Monday, February 29, 2016

Range Day - Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

Today I broke away from all the other playing I've been doing around here and we went down to our gun club to play with rifles.  We took our ARs and my 30+ year old Remington 700 in the Stocky's stock (pictured here) down for a few hours.

Unfortunately, I boneheaded it.  We have a chair that we always bring for the diminutive Mrs. Graybeard.  The small, wood benches that the club provides are far too short for her to reach her AR on the bench, so we use what's actually an astronomy observing chair.  I forgot it.  In fact, I double-boneheaded it and didn't bring my spotting scope either. 

Not to be kept from using her AR (and she absolutely loves the term "my AR"), she found one of the trash cans they provide for wolf steel cases, .22 cases and other things folks are throwing out.  Poured the trash into a second can and made a booster seat out of it.  Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.
As I used to say when I was a project leader or hardware task leader: if anything is wrong it's all my fault.  Today it was.

Aside from that, it was a fine day.  We haven't gotten out to the rifle range for a while, so we re-familiarized ourselves, and then put some lead down 100 and 200 yards.  In the pic, BTW, Mrs. Graybeard is using her High Standard AR with BSA scope on a Caldwell lead sled.  The closest row of targets is 25 yards; what appears to be a continuous line above that is 100 yards, and a few light colored rectangles above those are the 200 yard targets.  The geometry was awkward and it was difficult for her to run the Remmy 700, but she still successfully shot the 700 to 200 yards.  I watched the rounds hit the target with the scope on my AR. 

Just a little blog-bragging.  It's always a good day when you get to go put some rounds downrange.  As we always say, that's why carnivals have shooting galleries and not sitting around galleries.  Shooting is fun!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Flint, Michigan's Water Supply: Want to Know What Really Happened?

The media has been full of hype and hysteria about lead in the Flint water supply.  It has become a proxy for all the usual social engineering hype we read about.

Want to know the real story?  It's a bit involved and it will help greatly if you understand or remember a little Chemistry.  Chemical and Engineering News, the publication of the American Chemical Society, has an in-depth look at the full story.  As usual, let me drop a couple of bits to whet your appetite.

To begin with it wasn't everywhere.  Some houses and some readings were much worse than others.  For example:
When Virginia Tech researchers tested the water in LeeAnne Walters’s home in Flint, Mich., this past summer, one sample had lead levels that reached a staggering 13,200 parts per billion.

That’s almost 900 times as high as the 15-ppb regulatory limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. When lead levels exceed that threshold, water utilities must act to reduce concentrations of the toxic element.

“We took 30 samples over 20 minutes, and the average was over 2,000 ppb. And even after 20 minutes of flushing, it never got below 300 ppb.”
Sounds (and is) quite terrible.
By early September, Edwards and his Virginia Tech team had sampled water from 252 homes and reported on their website,, that the city’s 90th percentile lead level was 25 ppb. EPA’s action limit is based on a 90th percentile calculation, meaning that if 10% of homes exceed the agency’s 15-ppb threshold, then action is required.
That says only 10% of the homes had a lead level at 25 ppb or higher; LeeAnne Walter's house not only was terrible, it seems the problem had to be related to either something in her house or something else very close to her house.  For perspective, even if the lower 90% of the city was all 25 ppb, it still wasn't above twice the EPA limit, so it was bad but not terrible.  For reference, EPA limits on various things are often quite questionable, and I don't necessarily think that the other 90% of homes are at inordinate risk due to lead exposure.  For sure, the folks in the worst 10% of homes are likely at risk, especially if the levels got close to LeAnne Walter's levels.  

The problems started when Flint switched from the Detroit water system to using water from the Flint River. 
When the city began using the Flint River as its water source in April 2014, it didn’t adequately control the water’s ability to corrode those pipes. This led to high lead levels, rust-colored tap water, and possibly the growth of pathogenic microbes. 
The thing to remember is that the media and the people screaming for attention will show you a picture like this...
but that's rust in the water.  Water with nothing but twice the allowable amount of lead is perfectly clear.  They're trying to obfuscate things with a compelling image.

It's an interesting story, especially if you find things like corrosion protection in pipes interesting.  Flint changed water sources and the chemical makeup of the water changed a lot - all the stuff in the water besides just plain water changed.  It even has to do with how the city uses far less of its infrastructure than it used to, which means a lot of water sits around for long periods.  But mostly it's mismanagement and other idiocies.  Final words to the C&EN article;
“What we learned here is when we collect data, we need to use those data,” Masten says. She points out that the water utility officials were already collecting all the data they needed—pH, alkalinity, chloride levels—to determine if the water was too corrosive.
They had the data.  They just didn't bother to use it.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Short Review - The Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition Knife Sharpener

Like many (most? all?) of you, I have a bunch of knives.  The first really good knife I picked up was a Cold Steel tactical folder (which I call my light saber because of how it cuts through pretty much everything), followed by a Spyderco Tenacious, followed by, well, a few more than most sane people would have. 

Naturally, they get used for everyday tasks like opening boxes, shredding boxes, occasionally sawing off small branches, and lots of other things, which means they naturally get dull and need to be sharpened.  Like many people recommend, I picked up a Lansky system and got good results with it, but the problem is that it's pretty slow.  For those not familiar with it, these use a clamp and guide rod setup to fix the angle of the edge to the stone, which is absolutely essential for precise sharpening.  The problem is that with a range of knives with different blade sizes it can get tough to set up exactly right, so it becomes a bit cumbersome to do a lot of knives.  You wouldn't want to sit down with set of kitchen knives to sharpen on one of these. 

Since I really do have a set of kitchen knives to get sharpened, I started looking for something with a motor.  I imagine everyone has seen the little motorized "kitchen table" type sharpeners, which are more "one size fits all" in the angle they cut.  I looked at those as a way to upgrade my sharpening, but decided I didn't like that aspect. 

After looking at a lot of options, I settled on the Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener - Ken Onion Edition.  The woodworking supply store Rockler (that link) has been running this special promotion for a few weeks, and I finally ordered one a couple of weekends ago.  It came last week, and now that I've put a dozen or so blades through it, I can say I like and would recommend it. 

The feature of this sharpener is that it adjusts for a handful of knife angles, from the fine edge 15 degree angle of a filet knife to the 30 degree angle of a really tough blade like a meat cleaver at the turn of a knob (in the back at the top of that triangle shaped part.  Unlike the kitchen table sharpeners or the Lansky system, both of which use hard-backed abrasives (wheels or the mounted hones Lansky uses), this sharpener uses abrasive belts as you can see here.  I've seen several videos of knife makers sharpening their work, and I've seen that many of them use sanding belts.  The argument for the belt is that the rounded convex edge the knife takes on is stronger than the angled grind.  The Work Sharp manual explains it this way:
Our blade use and sharpness testing have taught us that a convex edge is a superior edge. The smooth radius edge type does not have ‘shoulders’ like a flat grind and creates less friction or resistance when cutting. A convex edge provides more steel behind the edge to support it, so the edge stays sharper longer. Lastly, our convex method thins the bevel when you sharpen the blade, while flat ground blades get thicker and thicker as you re-sharpen.
Before deciding to go with this sharpener, I read several reviews on knife makers' forums and found it well accepted.  There were a few minor comments against it, but the vast majority was positive.

I started out with a CRKT knife I probably abuse the most and put a wicked edge on it pretty quickly.  After another couple of pocket knives, I went to a Rapala filet knife I've had since (guessing) 1972 and quickly put a great edge on it.  Today I sat down with a half dozen knives: one kitchen paring knife and the rest tactical/outdoors folders.  I put a good edge on all of them in a few minutes.  I queued up all of them, and did all of them on one belt before moving to the next belt.  One knife took a while because it had dings in the blade that had to be ground away, but if the edge was in decent shape, it probably took a minute to sharpen one.  

If you've got knives, you've got to sharpen them.  The Lansky system has the advantage of working with no external power, so if you have a cabin in the woods, or you're out camping or if the S has HTF, it's a good backup plan.  As long as the power is on to help, the Work Sharp system is a good way to approach sharpening every knife you've got.  As the name implies, it's also a tool sharpener and will sharpen axes, hatchets, lawnmower blades, not to mention kitchen scissors (I did a few of those, too, and brought them back from the dead). 

Note to the FTC or whomever:  I paid for it with my own money.  Not a gift.  I get nothing for recommending it.

Pretty Much Exactly What I Thought of It

From Michael Ramirez:
Obama would have desecrated the day.  They would have had to gone to a whole new level of security and endless press sycophants just to accommodate a guy who didn't want to be there.  Let him play golf.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Moving Along

While I'm waiting from my 6 day old concrete to cure, I'm pushing ahead with other projects.  The last (I hope) hardware I need for the antenna project is on order, and I've gone back to machining the parts for my G0704 Project.  Two of the three motor mounts, my X and Y axis mounts, are now complete.
You can't tell the scale, but these are each 2.5" on a side, and the holes in the corners are in the same place on both of them (they match the NEMA23 profile of the motor), drilled for a 10-32 socket head cap screw and counterbored to hold the cap head.  The other features are rather different between them, as you can see. 

Back in November, I posted a short example of getting one of these into CNC, but I didn't use the method outlined there of using a CAM program to automagically create my G-Code files.  I coded these by hand back in January.  It's pretty straightforward (although tedious) to do.  Basically, I got the motor mount drawings into my 3D design program (Rhino3D), the DVD I bought includes them in a standard format that Rhino can read, then got the dimensions for all the features.  This was basically the centers of all the holes to drill.

The first step was to create a G-Code file to drill the holes with a center drill to mark their locations.   G-Code files are plain ASCII, and the syntax is dirt simple.  Here's a sample piece of code.  It goes to two different holes and lowers the center drill, in a drill chuck, down low enough to mark the hole clearly:
G01 X 0.323 Y 0.323 Z 0.0250 F10
G01 X 0.323 Y 0.323 Z -0.1250 F1
G01 X 0.323 Y 0.323 Z 0.0250 F10
G01 X 2.177 Y 0.323  
G01 X 2.177 Y 0.323 Z -0.1250 F10
G01 X 2.177 Y 0.323 Z 0.0250 F10
This is far more than really needed to be written, but it's a text export from a spreadsheet (I use Apache Open Office because it's free and it does everything I've ever asked of Excel).  G01 X xxxx Yxxxx Zxxxx Fxxx  means Go to coordinates X Y and Z of the work at a feed rate of F (in inches per minute).  The first line will drive the cutter to the point (0.323, 0.323, 0.025) at 10 IPM.  All of these assume that the cutter was starting from a safe place, and it's my responsibility to make sure my machine won't cut itself or anything undesired.  Once the cutter is at that point, I lower it to 0.125 below the surface at 1 IPM, then I retract it at 10 IPM and go to the next point.  There's another GoTo command in G-code: G00.  G00 is a rapid GoTo, set as fast as the machine can move.  I could have easily made that third line read
G0 Z0.025
moved the F10 to the next line, and had the same effect while saving some space.  On my machine there isn't much practical difference between "as fast as you can go" and 10 IPM.

Once these holes are marked, I could have used the file to drill the holes to full depth, with breaks to change drill bits, or any degree of fancy I want.  I did those manually, in what's usually called immediate mode.  The machine controller has a command line, where I can enter strings of commands and repeat them with using a loaded file.  I wasn't sure how fast I could drill, so I experimented by hand and drilled the holes slowly, peck drilling "manually", then feeding faster, and finally in one continuous move with no pecking.  

The next step was to create a tool path to cut out the square hole in the middle.  The drawing called out a 1/8" radius, so if I moved a 1/4" cutter in a square with the end points 1/8" in from the edges of the square, it will cut it out with that radius with one tool.  I wrote a program assuming a hole big enough in the center to lower the cutter, the move to the edge, cut the four sides, lower the mill, cut the four sides, and then repeat until the cutter is below the bottom of the piece, cutting a little chunk of aluminum off.
G01 X 1.250 Y 1.250
G01 Z -0.0250 F1
G01 X 1.777 Y 1.250 F10 
G01 X 1.777 Y 1.777  
G01 X 0.717 Y 1.777  
G01 X 0.717 Y 0.717  
G01 X 1.777 Y 0.717  
G01 X 1.777 Y 1.250  
G01 X 1.777 Y 1.250 Z -0.0500 F1
G01 X 1.777 Y 1.777 F10  
In reality, you don't want to keep cutting until you make the last path around the square.  That piece in the middle is going to be held on by a progressively smaller and smaller piece of metal.  Generally speaking, it's going to get yanked out of place and jam up the machine rather than politely fall to the bottom, not affecting anything.  It could do Bad Things.  I stopped the cut on the last side and then took the piece out by hand.  Once it was out of the way, I resumed the cut and cleaned out the last of the metal in the hole. Here's a look at the last cut.  You can see where the bit cuts through the light web of aluminum and leaves air behind it.  This video stops before I stopped the machine to pop out that little cube with the big hole in it.  

I should probably powder coat these.  I'm not sure what color, but the only powders I have now are for fishing lures: white, chartreuse and an orange-red.  None of those seem quite right.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Since It's Engineers Week

A little engineering humor to start.  Since I'm retired, I don't know if I'm technically an engineer (and thinking about minute technicalities like that probably says I am), and I sure don't want to get into one of those "engineering is what we do not who we are" vs. "engineers are born not made" discussions, so I'll pretend someone even cares and post the humor.  Design News posted this picture:
I suppose that the way it's composed is to say the guy is the engineer and he doesn't like being hugged at all.  On the other hand, it could be that she's the engineer, he's not, and that's his reaction for having to be that close to one of us. 

While cleaning up the hard drive a bit, I found a picture of the last PWB I designed for a product at work.  This is an opamp circuit to add a little gain into a 190 MHz IF signal in a radar receiver.
For the unfamiliar the green thing is the printed wiring board.  The concentrated patch of shiny traces in the middle is the place where the opamp was mounted.  The Altoids Smalls tin is about 2 1/4 x 1 1/2".  The board is about half the width of a "Forever" postage stamp, and maybe 3/4 as long.  Yeah, this is the size of parts we work on these days.  Probably large parts by someone's standards.  For those of you who understand:  the smallest parts are 0402 not 0201. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Negative Interest Rates Aren't Going to Save the Economy

Among those things that are going on in the world of economics and politics are things that have never happened before.  Wide scale use of negative interest rates is one of those things.  Negative interest rates have been spreading around the world and are being considered for the US.  Note I mean rates that are called negative, fees or taxes, as opposed to negative real rates.  Negative real rates mean the interest paid on a bond or other vehicle is less than inflation; we've had those for years.  I've written about this several times; a reasonably good post is here.

Sovereign debt; government bonds from several countries, have now gone negative interest.  About $7 trillion worth of sovereign bonds now yield less than nothing. Lenders give their money to governments… who swear up and down, no fingers crossed, that they’ll give them back less money sometime in the future.  Public banks, I believe led by Alternative Bank Schweiz, have gone to negative interest and this presents an easy case to look at.

When you deposit money in a bank, that's an asset on your balance sheet but it's a liability on their sheet, because if you ask for that money, they have to pay you.  They don't stack your money up in some vault somewhere, they use that money as the basis for loans - but they can loan far more than you deposit under the concept of fractional reserve banking.  So whether you think of it this way or not, when you deposit money in the bank you're taking the risk that the bank will run out of money and not be able to pay you on demand.  It has been the normal case that the bank charges more money on interest to borrowers than they pay depositors, making a profit on the difference between what they loaned out and what they paid you.  But with negative interest, you pay them to make the loan that they make the interest on. 

Same with a government bond, in which you're taking the risk that something happens to the country and they can't pay you back.  War, depression or inflation, revolution, natural disasters; all of these factor into how much risk buyers will stomach and the chance they won't get their money back
That’s why countries with much uncertainty – such as Venezuela – have higher interest rates than countries, such as Switzerland, where the future is probably going to be a lot like the past.

Venezuelan 10-year government bonds yield 11%. The Swiss 10-year government bond yields negative 0.3%.
All of this relates to pricing the uncertainty of the future.  If you were absolutely sure you were going to get your money back in the future, you might settle for a low interest rate compared to loaning to Venezuela or Greece.  In a way, negative interest rates imply the future is known perfectly, perhaps even better than the present is known.  You're certain there's no risk at all in those Swiss bonds.

This is yet another example of how horribly the central reserve banks; not just the Fed, but the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and all the others, have distorted the world's economies.  Interest rates being charged by the central banks are now so low that the next step in trying to create growth is to penalize you for putting your money in the banks and not spending it.  Bill Bonner writes:
The logic of lowering rates below zero is so boneheaded that only a PhD could believe it.

Economic growth rates are falling toward zero. And at zero, it normally doesn’t make sense for the business community – as a whole – to borrow. The growth it expects will be less than the interest it will have to pay. 

That’s a big problem…

Because the Fed only has direct control over the roughly 20% of the overall money supply. This takes the form of cash in circulation and bank reserves. The other roughly 80% of the money supply comes from bank lending.

If people don’t borrow, money doesn’t appear. And if money doesn’t appear – or worse, if it disappears – people have less of it. They stop spending… the slowdown gets worse… prices fall… and pretty soon, you have a depression on your hands.

How to prevent it?

If you believe the myth that the feds can create real demand for bank lending by dropping interest below rates, then you, too, might believe in NIRP.
There's no real evidence that if rates go negative people will spend more to keep their savings from evaporating.  In fact, there's evidence some savers, faced with seeing their savings not growing, double down on the saving, denying themselves even more and trying ever harder to save.  As Jim Rickards put it: "As a result, many citizens are saving even more from retirement checks and paychecks to make up for the lack of a market interest rate. So a Fed manipulation designed to discourage savings actually increases savings, on a precautionary basis, to make up for lost interest. This is a behavioral response not taught in textbooks or included in models used by the Fed."

Negative interest rates are going to fail to create growth just as every step up to now has failed.  Look, if Quantitative Easing hasn't helped Japan in the last 20 years, with all the QE the Bank of Japan has done, why would anyone think it's going to help anywhere?  Draghi, Yellen, Kuroda, and all the rest are either idiots or criminals and it's harder to believe they're idiots.  All they're doing is taking money from lower incomes and transferring it to their cronies.    
There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved. - Ludwig von Mises, "Human Action - A Treatise on Economics", 1949

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Techy Tuesday - Bionic Ants

The first time I heard of a group of so-called Bionic Ants from a German company called Festo, my reaction was that sometimes even though you can do something, you shouldn't.  Maybe it was too close to our battles this fall with the big head ants.  Since there doesn't seem to be any actual biological materials in these, I don't think these are really bionic, and "Robotic Ants" is a more accurate name.  (Besides, I saw Robotic Ants open for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band back in 1972).

The program is really a technology demonstrator for the idea of solving real world problems with autonomous networking of smart bots.  I think they were playing with the name Autonomous Networking Technologies, saw the acronym ANT, and they liked it enough to try to implement the bots as ants.  Festo is a company that's good at a couple of the key technologies involved, 3D Molded Interconnect Devices and piezoelectric actuators, and they created a small "swarm" of these robotic ants.  Interesting video at the link of the ants cooperating to move a load around a small work area.  They are rather complex, with circuitry built onto the body of a 3D printed ant, piezoelectric motors so they can move around, grasping jaws as built in tools, built in radio networking, rechargeable batteries, a recharging mechanism, and more.
This circuitry resides under a more friendly but slightly anthropomorphic, ant-like visage, made of 3D printed polyamide resin (see what I did there?).  Where the compound eyes of real ants would go, these little things have a stereo video camera that looks more human - or at least more vertebrate. 

Machine Design magazine explains
Festo employs a laser-direct-structuring (LDS) machine to laser-etch the tracts and apply conductive metal coatings of gold, nickel, copper, or a mix. The external circuitry adheres to the curves of the ant’s body segments, eliminating the need for bulky wiring, since components can be directly soldered to the devices at the intended terminals. Minimal internal circuitry is needed, contributing to the compactness of the design. Read more about Festo’s 3D MID process here

Each BionicANT works as a component of a multi-agent system (MAS) to perform heavy lifting-and-carrying tasks. They are programmed according to a distributed catalogue of rules created from mathematical model-building and simulations. These regulation algorithms govern their motions and enable the ants to alter their behavior as a response to environmental cues and RF signals generated by the other ants. For example, a simple regulation algorithm prevents collision by ensuring that the ants do not try to occupy the same space.

Communication generates from the RF chip in the ant’s posterior body segment. Also located on the posterior segment is a Cortex-M4 microprocessor (MPU), which processes RF signals and environmental cues. In addition, the MPU sends voltage signals to the piezo-actuators in the pincers and legs. 
To be serious for a few seconds, these are hot topics of research in industry.  Swarming, cooperative, intelligent robots are seen as useful in applications ranging from warfare to factories.  Ants are often thought of as having a collective intelligence; witness the term "hive mind".  They can cooperate and a mass of ants can exhibit behaviors that make them look like liquids or solids, depending on the need.   Instead of these ants, picture swarms of small robots "flowing" around products, moving the products and working on them: products of any size.  These robotic ants, by the way, are actually pretty huge, even by Florida ant standards.  A pdf on the Festo website says they're 135mm long, stand 43 mm high and their leg span is 150mm.  In rough numbers 5.3" x 1.7" x 5.9". 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Serial Establishment Failures and The Anti-Establishment Candidates

John Robb at Global Guerrillas takes a break from his fascinating fare of bot net wars and analyzes why Donald J. Trump keeps winning.  It's an interesting piece, if politics from the 30,000 foot level interests you.  (To my new readers, I've said many times that day to day politics disgusts me, but when viewed from a distance it has some interest.  Day to day politics is more like cleaning out the cats' litter box: it's a nasty, disgusting job, but if you don't do it, it only gets more nasty and disgusting.)

Robb, in turn, quotes Bill Lind in The American Conservative on "Failure as a Way of Life".   In itself, that's worth reading.  Lind opens with a sentiment that I think is common knowledge out here in flyover country but seems to just be sinking in to the political classes:
"The fault line in American politics is no longer Republican vs. Democrat nor conservative vs. liberal but establishment vs. anti-establishment. This is an inevitable result of serial failure in establishment policies."
He goes on to present case after case that establishment politicians don't care about failure.  If they promote the F-35, for example, it doesn't matter that it's a bad fighter.  All that matters is that it brings favors to them and jobs for their district.  The F-35 is a horrible fighter, but they'll never have to fly it. So long as the money keeps flowing, all is well.  His trenchant observation is:
[The establishment] is composed overwhelmingly of people who want to be something, not people who want to do something. They have devoted their lives to becoming members of the establishment and enjoying the many privileges thereof. They are not likely to endanger club membership by breaking its rules.  - [emphasis added - SiG]
Returning to John Robb, he then flows this observation into a good overview of this year's election:
"From the start, Trump targeted the (mostly) white working class, which happens to be 40 percent of the country. And he’s done it not just with issues, but with how he talks — the ball-busting, the “bragging,” the over-the-top promises...

But it speaks volumes — whole encyclopedias — about the ignorance of our political and media elites that they’re only now realizing that much of what Trump’s been doing is just busting balls.  It’s a blue-collar ritual, with clear rules — overtly insulting, sure, but with infinite subtleties. It can be a test of manliness, a sign of respect, a way of bonding and much more.

America hasn’t been great for the working class for decades — which is why “Make America Great Again” is a great slogan for a guy who’s talking tough on the problems that blue-collar Americans (and more than a few middle-class folks) see as killing them."... from Donald Trump has Invented a New Way to Win Mark Cunningham
Clearly, Trump has tapped into something: the anti-establishment sentiment that's rampant in the country today.  In a poll a few months ago, 62% of self-declared Republican voters said they felt betrayed by the folks they elected into the establishment (not realizing these people were running to be someone, not do something).  It's not a one-off result.  After Saturday's South Carolina vote, 53% said they felt betrayed, and after New Hampshire, 50% said they felt betrayed.  The party can try to say it's nothing, but betrayal is an enormously strong feeling and strong motivator.  Simply: betrayal cuts very deeply and people who feel betrayed might well go to armed revolution. 

I believe this is why Ted Cruz as adopted the slogan TrusTed - printed in two colors to emphasize his name.  He's loudly declaring, "you can trust me not to betray you".  And that's the reason why Trump's campaign has attacked Ted as being dishonest.  They know that trust is extremely important to Ted Cruz' supporters and if they can break that image of trustworthiness, they can ruin Cruz' chances.  And that's why I think it was mandatory for Ted to fire his campaign communications manager after a bad tweet.  When you're being hammered over honesty, you have to look aggressive when a wrong statement is made.  

More than others, and perhaps because of his role as media "star", Trump seems to understand the whole social media world and the impact of the internet and it's "TL:DR", nanosecond attention spans.  Anything that happened a few days ago scrolled off the top of the screen and winked out of existence.  His bombast, the bragging, the conspiracies--it's quintessential Internet. 
So he pops off and then lets it go--which his supporters fundamentally understand.   When opponents and media pull up a tweet from 2012, literally no one gives two shits and it only ends up reflecting (poorly) on the person pulling up the tweet.
What Robb doesn't talk about is the dark side of Trump's supporters.  I can't and won't blame their behavior on Trump, but there were reports out of South Carolina of Trump supporters physically harassing door to door workers for other candidates.  It was reported that women were afraid to go do their campaign work without guys around for security and one guy alleges being run off the road by a Trump worker's truck.  Trump's support has the air of a cult of personality to it, and that's bad. After all, it's how we ended up where we are.  A "right wing" cult of personality taking the place of our current "left wing" cult of personality is no trade I want to make.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Today is my sixth blogiversary.  I do these posts every year (as does virtually everyone) but today works out to be the exact date and day of the week. 
On Sunday, February 21, 2010, I posted a simple little test message ... before going off on a rant about economics, which is actually still pretty good. 
I've put off having a blog for a long time. I suppose I figure you have to be pretty self-centered to think people around the world will be hanging around waiting for your pearls of wisdom.
What will you find here? Like everyone, I will tend to write on the things that interest me. They might be current events, current conditions, technical looks at various electronics topics, ham radio, and making things of various kinds.

I have no idea how long I'll be here, but here's to the ride!
I'm a bit amazed that around a thousand to sometimes 1500 times a day someone reads a page here, and that number has been steady since late 2013.  I'm really rather honored that so many think it's worth stopping by.  So to echo what I said in that first post, here's to the ride!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Time For a Four Week Break

After a lot of self-debating, tossing and turning things over and over in my mind, I continued ahead with my plans to rebuild my ham radio tower setup, as described here two weeks ago.  Today, a helper and I dug a 2'x2'x3' deep hole, built a rebar cage, coated the aluminum pipe with a heavy sealant and put it up.  The rest of my parts for the job are here, but no more work will be done for a while.  Concrete used in critical places (self-suspending balconies, for example) has to cure for 28 days before the forms are taken off, so I'll leave this sit with no stresses on it for those 4 weeks.  Or thereabouts.  
There was a long discussion in the comments back then about just using a 4" PVC pipe filled with concrete instead of aluminum pipe.  In the end, I went with this pipe for a few reasons.  Most importantly, I'm not experienced enough with the PVC approach to feel sure that it would hold up, and I wasn't able to get enough information to convince me.  Since I'd already bought this aluminum pipe, and was familiar with everything I'd done to get to this point, I decided to go with what I had.  As a bonus, if I wanted to go to a bigger tower or heavier load, I feel confident this is capable of handling it, while with the PVC pipe approach, I'd be less sure I could do that. 

Before you ask, there's a plastic plug in both ends of this pipe so that it can't fill with water. 

My plan for now is that once the pad is cured sufficiently, I'll mount all the hardware I bought to replace the winch and cable, and then crank the tower over.  Once that's down, I can do a bit of routine antenna maintenance, like check the cables and connectors.  I'll get a good look at the house bracket and see if it needs anything beyond the bit of scraping and repainting I can see now.  I should be done by the end of March.

For the next few weeks, though, this job will mostly just sit.  There's indoor work to be done getting the hardware ready to mount, and I'll be spending more time on my CNC conversion project.

Friday, February 19, 2016

California Wants to Rule Anything is a Gun

In the last couple of days, a bill in the California legislature has been reported on (H/T to Black Rifle Builders, a new link of mine, and Gun Free Zone).  Bill AB1673 essentially outlaws 80% receivers, and makes everything "readily convertible" to a firearm regulated the same as any other firearm.
This bill would expand the definition of “firearm” for those purposes and other purposes to include an unfinished frame or receiver that can be readily converted to the functional condition of a finished frame or receiver.
The problem is the definition of "readily converted" and exactly what they include in that vague sentence.  If you have the STL files to run an AR lower on your 3D printer, exactly what is the gun?  Today, once you print a complete lower, that's a firearm.  But could they make the file itself a gun?  After all, with the proper 3D printer the file is readily converted into a finished lower.  Various groups, like the US State Department, have already tried to stop the distribution of 3D Printer gun files; is this another push? 

Let's say you have a typical 80% lower but don't have a drill press or milling machine or any other tools.  Can it be "readily converted"?  Not by you, at least not right then, but buy a drill press and now it is!  On the other extreme, if you're a machinist with a good shop, a pile of any appropriate metal stock can be readily converted into a firearm.  Many different firearms, in fact.  If we refer to machinists, than any metal stock must be considered a firearm. 

Consider the poured resin AR lowers that McThag has been experimenting with.  (I think these guys are the makers).  Like the 3D printer, what comes out of the mold is already a firearm - it's a 100% lower.  But what about the mold?  You use the mold to make a firearm, but the mold itself isn't converted.  The resin becomes the firearm but it isn't readily converted to anything.  Pour it on the floor and it converts to a puddle.  It won't take the AR shape any more than any other shape without the mold.  How do they regulate this? 

As always, who gets to define these terms?  Who gets to decide? 

We all saw that video of the guy who made an AK from a shovel; does that mean shovels "can be readily converted"?  What about the sheet steel stock selection at any metal dealer?  As commenter Loess at GFZ pointed out,
Certainly brings to mind Tam’s comment about plumbing shops being full of 90% sten receivers…
To which Miguel replied:
The DIY Sten Gun.
Literally you get all the stuff at Home Depot.
The road that the California state legislature is going down ends in a couple of ugly places.  It could end with every single part that goes into a gun being serialized and tracked.  IMO, the whole reason for the "80%" gun coming into being is that gun owners have the right to fix or modify our guns.  If we wear out a barrel, we can replace it.  If we want a better trigger, we can modify (or replace) it.  The Feds don't require people who make recoil springs, for example, to serialize and track them.  At some point, though, to use their system the BATFE needed to define something as being the gun.  That's the part that gets serialized, tracked and managed.  They decided that at the 80% point, the receiver was like any other piece of metal that isn't a gun.  It's no different than any paperweight.  By California saying a component that's not usable as a firearm has to be considered one, doesn't that imply any other thing that isn't a firearm has to be considered as one?   
Alternatively, it ends with a hodgepodge of overzealous prosecutors and stupid judges deciding these questions.  A nation not of laws, because the laws are so vague they could mean anything, but of men who choose what they mean on some sort of whim.  There's already far, far too much of that.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Is It Time to Reinvent How Video is Done?

What if we're doing video wrong?  Video is basically created and transmitted the same way today as it started in earliest days of television.  That method, in turn, was based on the way motion pictures were made since the invention of motion pictures.  Most people have seen the 1882 film clip by Eadweard Muybridge of a racing horse, but the earliest versions of sequential pictures being used to convey motion go back to 1824.  It's not a very large leap to say all progress in motion pictures and video since about 1882 has been transmitting progressively better quality frames at progressively higher rates.

For quick review, a camera takes a picture of the scene, one frame, at whatever the frame rate is.  A movie is a sequence of vast numbers of these frames.  In a film movie, all of the frames are projected one a time onto a screen, and your eye/brain combination perceives it as smoothly moving.  Video cameras originally exposed a small sensor in a pattern of lines called a raster, re-tracing to start another "scan line", and progressing down the screen line by line.  Today, the cameras hold solid state sensors like the ones in a digital camera that capture an entire frame at once, but those sensors are still read out in the same basic line-by-line way.  In the video realm, the rate varies with the mode, but runs from around 30 to 60 frames per second here in the US.  Each one of those frames is conveyed to the user; either through video transmission or recording, and is played back at that same rate. 

In a sense, this was the only way video could have been developed: one photograph at a time, followed by one line at a time transmitted as an analog signal.  But think about a video of a scene being updated 60 times every second.  The vast majority of video is identical from frame to frame.  In a piece on radio communications, I briefly mentioned Shannon's Information Theory; let me give the 5 minute University version: if I tell you something you already know, I haven't provided any information.  That means the video transmission is horribly inefficient, sending the same scene over and over - 60 times a second! - with no information being sent. 

But what if we looked at the scene differently?  What if we looked at the whole frame and only told the receiver which pixels had changed?  If nothing changed - the characters in the SitCom just sat there for one frame and nobody moved - nothing would be transmitted.  That would drag the data being sent down tremendously, but what was sent would be all new information.  The data rate required for your cable system or other transmission just got hundreds of times lower while the information throughput stayed the same (only the pixels that changed are sent).  To some extent, that's the basis of how compression algorithms attempt to work; by attempting to send what's changing, and not update the parts that aren't changing.  The difference is changing from a frame based system, to an event based system. 

It turns out that the brain and eye work in a similar way.  Years ago, I read about an experiment in which a dog's brain had been surgically tapped so that optic nerve activity could be measured.  When the dog first went into a new room, the activity was intense.  After a while in the room, with nothing moving or changing, nerve activity went down to a much lower rate.  The experimenters introduced something new into the room and again the optic nerve started firing like crazy.  Once the new object was examined and accepted, the rate went down again.  The conclusion was that the eye was operating like a distributed processor, looking at everything and updating what changed. 

The idea is now being pursued in the electronics industry, primarily motivated by the much-hyped "Internet of Things" that so many of us talk about.  Vision is being added, or going to be added, to tons of systems.  The thought is that it might help to think about vision completely differently.  Consider a security camera.  Might it make more sense for a camera watching a door to sit and not send anything unless something approached the door, rather than send a non-changing image of the door over and over, 30 frames per second?  Think of it as being a sensor rather than an imager.

French startup Chronocam comes from the vision research world.  Their two principal researchers are Ryad Benosman, a mathematician who has done original work on event-driven computation, retina prosthetics, and neural sensing models while Christoph Posch has worked in neuromorphic analog VLSI circuits (very large scale integration), CMOS image and vision sensors, biology-inspired signal processing, and biomedical devices and systems.  The inspiration for Chronocam’s event-driven vision sensors comes from studies of how the human eye and brain work. 
According to Benosman, human eyes and brains “do not record the visual information based on a series of frames.”  Biology is in fact much more sophisticated. “Humans capture the stuff of interest—spatial and temporal changes—and send that information to the brain very efficiently,” he said.
This is really just the early days of event-driven vision as a field.  The people conceptualizing the use of machine vision for systems that are coming in four to five years are thinking about this now.  It's the time for the companies like Chronogram who are selling all new technologies and all new ideas to be getting their technical vision in place (pun intended). 
How Chronocam's sensor sees a moving hand in a frame.  The picture on the right is what a conventional camera would be sending. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Today was an off day...  To be specific, our electricity was off all day.

This morning at about 5AM, a powerful squall line went through, and a nearby lightning strike took out our power.  It wasn't restored until just about 6 PM, so 13 hours.  On one hand, it's really inconvenient to live without power.  On the other hand, if we're supposed to be ready to deal with anything at a moment's notice, it's a good excuse to drill with all of our preparations.  We decided to deal with the day without our backup generator.  We have a natural gas stove that can be lit manually if the electricity is out, so we were able to heat water for coffee or tea, and cook on the stove top (although we didn't).  Thankfully, the weather was comfortable for the rest of the day, and it wasn't too hot or cold for comfort.

I took the time to totally rearrange two of our 7' bookshelves, and straighten up a lot near my computer.  The books I used to have in my office now have a home just out of reach to my left.  This area is close enough to some windows that there was enough light so that I could work until just about the time the power came on.   

So since I haven't had the time to put together any content, have a Photo of the Day, from The Firearms Blog:
A place called Nelson Precision Manufacturing (Facebook warning) is making these miniature scale AR lowers, calling them AR.5, and selling them as bottle openers or key chain fobs.  The TFB pages has a photo of one of these next to a full size AR15 lower, and I'd guess it's around quarter scale.    Before you ask, they are not fully finished and so are not firearms.  There's no fire control pocket or magwell, so they're under 80%. 

EDITED TO ADD:  This is post number 2000 of this blog.  Yay me!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Weekend Ketchup

As in catch up from the weekend. 

With the major event being the topic of the last two days' posts, I didn't really mention much from the Orlando Hamcation or other things we did this past weekend.  See, a couple of days ago, commenter " to the radio" left a question in response to my post about my antenna project, saying,
Radio is going all digital.
How is that affecting the ham world?
And that kind of sat on my mind over the weekend.  At the time, I said, "Pretty much everything, top to bottom", but went on to point out it depends on the operator's preferences; I mean there are still guys who get their kicks out of operating radios made in '50s or '60s, or simple home made radios. At the other extreme, there are guys with Software Defined Radios that are really a computer with some radio hardware attached. So while I wandered the show, I kept an eye out for the effects of the digital revolution in ham radio.  

You couldn't walk 10 feet without seeing another example of how computers and digital have moved into ham radio, from the vendors selling little digital arduino project kits to one of the major manufacturers showing off a standalone (that is, not attached to a computer) digital band sampling transceiver.  

The simplest application is the spread of what are called "digital modes".  While Morse code (what hams call CW - continuous wave) could be thought of as a digital mode (it's on-off keying), that term tends to be used for modes that use the ubiquitous sound card in a PC to generate tones to send to the transmitter's audio input, and then demodulate the audio out of the station receiver.  All that's needed to add these digital modes to ham station are a low end PC, an interface (these are popular) and a radio with external audio input/output.   There are many modes, with new ones being developed from time to time, and range from casual keyboard communications to sending television.  TV?  Only low resolution, slow scan TV - more like a slideshow - is allowed in the HF/Shortwave spectrum, but the UHF and higher spectrum allows full-motion video  I've actually written a fairly long post on this subject, which is permanently linked on my right side bar, so see that for a lot of details.  

New modes continue to be developed, and alongside a both advocating for the digital voice communications, FreeDV (subject of another post here) was a booth from Algoram, promoting an open source coding for Software Defined Radio applications.   

Digital Mobile Radio, DMR, is moving into the ham world from the commercial VHF radio world, with at least two vendors I recall selling it.  Digital isn't new here; the problem is that most of the manufacturers have pushed their own standards; Icom's D-STAR, or Yaesu's WIRES being the biggest.  

Probably the first step computers made in ham radio was logging, and taking care of the paperwork.  That has been around quite a while, and while loggers come and sometimes go, I've been happy with Ham Radio Deluxe.  HRD started as shareware, put together by a couple of guys in their spare times.  It expanded from simple logging and communicating with the radios (to get most of the data needed to log a contact), and added more features until now it's a complete suite of programs, including a sound card mode support program.  Around five years ago, they sold it to a commercial firm who has an actual tech support crew and continues adding features/squashing bugs.  Friends tell me they prefer the DXLab suite of programs, which is all freeware. 

The spread of cheap, powerful digital electronics has led to low priced, effective test equipment and other accessories.  Hams are using computers to control their stations either while sitting at them or remotely, to track the amateur satellites for easier communications.    

So I think my original "top to bottom", if anything, was a bit short of how much "digital" has impacted radio.  If a ham's station hasn't been impacted by it, it's only by personal choice.
(and what ham can forget this classic Dilbert - 1995)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Loss of Antonin Scalia and The Coming North American Ugliness

Commenters to my post about the passing of Justice Scalia are uniformly pessimistic and express the belief this will be the lead-in to our current cold civil war going hot.  That's a pretty common sentiment (90 comments so far), and it's backed up by others who are skeptical Justice Scalia would have died of natural causes and not some sort of poisoning or assassination. This is very widespread around the 'net.

Scalia's death does not (in my mind) signal that war is inevitable.  I reached the conclusion that war was coming from a different line of thought.  Consider this: despite having been in elected office for a thousand years, Bernie Sanders is considered an outsider.  Donald J Trump is certainly an outsider, and it's arguable that the three candidates with the best chances of taking the Stupid Party nomination are all outsiders to some degree.  An all outsider election in the fall is distinctly possible.   (As an aside, the name Donald J Trump reminds me how so many cartoon characters have J as their middle initial: Elmer J Fudd, Rocket J Squirrel, Homer J Simpson...)

What the attraction to so-called outsiders tells us is that both sides think their mainstream parties aren't doing what they want them to do.  The important part is that the liberty minded people on the right feel that the last 15 years or so have been a constant assault of never-ending threats to personal liberty and desperately want our country back.  The left feels that the last 15 years haven't gone anywhere near far enough and desperately want (arguably) Bernie Sanders to complete the fundamental transformation to a socialist republic.  You've seen the anti-gunners saying that Obama hasn't gone far enough; the same holds for those who want single payer health care (where killing patients is a feature, not a bug!), and the entire Nanny State.  We desperately want a country back where personal liberty and determination can live again; they desperately want a country that never was! 

Those two views are fundamentally incompatible.  There isn't a single step that can be taken in the direction of more liberty that doesn't conflict with the leftist's views, and there is no step the leftists can take that doesn't take away more liberty.  A presidency farther to the left than we are now will simply destroy the republic.  You know, Bernie, if Hillary Clinton thinks your plans are economic nonsense, you just might be too far out there: 
“This is not about math. This is about people’s lives, and we should level with the American people,” Mrs. Clinton said. She then repeated a jab at Mr. Sanders’s reputation as a truth-teller that she would return to during the debate: “You need to level with people about what they will have at the end of the process you are proposing. And based on every analysis that I can find by people who are sympathetic to the goal, the numbers don’t add up.”
I'd like to be more cheery and optimistic about this, but I see two outcomes possible a year, maybe 16 months from now.  In the worst case, Bernie Sanders or the Hildebeest gets elected.  They appoint a doctrinaire anti-gun lawyer like Eric "brainwash people about guns" Holder to the Supreme Court and within six months, Australian-style confiscation starts.  Does anyone not believe that starts open civil war?  On the other hand, someone with a strong constitutional belief system, say Ted Cruz, gets elected and starts working toward restoring personal liberty, cancelling Executive Orders that violate the separation of powers, cancelling the extra-congressional regulations from the EPA or the FCC for example.  Perhaps they figure out a way to kill off Obamacare.  Does anyone think that people on the left, some new version of Octopi Wall Street, won't riot over having their freebies curtailed?   We're not talking about EBT cards showing $00 balance, just ending some of the more recent giveaways. 

No, I think it would be a miracle to get to 2020 without open civil war going on, and I don't think Justice Scalia enters into it at all. 
(Stolen mercilessly from Max Velocity Tactical)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

It's A Dark and Sad Day

I just got in from the day in Orlando at the annual Hamcation over there, to see the news of Justice Scalia dying in his sleep.  Of course, the dual-headed power party in DC immediately went into full tizzy mode about replacing the pivotal man in the 5-4 decisions that went in favor of liberty.  The stupid party appears to have the upper hand here, if they want to push it.  They can block any Obama appointment in committee thanks to the majority they hold, and they can keep the Senate in session until 2017 with no recesses whatsoever, denying the president a recess appointment.  All they need is just a tiny particle of backbone.  Yeah... I know.  At least weepy's not there.

One of the first positive recollections I had about Justice Scalia was that he took Justice Elana Kagan shooting.  The story gets better: that link was to my coverage of a story in 2010.  In 2014, they went hunting together.  This was kept rather private; I only found mention of it in one blog in the Wall Street Journal archives, but apparently Scalia took the ideologically opposed Kagan shooting and helped her get sufficiently interested in shooting that they'd go hunting together!
“She shot some quail, and she shot some ducks,” Judge Pickering told Law Blog, reached by phone on Wednesday. “We had a great hunt.”

Unfortunately, Justice Scalia's passing isn't alone for us this weekend.  A longtime friend passed away unexpectedly yesterday at noon.  He was one of the first folks I met at my previous job at Major Southeast Defense Electronics Company in late 1987.  We only worked together a couple of times, but about 7 or 8 years later I found out we went to the same church and we started spending more time together.  A terrific guy.  In a prior career he had worked for some of those three letter agencies we're not allowed to talk about, and he had some wild and funny stories from all around the world.  As those guys always seem to!   

Friday, February 12, 2016

Just Because

Just because it made me laugh.
Because black olives really do matterAll olives matter.  (You can blame You Had One Job)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Solar Cycle News Update - Just Can't Hide the Decline

In keeping with my every six months (more or less) update to the solar cycle progression, the latest smoothed sunspot number for the last six months.
You can see the smoothed average (blue line) is about 70% of the predicted number (red line to the right).  You can also see a decrease in the variability; the spread of the dots above and below the smoothed average.  The sun has been mostly quiet. 

Last August, I also ran the planetary A index value; a measure of geomagnetic activity, so let me refresh this.
You can see that the geomagnetic activity has continued increasing over the last six months.  To update what I said last time, I can't say I understand that increase, but the "tribal knowledge" in amateur radio circles is that geomagnetic disturbances tend to be more common in the declining years of a sunspot cycle.  The previous cycle (cycle 23) peaked at the end of 2002; and storming increased until mid '2004 (that peak at the end of '04 was the largest solar flare observed in the satellite era).  The current Ap levels (Planetary A-Index) are higher than any time since early '05."   Let me add that I've taken advantage of my increased free time in the last month to try to make contact with some rather exotic ham radio locations, and I've noticed the effects of these geomagnetic disturbances.

And to quote myself even more:
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 are more sparse than what's available now.  Since no living scientist has seen a cycle this weak, expect all predictions to be even less accurate than usual.
My interest in solar activity grew out of the shortwave radio listening hobby I started when I was about 13 years old.  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, the Maximum Usable Frequency or MUF, is generally the way to hear (or talk with) the most distant points with the lowest loss of signal.  It's only in the last 20 years or so has it seemed that the solar cycle might affect things like our food supply, and life in general.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Techy Tuesday - IBM Looks to Solve Computer Capacity Scaling with "5D Electronic Blood"

This ARS Technica article is a couple of months old, but it's an interesting research road IBM has decided to go down.

The root problem is that as integrated circuitry gets more complex and adds more components to the circuits, only some of the increase in complexity can be addressed by smaller components.  The rest has to come by other means.
Simply put, it is very, very hard to cram more and more digital functionality (compute, RAM, NAND flash, etc.) into a given volume of space. This might sound somewhat counterintuitive, considering how small modern computer chips are, but just think about it for a moment. Your desktop PC case probably has a volume of 50 litres or more—but the CPU, GPU, RAM, and handful of other chips that actually constitute the computer probably account for less than 1 percent of that volume.
It's not that the designers are happy with that inefficiency, it's that they don't have a way around it.  It's not possible to extract the heat the circuits generate with current technologies.
In recent years we've seen the rise of one method of increasing density: stacking one die or chip on top of another. Even there, though, it seems that chip companies are struggling to go beyond a two-high stack, with logic (CPU, GPU) at the bottom and memory on top, or perhaps four or eight stacks in the case of high-bandwidth memory (HBM). Despite fairly regular announcements from various research groups and semiconductor companies, and the maturation of 3D stacking (TSVs) and packaging technologies (PoP), multi-story logic chips are rare beasts indeed.
Anyone who builds computers regularly (any of you hang out here?) knows that processor power dissipation reached it's current level, around 130-150 Watts, in the middle of the last decade.  In fact processor performance seems to have hit its zenith around that time.  There's a number of reasons for this, but for this discussion it boils down to two:
First, as chips get smaller, there is less surface area that makes contact with the heatsink/water block/etc., which puts some fairly stringent limits on the absolute amount of thermal energy that can be dissipated by the chip. Second, as chips get smaller, hot spots—clusters of transistors that see more action than other parts of the chip—become denser and hotter. And because these hot spots are also getting physically smaller as transistors get smaller, they fall afoul of the first issue as well. The smaller the hot spot, the harder it is to ferry the heat away.
Now consider stacking more than one of these chips in a two, three, or more-high chip stack and the problem goes unsolvable.   Not only do you need to extract the heat, you need to connect all the signals.  ARS has a map of a part called the LGA 1155 Ivy Bridge chip.  It's not just a number intended to sound cool: it's the number of pins on the part.  How do you stack parts with 1155 electrical interconnects, especially if pins don't line up?  There are hundreds of power pins on that part!  It's why the biggest stacks you typically see are two chips: a processor and a memory (RAM).  RAM is pretty much the opposite of a CPU, with most pins dedicated to data transfer rather than power delivery.

An obvious answer is liquid cooling, but exactly how to do that is not always trivial.  In the late 70s, there was a pioneering supercomputer company called Cray.  Cray immersed all of their circuitry in an electrically inert liquid called Flourinert from 3M.  The fluid was circulated through a pumping system that refrigerated the liquid. 
A few years ago, IBM's research into liquid cooling resulted in the creation of two "hot water cooled" supercomputers: one at ETH in Zurich and SuperMUC at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Germany. More recently, we covered the Solar Sunflower, where instead of using conventional copper water blocks to ferry heat away, water flows through micron-thick microfluidic channels that have been carved out of a silicon wafer. The Solar Sunflower story has more details if you want them, but the general gist of it is this: microfluidic liquid cooling could be really, really useful, both in terms of the absolute amount of thermal power that can be dissipated, and also in relieving those hard-to-reach hot spots.
This rather famous graph (from the ARS article) shows the difference in computing efficiency (in operations per Joule of energy) on the left axis and computing density (a measure of how much space they use to do their computations) on the horizontal axis.  The computers with the highest efficiency and highest computing density are all on the right end of the diagonal - and they're all natural systems.  The graph is a bit old now, but the latest supercomputers haven't moved the bar much higher.
But What's All This "5D" Stuff? 
Quoting ARS again:
By this point you can probably tell where things are going. At IBM Research in Zurich, they are working on a technology that solves both power delivery and cooling in vertically stacked electronics, with the eventual goal of enabling the creation of skyscraper CPUs, GPUs, or whatever other IC you might fancy.

Somewhat unfortunately, IBM calls this research program "towards five-dimensional scaling." Not three dimensions, like you might expect of a project tasked with stacking 2D chips on top of each other to form 3D piles, or perhaps four dimensions if you had done a module in marketing at university and were feeling exceedingly generous, but five.

Fortunately, however, IBM's five-dimensional scaling tech doesn't require an understanding of string theory. Rather, the fourth and fifth dimensions are rather mundane: number four is power delivery, and cooling is number five.
Power delivery means they're using an electrically conductive fluid to both bring power and remove heat.  Electrically conductive isn't really difficult to do; although keeping it corrosion resistant will be a big consideration.  You don't need much corrosion to take out a part with microscopic features, after all.
Basically, IBM needs to start with its microfluidic cooling tech and then modify the cooling medium so that it also carries soluble redox couples (i.e. a compound that can be oxidised to produce some electricity, and then reduced again to recharge). Then, instead of just providing microfluidic channels on the chip for cooling, there also needs to be a few extra bits to complete its transformation into a redox flow battery.
OK; So I Get The 5D Part, But Why Call It Blood?
Well, the original inspiration for the research was biological efficiency. That is, despite how small our transistors are getting and how fast our interconnects are becoming, animal brains are several orders of magnitude more efficient in terms of computing efficiency and density. Some of the world's largest supercomputers have a total processing power that approximates a small mammal, but they require about 10,000,000 watts to get there. The human brain, by comparison, uses maybe 20 or 30 watts at full bore. A supercomputer is just slightly larger than a mammalian brain too. [Shown in the graph above - SiG]

Those gaping gulfs in efficiency and density may begin to be bridged by neuromorphic (brain-like) chips, and other bleeding-edge advances in CMOS logic, but they'll only get us so far. To get towards biological levels of efficiency (and perhaps intelligence as well), we need some way of cramming millions of computer chips into a space the size of a shoe box—or, er, a human skull. Animals use blood for both energy delivery and cooling of the most efficient computers in the world, so why shouldn't IBM?
It's not recognizable blood in the sense of animal blood you've seen before; they're not using hemoglobin and it's not red.  It's a green or bright blue fluid (depending on which version they're working with), so it's just blood in some metaphorical sense. 
An IBM prototype.  The "blood" isn't visible here, although a video on ARS shows some of the mess they typically make.  It's perhaps the only place where people working on a computer prototype sound like a TV operating room drama:  "sponge"... "clamp!  Clamp stat!"..."where's that gauze?" 

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Other Project

I've spoken several times about my project to convert my G0704 mill to CNC, but this winter I have a project that has taken precedence.  I need to do some serious maintenance on my ham radio tower installation.  As in rebuild a lot of it.  It was put in place around 1990. 

I have just about the smallest tower that hams routinely use: 20' tall.  With a mast in it, it gets the top antenna up to 28'.    Most guys use a couple of 10' sections of Rohn steel tower (25G), burying one section a couple of feet and using one or two other sections.  When I put it in I designed a method of leaning the tower over to work on or remove antennas.  Living in hurricane country, I wanted to be able to get the antennas off easily.  My friend N4RFC (in the blog list) used to live a couple of blocks away, when we both lived in South Florida.  When Hurricane David was approaching, he and I took down both his antennas and mine, but then had to help another guy in the neighborhood take down his antennas.  He had broken his leg and was on crutches, so he was unable to do anything to help take down his antennas.  By the time we got to his place, the winds were getting up 25 or 30 mph and the two of us were on this third guy's roof, on a ladder, taking down his antennas.  That was my motivation to never have to do that again.

Mine is an aluminum tower, so it's lightweight, and the tower has a hinge built onto its base in the form of two "ears" of angle aluminum put in place before the cross piece was welded on.  I poured a concrete base and sunk a couple of redheads that those hinge pieces bolt to.  It's fairly easy to walk the tower up with just that hinge, but I wanted a way to crank it over.  A friend had a 10' long piece of 2 1/2" schedule 40 steel pipe that became my method.  I dug a hole 3' deep for it and put it in the ground at the same time I was pouring the concrete pad.  The concrete doesn't encapsulate the entire 3' of pipe in the ground, but just the top foot; the rest is just in compacted soil.  Once the pipe was up, I mounted a boat trailer winch to it at waist height and hung a pulley from the top end.  To lower the tower, I loosen one nut at the bottom, two bolts holding a clamp that attaches the tower to a house bracket, put a little slack in the steel wire rope, give it a little push and then crank the tower over until the antenna almost touches.  Then I wedge a small step stool under the tower and transfer the weight onto the step stool (slacken the wire rope).  In the case of hurricane warnings, I can have my antennas down and safed, and then be back inside with my feet up in under 30 minutes.

The centerpiece of all that is the pipe.  See up there where I mentioned it was "schedule 40 steel pipe"?  In a region where humidity is one of our major exports, rust is your enemy that never sleeps.  I had my first rust issues within five years, and I've been fighting rust on it since about 1995.  I actually gave up and said I have to replace it a couple of years ago, but something always got in the way to distract me.  Now is the time.  Swearing I never want to work on rust again, I got an aluminum pipe.  I figured out how much the pipe I have should bend under 200 pounds of load, and then sized an aluminum pipe to handle that.  Then I got one a half inch bigger.  (The amount of bending depends on a property called the moment of inertia of the shape, which scales as radius to the fourth power so an extra half inch makes a noticeable difference). 

For much of the last month, I've been rounding up parts to rebuild everything, and just dealing with all the pieces that need to be worked on.  I spent a full week trying to get a stainless steel U-bolt!  The bolt itself was hard to find, and the one supplier I could find wanted to charge me $19.50 for one bolt and almost the same to ship it.  With a little delay, I was able to pick it up in town with no shipping charge.  I spent another week trying to find a replacement winch.  If you don't want the same old standard stuff every home repair uses: PVC or ABS pipe in small sizes, or a winch with a nylon strap, it gets difficult. 

While all of my antenna projects tend to begin with "when it cools off", the other side of that is, "I've got to get this done before it gets too hot again".  I should be good for another six, maybe eight weeks; after April 1st, it gets more iffy.  But this is one reason why I've been a bit "on again, off again" around here.
Some of the problem.  Rusting holes.  Rust around bolts.  That cracked area near the bottom is Bondo body putty.  I cleaned out the rust, wire brushed it and sanded to bare metal with sanding drums on my cordless drill.  Dried it, filled the hole with Bondo and painted over with Rustoleum.  Two years later the rust was pushing the Bondo out of the holes. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

In Case You Missed It - A New Debt Milestone

We are in uncharted waters.  Within the last few days, the US National Debt, as tracked by the US Debt Clock, exceeded 19 Treel-yun Dollars. 

Every box has an explanation at the source for those unfamiliar with all the terms.  No nation in the history of the world has been this indebted.  My take is that this doesn't stop.  None of the candidates left on the Stupid side has seriously addressed getting control of this monster, and the Evil Party side is actively advocating making it worse.  They're gonna ride this mother into the ground. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fun Show Day

It was Fun Show day here in the Silicon Swamp.  First show of the New Year so we had to drop by. 

It was packed.  It looked like peak days all over again, in keeping with the fact that NICS checks just keep setting record after record.  As always, folks were polite to each other and it was possible to make your way around the auditorium.   Well, it was slow to get around. 

No, didn't get anything.  I'm looking for a few things that are hard to find.  First, I want to get my hands on a Ruger Precision Rifle, but still haven't seen one.  I've heard they're almost vaporware and selling as fast as faster than Ruger can make them.  There are stories of being on back order and taking months to get.  I'd also like to find a 1911 that was used, even if it's in rough shape - doesn't even really have to be working - so that I can take it apart and use it as model for building one.  Strangely, I saw that Tam wrote about doing almost exactly the same thing a couple of days ago.    I started out saying that, and Mrs. Graybeard said, "If you're going to buy one, why buy junk?  Just get a good one."  Hard to argue with that, but I didn't find that mythical 1911 that was exactly right.  I could see getting one of these little guys, for one, but I also like these.  There was one of the Springfields at the show, but in 9mm, and if I'm going to get one, it's got to be in God's own caliber.  (Note to 9mm advocates: that's a joke based on J M Browning being referred to as a God of firearms design, and since he designed the original 1911 and the 45 ACP round for it, it must be...)
The Sig 1911.  It is a compact, so there would be that difference.