Sunday, January 31, 2016


This weekend saw us travel to the NE Gulf Coast area of Florida, sometimes called the Big Bend area, for a memorial service for a family member.  A relationship that I don't know a name for, but an in-law on Mrs. Graybeard's side. 

Unfortunately, I didn't really know the gentleman, but I think he would have been a lot of fun.  His idea was to have everyone get together for a dinner and tell stories about their fun times or fond memories of times together.   He passed away a year ago yesterday, so his brother, sister and widow hosted the party on the first anniversary of his passing.  I think it allowed everyone's pain to subside so that the stories were more happy than sad, although there was plenty of dust in the room.

He competed on his college rifle team in the late 50s, loved fly fishing, wildlife photography, animals,  kids and had an impish sense of humor.  We would have gotten along just fine.  To give you an idea of his approach to life, he was cremated and his urn placed on the table with the guestbook.  We all had name tags, so there was one on his urn saying,
"Hi!  I'm <redacted> 
Thanks for coming 
Have a ball
Share good memories
Love you all!"
Which displays a wonderful attitude. 
A copy of one of his photos.  They called this bird Henry the Househawk. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Odds and Ends

From EE Times, a cute, entertaining video that uses a technique called (I think) projection mapping.

They have another one where the table turns into a lagoon so a miniature chef can create a bouillabaisse. These are short videos, under two minutes each, and the source article links to some other fun videos.

Puzzled over the array of candidates looking to work for you in the White House this year?  Do you like long, involved questionnaires?  Look no further than "I Side With".  Not only can you fill in a lot of pages, you can provide answers beyond a simple Yes/No.  You can even write in an answer, and their software seems to do a nice job of interpreting your meaning.  For the record, I was 89% in agreement with Marco Rubio, 88% in agreement with Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump, and well over 80% with the entire Stupid Party field.  It said I was 17% in agreement with the Old Lady Who Belongs in a Federal Jail and 17% in agreement with the Cranky, Crazy Old Socialist.  I'm surprised it was that high.  I don't think they give points for us all being bipedal air breathers, which is the only way I'd think I have that much in common with them.

Finally, while cleaning out my email boxes (anal-retentive is hyphenated, dammit!) I came across this great piece from The Onion in 2011, "Remains Of Ancient Race Of Job Creators Found In Rust Belt".  It has the tone of an archaeological publication. As a sample:
According to researchers, these long- forgotten people once flourished between western New York state and Illinois, erecting highly distinctive steel and brick structures wherever they went, including many buildings thought to have held hundreds of paid workers at a time.

"It's truly fascinating—after spending a certain number of hours performing assigned tasks, the so-called 'employees' at such facilities would receive monetary compensation that allowed them to support themselves and their families," said archaeologist Alan H. Mueller, citing old ledgers and time-keeping devices unearthed at excavation sites in the region. "In fact, this practice seems to have been the norm for their culture, which consisted of advanced tool users capable of exploiting their skills to produce highly valued goods and services."

"It's a complex and intriguing set of rituals we're still trying to fully understand," Mueller added. "But it appears as if their entire society was centered around creating, out of thin air, actual jobs that paid an actual living wage."
Yeah, it's an old piece, but whole idea that people creating and working at regular jobs where they earn a living from as being so remote in history that archaeologists study those people is a funny concept.  The idea that work is an ancient culture fits well in the Obama economy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Techy Wednesday (?) - Can Radio Frequency Wireless Charging Work?

A rather late post.  After working on this for an hour or so last night, it just wasn't coming across clearly.  To me.  I thought discretion was in order and I'd rework it to make it more understandable - and make it twice as long. 

Wireless charging is one of those things that seems like a great idea but really hasn't taken off as much as many had expected.  I touched on that briefly last month, but while wireless charging fits into many peoples' lives, it isn't revolutionary.  I recall writing:
Yeah, they allow you to put your phone on a mat, or a special pad like the Samsung charger pictured, but the bottom line is that it doesn't buy you much.  Your phone isn't very usable while it's charging - at least, not as a phone.   How different is leaving your phone on a pad overnight from leaving it plugged in overnight?
Within a week of that, I ran into talk about another wireless charger that went beyond "not revolutionary" to a bit scary.  EE Times reported:
The Cota wireless charging technology from Cairo-based Si-Ware Systems (SWS) and Ossia Inc. departs from coil-based systems to serve up to eight devices simultaneously at a distance of 30 feet using 2.4 GHz multi-path radio frequency.
Ossia and SWS envision a charging technology that mimics Wi-Fi, automatically connecting devices to power without the need for charging mats. The Cota system includes a scalable receiver and transmitter with between 1,000 and 8,000 tiny antennas. [emphasis added - SiG]
The idea itself is pretty elegant and you have to admit it has some aspects that sound cool.  Instead of charging inductively, like all current systems do; implementing the two halves of a transformer as a coil on the charger and one in the thing being charged, this system uses radio transmitters to send power to the thing you're charging.  As a user, you never worry about plugging in the device, or putting it on the charging coil.  You simply go about your life and the phone (or whatever) is automagically charged while you use it.  In their system, one transmitter connects with up to 8 devices with no action required from the user, like a WiFi network recognizing a device that had been there before, and sends power to charge the device's batteries over radio frequencies.  The article reports this system relies on custom components which they describe.
The SWS1410 MIMO transmitter chip can deliver more than 10 Watts with support for up to four antennas, a central CPU that can store location data for different clients and on-chip RAM. Abid Hussein, chief commercialization officer at Ossia, which developed Cota’s antenna technology, made a distinction between his technology and beam forming.

Each antenna emits a few milliwatts of ambient power he said, then uses massive multi-path technology to process a receiver’s signal and send power to a chip or chips. Ossia and SWS will demonstrate a consumer-scale personal area transmitter at CES in January. [emphasis added - SiG]
The way I read how they're describing this, they intend to radiate "more than 10 Watts" for the charging, but the system will emit a few milliwatts, and when a receiver replies, then it sends power.

So what's the problem?  The amount of power they need to send and the way the system is described sounds like it's going to be in the realm of potentially dangerous.  

I find numbers help me visualize the system and make it easier to see the way it works, so let's play with some numbers.  An iPhone 5 or 6 has a battery rated at about 6 or 7 Watts.  An iPad has a battery rated at 25W.  A Samsung Galaxy S5 has a battery which upgrades that to almost 11 Watts.  The Nexus 10 Tablets are rated at close to 34 Watts.  That sort of rating in watts is generally given for a 10 hour charge/discharge rate (I talk about this in more detail here), which implies a charger would apply about a tenth of that for over 10 hours.  (Why more than 10 hours to put back 10 hours worth of use?  There are always inefficiencies, things that generate heat, that make it take more than 10 hours to put 10 hours of capacity into a battery).

Since they say that their system will charge up to eight devices, we could assume a mix of these things or "worst case" it by assuming we have a room with eight Nexus 10 tablets in it, but I'm going to be generous and say four Nexus 10 tablets (4 times 3.4 Watts) and four iPhones (4 times 0.7 Watts).  That's 16.4 Watts, quite a bit more than the "more than 10 Watts" rating they talk about.  Based on reading Engineering Sales pitches for 30 years, I believe that if they really could do 16.4 watts they'd say, "more than 15 watts" if not saying more than 16 watts.  So I'm going to go from here and limit my calculations to 10 Watts.  (More than 10 Watts could mean 10.001)

The problem is the electromagnetics of filling a room with 10 Watts of radio frequency (RF) energy, aiming it at a handful of small devices, and actually transferring the charge to them.  In particular, can it be done safely?  RF safety is pretty big and contentious subject.  Way back in 2011, I put down a lot of thoughts on the subject, but the 25 cent summary is that while there are many, many accusations that RF causes all sorts of injuries, cancers or other problems, the only effects that everyone agrees with is that it causes heating.  We all know that - didn't Robin Williams joke about putting Mr. Hamster in the microwave oven in the mid '70s?  

Over the last half year or so of my career, I became the default guy to go to with questions about RF safety.  I reviewed what the US, European Union, Canada, and Australia had for their RF safety limits, and then looked into what the Environmental Defense Fund had to say about smart meters (I found it interesting that EDF essentially used the US limits).  In general, the US limits are about typical of everyone.  There are a couple of countries in the European Union who reject the EU limits and impose limits about 1/10 of those but don't really justify it.  I will stick with the US limits here.

The US has a safe exposure limit (for the general public) in the 2.4 GHz frequency range (cited in the first quote paragraph) of .001 W per square centimeter; 1mW/  Recall from the previous charging discussion that we're assuming 10Watts or 10,000 mW.  To get to 1 mW/, we have to spread that over 10,000 to be safe!  10,000 is 1550 square inches.   An antenna beam doesn't have to be circular in shape, but it's a convenient way to wonder how big a thing we're talking about.  A circular beam of 1550 square inches would be almost 44 inches in diameter, almost four feet in diameter.     

Think now about pointing that 44 inch diameter pencil-shaped beam at one device to charge.  44 inches diameter is much bigger than an iPad, so some of that energy will be lost and charging efficiency will go down making it take more hours to charge it.  The only way they could get the efficiency up would be to make the beam smaller, but that would make the power density exceed the FCC safety rules.  It gets more complicated.  That 10Watts needs to be split into eight different directions to put the power into the device.  In a way that's good, since it might be feasible to send lower powers, which can ease the safety hazard and make the beams smaller.  On the other hand, consider a room with eight people carrying devices and the system trying to charge them.  How does it track them?  How does it keep the beam from not crossing someone's eyes?  How fast could someone move and still allow the system to charge something?
I hate to be the guy who told the Wright Brothers "it'll never fly", but it doesn't seem to be an approach that can really work.  Too many conflicting requirements.  They say that they want to use the 2.4 GHz band for this power distribution, but your smart device has a 2.4 GHz WiFi receiver in it and putting 10 Watts in the vicinity of a receiver designed to handle millionths of a watt just isn't a good idea.  That much power would very likely physically damage the receiver.  If it doesn't physically damage the receiver, it will jam it and make it useless.

I'm especially concerned about the RF safety requirements.  No, I don't think 1mW/ is dangerous, but computing what an actual electromagnetic field looks like, especially one that comes from "between 1000 and 8000" radiating antennas, is so computationally horrific that it would choke a really fast computer for days.  The amount of simulation and measurement that would be required to show it to be safe would require many sets of calculations.  And those calculations go out the window unless everything in the room can be modeled, including the people carrying the devices. Don't say they can measure the fields because putting any probe into a field distorts it.  That doesn't make the safety analysis any easier.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Do You 'Cue?

As in barbecue?

Long time readers will know I tend to talk about firing up the smoker and barbecuing a pork butt or brisket or whatever is around, especially on holidays.  I say that barbecue is two of the four basic food groups:  barbecue, bacon, barbecue and fruit.  Much of what people think of as vegetables are really fruits from a biological standpoint: corn is a fruit, squash, zucchini, green beans, and tomatoes are all fruits.  When you get down to it, virtually all non-leafy, non-starchy vegetables are fruit.  Coffee comes from coffee beans, the seeds in the fruit of that plant, which makes coffee sorta like a fruit juice.

There's a distinction between barbecuing and grilling.  Grilling is throwing a hunk 'o meat (or whatever) over hot charcoal and cooking it in about the same time as you would on your kitchen stove.  Barbecue is "low and slow".  Low temperature; slow cooking.  My bias is that Real Barbecue is done in a smoker, which can be fired in any number of ways: wood, propane, electric, anything that will heat the wood to the smoking point.

If you 'cue, you may have made a fatty (or fattie) - or heard of them.  I came across the idea on some barbecue forums; people talking about "smoking a big fattie".  I was puzzled, but went off and read.  I made my first one this weekend.  A fatty is more like a template than a recipe, and there's almost as many versions as there are people making them.  The basic idea is take about a pound of pork sausage or ground beef, form it into a thin sheet with something like a rolling pin, and then roll that up around some stuffing of some sort.  The stuffing could be just about anything; I've seen guys put spinach in theirs, diced ham, potatoes, or even scrambled eggs.  One guy just took the wrapper off a one pound roll of sausage, rolled that in the dry rub mix that folks use on ribs, and smoked that. 
This was my starting point: a 2 pound package of Jimmy Dean pork sausage and two packages of bacon.  Using wax paper on that cookie sheet, I spread it out into a thin layer, added fillings, and rolled it up into a round sorta-meatloaf.  I stuffed it with provolone, mushrooms and salami slices with some garlic and red pepper.  (This is before the mushrooms and spices.) 
Then I rolled it up into a package of bacon made into a basket weave, like this:
Since I started out with a two pound package of sausage, it turned out too big for the bacon weave.  No problem, we just wrapped some more bacon around the ends, and then skewered them to hold them in place.   Into the smoker at 230F with hickory chips and four hours later, when the internal temperature hit 165, this is what came out:
Those white things that look like plugs?  That's molten provolone cheese coming out from where the meat thermometer probes were.  If you're keeping score, it's a bacon-wrapped, cheese and salami filled, pork sausage roll.  Bet you can see where the name fattie comes from! 
Seems like something to experiment with once a month or so.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

China Isn't Going to Recover for a Long Time

A few times in the last year, I mentioned Jim Rickards and his book "The Death of Money" (book link).  In one of the more pucker-inducing section of the book, Jim devotes a full chapter to the problems lurking just under the surface in China.  China has corruption that makes our government look like a brownie girl scout troop.

One of the ways this corruption is evident is in systemic malinvestment.  It works like this:  China doesn't really have a free market system; it has a state run economy like any other socialist state.  There is some freedom around the edges, but the monsters are the so called "state owned enterprises", typically run by local or provincial "big wigs", almost the equivalent of war lords.  Think of these SOEs as engines of corruption, shoveling money from the government to cronies who do whatever they want with it (did I say it was like our system, only worse?)   China has "ghost cities" that have never been occupied, bridges to nowhere, bridges and other projects that are abandoned after an aborted start and more.

Case in point is the city of Caofeidian, the "world's first fully realized eco-city", in a Guardian article from July of '14.  Roughly 120 miles southeast of Beijing, Caofeidian was built on land reclaimed from the sea by dredging sea bottom and piling it up (the term "dredge and fill" is an obscenity in South Florida, BTW).  
‘As precious as gold ...’ That was how then-president Hu Jintao described Caofeidian during his visit in 2006. It was pledged to be ‘the world’s first fully realised eco-city’ – yet 10 years and almost $100bn later, only a few thousand inhabitants have moved to this land reclaimed from the sea ...
One million residents were once supposed to live there. It is a ghost town today, sporting only a few thousand inhabitants. Practically no-one has ever stayed in the city, and the buildings are already deteriorating. In fact, many of the buildings have been left half-finished, as credit eventually ran out. 

The first city to get a lot of press as a ghost was Ordos, in Inner Mongolia.  Ordos was built as a copy of... well, Ordos, a Mongolian city that became wealthy as a center for coal production.   A BBC article from 2012 begins:
A huge statue of the mighty warrior Genghis Khan presides over Genghis Khan Plaza in Ordos New Town. The square is vast, fading into the snowy mist on a recent Sunday morning.

Genghis Khan Plaza is flanked by huge and imposing buildings.

Two giant horses from the steppes rise on their hind legs in the centre of the Plaza, statues which dwarf the great Khan himself.

Only one element is missing from this vast ensemble - people.

There are only two or three of us in this immense townscape. Because this is Ordos, a place that has been called the largest ghost town in China.
But it's not just cities, it's all sorts of infrastructure.  Consider the Qingdao Haiwan Bridge, shown here in white in the middle of the water.
This recently completed bridge (the white line across the middle of the bay in the image above) holds the world record for the longest bridge over water.

Spanning 42 kilometers, it’s long enough to cross the English Channel.

Built at a cost of 56 billion yuan ($8.7 billion), the bridge crosses Jiaozhou Bay and connects the main urban area of Qingdao city with the Huangdao District.
The bridge saves approximately 20 minutes drive time to go from one industrial side to other.  Is 20 minutes times the number of commuters really worth $8.7 billion?  How much traffic does this represent?  Consider, instead, building a bridge where the red line is at the mouth of that bay.  It wouldn't be able to claim the title of "longest bridge over water in the world", but it would have cut drive time between the population centers as well.

There's bad investment all over China: bridges, cities and more.   Estimates run into the trillions of dollars. 

You've heard for some time that the China's yuan is being manipulated to make it look better than it really is.  They made a mistake, though, in pegging it to the dollar.  Since the dollar has been doing well for the last year or so (due to my "least disgusting girl at the dance" theory) causing the dollar to rise against other currencies.  This makes Chinese exports more expensive compared to those from places like Vietnam, Myanmar, Taiwan or Thailand.  Financial writer Tom Dyson of the Palm Beach Letter observes:
That’s why we’ve seen China’s gross domestic product (GDP) decrease every consecutive year since 2007. And it’s now growing at its slowest pace in 25 years. China’s GDP is expected to contract even further next year.

The billions of dollars in lost export revenue are now no longer available to service bad debts.

The lost revenue was the cash flow that kept the show going. Without it, those who have partaken in this grand scheme will have their legs swept out from under them.
He also cautions that we're not going to see China default or go bankrupt, but it is going to take years to go through this bad debt.  The days of the (so-called) 7% per year growth in China are over.  In my opinion, they're going to look at years of zero to negative growth.  That will ripple around the world, and will affect the US economy, too.  He presents a list of Exchange Traded Funds that center on China that should be avoided.  If you accept his analysis (RTWT). 
Bridge pylons from Caofeidian.  A six-lane road span bridge was abandoned after 10 support pylons had been erected.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Different Kind of Fun Show

Not just a gun show, but a gun and fishing show. 

Today, Mrs. Graybeard and I drove an hour south to Ft. Pierce for the Florida Sportsman Expo held outdoors at the county fairgrounds.  Florida Sportsman is a magazine dedicated to the state that covers fishing, hunting, shooting, camping, diving and basically everything you'd want to do in outdoors sports.  I know a lot of you north of us on the east coast are suffering through snowmageddon so I don't mean to sound silly, but it was cold today by our standards.  It made it up to about 60, but there was a NW wind at about 20 steady and gusting to 35 or so.  Yeah, I know, many of you think of that as car washing weather. 

At the fishing expo there were various boats on display, kayaks, and other man-powered, skinny water fishing boats, plus custom rods, lots of reels, tackle, and lures like DOA Lures and USB Lures.  Pretty much everything you'd need to outfit a fishing addiction.  The fishing show, though, was in an equestrian events building that offered no protection from the wind.  With sun blocked out by the building, the wind was rather difficult to bear, and I had good rain jacket/windbreaker on.  Before someone says it, I know the term "dress in layers", but it isn't part of my everyday life.  Plus, I expected the expo to be indoors, based on the photos at the FS Expo website. 

Running alongside the fishing expo was a gun show.  The gun show wasn't particularly good.  The venue was two small side buildings, and there was hardly anything to see.  The most interesting thing I saw was that a Mossberg 715T, their AR-lookalike .22LR semiauto was going for less than a plain old Ruger 10/22 with the basic wood stock

So we drove about 130 miles, spent $12 to get in, didn't see a thing worth buying and spent three hours to find that out. The worst part was that I managed to get my two wheel drive Exploder stuck in mud looking for a parking spot.  A nice guy with a 4WD Ram gave me a tow out back to firmer ground. 

The Fairgrounds looking more or less south.  Fishing was in the big building in the back behind the red circle. The gun show was in two of the three smaller, squat buildings to the right and in front of the circle. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

I Don't Care Who You Are, That's Funny!

I don't care if you like or dislike either of them, I love the caricatures.  I've always admired the ability of a cartoonist to capture the essence of a face with a few lines. 

Glenn McCoy, whose work is seen at Townhall and GoComics.  He also nails a pretty accurate Bernie, too.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Time's Up For This Prediction - The Market Correction Will Be Over in Four Months

Not my prediction, but while looking for something I'd written around last August or September, I ran across this piece from September 4th quoting an interview on CNBC with Brian Jacobsen, Wells Fargo Advantage Funds chief portfolio strategist.  He said that the market drop to 16,000 was a correction and it should be over within two to three weeks:
"I do hope that it is a two to three week bottoming pattern. However, when I look at the history of bull market corrections, it actually suggests that it might take a little bit longer than two to three weeks," Jacobsen told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."
The piece goes on to quote the observation that "There were two major corrections since 2009. In each case, stocks recovered all their losses within about four months."

Coincidentally, we're just over four months since that article.  The DJIA was 16,102 on that day, "correcting" down from 18,312.  Today it closed at 15,882.  Doesn't sound like it has recovered its losses in four months like those other corrections, does it?

As I've said here many times, the money that the Fed has cranked into the economy has distorted it extremely badly and those distortions have rippled everywhere so that it will take a long time to recover.  Check that.  It won't recover and go back to being a free market because before that can happen, someone will find ways to inject other distortions into the system.  They've essentially completely destroyed the free market.  As Milton Friedman said, “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

Simple question:  Can a small bunch of PhD economists with no market or business experience really manage the entire world’s economy?  Of course not.  A true free market doesn't need to be managed; it's an almost infinite set of signals and feedbacks that sets prices, sets demands and rights itself.  For example, the Fed decided years ago that they want inflation of 2%.  Why 2?  Why not 1?  Why not 3.14159%?  Why not a negative number?   What theory… what experience… what divine revelation leads them to think that an economy should have annual price increases of 2%? There is none. It is a modern myth.  In reality, prices go up and down on supply and demand.  There’s no more reason they should always go up by 2% than down by 2%.

Any commanded change in interest rates (the cost of money) to encourage buying or selling, lending or borrowing, distorts the free market.  The tired example is the bank loaning you money at low rates to prompt you to buy only moves that purchase forward in time.  Now that you have that item, you don't need one and you're paying it off, anyway.  Something you would have bought next year, say, moves into this year, but it doesn't change the aggregate number to be made and sold; it only changes the timing of making and selling it.  Eventually all of your income goes to making payments on what you bought and you can't add the payments when something breaks and you need a replacement.
Reality is that resources are limited. Prices tell us what we’ve got to work with. Falsify prices and you get errors of omission and commission. After a while, the system suffers from things it shouldna, oughtna done.

As Hjalmar Schacht, Germany’s minister of economics in the 1930s, put it: “I don’t want a low rate. I don’t want a high rate. I want a true rate.”

An honest interest rate tells the truth about how much savings are available and at what price. People still make mistakes; they still get up to some pretty weird stuff. But at least the perverts aren’t handing out candy on the playground.
There are those saying we're entering a bad bear market while the system goes through the equivalent of withdrawal symptoms from all that free money, the delirium tremens.  Some say five years of recession, some say 20.  I. Don't. Know.  What I was looking for when I found this "four months" quote was my technical analysis predictions that we could be looking at Dow 6000 or even Dow 5000.  It was in response to seeing a click bait ad that "one expert" predicts Dow 6000. 
The MSCI Index tracks stocks in both 23 advanced countries and 23 emerging economies worldwide.  Staying below 20% from its 52 week high is a standard definition of bear market. 

Is the DJIA really heading for 6000?  I think it's within the realm of possibility.  If I knew for sure, I'd be saying we should all be buying more beans, bullets and band-aids.  At those levels, there will be blood in the streets.  On the other hand if you can protect your assets now and avoid a bank haircut/bail-in as Peter comments, then when it is 6000 - or 5000 - that will be the time to buy. 

Tactical Yoga Pants

At SHOT show this week, 5.11 Tactical apparently announced what they call Raven Ranch Capri pants, but which the media is calling Tactical yoga pants.  My first reaction was to laugh.  "What a bunch of minxes!  What a lively sense of humor!"  (bonus points for recognizing the mangled quote...) 

My second reaction was to laugh. 

Then I thought, you know, with women being just about the fastest growing demographic in gun purchases, and every place I look women asking "how do I carry this darned thing?", maybe it's brilliance.  Young women seem reluctant to give up their carefully-considered style to dress around the gun.  You and I might get pants a size too big so we can use an IWB holster, but we're not 20-something studly guys (even if I'm only speaking for myself) and we're certainly not attractive young women (ditto about only speaking for myself).  It seems that young women don't want to "dress around the gun".  From what I can tell by reading, you understand. 
(image from 5.11 Tactical, via TFB).  The comments at the page on The Firearms Blog are pure gold, though. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Techy Tuesday - Ultra HD, 4K TV and HDR

Some time ago, Mrs. Graybeard and I were in that electronics store that implies they have the best buys on everything.  I don't even remember why we were there.  My only distinct memory is drifting over to where they have the monster TVs and encountering my first 4K TV.  It was playing a demo loop consisting of a vivid night time scene in some city, switching to a dusk scene of boats and a large riverboat on what appeared to be a European waterway, and then some scenes from Arches National Park.

My jaw hit the floor with such force that I think it's still partially dislocated.  Despite the enormous screen size, I think it was 60", it seemed there was detail in the picture finer than I could see; that if you put it under a microscope, you'd see more and more detail.  If I had a pocket magnifier, I would have tried it.

Unfortunately, the terms involved are somewhat muddled and there really isn't a way to know exactly what you're getting without seeing the TV.  For example, if I had bought that TV, I would have bought a 4K Ultra High Definition TV and would have thought I had the best there is. After this year's Consumer Electronics Show, though, I might be finding out that TV isn’t actually “Ultra HD Premium.”  EE Times' reporter Junko Yoshida does a summary of the terms and what's really going on in the market.
The UHD Alliance, an industry group with 35 member companies, came to Las Vegas last week, and rolled out a set of new specifications called “Ultra High Definition Premium,” and a ‘Good Housekeeping’ logo for products and services that comply with the spec.  The group’s recommended performance metrics include resolution, high dynamic range (HDR), peak luminance, black levels and wide color gamut.

The new spec actually clarifies the definition of Ultra High Definition. This is something “premium UHD” panel makers wanted but the Consumer Technology Association (formerly known as Consumer Electronics Association) never did,” according to Richard Doherty, Research Director of the Envisioneering Group. “So, the UHD Alliance stepped up and gave them what they wanted… Others can now aspire to meeting the criteria.”
As always, "the devil is in the details".  The HDR specifications, for example, specify how black the blackest levels need to be and how bright the whitest levels need to be.  The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) has been researching what constitutes "HDR" and developing specifications.  Their "HDR10" has been adopted as a basic standard for HDR 4k TV.  But peak brightness and peak blackness are just limits; how to meet those limits is a different question; if I told you the blackest blacks need to be the blackest thing imaginable and the peak brightness had to match the sun, I might have created a spec. that nobody could meet.
To date, four companies — Dolby, Technicolor, Philips and the BBC — have developed an HDR format. Each firm, armed with its own intellectual property rights, has been pitching its technology — a development destined to trigger another format battle over which format will be added to Ultra High Definition TV.
Shades of the VHS/Beta VCR standards?  Yup.  I'm fond of the saying that goes, "when there's more than one standard, there is no standard". 
This simulation from Dolby Labs shows their simulation of how much better their HDR is than the competition (real or imagined).  
One piece of surprise news came out of CES last week. Technicolor (Paris) and Royal Philips announced an agreement to merge their HDR solutions.
This matters because every scene isn't pure white or pure black.  The color space is incredibly important.  If you were around as CGA computer monitors were replaced by VGA and then SVGA and so on, you'll be familiar with the ideas color resolution and color spaces a monitor can display.  It applies here, as well.  (This is a deep subject; people study this for a living, so don't be surprised if it seems to be really esoteric.)  The most inclusive standard for color spaces I can find is CIE 1931.  Ultra HDR, 4K TVs are supposed to meet an input of Rec. BT.2020 ("Rec" is short for recommendation, but think of it as yet another specification).
Pictured here are three spec.s: CIE1931 as the large colored zone and two triangular areas.  The smaller one is the current HDTV color space, called Rec.709.  The larger triangle is BT2020.  The dot in the middle, D65, is white. 

So what does all this mean?  What's the bottom line?  Right now, the market appears to be both scattered and looking for directions.  There are some gorgeous 4k TVs out there, but while walking through the Big Box store a couple of weeks ago, I took a look at the display aisle and there were some that didn't look that good.  Not just HDR, which makes the screen look less vivid, but other picture problems as well.  I'm not buying for that reason, along with the lack of 4k source material.  In this neck of the woods, HD cable TV is just starting to do 1080p TV.  The 2160p of 4k just isn't there.  If you feel you have to have one, I'd still be really hesitant until specs get agreed upon.  You might read this article, too.  If you still feel you have to have one, I wouldn't buy one unless I could see it first. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Glenn Frey

By now, just about everyone knows that Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey passed away today, at the too-young age of 67.  Most everyone is commenting on years of listening to their music, and those memories are personal - the kind of things that probably don't translate well.  I've had them listed in my profile as one of my few favorite bands of all time.  Lately, I've been spending time learning to play some of it, too. 

Billboard magazine has the most complete bio I've seen, and is worth a read.  It includes a great history of the band.  But Glenn's best friends (and, yes, co-workers) at The Eagles have a touching tribute.
It Is With The Heaviest of Hearts That We Announce ... ...the passing of our comrade, Eagles founder, Glenn Frey, in New York City on Monday, January 18th, 2016.

Glenn fought a courageous battle for the past several weeks but, sadly, succumbed to complications from Rheumatoid Arthritis, Acute Ulcerative Colitis and Pneumonia.
The Eagles include the lyrics and an audio recording of this song Glenn wrote, the last song from their 2007 album.
 “It's Your World Now
Written by Glenn Frey and Jack Tempchin
From the Eagles’ Long Road Out of Eden album

A perfect day, the sun is sinkin' low
As evening falls, the gentle breezes blow
The time we shared went by so fast
Just like a dream, we knew it couldn't last
But I'd do it all again
If I could, somehow
But I must be leavin' soon
It's your world now

It's your world now
My race is run
I'm moving on
Like the setting sun
No sad goodbyes
No tears allowed
You'll be alright
It's your world now

Even when we are apart
You'll always be in my heart
When dark clouds appear in the sky
Remember true love never dies

But first a kiss, one glass of wine
Just one more dance while there's still time
My one last wish: someday, you'll see
How hard I tried and how much you meant to me

It's your world now
Use well your time
Be part of something good
Leave something good behind
The curtain falls
I take my bow
That's how it's meant to be
It's your world now
It's your world now
It's your world now
I could do no better than to grab the final paragraph in the Billboard article

Discussing the superb 2013 History of the Eagles, Part 1 documentary with Billboard, Frey said: "You couldn't have asked for a better script for a bunch of guys in their 20s trying to make it into the music business. We were young, we made mistakes, we still make mistakes. It's the story of an American band, but it's also the story of the songs we wrote and what those songs did to [people]. We're here because everybody likes the songs."  [emphasis added - SiG]

Sunday, January 17, 2016

SpaceX Falcon 9 Muffs Landing Attempt at Sea

After last month's successful return and landing of their Falcon9 booster on the Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX upped the ante today and attempted to land on a barge at sea after a launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  They got closer than they have before, but the rocket fell over on the barge.  Elon Musk went to twitter to explain that of the four legs required for landing, one failed to lock in position, so that when the rocket leaned onto that leg, it fell over.  Initially, it was thought that they landed too hard and broke the leg, but later said the leg had never locked properly. 
 "After further data review, stage landed softly but leg 3 didn't lockout. Was within 1.3 meters of droneship center," SpaceX confirmed later.
Later he posted this picture of the Falcon9 lying on its side on the barge, saying "Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time!"   (I think I'd wear that on a Tee shirt!)
One report said the seas were 10-13' , which seems like it has to affect the landing.  Think of the ship rising and smacking the legs of the booster just as its ready to gently touch down.  Or think of the booster calculating where it's going to land and the ship being 6' lower than the calculation because of a wave.  
"Definitely harder to land on a ship. Similar to an aircraft carrier vs land: much smaller target area, that's also translating & rotating," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted.
Each attempt at landing on a barge has gotten a bit closer to sticking the landing, so I fully expect them to get it figured out soon.  You can see the engineering getting better.  The drone ship landings are desirable because they allow the biggest portion of fuel in the booster to be used for the launch.  To return to the land at the launch site requires more fuel. I believe they'll get there. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Internet of Things Isn't Just About Bad Security

The problem isn't just that the software has gaping security holes, it's that software driven everything appears to be a recipe for disaster.

EE Times reports this week that Consumers are feeling the peril of all the connectivity.  There's a "smart thermostat" for air conditioners called the Nest (which I mentioned here).  It offers convenience features such as the ability to set the temperature from elsewhere.  Your first thought is probably a widespread hacking, but in this case, that isn't the "uh oh".
Earlier this month, Nest’s smart thermostat reportedly stopped working, leaving many users frustrated and their homes freezing cold.

Users took their problem to social media, blaming a mysterious software bug that drained Nest’s battery, and complaining that the thermostat can’t connect to the Internet.
Later, company officials explained that during a December software update which was pushed onto the customers' thermostats, they introduced a bug that didn't show up until January.
Richard Doherty, research director of Envisioneering Group, called the Nest fiasco “the worst possible consumer experience imaginable.” All the more egregious is that most of the time “customers do NOT know of the update; or even the purpose of the ‘fix’ it was supposed to deliver,” he added.
You're not the only people getting concerned about this.  Apparently, that concern is getting pretty widespread.
Take a look at the 2016 Accenture Digital Consumer Survey in which 28,000 consumers in 28 countries were polled on their use of consumer technology.  One result that jumps out is that consumers’ “security and privacy” concerns over IoT devices are much more prominent, compared to 12 months ago, John Curran, managing director of Accenture, told us. 
An even bigger surprise is how many consumers said they are going out of their way “to quit or terminate an IoT device or services until they are assured of safety,” explained Curran. “It’s not a majority, but close to 20 percent of people told us that. It’s a big number.”
Curran said, “the most sobering view of where we are today is captured by a sharp drop of the purchase intent of smartphones among Chinese respondents.” Globally, the purchase intent for smartphones is declining. Only 48% of consumers plan to buy a smartphone in the next 12 months. The drop is sharpest in China, down from 82 percent last year to 61 percent this year.
I think this maturation of the IoT market is like the quote from the CEO of Big Ass Fans I used back on January 7th:
 "[The connected home] [or in this case IoT - SiG] is in the very early stages," Smith says, "and when people ask why hasn't this caught on, well, what the hell is there to catch on? There's nothing there. I mean, taking something off of the wall and putting it on your's a conceit to imagine that that's anything interesting or important. You aren't doing jack is what it comes down to." 
A running joke in the electronics hardware business is that software is going to cause the end of the world.  The way the software business is run is so fundamentally different from the way that hardware works that most of us are perpetually astounded.  Can you imagine buying a car where many features just don't work right, and the companies have you return to the dealer to install new hardware?  I suspect that would raise a pretty loud howl from their owners.  How is that different from a software patch to fix something that doesn't work properly?  Now imagine you don't take the car to the dealer, but someone comes to your car in the middle of the night, installs the new hardware, and the car won't work the next morning.  That's what Nest did. 

In the aviation business, commercial or military, software is deadly serious and the emphasis on the way software is created is unlike anything you'll find in a place like Nest.  In the commercial world I just came from, the industry specifications essentially require that every single line of code can be shown to come from a system level requirement; that every single line of code be inspected, tested and verified to work as intended.  The verification has to be done by someone independent from the software engineers.  That reduces, but doesn't eliminate, the chance the system won't work as intended.  The military and commercial aviation markets are so tough on software that the old cliche' of "fix it in software" has turned into "fix it in hardware".  The equivalent rigor for hardware is mostly aimed at complex digital components, such as FPGAs, ASICs, CPLDs and other hardware that's largely created by writing software.
Software issues have killed people already.  The Nest probably didn't kill anyone, but may have allowed some pipes to freeze and flooded some houses.
(found here, but the image is from Cisco, whose version is much more involved and interesting)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

For My Fellow Florida Gunnies

Full disclosure: a couple of years ago, the NRA had life memberships on sale for much lower than usual (someone may have been picking up part of the cost) and I became a life member.  That may color your reaction to this, so let me "lead with my chin" and put it up here.

Ammoland is reporting that there's an out of state group representing themselves as Florida Gun Rights lobbying Florida gun owners by email.  Personally, I haven't gotten one of these solicitations, but the source is Marion Hammer, former NRA president, and one of the gunnies' best lobbyists in the state.
Once again email is flooding to Florida gun owners from an entity calling itself “Florida Gun Rights” (FLGR) asking that gun owners send email to Florida Legislators about a nonexistent bill.
These alerts are not coming from a grassroots group in Florida, their corporate documents clearly show their principal place of business is Colorado.
Once again they are claiming there is a “Backyard Range Ban” bill. Make no mistake, there is NO SUCH BILL.
The specifics about it being a bill seem to be a technicality (which is all that lawyers live for) because they go on to say,
HB-41 adds a subsection (4) to existing law to prohibit the discharge of firearms in residential neighborhoods that have a density of one or more dwellings per acre.
I could see how this could be construed to be a Backyard Range Ban bill, rather than an addition to existing law 790.15, but that's not the point.  The point is that if you're going to donate to a Florida gun rights group, I'd personally rather donate to one that's really in Florida, not Colorado. It's why I'm a member of Florida Carry
FLGR is not incorporated as a nonprofit Florida corporation. FLGR is registered as Florida LLC (normally a for-profit small business). Their single purpose seems to be conning you (regardless of your political party) into sending them money.
The Ammoland article alleges that FLGR is a PO Box for NAGR, which appears to be the case according to the Update section of this article in a South Florida news service.  I've given to NAGR in the past, but stopped doing so when it turned out that "nagger" was a pretty good descriptor.  They may be a decent group, but they send a begging request once a day. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

But Obama Said the Economy is Great!

Spent most of today and some of yesterday planning things like which insurances I'm going to keep and which ones I'm going to drop.  Along the way, I spoke with a financial planner I've been working with and find he echoes the words you've seen in other places lately, like the RBS saying "sell everything and get into cash".  Bill Bonner posted this chart and explanation:
Typically, stocks are said to be in a bear market when they fall 20% or more from their 52-week (or year) high.

By that definition, the widely watched S&P 500 Index is still a long way from being in a bear market. It is down 10% from its 52-week high last May. But as you can see from today’s chart, the average stock in the small-cap S&P 600 is down 31% from its 52-week high. And the average stock in the mid-cap S&P 400 is down 27%. Even in the large-cap S&P 500, the average stock is down by more than 22% from its 52-week high.
About the same time, you may have seen Zerohedge's somewhat alarming headline that "Nothing Is Moving," Baltic Dry Crashes As Insiders Warn "Commerce Has Come To A Halt".  Which registers a solid 7 on the Richter Pucker scale.  Not to pile on, but Canada seems to be going into a currency collapse with the loonie dropping in exchange with the dollar to the lowest level since 2003, and no end in sight. 

It's stuff like this that makes retirement hard.  Not the sleeping in; that comes pretty easily.  Certainly not the lack of meetings.  Financial planning and setting life up when the world looks like this is the hard part.  But if you're working for a living and are seeing the possibility of layoffs coming in all of this, we're in the same boat.  

Offhand, it looks like the long anticipated snap back to the mean is starting.  Since I think the world's central banks don't have a single vertebrate working for them, I expect frenzied amounts of money to be created.  "We were only kidding about that quarter point rate increase!"  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Techy Tuesday - Go Up, Young Man

When real estate in a city is expensive, builders go up; instead of building large one story houses, they build multistory apartment buildings that go vertical.  While society has benefited tremendously from "Moore's Law" in personal electronics for the last half century, with continually shrinking part geometries leading to continually increasing performance, virtually all of the technology has been essentially 2-dimensional.  It's even called planar.  The latest trend in semiconductor memories is to go vertical.

A couple of very big companies in memory components are Intel and Micron Technology.  I'm sure you know Intel; their processors are still the leader in the desktop PC world.  Micron might not be as familiar to you, but has been one of the top few producers of what are called "Flash memories" for quite a while.  Flash memories are found in the familiar USB stick memory modules.

For a couple of years, now, they've been fighting the shrinking geometries required to increase the memory density offered by these parts.  The last generation of parts they used were "20 nanometer geometry"; parts in which features of the transistors are that size (20 nm is 787 billionths of an inch; or 0.787 millionths of an inch).  In one direction only, X or Y, the scale was 16 nm (0.63 millionths).  The new technology uses 32 vertical layers and as a bonus, allows the scale to relax a bit. 
"Our first generation is 32 layers in the vertical direction while relaxing the x-y design rules back several generations."

Prior to going 3D, Micron could only shrink each new generation in its x-y dimensions, but they hit the wall at 20-nanometers, only able to shrink in one direction—either x or y—at the 16-nanometer node. But by going 3D, Micron has been able to keep increasing chip capacity per package while relaxing the x-y scaling rules. Relaxing the x-y design rules improves the performance and reliability compared with sub-20nm planar NAND.
The process is still expensive compared to their conventional 2D process so it will be aimed at high end uses:
In its fabs in Singapore and Lehi, Utah (half-owned by Intel) Micron's first generation 3D NAND chips will be 32- and 48-gigabytes. With up to 16 layers in a single package super high density solid-state drives (SSDs) can be made for servers and data centers. For the future, Micron plans 2-terabyte 3D NAND packages, allowing an SSD using 16 of them to pack up to 32-terabytes.
So how does it work?  Why is nobody else doing it?
The idea is to put a material that increases its resistance whenever current is put through it in one direction, and reduces its resistance when current flows the opposite direction. Many such materials—called memristors by their inventor Chua—have been successfully tested in the lab, from exotics to plain-old silicon dioxide, but no one has been able to perfect the read/write process for mass production—until now.
That link to Wikipedia says memristors were conceptualized in about 1971, so it has taken this long to get them into a commercially viable product.  All of this so you can get more memory in the same size package, and more of the things people want in their smart devices.   
Micron's 3-D NAND die is small enough to boost solid-state SSDs the size of gum sticks to 3.5 terabytes. (Source: Micron)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Yes, I Saw Star Wars

I seem to be one of the few in my blog list not talking about the movie.  Saw it the week after Christmas, so almost two weeks ago.   

To be honest, both of us thought it was a good movie, a well done movie, with a lot of fun stuff in it, but neither of us walked out of it going, "Wow!  That was fun!".  We've done that on more than one of the Marvel Universe movies, so they've made more of an impression on us than Episode 7. 

It's not that there's really anything wrong with it.  The new kids are good, there were a few scenes that surprised me, and there were scenes that came across entirely different in the movie than the impressions I got from the several trailers ("Chewie; we're home" for one). 

I suppose, as others have pointed out, the fact that people aren't publicly complaining about it means it must have been pretty good, and it was pretty good.  If they had really barfed up the series, people would have been complaining like they did about Jar Jar Binks.  No such issues this time. 
But maybe the key reason is "Chewie; we're home".  We're at home in this universe.  The characters are familiar, the scenes are familiar - whether the wrecked Star Destroyers, Imperial Walkers or the Millennium Falcon - and we have a deep tie to the story line.  Those more inclined to think deep thoughts about movies than me commented that grandparents of my age could take our grandchildren to see the movie and pass on some of the sense of wonder and awe we felt when the opening credits receded off into the distance. 

There are reports Disney has big plans for the Star Wars universe, adding separately produced movies along the arc of the main universe we've just seen (the Episode 7, 8, 9 story arc) which are expected to be focusing on key characters.  There's said to be a movie per year until 2020 already in the production pipeline.  We'll be seeing much more of this universe. 

My Map

The irresistible meme.

Create Your Own Visited States Map

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Day of Bouncing Around

Unusual day for me, as I bounced around quite a bit between several little things, watching far more football and far less news than usual - a couple of hours in each game today. 

I was up at 6:30 to start smoking a beef brisket, the mainstay of Texas barbecue.  The smoker was ready to haul outdoors and get running quickly.  The brisket was small; around 5 pounds, and only the flat cut of a whole brisket, but it was also ready to go after being seasoned and resting in the fridge overnight.  The last time I did this, I put the meat in and then started heating.  Today, I preheated the smoker, then added the brisket, and finally added the wood chips to start the smoking. 

In barbecue, as opposed to grilling, the rule is "low and slow": low temperature, slow cooking.  Typical for a brisket is to set the smoker temperature to 250 until it's done.  "Done" is based on a combination of internal temperature of the meat (over 190) and the feel, but feel is more important than temperature.  The cooking started a little after 7 and I pulled it at 5:45, 10 1/2 hours, with an internal temp of 195.  That's actually a bit short for a Texas brisket where 16 hours seems typical, but longer than I thought it would take for the small size I was cooking.  After the mandatory "rest" of over a half hour, this what we had:
Up at 6:30 AM, eating at 6:30 PM.  Babysitting the smoker consists of adding fresh wood chips every hour or so, and just making sure the temperatures look like I expect.  There's no reason to look inside until 8 or 10 hours have gone by, and I looked after 8 hours. 

Around that, I worked on my big project, the CNC conversion of my Grizzly mill, by tweaking the G-Code files (the ones that tell the machine how to move to cut the metal) and verifying they seem good.  There are programs that will let you visualize the path the cutter will take, so verification doesn't need to be proof reading.  Add in a hard workout, and it's a day. 

So I haven't heard a word of politics, what any bozo said or did.  Apparently, no news item was so big that they felt the need to burst into the NFL playoffs, which is a good thing.  Being out of touch seems good for the soul every now and then.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Can't Tell Your Commie Dictators Apart Without A Scorecard

That's our FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and China's State Internet Office Chief Lu Wei, side by side, almost identical quotes.

Can't tell who said what without a scorecard.  The graphic is from a group called Protect Internet Freedom.  I don't know much about them, but looking around the website for the first time, they seem to be strongly on the side of more freedom and less regulation.  I heard about them when they started sending me emails asking for money. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Gutsiest Product of CES 2016

There's a lot of fun stuff going on CES; things like rollable LED TV screens, automatic bartenders, 3D candy printers, and a mood dress, but when it comes to gutsy innovation, I think the award has to go the Ehang 184 drone.  See, this isn't your average golden-age-of-narcissism-type drone that follows you and documents how awesome you are, this drone carries you and delivers your actual awesomeness somewhere else.  Specifically, somewhere else fairly close; it's rated to carry a person up to 264 pounds for up to 23 minutes.  
Ehang says its 142-horsepower electric motor is good for an average cruising speed of 62 mph. The Ehang 184 has a span of 18 feet when fully unfolded, weighs 440 lbs, and can carry a passenger weighing up to 264 pounds. Its maximum flying altitude is 11,480 feet, and the AAV can fly for as long as 23 minutes at sea level.

And—get this—the Ehang 184 can be controlled entirely through a mobile app. In fact, Ehang says passengers only have to execute two commands: “take off” and “land.” Once you’ve set your course, the Ehang 184 will take off vertically, and use real-time sensor data (and presumably GPS) to keep you on course.
Based on those numbers quoted in the first paragraph, I'd say its practical range would be on the order of 15 miles.  While it's tempting to say 23 miles is over a third of an hour, and with a speed of 62 mph, a third of an hour at 62 is over 20 miles each way, that leaves no contingency for needing extra power for anything, like accelerating to 62 for example.  Perhaps a lighter person could stretch that out farther.

The company itself, Ehang, is based in Guangzhou, China, and they see it the way the original hype on the Segway came across; "it's going to change everything!"  They envision it as changing commuting and transportation around the world.  Well maybe, in dense cities where commutes may be under that 15 mile limit.  It's not available yet, and this is where the troubles start.  Its service altitude means it can fly in controlled air space, and you really don't want to spend a lot of time at its 11,480 foot ceiling if you don't have oxygen available.  Legally, this puts it in danger of needing to be certified like any other small, privately owned aircraft.  Aside from having four struts carrying props, making it look more like a toy drone, how is it different from a small helicopter?  The FAA recognizes a class of experimental aircraft called ultralight, but the requirements say that the maximum empty weight has to be under 254 lbs; a far cry from that 440 lbs. cited above.  

That makes it sound like any other private aircraft to me, and I don't know that it meets the other requirements for a helicopter.  I see what looks to be a headlight, and the video at that PCWorld link seems to show the other required lights small aircraft are required to have.  What about a radio for communicating with the ground or other aircraft?  Aircraft that fly in controlled air space need to be equipped with a transponder, and other equipment.  None of that gets mentioned.  As with anything else in the extremely regulated world of aviation, the questions have little to do with the actual airframe and almost entirely come down to legal matters.  The company issued a statement saying:
“Because the 184 AAV represents an entirely new category of technology, there are regulations and agencies that are still catching up. We are in uncharted waters, and are working closely with government agencies across the planet to develop and regulate the future of transportation.” 
Price is estimated at around a quarter of a million dollars; 200 to $300,000, potentially available later in the year.  I don't think I'll hold my breath on this one, but it's as close to the Jetsons' flying cars that I see out there.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

CES Is Going On, You Know

The Consumer Electronics Show is underway in Las Vegas through Saturday, although the little cable news I see hasn't had a single reference to it.  As I've said before, I've never been to a CES show because I've never worked in a business that valued the show and sent anyone (and they rarely send engineers anywhere).  I spent my career in industrial and military electronics, which is more concerned with absolute dependability than with low prices or "Wow factor".   It's still fun to read what's coming in gadgets and other home electronics, though, and I try to keep an eye on the show every year.

The little piece I've found the most interesting was a presentation by Toyota on autonomous cars and other fancy tech.
The emphasis of a presentation by Gill Pratt, director of the newly launched Toyota Research Institute (TRI), was that “We are a long way from… fully autonomous cars” that can do the “hard driving” in difficult and unpredictable circumstances that accounts for most of the  30,000 traffic deaths annually in the United States.
Pratt went on to explain something that all drivers who have been driving for 10 or 15 years know;  most driving is easy and boring.  I like to say we really just have a license to steer, because all you need to do is keep it between the lines and respect following distances.  Sometimes, though, driving gets hard and Pratt says,
“We need to solve driving when it’s difficult, and it’s that hard part that TRI intends to address.” The two top priorities for the new Toyota research facilities, funded with $1 billion and affiliated with the Stanford Research Park in California and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are “teaching cars… to respond to unexpected events,” and being able to “audit the system” in a computer-intensive car when the vehicle itself behaves unexpectedly.
There's a saying which I think comes from aviation that I'll borrow here: "flying is hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror".  I think that applies pretty well to driving and the “driving when it’s difficult” that he speaks of. 

It may not be at the top of your mind that Toyota is uniquely qualified to comment on not putting a system on the market with aspects that you don't fully understand.  They had that nasty problem with unexplained accelerations that hit the company with a $1.2 Billion settlement, a recall of millions of vehicles, and a black eye on their reputation that didn't go away. 

I was surprised to find reference to a company I know from the industrial sector; I didn't know they were in the consumer market space.  Some time ago, I got an advertisement for this industrial fan company when they decided to change their image.  Originally HVLS Fan Company, an acronym for High Volume Low Speed, the air flow the fans were designed for, they sold these enormous ceiling fans for barns, factories or auditoriums.  They moved astounding quantities of air.  After new customers kept asking if they were the company that made those "big ass fans" they saw everywhere, they officially changed their name to Big Ass Fans.  For this advertising, they hired William "The Refrigerator" Perry to be their spokesman.  I should say their big ass spokesman.

Big Ass Fans is showing off a new smart fan of theirs called the Haiku which is targeted at consumer and the so-called Internet of Things.  In particular, they're trying to do something to make the "smart home" worthy of its name.  CEO Carey Smith puts it this way:
"[The connected home] is in the very early stages," Smith says, "and when people ask why hasn't this caught on, well, what the hell is there to catch on? There's nothing there. I mean, taking something off of the wall and putting it on your's a conceit to imagine that that's anything interesting or important. You aren't doing jack is what it comes down to." 
"Our view of what the consumer is actually asking for is a house where they can walk from their bedroom to their child's bedroom and there's not a 20-degree swing," he explains. "Where they walk into a dark room and it's automatically lit appropriately for the time of day, and with the minimum amount of light needed to do so, and therefore the minimum amount of energy. It's an anticipatory, responsive environment."
They plan to integrate HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) into their system, although that's not available, yet. And I'm somewhat disappointed to learn that they're adopting a more staid name for their consumer division, rather than staying with Big Ass Fans.  The consumer division is called Haiku.
The Haiku H series, 52" diameter, in polished aluminum.  That fan lists at almost $2100.  There are lower cost options. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The President Should Be Issuing Orders to Control Himself

According to a Gallup Poll quoted by, Americans are much more concerned about or afraid of the government than they are of guns.  Government/Congress/Politicians rates #1, while guns are down at #19.  Obama and Hillary have the problem that the people they're pitching to are too smart for the pitch they're making.  The people see the politicians as the problem.
Gallup reports that concern about gun control went as high as 7% (middle column) once or twice during the year.  I will make the assumption that the surges in gun sales, as measured by things like the NICS checks showing the biggest December on record,  says the concern most Americans have about guns is that they don't have one or don't have enough!  In general, the concern stayed near the 2% average in the first column.  You'll note that's about the same percent of peole who think our biggest problem is "lack of respect for each other" or the environment/pollution.  I assume that means "climate change".

Sounds like the ticket to getting elected is to promise to cut government.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In Honor of Bozo's "Reasonable Gun Laws"

A repost of my version of reasonable gun laws.  I've written on this topic before and part of this will come from two posts: here and here, along with some new thoughts.

Let's start here: any adult with normal rights can walk into a sporting goods store in most places and walk out with a shotgun or a rifle with no waiting period.  But if they wanted to buy an AR-15 or a Mossberg 500 from the factory or from a store in another city, why does it have to go through a local FFL's hands? Why can't anyone order a rifle or shotgun from an online gun store, their favorite Big Outdoor Store, or even an kind of "online superstore", and have the gun shipped to their house?  It was sold by an FFL that did the NICS check, so why does another one have to get involved?  It used to be that way, until the GCA of '68.  What advantage is there to society from shipping it to an FFL?  It's not like the second FFL prevents someone from stealing it in transit - that's on the shipping company.  It does nothing but give money to local FFL holders. All they can do is look at the buyer's ID - which can be done digitally with encryption when the purchase is made. 

We all know there's no such thing as a "gun show" loophole, and that you can't just order something online from a gun store. I say, "why the hell not?"  It's freaking 2016, for God's sake.  We have the technology.

This is the opposite of the current drive to make every sale of every used firearm go through an FFL, like Obama is pushing for in today's EOs.  I think the whole FFL system is obsolete, a remnant of the way things worked in the 1930s, and does nothing that couldn't be achieved in other ways.  All it does is keep FFLs and worker drones employed - which seems to be the point.  I want our side to push back on the whole system.  If FFLs and these gun laws mattered, they'd prosecute people for violating them! 

We should push for, at the Federal level, complete concealed carry reciprocity across the country.  Those places that still deny the human right to self defense need to be dragged, kicking and screaming into the modern age. I'd prefer reciprocity for both open and concealed carry, although you know that would be a hard sell to every Evil Party senator and representative.  Heck, we have a hard enough time getting it passed in Florida with the treacherous Stupid party politicos, who are nominally on our side. 

There's also a silly hodgepodge of waiting periods for a handgun.  In some places it's 3 days, in others, 5 days.  Here in Florida it's state law to eliminate the wait if you hold a concealed carry permit.  If there's a waiting period, why can't you order a pistol from Bud's (for example) and wait 3 or 4 days for UPS to deliver it? Again, you'd fill out the background check with the FFL who's shipping it, why does it need to go to another FFL?  With today's computer security, you could verify age, do a NICS check - anything the local shop can do - online. The whole idea of a wait was a "cooling off" period, so that a hothead doesn't go buy a gun in a moment of anger and then go kill someone, but I personally have a hard time believing there were large numbers of that sort of crime anyway.  It's an extension of the ban on Saturday Night Specials, which (as far as I can tell) only had the effect of removing cheap, reasonably functional guns from people who couldn't afford better ones, and caused some smaller arms companies to either fold or change their product line.  Another government penalty on the poor.  But, fine, we'll play your infantile waiting game -- now how does waiting 3 days to pick up a gun in your city differ from waiting 3 days to get it delivered by UPS or FedEx?

Why are silencers - glorified mufflers - regulated as if they were machine guns?  Why are we required to have a muffler on a car, motorcycle or lawn mower, but we're required to not have one on a gun?  This was originally to keep people from shooting the King's deer (poaching game), but I think the problem today is Hollywood.  They created this illusion that a silencer reduces the 155 to 160 dB of a gun shot down to a barely audible, and it just isn't so.  Silencers should be completely deregulated - not even the $5 "any other weapon" class - just over the counter at your local store.  Did you know that there's nothing like an 80% lower in the construction of a silencer; no stage that's legal?  If I have a lathe (like I do) and they find pieces that someone thinks could someday become a silencer, I've broken the law.  The ban is total. 

This one actually is for the children.  And for anyone who moves next door to gun ranges or clubs and gets disturbed by the sounds. 

We should eliminate postal restrictions against mailing of firearms. We can ship them via UPS, or FedEx, why not USPS?  Don't they need every penny of revenue they can get?

Get rid of the stupid “sporting purpose” tests for firearms. The Heller decision makes it very clear that the Second Amendment isn’t about duck hunting. This particularly affects imports.  No restrictions.  

Get rid of the stupid laws on short barreled rifles and shotguns.  The idea that a shotgun barrel 18.05" long is fine, but one that's 17.95" is some sort of killer monster weapon is just silly.  It's there simply to create law violators.  It's also one of their most enforced laws - probably because it's really easy to measure barrel length.

The last time I did some looking at John Lott's data, his studies had been peer reviewed 30 times and never refuted.  There was one author who said Lott couldn't prove "More Guns Equals Less Crime"; but neither could he (the reviewer) disprove it.  Lump this one under the rule for reading medical studies: correlation does not equal causation.  However, and this is important, there can't be causation without correlation.  When you look at global rates of gun ownership vs homicides, there's almost a perfect inverse relationship between the number of guns in private hands and murder rate, across the globe. 
While cross-cultural studies have their troubles, and some countries are only classed as countries in the loosest sense of the word, in most cases the countries with the most gun ownership had the least homicide.