Friday, September 30, 2016

Keeping an Eye On Matthew

As I've mentioned before, keeping track of what goes on in the tropical weather is a late summer activity around here.  Not quite a hobby, but it gets looked at on regular basis during storm season.  I'm sure most of you have heard about hurricane Matthew, which underwent an impressive intensification today up to a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds.  The current official National Hurricane Center prediction for the next 5 days, looks like this:
This is an unusual situation, with the fairly hard turn to the north.  The various models have been predicting this turn for a few days, and the system has been behaving like the models.  It looks like the eastern tip of Jamaica is likely to get hit with Matthew at this sort of wind speed.  At this point, it's hard to tell just where it's going to hit, but it's looking like Kingston area will be spared the worst of it, and Port Morant and the relatively lightly-inhabited east end of the island will get the worst.

That's IF the models don't break down.  There are some unsettling things going on with this storm.  The models seem to have diverged into two sets.  Each set is generally considered a good quality set, but the two of them don't really match.
I clipped this graphic from the Central Florida Hurricane Center, an independent place (that is, not affiliated with any of the major weather companies or services) where a group of weather geeks hang out to get updates and discuss the storms.  This link goes to the Hurricane Matthew lounge - a discussion forum.  Getting back to the two plots, notice how much wider the "hairball" of predicted tracks is on the left plot than the right?  The left group is the ensemble of models from the ECMWF,  the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts;  the right group is from the GFS, the Global Forecast System, which is US-based, not European.  Just pay attention to the area bounded in yellow; the other tracks and loops are from systems that may or may not even be out there, yet.  The GFS is tightly packed, keeping the storm off Florida and pushing it north, where it could conceivably hit the Atlantic states from North Carolina all the way through Maine.

Why so different?  Is one set of models better?  In general, no.  They're both well-trusted models and neither one is "slam dunk better" than the other.  This raises the possibility that there's something wrong with one of them.  When other evidence is considered that includes the big picture weather fronts and systems, the more scattered ECMWF forecast may be a better model run.  The tight clustering of the GFS ensembles a few days out could actually be an indication of a systemic error in that model.  Something about the way the weather develops causes the models to break down.  Since a healthy percentage of those ECMWF tracks put a major hurricane on my head within a week, I can't say I like that idea!

Hurricanes, monsters though they might be, are driven by the weather systems around them.  It's like two dissimilar fluids in the same container.  Think of a lava lamp.  The moving lighter colored fluid moves the darker fluid around.  Thinking of it that way, what would make the storm do a right turn like that?  When a large system rotating counterclockwise gets in its way and the winds push the storm north.  The other word for "large system rotating counterclockwise" is a low pressure system, and there currently is such a system over the southeast US.  Just offshore the east coast is a high pressure system, which rotates the other way.  Somewhere around midway between both systems, the counterclockwise winds from the Low and the clockwise winds from the High combine to form a highway to carry Matthew somewhere north of where it is now.

The difference between these models could be how accurately they predict what that high pressure and low pressure system do.  One of the forum members posted this prediction of the way the steering currents look tomorrow morning. 
If you look between Florida and around Bermuda, you can see a low pressure system centered over Kentucky and what I'll call the Bermuda High (it's a semi-permanent high in the vicinity of Bermuda).  They show a clear, narrow path up over the Carolinas, then the Chesapeake/Delmarva area possibly into New York.  Of course everything on that map is going to move long before that, but notice that Matthew's path into that "conveyor belt" north is being blocked by winds pushing it to the south and southwest.  It may not be picked up at all, or not for several days.  That would be more in keeping with the ECMWF models than the GFS. 

That implies the National Hurricane Center is wildly off in their forecast.  It happens, but it's safe not to bet your lunch money on it.  At this point, all we can do is watch and see what happens.  This is where you smash your fondest theories against reality and see if you're able to predict what's going to happen.  There's hardly anything more fun than that.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Florida NAACP Is Trying to Kill A Program to Help Poor Students

Courtesy of Daily Signal, we get one of those stories that makes you shake your head.  The somewhat-long-titled article is, "I’m a Black Woman Whose Relatives Fought for Civil Rights. I’m Disappointed in NAACP’s War on School Choice."  If you listen closely, you can hear MLK and some of the civil rights leaders of the 60s spinning in their graves.
Last week, the Florida Education Association—the state’s largest teachers’ union—along with the Florida NAACP and other plaintiffs made a third attempt to challenge Florida’s tuition tax credit scholarship program, which allows individuals and companies to receive tax credits if they donate to a scholarship fund that helps low-income students attend the school of their choice. [Emphasis added: SiG]
I added the bold specifically to bring your attention to that this is their third attempt to block this tuition tax credit scholarship program.  Obviously, they really, really don't want this to pass.  I can understand the Florida Education Association fighting this: they're a teachers' union and chances are if the students are going to schools where they need scholarships they're (1) private schools, (2) non-union schools and (3) better schools than the ones the FEA members teach in.  They have a vested interest in mediocrity, as a casual glance at public K-12 education in the country reveals.

A little poking around added the other names that are trying to stop these scholarships: the Florida School Boards Association, the Florida PTA, the Florida Association of School Administrators, and the League of Women Voters of Florida.  The opposition to this group appears to be school choice advocates including pastors and loosely-organized parents.  It's likely that some of the pastors may benefit from the addition of students who receive these scholarships.
Thanks to a lawsuit, over 92,000 kids, many of them children of color, from low-income families are at risk to lose their privately funded scholarships to attend the private schools of their choice.
After losing in trial court and then again in the 1st District Court of Appeals, the Florida Education Association and NAACP, along with other parties, appealed to the state Supreme Court on Sept. 14. Their lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the 15-year-old education choice program.
The author, Virginia Walden Ford, goes on to give examples of how important getting a good K-12 education was for her and others she knew, both as an end in itself and as a preparation for a college education.  She acknowledges the helpful role the NAACP played in those days, but criticizes them for this move, rightly IMO.
The NAACP, which was started to support the rights of black people, is now taking a position that, in my opinion, only hurts black children and other children of color’s chance of getting a quality education in this country through access to school choice. Involving itself in lawsuits against the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program seems counter to their mission.

I have been involved in advocating for school choice for the last 20 years and I still don’t understand why anyone, especially the NAACP, would oppose families having a choice in education.
Why, indeed.  Here's a clue: unions and politics, mostly Democratic politics.  The NAACP is following Black Lives Matter on this, as BLM has recently called for a moratorium on charter schools, arguing that what they call corporate control of schools leads to “unhealthy learning environments.”.   This led St. Paul, MN BLM leader Rashad Anthony Turner, who has been a school choice advocate in Minnesota and anti-police BLM protest leader, to leave the group.  Turner said his support for charter schools and education reform put him at odds with the group.  Look at that list of organizations suing to stop the scholarship program.  Not a conservative in the bunch.
(Stock photo from the Daily Signal article)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Monetary Policy Has Failed... Now What?

Bill Bonner reports seeing the Financial Times on Monday, and being shocked to see the admission that all of the central bank legerdemain of the last decade has failed.
Meanwhile, we were shocked to see in the Financial Times – yes, the “pink paper,” no less! – a sensible article on current central bank policies.

Our heart raced. Our pulse sped up. A light sweat gathered on our forehead.

What is going on? we wondered.

The Financial Times is the mouthpiece of the international Deep State. It is solidly behind Hillary… NATO… the EU… QE… ZIRP… NIRP… the phony credit dollar… and just about every other cockamamie perversion of civilized life.

And yet… there it was… in Monday’s edition. William White, head of the OECD’s economic development review committee:
The monetary stimulus provided repeatedly over the past eight years has failed […] Debt levels have risen […] Consumers have had to save more, not less, to ensure adequate income in retirement.

At the same time, easy money threatens two sets of undesirable side effects. First, current policies foster financial instability… and many asset prices bid up to dangerously high levels. Second, current policies threaten future growth. Resources misallocated before the crisis have been locked in through zombie banks supporting zombie companies.

On the demand side, accumulating debt creates headwinds, leading to more monetary expansion and more debt […] On the supply side, misallocations slow growth, which again leads to monetary easing, more misallocation and still less growth.
Regular readers here will recognize this analysis. It's more or less what I've been pounding on in this space for the life of this blog (minus my constant whining about the need to return to a gold or gold-based standard for our money).  Here, I'm even more shocked than Bonner.  The Financial Times is singing my tune?

So what does the celebrated FT want?

Wait for it...

More monetary policy!  More government spending!  More of exactly what they just finished saying wasn't working.  “No matter what we do, it's not working, so we just need to do it harder!”

This isn't out of character for the Financial Times, it's just quite a juxtaposition to see them explain the failures of what's been done for almost the last 16 years, and decide we need to do more of it.

Look, the central banks of the world have increased their purchases of the world’s assets to the point that they now own the equivalent of almost 40% of global GDP.  At their current rate (ignoring the FT's demand for “moar spending!”), they'll own half of the world's GDP in two more years! 
In Japan, the BoJ is buying up company stocks, but through Exchange Traded Funds, so it doesn't look quite so much like the bank is buying up all Japanese companies.  It's gotten to the point that the latest white collar crime in Japan is to create a fraudulent company and get some of that BoJ money. 

Think about it a minute.  The governments through the central banks own all the public companies (and a lot of the private ones, too, as owners realize it's easier to sell out to the Feds at a profit than to try to beat them in competition).  Add in the drive to eliminate the $100 bill and we find government controls all major sources of credit, money, jobs, incomes, investment returns – everything. All we have is small bills… and not much of that. We can’t “store” wealth easily – the feds own most of the investments. And we’re not allowed to hold cash, except in the government’s banking utilities. Most likely, gold has been outlawed, too.

What kind of world is that? I think I remember hearing about something like that before... Of course! It's the way the Soviet Union was!  It's a nightmare.  And yet it seems to be the destination that every major force in society is pushing us.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Shop Update - Modeling Again

Since I can't find anything in the tech news worthy of writing about, back to my modeling of the parts of my motor driver box. 

I had to move things around, as has always been the case.  This results in the back panel looking like this:

The DB-9 connectors, which carry the motor drive signals, are now in row of four at the top, instead of a 2x2 array between the holes for the fan and that square cutout.  That cutout (for the DB-25) at the right has moved a bit, as I changed the way the breakout board will mount.   You probably already figured the array of holes is for the cooling fan, and that's right.   It might help to compare this to the last picture here

I've located every hole that I need to make, and will use a combination of my Sherline CNC and old skool layout with squares, rulers, and pointy scribes.  This is the bottom.  The front is very easy. 
You might notice that the bottom drawing here includes ordered pairs of the center of each of the holes.  Makes it easy to enter into Mach3 to drill the holes (G00 X4.54 Y4.15).

The odd part to this story is that I haven't actually drilled any holes yet.  I've had a few distractions.  Nothing bad, but one of my intents when I retired was to fish more.  Between my rude introduction to gout in April and my emergency surgery in June, it was a very inactive year and we haven't had the boat out at all since I retired!  We fixed that Monday by taking a few hours to go chasing the elusive fish, and then a few hours to clean up.  You'll note that I said "chasing", not "catching".  I've also had to adult a bit. 

The next few days look good, though.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Collection of Spy Satellite Mission Patches

It's a weird place where top secret spy satellites meet publicly released images.  Living within eyeshot of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center, I'm pretty used to the idea of classified launches.  There are many classified launches, but as we say, once they light the engines, the launch isn't secret any more.  They tend to classify the launch time, but publish a launch window.  Everyone knows that, in general, mission planners prefer to launch at the start of the launch window.  If something goes wrong, that gives them the rest of the window to work on fixing the issue.

Still, the people who work on these missions may have extraordinary skills, but they're ordinary people who take pride in their work.  Since virtually all space missions have mission patches, perhaps it's easier to understand that Top Secret satellites might have mission patches, too.  Popular Mechanics does one of their series of image collections on their website, this one, "17 Sinister Spy Satellite Mission Patches". 

It's a fun collection to look at. 
The mission patch from NROL-39.  I always thought this was a little tone deaf because the octopus evokes thoughts of Cthulhu and the launch was close to the peak of the public talk about the NSA monitoring everything (not that the NRO and NSA are technically the same organization). 

New to this? NROL stands for NRO Launch and NRO for the National Reconnaissance Office.  The NRO is an agency that was once so secret, its existence couldn't be talked about.  Among the blackest of the "black agencies" (top secret), NRO is responsible for planning and deploying the nation's spy satellites.  The existence of the NRO was first revealed in a congressional leak in 1973, but they still weren't spoken of until the SALT treaty between the US and USSR, when reconnaissance satellites were referred to as the "National Technical Means".  Today, while the NRO's existence is known, everything else about it is still classified: its missions, its org. chart and even large chunks of its budget.  An excellent overview is contained in a 1986 book called Deep Black (Amazon's link reveals it's out of print, and only available as a used paperback).  The book also discusses the "No Such Agency", CIA and other aspects of the spy satellite programs. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My Platform

I have never heard a single candidate say this, but Donald Trump has come the closest.  It's a simple two step approach to deregulation:  (1) all new laws are given an expiration date and (2) the CFR is to be gone through and laws eliminated. 
This will make liberals scream in agony.  I can hear the tired cliche's now: "Do you want to throw out food safety laws?  Do you want to poison people?"  With a CFR that numbers into the hundreds of thousands of pages, you can bet there are laws that are useless, or only used to entrap people who do minor things wrong.  I'm sure the CFR is like the states in that there still crazy laws on the books like that in Florida, it's illegal to have sex with a porcupine, and that in Alabama, it's illegal to keep an ice cream cone in your back pocket.

I've been harping on this idea for almost as long as I've been running this blog.  My most popular piece from the early days (2010) concerned how regulations are growing like weeds, how "Regulation and litigation are sand in the gears of society", and the costs of those regulations on businesses.  I repeatedly call for throwing out 2/3 or 3/4 of the Code of Federal Regulations.  Plus I've posted my "Tales from the Over Regulated State" series on an irregular basis 22 times, now.  Unfortunately, I didn't start numbering them until recently, so the numbers start with 18. 

Trump has actually called for deregulation and talks about it fairly regularly.  I haven't heard him talk about throwing out "yuuge" chunks of the CFR, but from my standpoint, they might have to spend the next eight years undoing what was passed in the last eight.

This is actually the project I was working on yesterday.  I wanted to draw the scene, but my "first-grade level" art skills couldn't close to being this good.  Instead, I found this as Free Clip Art.  I'd be honored if other people agreed and spread this around.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

I Ain't Got Much

I had a project I was working on for your edification, but didn't get finished.  So a cartoon from the great Michael Ramirez.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Feminists Dissing and Insulting Women - As Usual

Tyler O'Neil writes for PJ Media about a study by University of North Dakota's Laura Parson that essentially says women are having a hard time in STEM classes, so science itself must be misogynist. Because it deals in objective truth and women just don't think that way.  <blink>  <blink>
While Parson admits that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) syllabi do not have "overt references to gender," their language "reflects institutionalized STEM teaching practices and views about knowledge that are inherently discriminatory to women and minorities by promoting a view of knowledge as static and unchanging."
No, Ms. Parson, you don't understand.  Knowledge is changing, it's just that the things covered in the undergraduate syllabi you were reviewing are so generally well-known and well-accepted that the risk of them being disproved is quite low.  Graduate classes are more volatile, but still likely to be transferring knowledge that won't be disproved in that academic term.  That's why an undergraduate program can be quit and restarted many years later without losing credits, while a graduate program must be started over after four years out of school.  A syllabus is by nature a road map for a certain class.  It explains what will be covered in the class and what the students are expected to know to pass the class.  In essence; you're looking at a snapshot and criticizing it for not being a movie. 

The problem is that she doesn't stop there.  She goes and invokes the relativism argument.
...[T]he STEM syllabi explored in this study demonstrated a view of knowledge that was to be acquired by the student, which promotes a view of knowledge as unchanging. This is further reinforced by the use of adverbs to imply certainty such as "actually" and "in fact" which are used in syllabi to identify information as factual and beyond dispute (Biber, 2006a; 2006b). For example, "draw accurate conclusions from scientific data presented in different formats" (Lower level math). Instead of promoting the idea that knowledge is constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view of knowledge, the syllabi reinforce the larger male-dominant view of knowledge as one that students acquire and use make (sic) the correct decision.
The problem is that in STEM fields, knowledge is not "constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view of knowledge", it is obtained by experiment, and very often hard won.  In fact, a lot of truth was won by the blood of innocent victims of deficient designs - because no one knew any better.  See, for example, our little story about the DeHavilland Comet just a few days ago.  As Richard Feynman said, “It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong”.  I'm sorry if that offends your feminist studies mindset, but there is objective truth.  What you're saying, Ms. Parson, is that if someone properly "constructed" the argument that they could walk on air and were convinced it was true, they could walk off the observation deck of Empire State Building and not immediately plunge to their death.  

That there are no inviolable truths is a hard line communist viewpoint and is one thing that crippled the Soviet Union.  If the party says something it must be true because the party is never wrong, and this led to problems.

Again, the problem is she doesn't stop there.  In saying there's no truth behind what STEM fields are teaching, she's saying engineering, science and math are bad.
How could something so manifestly beneficial to all as engineering be deconstructed as inherently sexist, racist, or homophobic? Well, Parson shows us how, and demonstrates that no field of knowledge is truly safe from the Social Justice Warriors of the mind.

Parson's paper attacks even mundane things like stylistic choices — command words like "will" and "must" — as inherently masculine and anti-woman. She examines syllabi, and voila! — they have these "sexist" words. Yes, that's because a syllabus is by nature a set of instructions about a certain class. As's Robby Soave put it, "a syllabus is not a negotiation," it's a roadmap. Does Parson attack Google Maps as sexist because it orders the user to "turn here" or "make a U-turn"? Please.

Nevertheless, this "feminist" attacks such language for creating "a competitive, difficult, chilly climate" which "marginalizes women." Does that mean women aren't able to compete in a difficult climate? Imagine what Hillary Clinton would do to Donald Trump if he made this argument with a straight face.
Or, to borrow a quote from Reason's Robby Soave again,
According to Parson, such language reinforces "a competitive, difficult, chilly climate." This climate "marginalizes women." Why? Because they're delicate snowflakes who couldn't possibly handle a little competition and difficulty—implicitly, that's what Parson is saying.
The reality, of course, is that Parson is insulting and dissing women because she, personally, can't do those things and she can't understand the mindset of hard science.  How can she possibly suggest women can't be scientists, surgeons, engineers, physicians and so many other careers that women are currently working in?   

Final quote to Tyler O'Neil:
Parson has the nerve to call herself a "feminist" when her argument boils down to "women can't compete in math and science because the very idea of objective truth is sexist." We live in a truly fascinating and terrifying era where the worst excesses of the old racism and misogyny are being reintroduced in the name of equality and civil rights. Black students fight against integration, against the idea of having white roommates. Colleges host openly racist RA trainings. "Feminists" argue that women can't do science.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Little Side Project

Back at the start of June, I posted a little piece about a friend gifting me a junk guitar.  It's a Breedlove that was made years ago and that apparently was some sort of a sales demo.  (There's a label inside that says it's an Atlas Series, and while I can find mention of that series in many places, no mention of when they were made.)  It was missing easily replaced pieces, and had a large chunk of the left side cut out of it so that potential buyers could see how it was made.  The original was an acoustic-electric with a nice electronics package that went away at some point over the years.

The idea is that it's about as broken as broken can be, so I can mess with it with complete impunity.  Pull frets to learn how to replace them?  Why not?  Crack the sound board to see if I can fix that crack?  Steam the neck off?  I probably can't break it worse than it is.   Naturally, I said, "sure I'll take it".

It has a solid Sitka spruce soundboard (top), which isn't that uncommon once you get past the very cheapest guitars; the back, though, is solid rosewood and that's something I expect to find only in fairly high end guitars.  The closest equivalent I know of on the market today seems to be the Fender Paramount PM-3 Deluxe at a K-buck.  The sides are rosewood laminate (plywood), but a guitar's sides are largely structural and don't affect sound very much. So while it has obvious problems, it's basically a good guitar, not one of those cheap, plywood guitars for beginners.  In other words, while it's a junk guitar, it's not a "junk guitar".

When I got it in June, I said:
My mental gears are turning.  I'm curious about how it sounds now.  I could get a set of tuners, nut and saddle and have it able to make sounds for under $100 - maybe half that if I use no-name parts. That's probably necessary, too.  I mean, I can't tell if I ruined a setup, or added a fret that buzzes unless I can get sounds out of it.  The foot long hole in the side will be a problem, but I can live with that.  Actually, several custom luthiers make guitars with a solid body and the sound hole moved up to the top edge, making this example an extreme version of this approach.
It turned out that the cost was way below $100.  $27.06  to be precise.  I bought a set of no-name import tuners on eBay for $8.06 - including shipping - and a pre-notched, nut and saddle made from "bone" for the other $19 (it doesn't say what the bone is from, but "bone" is a commonly used material for these parts).   I bought those parts before my medical emergency back in late June and they've been sitting.  I finally got around to installing them over the weekend.
This view shows the "oversized top edge sound hole" as well as the bone saddle... 
while this view shows the el-cheapo tuners and nut. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it did require a little adjustment when I put strings on and tried to tune it up.  Certain notes around the middle of the neck didn't play; I'd try for the 6th fret and get the 7th fret note. The neck of a guitar is supposed to be slightly lower in the middle frets than at the nut or back at the body.  I just needed to adjust the truss rod a little to get it to play easily.  The rest of the fret board seems fine; no buzzing sounds which means the frets are probably fairly flat and level.  That's a little surprising in a demo piece like this was. 

Just why they cut this one up is hard to know.  I mean, did they cut up QC rejects that were destined for the trash bin, were they pulled from regular production, or were they made especially for this purpose?  I was a bit afraid that when I put tension on the strings that the whole thing would collapse like so much cardboard; or, at least, the bridge would go flying.  Everything is fine, though.  It actually sounds pretty nice, even with that large chunk of side missing.  It points the sound up at me somewhat better than across the room, so I'm sure it sounds different from where I'm sitting than where Mrs. Graybeard is while I play.  Hey!  Not bad for $27.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Techy Tuesday Special - Conspiracy Theories and Reality

Call this one the 9/11 edition.

Back on the 11th, I seriously contemplated writing something about how foolish the conspiracy theories sound based on even the smallest amounts of knowledge of construction techniques.  Add in knowledge of metallurgy of the level that a working blacksmith or welder gets, this video says plenty, let alone the knowledge of a working civil or mechanical engineer and they seem even sillier.  The way things fail is the subject of a high level mechanical engineering study usually called fracture mechanics.  I have a little exposure to it from an undergrad required elective, but it's a specialized area that I wouldn't pretend to qualified to talk about.  The only thing I can say with self-assurance is that when things are breaking, or exploding, they don't necessarily follow the neat, tidy little order that many would assume.  As I've commented before, humans tend to think in straight lines, and Euclidean geometry; God tends to think in partial differential equations. 

Why didn't I write the piece?  Basically, I think it's a waste of time.  One of the key elements of conspiracy theories is that the people who believe them tend to believe them with a faith that won't be swayed.  People often say that if someone argues against the conspiracy theory, that person must be part of the conspiracy!  Their minds are shut, they are convinced of what they want to be convinced, and contrary evidence will not be examined.  Did you notice that I just said I don't feel qualified to talk about the complexities of fracture mechanics?  You'll note that hasn't stopped the "9/11 truthers" from saying plenty about things they're not qualified to write about. 

Today, I ended up at Fred Reed's place, Fred on Everything, and he had a great piece on this very subject.  Go read.  In that piece, Fred links to the Journal of the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society's December 2001 analysis of what happened in the buildings.  It's definitely a good read.  They in turn link to an updated summary from late 2007 at the same journal.  I believe this was one of the main sources for the famous Popular Mechanics examination of what happened. 

So this is not being offered here to dissuade the conspiracy theorists because that's impossible; rather it's being offered for my more rational readers who find Fred funny and a fun guy to read.  The remainder is for the readers who might be interested in the details that have been teased out of the available data. 
Although it's not related to 9/11, this is the British De Havilland Comet, the world's first commercial jet.  The Comet 1 crashed too often and the airplane's windows were determined to be the cause.  Mechanical analysis showed that the square windows caused concentrations of stress from the flexing of the aircraft in those corners; what we now call stress risers.  You'll note (if you haven't already) every jet you get on today has rounded window corners.  This is why.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Solar Update - Late Summer 2016

Technically it's late summer for a few more days. 

I ordinarily post these updates every six months, but what happens is I go to the source website and if they don't have the charts up to date early in the month I tell myself to go back in a few days.  Six months from the last update was in August; I went to the source and the July update wasn't there.  I forgot to go back until now. 
You can see the real numbers keep tracking below the predicted values (in red), with a tendency to be quite low - a smoothed sunspot number of 10 when the predicted is 40.  The last six months show more variation than the stretch from late 2015 through the February report. 

As a refresher, the dark blue line is the Smoothed Average, the last three readings averaged; the dark dots are individual readings while the featureless red curve is the predicted value.  This solar cycle is predicted to hit its minimum around 2020, which is still quite a while away.  The sunspot number is likely to get quite a bit lower, running around zero by late 2017 and staying that low for several years.  Note that when you see a sunspot number of 35, that doesn't mean you could look at the sun and find 35 separate spots; its a weighted combination of groups and the spots in those groups.  There's an excellent explanation here.

I've also been tracking the Planetary A index, a measure of geomagnetic storming, every 6 months, and the August chart follows:
It appears to have reached its interim peak in the last six months of charting and is trending toward lower levels, too, but is still on a par with levels from the declining years of the last cycle: 2006 and a couple of spikes through 2008.  As I've said before, while I don't understand it, 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 A index peak at the end of '04 was the largest solar flare observed in the satellite era).

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, which peaked in 1957.  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 on the globe 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 climate, our food supply, and life in general.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

I've Been Modeling

Not like that.  Unless Danskin came out with a line of workout unitards for walruses and needed a spokeswalrus. 

I've spent much of the last week modeling the layout for the CNC controller box for the G0704 project.  My goal was to find any problems before I put it together, so that I minimize the amount of time I spend working on it.  Along the way, I've found lots of gotchas, big and small, so it hasn't been a wasted effort at all.  I've found I was missing essentials I should have, like wire.  I have a spool of #24, which is nowhere good enough for the high current lines.  I found models for several widely used parts online that would be really time consuming to do myself.  DB9 and DB25 connectors for example.  I thought it was done on Friday, and did this decent rendering of the box with everything in place but the wiring. 
First thing to note is that the back of the box is at the bottom of this image.  The front is at the top and if you look on the left edge, you'll see that the front panel is floating in air, about a half inch in front of the bottom.  The bottom plate is bigger than what's shown here, but that extra space is unusable.  With that out of the way, the long box on the left is my 48V supply, the four identical black blocks with green blocks on top are the KL-6050 motor drivers.  Over on the right is the C35 BOB from CNC4PC.  There's a side panel that it mounts to which isn't visible here.  On the right side of the back panel, you'll see 5 orange blobs that are the DB25 for the printer port (right), and the four DB9 connectors which will carry the four voltage signals to the stepper motors.  Inside the back panel, around the middle, is a 120mm computer fan (AC power), and above it is a white block with brown spacers on it and flat terminals coming out of the ends; this is an EMI line filter.  These are supposed to keep electrical noise generated inside the box on the inside, and keep out electrical noise coming from the outside.  In the upper right corner is a beige block with a red knob on it; that's the emergency STOP! button.  It wires to the BOB. 

With the pieces in place, including a spare motor controller for an additional axis, it was time to start figuring out where the holes go.  I wanted to produced dimensioned drawings of the front, back and bottom.   The more I looked at the details of how all of this gets hooked up, the BOB sitting on the sidewall kept being a problem.  It seemed like the only way around that was to make hand wired 25 pin printer cable extension about a foot long.  I figure that's painful at best, and probable outcomes just get worse from there, so I went shopping for a ready made cable under a foot long that I could squeeze in there.  Ribbon cable would be best because of its flexibility.  The standard interface on CNC BOBs has male connectors, so I'd need a male on the back panel to accept the cable, then turn that into a female to mate with the BOB.  The best I could find was a 3 foot standard printer cable, and that's not going to fit rolled up inside the box.  While searching, I found some hard plastic adapters that are designed for the same basic thing - DB25M to DB25F.  The problem there is I have to hard mount the adapter to the rear panel, which floats, and make sure the hard mounted BOB was in exactly the right place in 3-space so that they connect, including plugging together.  If I'm going to do that, the better approach is to cut out the back panel for the DB25 and mount the board to the back panel.  Only I can't; there's no hardware on the card to do that.

The answer is to make a right angle bracket that holds the board up, and allows the connector to poke through the back.  I have plenty of 3/8 aluminum a few inches wide, and drew a simple right angle bracket in Rhino.  Mrs. Graybeard was looking at it and started asking about why it was like that, so I explained it was just stuff I know I have and can make work, but I'm open to anything.  She goes out into the garage, rummages around in a storage tub of old computer stuff and comes in with a steel sheet mounting bracket for a hard drive.  One of these, to be precise.  It's actually going to be tight in there and I'm not entirely sure it will work, but I can cut that hard drive holder back on the bandsaw if I have to.  There's no bent portion to mount the bracket to the bottom plate, so a small piece of aluminum scrap will work for that.  I'll use 3/8" thick, about 1x3, so I can tap some holes in it to mount the bracket, and then mounting screws from the bottom to hold everything in place. 

No more 25 pin cable. 

While looking for some small parts in my ham shack "junk box", I inadvertently stumbled across a way to drastically cut down the size of the components I'm using for handling the AC mains voltage. 
On the left is small metal box, 1 1/4" tall and 2 1/4" wide.  It includes an on/off switch, an AC line cord interface (the ones you'll find on many pieces of home electronics), a fuse holder (under the red rectangle) and a line filter.  That one little box takes the place of the pile to its right in this picture plus a fuse holder.  It also simplifies my wiring by reducing all those interconnections.  On closer examination, the one in this picture isn't really good for this box.  It's rated for 3 Amps at 120 through the filter, and I'm planning for more than that.  A new one rated for higher current doesn't cost that much, about $25 from Digikey.  It should ship pretty quickly.

So just when I thought I was done modeling the box, the box changed again.  A lot. 
At the moment, I think this is done, but I thought that a few days ago.  I can start wiring up DB9 connectors for the motors, and figuring out how all this connects to the mill.  And I can start taking the mill apart to put the CNC conversion in place.  Then this can percolate in our minds and hopefully not change too much. 

Still chugging along, a little bit every day.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Echoing BRM on the Clinton Corruption

Echoing Bayou Renaissance Man's call to spread this far and wide.  Here's the background.  Donald Trump held campaign stops and a rally in Miami yesterday.  At one stop, this Haitian-American from New Jersey came forward with a detailed, personal story of his encounters with the Clintons from the 1990s forward.  In the '90s he was the President of the Haitian Senate.

After the big Haitian earthquake in 2010, most of us heard that the world had donated billions of dollars in relief funds.  Most of us also heard that very little of that money really went to help Haiti.  The news media reported it as the donors not actually sending what they pledged.  Perhaps that's not right.  

Most will recall that Bill Clinton and Bush the Elder were famously portrayed as an odd-couple, bipartisan team going around and raising money for Haiti.  Now it seems we know where at least some of that money ended up: the Clinton Foundation, a money laundering enterprise for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Economics QoTW

This from Bill Bonner's diary, an entry called A Sure Sign the Economy is Doomed.  I'm not 100% sure you can read that link, but you should if you can. 
“On Tuesday, German household-products giant Henkel and French pharmaceutical company Sanofi issued a total of €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) of new bonds at yields of minus 0.05%.”

Nick might have added an exclamation point; never, in the last 5,000 years for which we have records has loaned money yielded less than nothing.

And since money didn’t even exist before that, we can presume that it has never before happened in the history of the universe.
Bill waxes poetic about all of the changes the world has seen in the last 5000 years, in which no one has ever loaned money to a corporation or bank and told them, "don't bother to pay all of it back".  I might say that to a friend, but if I'm buying bonds to help a company grow, that's money I could be spending on something else, and I'm paying the opportunity cost of not having my money to buy ...whatever I want, from pizza to more ammo.  I want the company to compensate me for that loss of the use of my money by paying interest on those bonds.  So I'm sure not buying those bonds.

The only way in which that makes any sense at all is the buyers are sitting on ludicrously large piles of money and think they'll lose more money by buying stocks or other instruments.  After all, if it was a small amount of money, the bank of Serta has even less loss.  It's just that billions of dollars require too many mattresses.  They know that government bonds are taking even more money than Henkel and Sanofil, and they think there's a bigger risk they'll lose more money putting it in a bank than buying those corporate bonds - which means they think it's more likely that the bank will fail and they lose everything or the bank will give them a haircut.  The Financial Times story puts it this way:
“Investors can park their cash in a higher-yielding instrument than is usually available,” said Rupert Lewis, head of European bond syndicate at BNP Paribas, who worked on both deals.

Two-year German Bunds yield minus 0.67 per cent, so the Henkel bond offers investors a premium of 52 basis points over the so-called risk-free rate on sovereign bonds.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

NASA Chief Not A Fan of Private Space Companies


In an interview quoted in ARS Technica, NASA Administrator Charlie Bowden said he doesn't think it's the place of companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin to be developing heavy boosters.  At least not yet.
On Tuesday, during a Q&A session at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Space 2016 Conference, Bolden was asked for his opinion on the emerging market for small satellites and launchers. He chose to respond instead with his thoughts on NASA's own rocket, the Space Launch System, and private-sector development of larger launch vehicles.

"If you talk about launch vehicles, we believe our responsibility to the nation is to take care of things that normal people cannot do, or don’t want to do, like large launch vehicles," Bolden said. "I’m not a big fan of commercial investment in large launch vehicles just yet."
In this graphic, courtesy of Blue Origin, they show the relative sizes of the launch vehicles compared to our 60 year old standard for large launch vehicles, the Saturn V.  All of these vehicles are currently flying except the Falcon Heavy and the two Glenn versions (and, of course, the Saturn V).   

You'll note that the Falcon Heavy and the Glenn are in the class of the largest launch vehicles that exist, with both being projected to launch 70 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO).  It also means two private US corporations are planning rockets that will compete with the biggest things NASA has ever built, including its proposed Space Launch System.
The key difference, of course, is cost. Development of Falcon Heavy and New Glenn will cost US taxpayers nothing, or next to nothing, in direct expenditures. Per-flight costs will probably be roughly on the order of $200 million per launch.

The space agency, however, is expected to spend $13 billion on design and development of SLS and its ground systems alone through its first flight in late 2018. An estimate by Ars suggested that it will cost NASA about $60 billion for 20 launches of the SLS rocket through the 2030s.
Read that as $200 million per launch with private sector vs. $3 billion with NASA, and I'm not completely clear that doesn't include some development costs.  But don't worry, it gets worse for "Muslim outreach" Bowden.
Despite the demonstrable efforts by both SpaceX and Blue Origin, Bolden nonetheless said that "normal people" cannot, or do not want to, develop large launch vehicles. What the administrator appears to be asserting here is that NASA is more special, or better, than those in the private sector when it comes to building rockets. This exceptionalism is curious, considering that NASA hasn't actually built a rocket since the 1970s and the space shuttle and that the SLS is highly derivative of shuttle components, including its engines and side-mounted solid rocket boosters.

It's also unclear why Bolden would not be a "fan" of commercial investment in large launch vehicles. Both SpaceX and Blue Origin, at their own expense and risk, are seeking to build heavy lift rockets that will augment the launch capability of the United States. Both companies have developed brand new engines (the Merlin 1D by SpaceX and BE-4 by Blue Origin) at a time when a major new rocket engine hasn't been brought forward in the United States in decades and when US national security offices must rely on Russian engines to deliver their spy satellites into space.
You'll also note that both SpaceX and Blue Origin are planning on reusability of their first stages, and both companies have successfully recovered them.  SpaceX was scheduled to launch their first reused rocket before the end of this year - which will be the first rocket ever reused for a paying customer - when their pad explosion occurred and grounded their program.  NASA's SLS is fully expendable; nothing comes back.  Just like the Saturn V.  

Bolden's attitude, surprising as it might be to rational folks like you, me and the writers at Ars, is not unusual.  NASA's (and Bolden's!) former Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said in a November 2015 talk,
“The NASA people would say, ‘Come on Lori, you’ve got to talk to Elon because we got out of low-Earth orbit. We’re giving him that, but you’ve got to get him out of long-term, deep space, because that’s ours,’” Garver recalled. “I thought, fundamentally, you just don’t understand. We’re not in a race in a swimming pool where everyone is racing against one another. We’re in a cycling race where the government is riding point and the others are drafting behind us, and if someone comes alongside us and can pass us because they’ve found a better way, we don’t get out our tire pump and stick it between their spokes.”
She said it best, perhaps, when she made this observation.
“NASA was a very symbol of capitalist ideals when we went to the Moon and beat the Russians,” she said. “Now what we’re working with is more of a socialist plan for space exploration, which is just anathema to what this country should be doing. Don’t try to compete with the private sector. Incentivize them by driving technologies that will be necessary for us as we explore further.”
You might imagine she wasn't terribly popular at NASA.   She "made more than a few enemies in Congress and at NASA. She stepped on the toes of center directors. She got crosswise with the astronaut corps. And she didn’t always play nice with NASA’s traditional aerospace partners, who expected fat contracts from the space agency but also flexible deadlines."  NASA, though, long ago became an arthritic bureaucracy incapable of much beside shuffling papers; an insider told me, back in the '90s, that the miracle of NASA was that despite all the road blocks put in the way, they still managed to accomplish things.  It's a shadow of its former glory days in the 60s and 70s.  It still has the infrastructure, which translates into NASA centers in many congressional districts, which inevitably translates into money being passed around in DC.  For dinosaurs like Charlie Bolden. 

Personally, I think Bolden is afraid that one day in eight or ten years, he'll be watching SpaceX astronauts landing on Mars on TV, while the SLS and NASA are still bound to LEO.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

World's Second Largest Known Meteorite Recovered in Argentina

The second largest meteorite known to man was pulled out of the ground in Campo del Cielo, Argentina over the last weekend.   It's been named the Gancedo meteorite, after the small town nearest where it was found.  Campo del Cielo ("Field of Heaven") is a well known site among meteor collectors, and at any rock show you're likely to find some pieces of Campo del Cielo meteorites for sale.  Or just search on eBay
Campo del Cielo is rife with iron meteorites estimated to have fallen around 4,000 years ago. What makes Gancedo unusual is its massive size, with a weight estimated at around 68,000 pounds (31,000 kilograms).
The Mail science tech page sums it up this way:
The original space rock weighed an estimated 800 tonnes and hailed from the Main Asteroid Belt located between Mars and Jupiter.

It split into multiple meteorites that branched out over an area of approximately 124 square miles (320 square kilometres).
Note that "space rock" is entirely wrong.  This is a iron-nickle meteorite, not rock, and they call it iron elsewhere in the piece.  

With specimens going for around $1/gram on eBay, that's $31,000,000.  That's a joke, lame as it may be.  It's undoubtedly more valuable intact.  The largest known meteorite in the world is the Hoba meteorite in Namibia, estimated to weigh more than 132,000 pounds.  It has never been removed from the ground and is a tourist site.
This is the Gancedo meteorite from Argentina.

You never know when something like this can hit.  All jokes about SMOD aside, a meteor of the size that resulted in the Campo del Cielo field is thought to be a once in "a couple" thousand years event meaning "we're overdue".  Could be tonight, or it could be in hundreds of years. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Techy Tuesday - How Do They Make Those Things Anyway?

Back at the end of August, we spoke briefly about how silicon carbide (SiC) wafers are processed.  My point there wasn't how chemically pure SiC wafers are turned into transistors, but how SiC wafers were handled.  The main point of that article was how a company had developed a new way of handling the wafers; instead of slicing them apart with diamond wire saws, they used a laser to break chemical bonds a few molecules below the surface of crystal, letting the slice almost slide off with no effort.  The resulting wafer still needed to be polished, as was the case in the old method, but the new approach yielded massive improvements in efficiency.   They produced 50% more wafers through reduced material losses and produced wafers in 16% of the time of the old method.

First a note.  Some people may have very minimal knowledge of electronics.  You may want to see my "The Least You Should Know" series, in particular Electronics 1 and Electronics 2

The question came up, though, "just how do they make those complex integrated circuits?", and it's a deep question.  The short answer is by photographic processes, but that doesn't really tell you much.  Especially in the modern geometries we speak about - 14nm and smaller.  Here, features are the size of a group of atoms; perhaps 50 or 60 atoms.  Photographically, you can reduce an image, but can you reduce it that far?  It doesn't take place with one photographic process, there are multiple steps and they require the "masks" to align to very high precision.  Light can't be used to shine through photographic masks (just dark and light areas) because light waves are too big.  Generations of transistors ago, designers compensated photo masks for how the diffraction of light would degrade the features they were trying to create.  Now they've gone to shorter and shorter wavelengths, extreme ultraviolet light, to keep the wave nature of light from destroying their work. 

Wait.  Masks?  Photographic processes?  Extreme ultraviolet light?  How incredibly exotic.  How did transistors ever get invented and made?  A few years ago, I discovered this 2010 video where self-taught  engineer Jeri Ellsworth describes making a type of FET (Field Effect Transistor) at home with specialized but homemade equipment and the right chemicals.  It's 8 minutes long, but it captures the essence of the process.  To begin with, the vast majority of electronics hobbyists would say it's not possible to make a transistor at home, without a semiconductor fab.  But the first transistors and first integrated circuits were made before fabs existed, and while they were crude by today's standards, they worked.  If one can gather the equipment and supplies required, they can make functional transistors this way.  Here she demonstrates the transistors working.

A silicon wafer is first heated, and exposed to steam at high temperatures to create an oxide layer.  Then it's coated with a photoresist that cures on the wafer, exposed to light which causes the photoresist to break down and expose some areas of the silicon oxide layer.  The wafer is then treated with Hydrofluoric Acid (nasty stuff!) to etch away the silicon oxide, exposing bare silicon again.  The bare silicon is treated with yet more chemicals, and this process repeated.  The process with complex integrated circuits, which can include transistors, diodes, resistors, capacitors (and very rarely because they take so much room on the wafer - inductors), is essentially the same as what Jeri does, just repeated many more times and using some different chemicals.  The manufacturing of a complex chip like a Digital Signal Processor can have over a thousand or 1500 operations from bare wafer to final product.  It can require a few hundred additions of materials, and etching some or most of it away.

A couple of entertaining videos are here, only a few years old, and a considerably older video from Phillips here.  While the Phillips video talks about geometries and numbers of parts that are rather dated, those processes are still used, as we also talked about

This is a very deep subject; there are multiple textbooks available.  I can only touch the surface here and give you a very superficial idea of how it's done, but it's still remarkable stuff.
This is the die of a Texas Instruments Digital Signal Processor, a TMS320C25, a "second generation DSP" - I've worked with these.  DSPs are specialized microprocessors that are very good at floating point operations and especially signal processing algorithms, like a Discrete Fourier Transform.  I don't know how many transistors are in this, but would guess around a billion.  The low power magnification here can barely hint at the complexity that would be seen at high powers. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Small Manufacturing Revolution Gets a New Tool

Over the years, I've written several times of the new industrial revolution.  It's called convergence
With the advance of personal fabrication - the intersection of home CNC, 3D printing, continually more powerful digital electronics, what's called the Maker movement, it is literally getting to the point where you will be able to buy anything you need to make any gun you want. To use the cliche' again, "you can't stop the signal".
Just substitute "anything" for "any gun" in that paragraph because it really is that big.  For a new capability to add to that list of home CNC machine tools, and 3D printing, I'd like to direct your attention to Kickstarter, to the first desktop waterjet cutting machine, called the Wazer.  I don't usually link to Kickstarter, and no, I have no connection to the folks producing this, but the machine is revolutionary, and the project is completely funded (430% as of tonight) with 59 days to go.  Waterjet cutting machines have been known for being the province of major manufacturing companies, like the aerospace industry: large and expensive machines that require significant infrastructure and high maintenance.  This machine holds the promise of bringing waterjet cutting to the small shop and the hobbyist shop. 

What is a waterjet cutting and why would one want it?  As the name implies, the cutting is done with a very fine, very high pressure jet of water.  Water, while erosive, isn't much of a cutting tool, so its charged with abrasive particles.  They use the term "garnet" for it: garnet is a moderately hard stone that has historically been used as an abrasive - you can still buy garnet paper.  It's a non-toxic, safe abrasive, just a harder version of the silicon dioxide sand in sandpaper. 

The abrasive particles allow the waterjet to cut anything from common metals like steel or aluminum, to titanium, glass, ceramics, carbon fiber sheets, and more.  Because it's a computer controlled machine (CNC), it can cut any shape outline you might want.  There are several interesting examples to look at on the Kickstarter page.  For metals, you might compare this to a plasma cutting machine, and there are home CNC plasma cutters, too.  The plasma cutters don't cut the materials like carbon fiber, fiberglass, glass or tile. 

While this isn't directly up my alley, it's yet another example of how manufacturing is becoming more democratized.  Today, someone looking to start a home business that makes one-of, specialized, or personalized items, like the Studio Neat stand, has their choice of 3D printers in a bewildering array of sizes and capabilities, CNC machine tools or routers in a similarly bewildering array, small laser cutters or engravers for under $100, (or more capable versions that cost more, of course), plasma cutters and more.  This adds yet another tool to the small shop's domain.  It's the convergence of the digital revolution with improvements in motor manufacturing, and half a dozen other things.  It is the future.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 15 Years After

While sipping my coffee this morning, I was watching the annual ceremony of the reading of the names of the 9/11 victims in the WTC.  I don't know why it surprised me to see as much crying as I saw, but I was struck by how raw the wounds from that day still are.  From the way most mass media talks about it, it's like dim distant past, something the country is completely over.  Easy to say if it's not your loved one, coworker, or other friend that died that day. 

In going over my years on this blog, I find I've written only a few posts on 9/11.  I suppose I try to contribute something that other people don't and with the superb writers that are here in the blogosphere, I'm not sure I have much to say that's worthwhile.  I find it's one of those few days in my life where I instantly can vividly recall where I was, what I was doing, and all of the things we saw and heard.  

On that bright Tuesday morning, I was out of the office at a company that we contracted to do some testing on our radios.  As the technician and I were setting up the test, the company's secretary/receptionist came in and said the radio had a bulletin that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.  My first reaction, perhaps strangely, was that radio navigation systems can't be that wrong, it must have been a terrible accident.  Act of war did not enter my mind.  As the morning went on, a TV set was put in place and large antenna hooked up outside (there are no local TV channels).  We watched the second plane hit and quickly realized this was no accident.  That's when the thoughts of Pearl Harbor and other acts of war started.  I've heard it credited to Ian Fleming as his character Auric Goldfinger, but the saying goes, "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action".  And so it appeared that day. 

In the days that followed, I learned that friends were affected by the events of 9-11, but weren't involved.  A co-worker was on business at Boeing, and had to rent a car to drive home.  A very close friend was waiting at JFK airport to fly home, and saw the attacks in real time.  He also had to rent a car and drive home.  A cousin lives within viewing distance and watched it. And now I have friends who have sons in the armed forces in Afghanistan, and others who have been in Iraq.  We need to remember we are at war, even if our enemy isn't a convenient nation-state.  You can pretend we're not at war if you'd like, but if someone swears to destroy you, it's prudent to believe them.

This post shouldn't be about me.  It's in memory of all those who died that day, and since then.  Let us really never forget.  This poster is several years old, but it'll have to do.  Remember the fallen

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Shop Project Milestone

My emphasis this week has been getting my shop computer running.  I've suspected the power supply as going bad in this computer for a long time.  Some time last winter or spring, I tried to turn it on to use my CNC Sherline and it didn't boot up.  The system died somewhere during the boot process.  To shorten the story, I found that by turning it off and on again, it would usually wake up properly and run without a hitch.  It was just the turn-on that didn't work, and only some of the time.  Some times, I'd have to turn it on four or five times to get it to work; other times it would turn on the first time I pushed the button.

A while back, I swapped the computer with another one we were using as a doorstop.  Since the hardware is virtually identical, I took the hard drive from the shop computer and stuck it in the doorstop.  The doorstop never had problems booting, but a couple of times it would just hangup and stop responding to any input.  This is bad if the mill is running, so I was planning to replace it, but have been lucky enough to never face that. 

As part of getting it running again, we turned it on Tuesday morning.  Power supply wouldn't start.  Just in case it was corrosion from sitting around unused, we pulled the power supply connectors and cleaned the connectors out with DeoxIt.  Turned it on after all the cleaning and it started right up.  Did we fix it or were we just lucky?  (One of the philosophical question technicians ask is "how do I know if I fixed an intermittent problem, or only made it more intermittent?")  Wednesday morning it wouldn't start and had to be power cycled again.  That afternoon, I ordered a replacement power supply from Amazon.  The new power supply got here Friday and I've turned the computer on four times without it messing up.  Meanwhile, while the PC was working Tuesday, I built a LiveCD of LinuxCNC and after playing with it a little while, installed Linux as its only operating system.  No dual boot, no Windoze (XP) partition.

Meanwhile, it was off to building up my CNC controller box.  Except not in a box, just laying everything out on the PC side panel on the workbench and wiring it up.  My motors are 570 in-oz steppers I got from Automation Technologies and those are driven by KL-6050 Stepper Motor Drivers from the same folks.  The interface from the computer is via parallel port, which I've been using for over 10 years with Mach3 on my Sherline.  Since LinxCNC is optimized for the parallel port, I'm staying with that.  The printer port can't just drive those motor drivers, and a company called CNC4PC sells what they call a C35 Breakout Board that takes the parallel port cable and maps its signals to outputs to the motor drivers.  All of the outputs from and inputs to the C35, other than that one DB25 parallel port, are on RJ45 connectors, so connecting the C35 to the motor driver inputs is as simple as plugging a short jumper where you want it to go.  Connecting the motors to the motor drivers' outputs is just a little harder.  Six wires have to be stripped 1/4" or so, pushed into a connector and a screw tightened - four wires for the stepper motor windings and two wires for the 48V.   In addition to this, all that's needed is a power supply for the motors, in my case a 48V 10A supply from a vendor on eBay.  Well, the C35 needs 5V at half an amp, so I dedicated an old wall wart to it.  It may be possible to come up with a simpler way to get that, passing 5V from the PC, but this will do for now.  First test of all three motors running a test file I had.  X Y Z from left to right. 

Confession:  I had some problems getting the C35 to respond, so since I had a "known good" system handy, I put the LinuxCNC machine aside and moved my Mach3 over here, with its Sherline configuration file.  Still wouldn't move.  It allowed me to find the paragraph in the datasheet for the board that said I needed to jumper a point on it to the 5V supply.  Once I did that. LEDs on the C35 board turned on and everything started to work.  I'll switch back to the Linux PC tomorrow. 

First motion is always a good milestone to pass. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Note To The NeverTrumpers

I suppose the cool kids use a hashtag with that: #nevertrump.  They even have a couple of competing websites.  Isn't that special. 

I have a few things to say to you.  I think I've been particularly quiet about this election.  I see I did two pieces back during our primary process, and mentioned him a few times, but very little specific about the election.  I think Trump is interesting as a phenomenon but I've never really been a supporter.  I mean I've never seen a total outsider run for president and get this close.  He has even less political experience than Obama had in '08, and that's really tough to do.  To get less experience than Obama, a candidate would need to have negative experience.  Heck, Trump essentially has negative experience when you consider how he thought politicians were convenient purchases to get things done for his businesses.  D? R? Doesn't matter.  Buy 'em by the six-pack.

Certain lugubrious talk show hosts (I won't name) are making a big deal about not being able to vote for Trump.  They act like there's some sort of horrible moral quandary associated with not getting the one ideal candidate whom they adore to vote for.  That old "voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil" ideavirus.  Please.  Can we talk like adults here?  

Look, if you honestly think Donald Trump is evil incarnate, go ahead and don't vote.  Join the 60,000 people between the two #nevertrump websites who have signed a pledge to not vote for him.  I personally don't think Trump is evil.  I've read enough stories of nice surprises he's unexpectedly pulled on people to think he's a basically good guy.  I like how he had the kids working: driving heavy equipment, and working with construction crews.  Will he do stupid things?  Of course: he's human.  Also, see the remark about having zero experience in public office.  Will he crash the country?  I think the country might well crash no matter who's in office.  With Hillary it's a slam dunk guarantee, if she isn't lying about her stupid programs while she's campaigning.  With Trump, it's probably inevitable, too.  He won't push as hard as her to destroy the country, it's just that it could be so far gone that repair without "the blood of patriots and tyrants" is no longer possible.

My perspective is that not once in my voting life has the general election offered a candidate I thought was ideal, and I've been voting since 1972.  I've never gotten to vote for a candidate I'm really 100% behind and this year is no exception.  I may get that candidate in the primaries, but by the time the general election gets here, the choice has always, always, always been who the least awful candidate is.  If you #nevertrumpers are just now discovering that shit sandwich: welcome to your mid thirties.  If you're older than that and never experienced that the choice is always for the least bad candidate, you've led a charmed life - or didn't really look at the candidates.  Maybe you just loved Obama, God forbid.

A few days ago, CA at Western Rifle Shooters Association linked to an article called "The Flight 93 Election", with the line that this is the "Charge the Cockpit Election".  Now, I'm pretty bad at metaphors (I'm too literal) and the puzzle over what "charge the cockpit" means in the context of elections didn't really work for me.  It took a few days for it sink in that the analogy is that on flight 93, if we had just defeated the terrorists and got control of the plane back by charging the cockpit, we weren't out of the woods by any means.  It could be that not one of us had a clue how to fly a plane or work the radio or anything.  The only thing that was absolutely sure was that if we did nothing we were dead right then and there.  At least fighting off the terrorists gave us a chance to live. 

And that's the way I'm looking at the election.  Hillary is an absolute DRT.  Trump, for all his tendencies to boast too much and say stupid things, is our only hope to get into a survivable position.  To use Mrs. Graybeard's analogy, someone in our group has a badly bleeding wound.  Could be an artery.  QuickClot causes problems for the doctors later, but it might just keep them alive long enough to get to surgery.  There's really no choice of whether we do it or not.  

The media, from the hard left New York Times and MSNBC to the slightly left Fox, are in full "Destroy Trump!!" mode.  Even though, with the full tilt crap 24/7, I still hear encouraging things from and about Trump.  I don't see it as a hard choice at all.  Would I rather have someone else?  People in hell would rather have air conditioning and ice water.  Doesn't matter.  I really only have the two choices. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Post for Weather Geeks

Especially lightning geeks. 

For some time, I've been aware that there's a group of radio experimenters who listen to low frequency signals for the strange sounds the atmosphere makes.  They call the things they hear "sferics", which at least sounds like it could be a shortened form of "atmospherics".  There are things that sound like whistles, things that sound like bird chirps, and other odd sounds produced by natural phenomena. 

This morning, while listening to the sound of south pole auroras on Jupiter on, conversation turned to what the auroras on Earth sound like and then to the sferics hobbyists.  That led to this:
What you're seeing here is the last hour's worth of lightning strikes over the CONUS (and surrounding areas) as of about 5PM EDT. Color code is that the hottest color, red, is the most recent while the yellower fading to dark orange spots are older. is the top level and moving the map around rapidly changes the URL.  You can zoom in and out, or watch lightning strikes all over the world.  The claimed delay from the strike until you see it has been between 2 and 3 seconds all day. 

The raw data comes from  Unlike Lightning Maps, sferics will only plot lightning if it's the open window on your desktop.  Lightning Maps keeps that last hour's worth of data compiling if you look away.  And where does that data come from?  A completely volunteer network of interested folks.  I can't say they're all hobbyists, but I believe many are.  If you contribute data, you can download data.  The amount you can do, therefore, depends on your level of interest. 

Just a pretty cool example of what some dedicated hobbyists can do these days.