A 5 Hz to 15 Hz user-selectable frame rate lets users tailor how much data the system grabs.
Of course, a self-driving car needs to be aware of more than just the distance to objects.  It needs to know what those objects are and how to behave around them, as Conan parodied.  Computers can be exceptionally bad at simple optical recognition but the car has to recognize anyone or anything else that might be using the road: pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, buses, trucks of all sizes and animals.  Not just dogs or cats; I recall encountering a large bull on "Alligator Alley", a state road that crosses the Everglades between Ft. Lauderdale and Naples.  

Autonomous cars are coming: how quickly probably depends on how safe they prove to be.  Nothing is 100% safe, certainly not human-driven cars, but if autonomous cars can be proven to have a significantly lower accident rate than human-driven cars, they'll be adopted quickly.   Can you imagine how fast ambulance chaser lawyers will be lining up to sue Google if one of their autonomous cars were to run over someone?  (They claim over 700,000 miles without a single accident)

The competition is not from other cars but from smart roadways.  Back in the 1990s, a consortium of universities did research on self-driving cars that relied on magnets buried in the road every few feet.  This is still being worked on.  Instead of measuring its surroundings with the LIDAR the Google cars use, these sensed the magnets to stay in the lane.  Meanwhile, radar and other sensors determined where the other cars were, and intercar radio links allowed "wolf packs" of  cars to go highway speeds a couple of feet from each other.  All movements were in sync and all cars aware of every other car.

What it's ultimately about is both reducing the number of accidents due to driver errors and increasing the carrying capacity of the roads.  I recall reading in the 1990s that to add the same amount of traffic to California freeways would cost about $1 Million/mile with magnets, but about $10 Million/mile by widening the roads and adding lanes.  But while those costs are impressive for widening interstate-type highways in urban areas, the technology will never make it to smaller roads in more rural settings.  If the cities can't afford to fix potholes, can they afford to drill holes and sink magnets every few feet?  That's where the autonomous car holds the advantage: the autonomous car is usable on any roads.  The autonomous car might well cost more than a car without the added electronics, but the car buying public pays those costs, not the municipal governments.   

Engineering is always the art of compromise.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Difference Between Dedication and Insanity

It can be hard to decide if the right word to use is dedication or insanity when you see the efforts some people put forward.  I'm sure some of my hobbies and things I've done (thanks to my Attention Surplus Syndrome) would be considered borderline insane by regular people, so I have no room to talk. 

With that in mind, take a look at what five years of dedication produced for industrial designer Luca Iaconi-Stewart.  What you're looking at is an incredibly detailed scale model of a Boeing 777 made from manilla folders and glue. 
It took five years, a lot of manilla folders and glue, and tremendous patience, but designer Luca Iaconi-Stewart finally completed his 1:60-scale replica of a 777 jetliner. The model, complete with miniature seats, engine, doors and even retractable landing gear, is almost as complicated as the real thing.
Iaconi-Stewart fell in love with making paper airplanes in high school, so when he found detailed designs for the Air India 777-300ER he immediately took them into Adobe Illustrator and got to work with his X-Acto knife. It was no easy task. The engine took a month to design and another four to build, reports Wired. Each economy seat took 20 minutes to craft; 8 hours for first class. He rebuilt the tail three times to get it perfect.
The project eventually became so time-consuming that Iaconi-Stewart dropped out of his classes at Vassar to focus on his work. “I’m fortunate to have parents willing to give me a fair amount of latitude,” he says.
More pictures embedded in the various links, including one to his personal Flickr page.  
I think he added a model of himself on the right. 

Dedication or insanity?  Insanely cool, if you ask me.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Catching Up - A Disjointed Post

No one will be more surprised than I am that I haven't posted anything since Thursday night.  I think that, excepting a few periods of travel, it's the longest I've gone without posting since I started this blog.  Not that I think there are hordes of readers waiting with bated breath for me to return, just that I feel like I'm supposed to return!

Aside from some family matters that I don't think are proper to discuss, at least for now, the time since my last post was largely spent working on the new shop.  We had blinds to mount on three windows and the double doors.  We had to wait for the construction guys to finish working inside, caulking and painting, and then I went to hang blinds.  I don't know about you folks, but hanging blinds never goes as smoothly and effortlessly as it should.   We bought blinds online specifying the kind that mount outside the window box, since I knew the walls had a 1x4 running a few inches on both sides across the top and bottom so there would be wood to screw the mounts into.  Due to unexpected nails, no two blinds have the same placement and spacing of the mounts!  Each set of blinds ended up being mounted a few times.

But the worst were these.  We have hurricane rated doors, with windows made of impact glass that survives the 2x4 shot at 150 mph (also effective against smash and grab), but they didn't have blinds inside for privacy.  The blinds are made by the company that makes the doors, so they should be the easy choice, right?  Ha ha!  Despite the video that makes installation appear to be a 30 second job (I swear it was all CGI), this was the worst job we had to do.  The two blinds took about six hours to mount and wrecked me, both physically, aggravating the mostly-healed tendinitis I got last Saturday, and causing me no end of frustration.

The construction is down to just a couple of finish jobs and may be done this week.  I'm mostly moved into the space, but need to spend some time building some shelves.  My working vacation for the last two weeks is ending today, so moving the reloading stuff will have to wait until next weekend when I can spend a little more time getting the area laid out. 

Possibly the longest thing I've written in the last few days was a comment over at Bayou Renaissance Man, to a piece on How to Quack-Proof Yourself. The topic of junk science is something I've written many pieces on and care deeply about.  This particular alleyway in the topic is very important, and the linked author, Dr. Amy Tuteur, approaches the argument with authority.  She gets a lot of it right, IMO of course, but drifts too far down the "physicians are scientists and we know what's good for you" road for my comfort.  In a year that we've been told the advice on consumption of saturated fat in the diet is meaningless (pay portal - more readable summary here) when it comes to preventing heart disease, and that there really is nothing mysteriously good for you about red wine (resveratrol), her comments on a few of these topics don't sit well with me.  Let's face it, the official pronouncements on what we should eat change regularly.

Here's the part that tweaked me.  Quoting the source:
A pervasive theme in quackery is the notion of the brilliant heretic. Believers argue that science is transformed by brilliant heretics whose fabulous theories are initially rejected, but ultimately accepted as the new orthodoxy. The conceit rests on the notion that revolutionary scientific ideas are dreamed up by mavericks, but nothing could be further from the truth. Revolutionary scientific ideas are not dreamed up; they are the inevitable result of massive data collection.
Like plate tectonics?  Like the big bang theory vs. the steady state models?  Both of these well-established scientific theories were brought up by "brilliant heretics" and didn't get accepted despite the "massive data collection" she talks about.  Back in 2011, Daniel Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for a topic he was drummed out of his research group over, quasi crystals.  Yet another  brilliant heretic who was ignored and punished widely despite his "massive data collection".  She's going against perhaps the most quoted book in science, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.    Kuhn observes that science is relatively static; new ideas are accepted in infrequent revolutions when old ways of envisioning and approaching problems fall to new ones.  This happens largely because the old scientists who hold those views die off.  

Like Neil deGrasse Tyson, she makes the mistake of saying since science is self-correcting and is right in the long run, it's always right. In general, science is always wrong; if it was always right, it wouldn't need to be self-correcting.  Something would be proven, then put on the shelf while new things were conquered.  If this is true at all, it's only true in math.  Science is correct only in a few, simple areas that are well known and that no longer need research. 

In reality you get things like the recent paper where a well-funded lab tried to replicate published, peer-reviewed cancer research and found only about a quarter of 67 papers could be verified. My favorite quote:
"I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning." 
Which reminds me that one of the most downloaded academic papers in history is John Ioannidis' Why Most Published Research is Wrong.

Gary Taubes, one of my favorite science writers, and a guy who has won many awards at it, says, "And here’s the challenge to both the scientist working in the field and the lay observer following along: how do we tell the difference between the one in a million times, say, that an outsider comes along and gets it right, and the other 999,999 quack-driven attempts? The numbers alone tell us that the best idea is always to bet against the outsider, that we’re always best served by ignoring him or her and getting back to science as usual (what Kuhn called “normal science”). The odds are enormously in our favor if we do so. But, still, when a paradigm is shifted, it’s going to be an outsider who does it,..."

And that's the rub.  If a self-proclaimed brilliant heretic, or someone proclaimed as such by other people says they have proof their advancement in science or medicine chances are they're not right.  But keep your ears open for lots of heretics saying the same thing.  The data that dietary saturated fat has essentially nothing to do with heart disease has been talked about regularly by many, many researchers for as long as the lowfat mantra was being preached, but there's a long time lag between the point where lots of heretics start saying something and the time the older researchers die off. 
(I wanted a picture of an old scientist, and Bing gave me actor Christopher Lloyd as Doc from "Back to the Future".  Somehow, that works for me.)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

European Central Bank Goes Full-Up Confiscation

Of course they don't say that, they just say they've adopted negative interest rates.  For the entire lives of everyone living today in the EU or the US, we've been able to deposit savings in a bank and earn a modest but guaranteed interest on it.  Like many of us, I'm sure, when I was a tiny child (6 or less),  parents or grandparents opened a passbook savings account for me in my local Savings and Loan bank.  In the days of the gold standard, the interest was earned simply by charging interest on loans and paying a portion of that interest to the people with savings accounts.  This is the way we all learned it; the way it was immortalized in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life".  Without a gold standard, it's a bit more complicated than that, but not worth going into now. 

The point is that's not the case anymore, at least in Europe (for now).  Starting today, you will have to pay for the "safety" of a bank.  The ECB has developed a plan to charge customers for keeping their money in the ECB.  Let me share what I absolutely love about this (emphasis added):
The European Central Bank on Thursday cut interest rates and took a raft of unconventional steps to prevent the 18-country eurozone from sliding into a bout of deflation that could kill off a muted economic recovery.
Of course they're unconventional steps!  If they worked, everyone would be doing it all the time!!

Technically, the ECB is just charging banks to deposit money with the ECB and they speculate, "Time will tell whether cutting the deposit rate will encourage banks to increase lending, ... or whether banks will treat this as a cost of operating and simply pass it on to consumers and businesses."  Hahahahaha!  I wonder if people, faced with losing money on savings, will pay to keep their money in banks or resort to stuffing it in the mattress?  If you have a relatively small amount on deposit, you could do that.  If you have large deposits, your cost of doing business just went up. 

Denninger, like me, doesn't buy it:
I give this move by Draghi a half-life of anywhere from a few hours to a few days.  The simple fact is that false "growth" that results from pyramiding debt leverage is a fraud and eventually must and does end for the simple reason that you ultimately wind up exactly where Draghi is -- you are forced to destroy nominal funds through negative rates if you keep attempting to press your foot in the accelerator.

This brings into immediate and irrefutable focus the factual act of destruction of purchasing power that has and is taking place.
That "destruction of purchasing power" that's taking place is due to the inflation the central banks are creating.  Remember: it has been said that our own Fed Head, Janet Yellen would like negative interest rates here. 

If you ever wondered about differences between what central bankers see and the reality we all experience, this underlines it.  They're doing this to deliberately create inflation; they're scared to death of deflation.  I ask you: would you object if the next time you bought something, prices were a little lower instead of higher?  Yeah, I wouldn't like my pay to go down, but it wouldn't sting as much if prices were going down.  All of these effects: inflation, deflation, and negative interest rates are the results of central banking. 
Mario Draghi: the ECB's Janet Yellen.

My guess is that this one of those events that changes everything.  I don't think for a minute that it can't happen here: you'd better believe it can.  What would you do if they told you they were going to charge you interest to put money in the bank?  One thing for sure - and I've said this forever - savers are going to be destroyed.  They're desperately trying to destroy savings to get that money into circulation, which they believe fixes everything.  If they have to destroy us, hey: omelet, eggs.  You know the story.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Outfitting the Small Shop Pt. I

It's about time I bring everyone up to date on my big side project: I've been building my dream shop.  The building phase is almost complete - might well be done this week.  The outfitting phase is less clear. 

Let me back up to the start. 

The diminutive but deadly Mrs. Graybeard and I have been living here 30 years; we moved in June 4, 1984 (which happened to be our second wedding anniversary).  The house is small by modern standards, with the original "under air" space not quite 1300 sq. ft. (we since air conditioned the garage, making it almost 1600 square feet).  If you remember 30 years ago, mortgage rates were terrible - something like 17% on new loans.  Buying from an owner with an assumable mortgage let us keep it at 13%.  I bring this up to underline the reasons for getting into a smallish house.  The early '80s were also when Paul Volker was reeling in the horrible inflation of the 70s, by creating a recession (the sort of pain no Fed Head will voluntarily create now), and the two of us were laid off several times in the early 80s.  It led us to want a house we could afford if one of us were forced out of work. 

In these 30 years, I've always had a workshop in the garage.  I've build the oak wall unit I'm facing now, and done a lot of other woodworking.  From about '86 until '90, we had a small aluminum boat in there, but still enough room to tinker and build things.  Some time after we sold the boat, in the early '00s, Mrs. Graybeard bought me my first machine tool: a Sherline lathe.  As time went by, I eventually added the Sherline Mill, and to shorten the story, had a small metal shop in there along with the wood shop.  And then we got back into fishing.  Let's get another little aluminum boat like we had last time we sez.  It'll be better than walking piers and jetties we sez.  After half a year in the back yard and the problems that brought, we played 3D Tetris and moved the boat into the garage.  Middle of May of '12.  And since then it has been rough to get much of anything done in the garage.  Even without that, we outgrew the house at least 15 years ago.  It's a small house, after all.   

We paid off the house early and have been living debt free for a few years (we re-fi'ed along the way, and our "lower" rate was 9%!).  As retirement approaches, we're both trying to reconcile the many different directions we feel pulling us.  Again, leaving out a lot minutia, we decided to expand the house.  Make a shop on the back of the existing garage. It will restore the room I need for a good shop, better than I've ever had, and allow more room for storage of everything.  What started out to be the size of a two car garage (about 440 sq.ft.) turned into "why not build it as big as we can?" and it's now 770 sq. ft. (outside).  It's almost half the rest of the house and garage combined. 

So given a shop that size, I'm going to have a woodworking area, a metal shop area, and a reloading corner.  For starters, the shop will have my existing tools.  Metal shop will have my Sherline lathe and Sherline/A2Z CNC milling machine.  I'm looking for some heavier metal: maybe a full-sized tool room lathe, and bigger mill, as I can find them or as finances allow.  Being a techno-geek with access to a good 3D CAD program, I've been building (and revising) a 3D model of the space.  This is about what it looks like in perspective from high above. 
The drawing just has lines to represent the walls, windows and doors, so it might be hard to figure out from this drawing that those light green boxes floating in midair are shelves that don't particularly exist right now.  But I bet you can figure that there's a computer, monitor and keyboard in the L-shaped space called "Metal Shop".   

What I intend to do here is talk about outfitting the shop.  My current shop is capable of turning an 80% lower into an AR, but I'm not sure it can do it from a forging (0% lower).  While my shop can do any of the smaller tasks that come up, and maybe even a 1911, I'd like to be able to rechamber a barrel and that's definitely way too big a job for my shop.  That implies a big lathe.  That large gold block on the top right of my floor plan is a reserved space for a gunsmith's lathe, or full sized lathe like that.  Redneck Engineer tells me the Precision Matthews lathes seem to be good full-sized lathes.  I kind of like this model.  I was looking at some nice hobby-sized mills, but find that Craig's List seems to get real, big, heavy metal like a used Bridgeport for much less than it usually takes to get some of the more capable smaller mills.  Something like this Grizzly G0704 is a good compromise.  That Griz, and probably a used Bridgeport, will be manual and not CNC (not that I couldn't convert them).  There's interest in the patriot community in how to get a machine we can drop plans into and get a gun out of.  While it seems it will always take a bit more user skill than that, I'd like to steer in that direction and keep everyone up with what I'm learning.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Life in Florida - What They Don't Tell You

22 year old Jessica Vaughn was tubing in the intracoastal waterway close to downtown Ft. Lauderdale and was bitten by bull shark.  This screen cap of the area in Bing Maps shows just how densely populated the area is (the blue dot marks where she was pulled from the water and ambulance called):
One of her group claimed to know the shark to be a Bull shark by sight.  I wouldn't doubt it.  First, Bulls are known to go into water much fresher than that spot, which is around three miles from Port Everglades inlet and the ocean.  Second, Bulls are known to be aggressive biters and known to be behind many inshore shark attacks.  Third, that wound absolutely looks like the bite pattern of a Bull! A set of pictures on the Daily Mail show the underside of her calf where each and every tooth mark is visible.   Thankfully, surgeons were able to repair her wounds and she was discharged from the hospital. 
As a science nerd who spent a lot time in the water, I read all the research available on shark attacks as part of year long "open research" class I was allowed to take in my last year of high school.  Based on that I'd say this attack has the look of a "hit and run" type of attack.  The shark took a bite to decide if she tasted like food and then spit her out.  Possibly mistaken identity: the shark thought her leg was a fish or some other natural prey, took a bite and thought, "not food".  If that shark had really wanted to feed, I suspect it could have taken her lower leg off.  There's an old observation among shark researchers that if a large shark is successful in an attack, you get a missing person report, not a shark bite.  At an estimated four feet long, this one wasn't big enough to make her disappear, but she's still lucky. 

I live within about half mile of the Indian River lagoon and Bull sharks are regulars in the lagoon.  The water is much less tidal and salty than where this attack took place in Ft. Lauderdale, but that Wikipedia article shows Bull sharks go into completely fresh water.  You need to know that most shark attacks happen in relatively shallow water (because most people stay in shallow water) and in dim light.  Either at night, dawn or dusk, or in dark or murky water, like this incident.  Wading at daybreak casting the saltwater flats while trailing a stringer of fish is begging to be hit by a shark.  If you go wading, put the fish in a cooler or plastic tub or something that keeps them from making sounds or putting out a scent trail in the water. 

I saw a commercial that featured some folks surfing at night.  That's more dangerous than daytime surfing anywhere that I know of.  Swimming at night isn't any better.  Yeah, I know, people do it all the time. 

One of these days, I'll tell you some alligator stories.  All Floridians have some of those, too.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Position I Hope None of us Are Ever In

The big world news this weekend, of course, is that the Obamanoids orchestrated a prisoner swap with the Taliban in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.  Bergdahl was held by the Taliban for five years.  In exchange, the US gave up five high level Taliban leaders.  Random Acts of Patriotism has a list of the five and their backgrounds.

As he says, if it was my son, I'd be more inclined to swap anyone, pull any strings to get him back.  I'm sure a lot of people would, too, but our leadership is not supposed to react to emotion like that; they're supposed to uphold all the laws and act in America's best interest.  At a first look, it appears the Obamanoids did none of the above.  The executive is supposed to notify Congress if they plan to swap anyone out of Gitmo (but, apparently, don't require authorization to do so).  Worse, they've absolutely proven that we do negotiate with terrorists, we will bargain, and we're even willing to go way beyond a one-for-one swap. 

As always, Obama believes he's above the reporting law and is not required to follow it:
When he signed the law last year, Obama issued a signing statement contending that the notification requirement was an unconstitutional infringement on his powers as commander in chief and that he therefore could override it. 
The swap was arranged using Qatar as intermediaries, and the administration says the five prisoners being swapped will be banned from traveling out of Qatar for a year.  I'm sure that will be just as effective as the laws that keep prisoners from being armed in American civilian prisons.

Two things have always bothered me about this incident - before this weekend.  First, isn't it the case that every other American they've captured has not only been killed, but usually mutilated?  I know I've read reports many times that the Taliban and Al Qaeda don't keep prisoners for any length of time.  Isn't it, then, rather unusual this guy is alive in captivity five years? 

Second, there are rumblings that the he wasn't captured; he went AWOL.  Even if not that far, others say the only way he could have been captured would have been to violate procedures, essentially going out alone.  The WaPo article says Bergdahl:
...bewildered his comrades after he walked off base in volatile Paktika province on June 30, 2009.
Today those of us not tied to the little blue bird from Twitter learn from Colonel Alan West that the guy's father put up a rather suspicious tweet briefly then pulled it down.  Someone associated with colonel West's page did a screen cap of the tweet before it went away.
The address "@ABalkhi" refers to Abdulqahar Balkhi, one of the Taliban's (apparent) spokesmen.   Bergdahl's father appears to be telling the Taliban he's still working to free all of their prisoners in Guantanamo, and telling them God will repay (who?  America?) for the death of every Afghan child.  It seems that there's probably more here than just what's in the news stories.  This story just doesn't smell right. 

EDIT 2020 EDT 0601: Check out author Brad Thor's observations on this affair over at The Blaze.  Major point: Sgt. Bergdahl wasn't held by the Taliban, he was held by the Haqqani network.
It is important to note that the Haqqanis are not the same thing as the Afghan Taliban.  The two are different groups.  ...  The Haqqanis are heavily tied to both Al Qaeda (providing them safe passage and support) and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency, also known as the ISI.  The Haqqanis are a heavily criminal enterprise sowing and feeding off of the chaos in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region.  Envision Al Qaeda crossed with the Sopranos and you begin to get the picture of what these thugs are like.
Thor's central concern is that by making this deal, the Administration has drastically increased the risks of Americans traveling abroad being taken hostage by these networks, to get ransom money or to get key prisoners released.