Sunday, April 30, 2017

Is Trump Really Cutting Regulations?

Regular readers know that I've been pushing the idea of killing off regulations, and putting a sunset date (expiration date) on all new Federal regulations.  Early on, and at the start of his administration, President Trump said he was going to require that agencies delete two old regulations for every new one.

How can we tell if it's happening?   For one thing, I'd expect the pace of new regulations to be declining.  That seems like it should be one outcome.  The other aspect, deleting two for every new one, seems harder to quantify.

Back in January, I grabbed this screen save from our old stomping grounds,
The file was saved on inauguration day, January 20th.  Notice the number posted in the last 90 days of Obama's administration was 6313 new regulations.

This weekend was, of course, the 100 day benchmark, so it was a natural day to compare.
Notice this one says 5477 in the past 90 days.  That's a 836 fewer regulations, a 13% decrease in the 90 day number, and the lowest 90 day total I can recall ever seeing. 

The first time I posted about visiting was in March of 2012, so just over five years ago.   While I neglected to write the real numbers down for every visit, a search for in this blog's search engine (upper left of the page) shows that during the Obama years the number was approximately 6000 regulations every 90 days (every quarter).  That corresponds to 24,000 per year and 192,000 regulations during his eight years.  That's an estimate pulled from a PFA average based on infrequent visits to the website.  The highest number I ever saw was in September of 2012, between Benghazi and the election, when 6417 were posted.  Maybe they were trying to get a bunch more regulations put in place in case they got a new boss who sends them home? 

I'm reminded of the old joke, "What do you call a thousand lawyers on the bottom of the sea? ... A good start".  In this case, that's the answer to "what do you call 13% fewer regulations in 90 days".   It's a good start.  I'd like to figure out how many regulations are being deleted because I think that could be the big story. 

For quite some time, the most popular post I had on this blog was a long 2010 post about the consequences of regulations growing like weeds.  I wrote then:
Although the legislators and regulators never consider this, every regulation consumes some amount of time and money to comply with.  The new Finance Reform [reference to Dodd-Frank - SiG] bill has been estimated to required the development of 250-300 new regulations.  Every regulation slows down, hinders and costs every honest business real money.  Despite the widespread talk of corrupt CEOs and general lack of corporate ethics, I've been working in the manufacturing industry since the mid 1970s, and every company has had an active, if not aggressive, ethics compliance program with requirements for training and seminars every year.  There are exceptions but most companies do their best to be honest and law-abiding.  Government seems to think it's mere coincidence that countries with lower tax rates and lower regulation attract business, and they demonize companies for moving to countries where the environment is better.
Regulation and litigation are sand in the gears of society. Big, sharp, 40 grit silicon carbide abrasive particles that grind the gears and shafts away. [Emphasis added - SiG]
Thanks to his non-government background, Trump has a very good feel for the impacts of excessive regulations.  If he can reduce the burden and expense of these regulations he could leave a lasting legacy.   It's a good start.
Photo by Senator Mike Lee.  The 2-1/2 columns of stacked paper are over 80,000 pages of new Federal regulations passed in 2013.  On the top of the case, the small pile of papers is the actual laws passed by congress.

Russian Spy Ship Sunk by Sheep - Sheep & Sailors Survive

I'm sorry but it's simply an irresistible story.  The alliteration is just as irresistible.  
In a freak accident, the Russian Sigint ship, the Liman, collided with a freighter carrying sheep from Romania to Jordan.  The Liman's hull was ruptured and the ship went down. 

Carrying sheep from Romania to Jordan?  Mail order brides.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

It's A Conditioned Response

President Trump released his early goals for his tax reform.  As predictable as the sunrise or the tides, it immediately was criticized as "a tax cut for the wealthy" and a "giveaway for corporations".  When you hear such things, those translate into two statements that are absolutely true: either the party making them doesn't understand economics, or the party making them knows better and is trying to manipulate you.  I see a lot of both of those happening.

The easiest fallacy to address is the "tax cut for the wealthy".  Dollar wise, any tax cut is going be mostly for the wealthy because they pay the vast lion's share of taxes.  According to the Tax Foundation's 2016 Update,
  • The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (39.5 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (29.1 percent).
  • The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a 27.1 percent individual income tax rate, which is more than seven times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent (3.5 percent).
The top 1% of incomes earned 20.58% of all the adjusted gross income (AGI) reported to the IRS, and paid 39.48% of all the income taxes collected.  Graphically easy to see (Excel spreadsheet from the IRS):
The top 1% had an income above $465,626.   Furthermore, the top 5% to 1% and the top 1% put together reported 35.96% of all the AGI reported and paid 55.46% of all taxes.  The bottom 50 percent of taxpayers (those with AGIs below $38,173) earned 11.27 percent of total AGI. This group of taxpayers paid approximately $38 billion in taxes, or 2.75 percent of all income taxes in 2014.

The next complaint is that the proposed reduction of the top corporate tax bracket from 35% to 15% is a "giveaway for corporations".  Corporate income taxes are usually regarded as double taxes, since the same income is taxed once as profit, and once as individual income when distributed as dividends to shareholders.  Since the dollars that made up those sales that turned into profit were from after-tax income from consumers, you could argue that income is taxed three times.  Contrary to popular misconception, the burden of corporate income taxes isn't paid by corporations, but is instead paid by workers, shareholders and consumers.  Corporations act more to collect taxes than to pay them.  People crying to tax corporations are really asking to tax themselves, but few understand that.

Finally a few words on how reducing taxes will "affect the deficit", "CBO scoring", and similar nonsense.  Tax revenues are not the same as tax rates; the two are related, but it has been shown several times that leaving more money in consumer's pockets affects if and how they spend, and cutting rates can increase revenues.  CBO scoring is based on the assumption that spending and attitudes are constant.  Likewise, I don't put the slightest bit of faith in numbers projected for any budget item out 10 years.  I'm not even sure they're even a general guide of what to expect.  I always say to go back 10 years and look at what was projected for now.  They never get it right.

Is it a good plan?  As far as I can tell it isn't a plan, yet.  It's more of an outline for haggling to start.  Will it help the economy?  I don't know.  Some will win, some will loose.  I'll keep an eye on it.

Friday, April 28, 2017

LED Light Bulbs - A Little Good and A Little Bad

The last week has led to more time spent on LED light bulbs than usual - which is to say, more than zero.  After all, you put up a light bulb and it lasts for years, right?

Not quite.

We were fairly early adopters in the move to LED bulbs, replacing the four 60W incandescent bulbs I'm sitting under with LED bulbs in October of 2012.  One of those LED bulbs died around a month ago, and another one failed last week.  Naturally, I didn't have a Watt-Hour meter on them, but they lasted on the order of 1600 days (thanks to this site).  How many hours per day?  It's hard to estimate, but I feel comfortable saying 12 hours/day or about 19,000 hours.  That's probably a worst case estimate.  At the time, 4-1/2 years ago, people were saying LED bulbs were likely to give 50 to 100,000 hours.  50000 hours is over 11 years, if the bulb ran 12 hours a day.  Clearly, something is amiss.

Within a few days of the overhead bulb failing, I had one in our kitchen fail.  The one in the kitchen was bought a couple of years later than those first bulbs and was chosen because it's a Cree and I know from my career that Cree is a semiconductor maker that knows what they're doing.  Unfortunately, I don't know exactly when I installed it, but it had a date code on it that indicated the bulb was made in late 2013.  I believe that bulb could have been on 14 hours/day; there's a big range here, and that would be closer to the worst case.  14 hours/day since January of 2014 is still less than 17,000 hours.   A visit to Cree revealed that the bulb should have been guaranteed for 25,000 hours. 

What's going on here?  I have yet to find an LED bulb that makes 25,000 hours, and almost certainly not even 20,000 hours.  Unfortunately, I didn't do the one thing that would really help me be certain and write the date the bulb was installed on the base or side of every LED bulb.  So I wrote Cree's customer service email address; I listed their part number for the bulb (their photo above) and said I wasn't sure of my numbers, but believed it didn't have more than 17,000 hours.  Then I asked what I could do to get the life they're claiming.  I didn't say I wanted anything other than information.  I was hoping to get a note telling me how to get the most life out of the bulb - whether that meant I should direct chilled 30 degree Fahrenheit air at it whenever it's on or I need to sacrifice the blood of a virgin chicken.  So I was surprised to get this email the next day:
Thank you for taking the time to contact us.  We apologize that your experience with your Cree LED bulbs was unsatisfactory. A warranty request has been processed and one replacement bulb will be shipping on 4/18/17 via FedEx or UPS. It is not necessary to return the defective bulb; it may be disposed of, or recycled.
I replaced the burned out bulb with another 60W LED until the replacement became available.  It's in place and quite good. 

Our kitchen was redone in '03, and (as was popular at the time) setup with recessed halogen bulbs.  Halogens are a nice light quality, but I had always heard they were more efficient than the conventional bulbs.  About the same time as the LED failed, one of the halogen bulbs died.  I noticed when I was putting it in place that the box only claimed 500 lumens out of this 39 W bulb.  I had looked for an LED replacement for the halogen bulbs before and never found them.  This time I told myself, the other bulb I just replaced was 800 lumens, why can't they make a 500 lumen LED bulb to replace halogen bulbs?  They can.  This time I searched for the right shape factor (PAR20 - a parabolic reflector bulb with 2 inch front), and the slightly rounded top version of that, the BR20.  I found this bulb which is actually 675 lumens in the same package, so brighter than the halogens - at 10W input opposed to the halogen's 39W. I ordered three and waited for a halogen to die, figuring I'd replace them one at at time (there are six in use) as an experiment.  It didn't take long for a bulb to die, just a couple of days, so we replaced it.
All I can say is Wow!.  These bulbs give much better and more uniform illumination.  I had planned to replace them one at a time as the rest of the halogens lived out their lives, but Mrs. Graybeard asked me to change the ones closest to the kitchen counter work areas.  The light is noticeably more uniform.  The halogens are warm color, 3000K, and this bulb is designed to match that.  The halogen bulbs also have a narrower, spotlight pattern than these.  All in all, we're both really impressed with these.   I have a couple of ways of measuring the bulb temperature (we all know halogens are a really hot light bulb, right?) my early-version Flir One on my phone hit full scale at 215F, the other (like this) told me over 350 degrees - that's an oven temperature.  The LED bulb?  115F.  You could hold it. 

But I think I'm not Done done.  I neglected to write the installation date on the bases of these new LED bulbs, too. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Greening of America

As in grass - marijuana.  Last November, five more states voted to legalize marijuana outright.  Here in Florida, we joined the states with legalization of medical marijuana.  Now 29 states and Washington, D.C., allow you to use marijuana either recreationally or for medical purposes.  Conceivably, with the way the trend is going, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the country follows suit and marijuana is fully legalized.  Assuming all the states that have passed these laws would vote for a constitutional amendment, the marijuana lobby is short just four states. 

According to one poll I saw referenced, 60% of Americans already think that the federal government should legalize marijuana outright.  In 1995, that number was 25%. A Quinnipiac University poll showed more than 90% of respondents think medical marijuana should be legal at the national level.

Given all that, I think this cartoon is only missing one character.  Lawyers.
(Scott Stantis -Chicago Tribune)

Florida's medical marijuana campaign was (apparently) led by an AKC registered ambulance chasing lawyer from Orlando named John Morgan.  Morgan also bankrolled the previous attempts to amend the state's constitution, and well over a year before November's victory, Morgan was already describing the business windfall that legalization was going to bring. Who better to advise businesses setting up to provide marijuana about how to navigate the new laws than an experienced lawyer, right?
There will be greenhouses and grow houses; there will be dispensaries; there will be different industries that will produce ways to deliver medical marijuana, whether its brownie pans or pipes or whatever. And there will be real estate opportunities that will emerge.
I think it will be a tremendous boon for Florida's economy. It will be a huge tax base for revenue. There will be a boon in real estate … There will be a lot of new jobs created, which is Gov. [Rick] Scott's first, second and third priorities in Florida.
It was long rumored that the real money isn't in ambulance chasing, it's in controlling the marijuana infrastructure, and that's what he's been angling for.  He's now floating an exploratory effort to evaluate running for governor (the website is supposedly the effort of an independent friend, not Morgan himself).  Although the amendment went into effect on January 3rd, there is no marijuana industry in Florida, and the state Department of Health is saying they may have the rules defined by July.  The next governor is going to control the distribution scheme and John Morgan seems to be betting it just might be him.  A potential problem for Morgan is that he has famously backed many Democratic causes, and Florida has been more red than blue in the governor's mansion despite the influx of blue state refugees from the Northeast that the state is known for. 

The North American marijuana industry is already a $7 billion market.  Bank of America Merrill Lynch says it could be a $35 billion market by 2020 and Investment bank the Cowen Group projects the market will be worth $50 billion a decade from now in 2027.   Marijuana can be invested in through publicly traded companies.  Bonner and Partners presented this graph this week, showing four small Canadian marijuana stocks which are all up at least 270% over the past year. Two of them are up by more than 400%.
What seems to be a good list of US marijuana stocks is here.

Disclaimer: I detest John Morgan's commercials and that industry he represents (ambulance chasing, not marijuana)  That personal dislike may have permeated this piece. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Looming Government Shutdown? It's Like Old Times

Ah, gee.  It's like old times, gang.  We haven't had a pending fake shutdown in forever!  Gosh, it must have been back when the Administration Party and "Party of No" wore different tags.  So long ago... It was September of 2016.  I can barely remember that.  Do you recall where you were?  Do you even remember how old you were?  Someday, we'll all talk about the great government shutdown of 2017, too.  At this rate, it'll be around a year from now. 

As always, this is a bunch of melodramatic theater; made-up crap so that they can avoid doing their real job (creating and passing actual budgets) and instead pass their Continuing Resolutions, which (IMO) is done for that great DC buzzword Plausible Deniability.   
At least this time, they're not invoking the mythical debt ceiling.  As I've said more times than I can recall, we don't have a debt ceiling.  It has never, once in history, been lowered.  It has never, once in history, not been raised.  Once or twice, it was held steady for a few extra weeks, but it has always been raised.

If I recall correctly, the last time they actually went though the silly government shutdown ritual was 2013. 
Back in October 2013, Democrats and Republicans fought over the implementation of parts of the Affordable Car Act and the debt ceiling. The sides couldn’t agree on a continuing resolution to fund federal government operations, and the federal government saw a 16-day shutdown as a result.
Obama - vindictive, obnoxious little prick that he is - made a point of shutting down things that were popular, such as public lands, memorials and parks which cost more to put roadblocks and barricades on than to leave open.  WWII veterans were blocked from visiting their memorial.   Classy things like that.

Sorry if I seem jaded, I just think it's kabuki theater; brinksmanship so that the Evil party can show they're doing something to stop the Stupid party, and the Stupid party misreading the public's contempt for the situation that causes these arguments. 
The very last line in this cartoon from (which I've used multiple times) sums it up perfectly.  Paraphrasing to fit the situation  "Just sit on the agreement a bit longer so we look like heroes." 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Completing the G0704 CNC Conversion

To the extent that a project like this is ever "Done", this one is done and what I write from now will mostly be either what I do with it, or improvements I make to it.  The mill itself is now done.  I think all CNC hobbyists end up tweaking their machines as part of their hobby, though.

I started putting together a project page which appears in the "Special Pages" list in the right hand column.  I've moved that up to just below the Florida Gun Blogs section.  It became apparent to me that the page needed an introduction and a conclusion; this is the conclusion.

The last thing I wrote about the project was that I had a small but persistent oil leak out of my oiling system onto the floor.  Small as in 3 or 4 drops in a day.  As my last fix, I replaced the push to connect fittings with plastic barb fittings.  Because I used 5/32 OD, 1/8 ID tubing everywhere, I needed a fitting that went from 1/8-27NPT male threads to a barb in that size.  I couldn't find one, but I could find a fitting that I could adapt to and make work by using a short piece of 1/4 tubing.  It ended up looking like this, and has not dripped one drop of oil in 5 full days.

People considering building something like this will wonder if it's worth it.  In response, I'd have to ask why you'd consider building it.  Do you need it now, urgently? Are you trying to learn what's in a system like this and make one, just because?  

If it's purely to save money, it might not be the smartest thing to do.  The G0704 is $1359 today (including shipping).  Automation Technologies will sell you a ready to run, CNC converted G0704 with an Ethernet interface for $4000 (I don't think that includes shipping while the Grizzly price does).  That's paying $2620 more to have it now as opposed to working on the conversion as long as I did.  I'm not 100% sure I've captured every expense in my journey, but I think I spent close to that amount, maybe more.  That prebuilt machine doesn't appear to have an oiling system, a chip tray, and an enclosure, all of which mine does, and all of which were considerable effort and expense to get working. 

How long did it take me to build it?  I actually started in June of 2015, six months before retirement.  Once I had all the parts made for the approach I was taking, in March of last year, I switched approaches rendering all of what I'd made useless except for the Z-axis motor mounts.  I started in early April '16 and had the system running on all three axes, ready to use this February 2nd; 10 months.  It wasn't full time work, but I worked several hours every day, weekends included. 

A really good machine that has more travel than mine, is the Tormach PNC1100 from Little Machine Shop at $8500.  Tormach is industrial quality without a doubt, and I have no doubt it outperforms mine.  It still isn't complete as it doesn't have an enclosure around it and I'm not sure if it includes an oiling system.  The next cheaper Tormach that LMS carries is priced at $7000; it has less travel than mine and a motor rated for less power.  Both of these machines include things I can only aspire to at this point - automatic tool changer systems, and tool holders (the Tormach Tool System - as an add-on, it's half the price of their milling machine) and very likely more.

So I spent about what the Automation Technologies G0704 costs but ended up with a more complete system.  I also made and remade a lot of parts and got experience I've never had before with the tools.  With my $2600 or $2800 I not only bought the conversion, I bought an education.  If my only goal was to have the completed machine, it's a perfect illustration of "penny wise but pound foolish".  If that's your goal, buy one of those machines.

On the other hand, think of a mill like these as a system; a chain of parts that's subject to the adage that the chain is no stronger than the weakest link.  During the design, all of the components are chosen based on the expected use of the mill.  When you replace leadscrews with ballscrews, the table can go faster.  All well and good.  The spinning cutter, though, will only take so many cubic inches per turn, depending on how fast the spindle can cut off chips of metal without stalling.  How fast the spindle can rotate under load depends on how much power the motor is able to deliver to the cutter.  If you want to remove the most metal in the least amount of time, a CNC mill needs a faster spindle than a manual machine's.  Mine spins at 2300 max; those Tormachs can spin at 10,000 RPM.  The motor's horsepower determines how much force ends up getting put on the whole machine, which in turn affects how much the machine bends and deforms during a cut; which determines how rigid it needs to be and how big and heavy it needs to be.  Plus, I think that worrying about "removing the most metal in the least amount of time" is where industry lives, not hobbyists. 

Don't go thinking "I can put some ballscrews and nuts on this machine and it will be zero backlash and as good as Tormach".  First, it's possible to end up with backlash - I did.  That's in my list of stuff to tweak on and make better.  Second, like I said, this is a system and you're replacing parts in a system with upgrades expecting it to get better.  It's also possible you'll improve one thing and discover weaknesses in other areas.  The way I look at it, you generally get what you pay for.  The Tormach has the advantage that it was designed from the ground up to be a CNC mill on a small production line.  You don't buy the $4000, ATI-built G0704 and expect it to equal the $8500 Tormach - which itself is not going to equal a $50,000 HAAS. 

If you're the kind of person who approaches most problems with "close enough for government work", machining is probably not for you.  I don't have any measured numbers on what sort of accuracy to expect in the converted mill, but I think these are a good choice of a home machine for the vast majority of your mad scientist projects that will fit on it.  The mill as received from Grizzly was a good performer as a manual mill, and it should still be one.  You're not going to cut a titanium turbine for a 747 engine on it, but maybe you can cut one for a model engine. 
5-axis machining is possible with the G0704, but not the way I've configured it now.  I have all the parts of a fourth axis that I intend to get running soon. Maybe after the GB-22. 

EDIT 4/24/17 2025 EDT - Added the link to the project's page in the second paragraph

Sunday, April 23, 2017

I'm Here Today

Really.  I just got busy on a couple of things that got me suddenly realizing, "hey... it's late."  So have a little Michael Ramirez cartoon.
One of them is blog related, so more details once it's ready.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Confidential to the Scientists Marching for Earth Day 2017

On your Earth Day March, here's a little confidential tip from someone just on the outside of your circle: if you want to be respected more, try doing more respectable science.  From last August.
The science world has been buffeted for nearly a decade by growing revelations that major bodies of scientific knowledge, published in peer-reviewed papers, may simply be wrong. Among recent instances: a cancer cell line used as the basis for over a thousand published breast cancer research studies was revealed to be actually a skin cancer cell line; a biotechnology company was able to replicate only six out of fifty-three “landmark” published studies it sought to validate; a test of more than one hundred potential drugs for treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in mice was unable to reproduce any of the positive findings that had been reported from previous studies; a compilation of nearly one hundred fifty clinical trials for therapies to block human inflammatory response showed that even though the therapies had supposedly been validated using mouse model experiments, every one of the trials failed in humans; a statistical assessment of the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map human brain function indicated that up to 70 percent of the positive findings reported in approximately 40,000 published fMRI studies could be false; and an article assessing the overall quality of basic and preclinical biomedical research estimated that between 75 and 90 percent of all studies are not reproducible.
And my personal favorite quote:
"I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning." 
Best story?  Best freaking story!!!??????!!!!  Arrrrggggghhhhhhhh  Science isn't supposed to be stories!!!  One out of six?  Doesn't that mean you screwed up that one time but that's the one you published?!? 


While I go find a blood pressure pill and a soothing cup of tea, it is, after all, Earth Day, that pagan religious holiday of mainstream America.  Time for my favorite Earth Day story.

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

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

Well, over the years, I've wasted far too many bits on Earth Day.  Enjoy yourselves.  Remember, if you're doing it right, your lights should be visible from Proxima Centauri.
Oh, and remember that nature wants to kill you.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Robert Taylor Passed Away Last Week

Robert Taylor, 85, passed away from complications of Parkinson's Disease last Thursday, April13th.  This picture is Taylor in an undated photo, but likely from the mid-70s. 

Most people won't recognize the name, but Robert Taylor was one of the people who shaped the computer revolution as we know it.  The Internet can claim many "fathers", and there's no shortage of people claiming they're the one, but Taylor has be considered among the first and most important in the invention of not just the Internet, but of modern computing.
His seminal moment came in 1966. He had just taken a new position at the Pentagon — director of the Information Processing Techniques Office, part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as ARPA — and on his first day on the job it became immediately obvious to him what the office lacked and what it needed.

At the time, ARPA was funding three separate computer research projects and using three separate computer terminals to communicate with them. Mr. Taylor decided that the department needed a single computer network to connect each project with the others.

“I went to see Charlie Herzfeld, who was the head of ARPA, and laid the idea on him,” Mr. Taylor recalled in an interview with The Times. “He liked the idea immediately, and he took a million dollars out of the ballistic missile defense budget and put it into my budget right then and there.” He added, “The first funding came that month.”

His idea led to the Arpanet, the forerunner of the internet.
"In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face," he wrote in a 1968 paper.
Five years late, Taylor was at Xerox's famous Palo Alto Research Center, better known as Xerox PARC, where he was instrumental in developing the Alto computer.  Unique to its time, the Alto relied on a device Taylor co-invented in 1961; the computer mouse.  If I show you a picture of it, I think you'll immediately see what it looks like. (Xerox photo)
The resemblance to a Macintosh is not coincidental.   Steve Jobs was invited to PARC by Xerox and is well known to have taken ideas almost wholesale. He was the first to successfully market this new paradigm of interacting with computers.
In 1961, at the dawn of the space age, he was about a year into his job as a project manager at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Washington when he learned about the work of a young computer scientist at Stanford Research Institute, later called SRI International.

The scientist, Douglas Engelbart, was exploring the possibilities of direct interaction between humans and computers. Mr. Taylor decided to pump more money into the work, and the financial infusion led directly to Mr. Engelbart’s invention of the mouse, which would be instrumental in the design of both Macintosh and Microsoft Windows-based computers.
Robert William Taylor was born on Feb. 10, 1932, in Dallas and was adopted 28 days later in San Antonio by the Rev. Raymond Taylor, a Methodist minister, and his wife, Audrey.
After studying for a while at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, he went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. It was while working on his master’s thesis in experimental psychology that he developed a fascination with new forms of human-computer interaction.

His thesis research focused on how the ear and the brain localize sound. To analyze his data, he had to bring it to the university’s computing center, where a staff member behind a protective glass wall helped operate the center’s mainframe computer. The operator showed him the laborious process of entering his data and his program onto computer punch cards, the standard of the era.

“I was appalled,” Mr. Taylor recalled years later in an interview at the university, “and after I thought about it for a while, I was angry.” The data entry process, he said, was “ridiculous.”

“I thought it was insulting,” he added.

He left the center, went back to his laboratory and used a desktop calculator instead.
At NASA, as the newly elected Kennedy administration was putting the nation on a path to the moon, Mr. Taylor became a friend and protégé of J. C. R. Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist who had written a pioneering paper titled “Man-Computer Symbiosis.”.  Taylor had read his paper two years after his frustration with the data entry methods of the time, and (of course) it resonated with him.  In 1968, he and Dr. Licklider together authored the paper, “The Computer as a Communications Device,” which drew the broad outlines of how computer networks might transform society.

Taylor wasn't directly involved with the technology, but the laser printer was another idea out of PARC.  Another famous invention from Taylor's group at PARC is Ethernet, something most of use ever day.  In addition to generating revenue for Xerox, the combination of the mouse, the graphical interface and laser printer helped define the modern small office. 
In 1999, Taylor was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation "for visionary leadership in the development of modern computing technology, including computer networks, the personal computer and the graphical user interface."

In 2004, he and other PARC researchers were awarded the National Academy of Engineering's Draper Prize for development of "the first practical networked personal computers."
Thanks for everything, Dr. Taylor. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Bill O'Reilly Affair Doesn't Bode Well

If you think that getting Bill O'Reilly wasn't the target of an intentional hit job to get him off the air, I have some choice Florida beach land to sell you. O'Reilly has been consistently gotten the best prime time ratings on cable news channels for as long as I can remember.  He has been on top since '02 or '03; do you think they're going to dump without extreme pressure?

I don't think this bodes well for the future of our ability to get anything other than statist propaganda.

If anything should have been abundantly clear since the Trumpening, if not years before this past November, it's that left will not tolerate free speech.  They will not tolerate the presentation of ideas that don't fit their totalitarian agendas.  There's an entire infrastructure that has been formed to fight Fox News Channel; David Brock's Media Matters, well backed by George Soros and his many organizations, is just one example.  Media Matters made a guy named Angelo Carusone their president.  Carusone had previously run the Stop Beck campaign and specialized in convincing advertisers to drop their sponsorship of people hated by the left.
Carusone, the president of liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America, is one of the main organizers of the #StopOReilly campaign, which is pressuring businesses to pull their ads from “The O’Reilly Factor” in light of sexual harassment allegations against the popular Fox News host.

He also was the organizer of Media Matters’ successful campaign against former Fox News host Glenn Beck, and another campaign that succeeded in needling Rush Limbaugh.
More details at Politico.  Carusone is very upfront about it and takes pride in bringing down opposing voices.  In the Village Voice (not your "vast right wing conspiracy" kind of place), he boasts:
I started it on July 2nd, 2009, during the summer between by second and third year of law school. For me, it was an interesting time. I was in law school, getting an info dump. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, and for me, it became clear that things were pretty messed up. Our policies are messed up, and didn't think the conversation around them was going well. I started looking at the irresponsible, reckless pillars of the media. Beck represented the worst of them at the time. He was extremely reckless, and illustrated the very worst of the media abdicating their responsibility. That's why I picked him as a first target....
At the risk of belaboring the point a bit too much, he later brags about damaging Rush Limbaugh after the incident where he called Sandra Fluke a "slut".  You'll recall she was a college student/Democratic operative that wanted free contraceptives, and said something like $3000 a year wasn't enough for her contraceptive expenses.  

With the firing of Roger Ailes over similar sexual harassment claims last summer, it's possible that the magic formulas that made Fox successful have all been destroyed.  If not, the defacto control of the network going over to Rupert Murdoch's son, James, probably marks the beginning of the end for the news outlet.  Glenn Beck puts it this way,
“You better make a decision, America. Because you’re about to lose a big conservative ally and voice. And it’s not just Bill O’Reilly. I’m telling you, Sean Hannity will be next. Then Tucker Carlson will be next. Until everyone complies with what they say is not misinformation, they will continue to go. And once you have the big bear of Fox News out of the way, then they come for TheBlaze. Then they come for The Daily Wire. Then they come for all of us,” Glenn said.
So Roger Ailes, like him, hate him, let’s know him for who we think he is — no matter what, he built a ship that was not going to be sunk. Rupert Murdoch was part of that. But Rupert Murdoch has children and wives — lots of them — that hate the Fox News Channel. They are embarrassed by the Fox News Channel. They’re not conservatives by any stretch of the imagination.

And the big thing when I was there was, as soon as Rupert is gone, the kids are going to take over Fox News and they’re just going to clean house and stop this nonsense.
In the Hollywood Reporter piece, James Murdoch is not in the least bit trying to disguise or hide the message that he wants to kill Fox News as we know it.
[S]ources say James Murdoch’s longtime annoyance if not disgust with Fox News became cold fury after the Times' April 1 story — even though several of the O’Reilly settlements had happened when James was CEO of the parent company.
Fox News is a business he should not be in, he had told people before, despite its major contribution to 21st Century Fox's bottom line — 20 percent of its profits came from Fox News last year, the biggest-earning division in the company. Presumably, he meant the in-your-face world of conservative cable news with its mega personalities. Indeed, James regarded many of the people at Fox News as thuggish Neanderthals and said he was embarrassed to be in the same company with them.
“Fox [News] is an important brand, but it needs to develop, and, to some extent, be reformed,” James said when I interviewed him 10 years ago...
"Be reformed"?  I would argue that has started already.  Obama spokes droid Marie Harf has been a regular voice as a "Fox News Contributor", adamantly defending everything the Obamanoids did in the last 8 years.  Other in-your-face Democrat spokes droids have also joined the staff. 

I have to say that I never particularly liked Bill O'Reilly; to me, he came across as too egotistical; he always had to carve out a niche on every issue so that he could be better than everyone.  I couldn't tell you the last time I watched one of his shows, although I might have seen a minute now and then.  I also have to say that it has been a long time since I thought Fox espoused real constitutionalist views; the occasional host will, but if it's anything, it's mostly GOP TV.  On the other hand, because it had conservative, libertarian and other real alternative voices far more often than any other network, it has been the channel I tended to leave the TV on.  If James Murdoch continues and turns it into another CNN, we may as well just leave the box off.  If everyone sounds the same, it becomes much harder to stay informed.

I keep hearing the death of cable TV being talked about.  This is probably another milepost along the way.
Desiree Novaro/Getty Images 

More Serious News

I should have commented on this yesterday when it was actually news. 

Weapons Man, Kevin O'Brien, had one of the more interesting blogs on the net and while we never met, I really appreciated his encyclopedic knowledge, he had a few of the most interesting posts I've read in the last year.  I first read about electro-etching the rifling of barrels on his blog, and I think his analysis of the number of guns in America was the best I've read. 

My condolences to the family and friends.  He will be missed.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Getting my Fogbuster system running was really easy once all the parts were here.  I had been afraid there were going to be some surprises out of thin air, and the system was going to cost me quite a bit more than it seemed, like much of this project.  I lucked out in a couple of places, though, the big one being that the most important part of the system, the California Air Tools compressor happened to have been on sale at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago.  It was only 10% off that price but almost $100 less than Tormach gets.   The small Fogbuster system was also cheaper at Little Machine Shop than Tormach's price, too.  Those two items, and a gallon of water-soluble cooling fluid were all it took to get running.  Along with the couple of pieces of scrap wood I showed a couple of days ago.

The system was easy to get running and I did that yesterday after the cooling fluid arrived.  Measure out a quart of water, add an ounce of coolant to it and finagle a funnel to get it into the container.  Flip on the compressor, wait till it shuts off and then turn on the air line to the sprayer head.  The compressor cycles on and off, but it doesn't really add to the din in the shop.  I'm really happy I got that compressor, if I'm going to have to live with it cycling next to me.

The only difficulty I had was figuring "now what?"  How do I show that it makes a difference?  A meaningful test would be to make a cut I couldn't make before and see if this made it possible.  Have you ever seen CNC videos where they cut a piece of metal and it glows hot, even under flood cooling?  Nah.  Nothing like that.

What I did was take a cut I'd done the day before as two passes and cut it full depth in one pass.  "Full depth" is the 3/16 thickness of the 1018 cold rolled steel.  This is the piece of 3/16 CRS I mentioned  cutting off too short and made the replacement for over the weekend.  Then I doubled the feed to make it even harder on everything.  No problem.  I could feel the machine working harder, but nothing went wrong. 

In this picture, you can see the mist droplets from the Fogbuster spray on the spindle and my vise.  If you look around the area between the spindle and the black folded cover, you'll see some light specks in the air.  That's the coolant.  It's hard to see; a darker background would help.  Fogbuster has some pictures on their website that demonstrate how it works. 

My few hours of messing around only used about half a cup of coolant (rough guess, obviously).  As a bonus, I realized there's nothing to keep me from using it on the lathe.  I can move everything the few feet over to the lathe with no interruption.

The other thing I worked on in the last two weeks was chasing a hard-to-eliminate oil leak from my oil pumping system.  The leak went from being a puddle on the floor to a "that's funny... wasn't that there yesterday?" puddle to a few ounces in bucket.  For the last week, it has been down to dripping about 3 or 4 drops in 24 hours onto a paper towel.  I had seen clues that it might be from the push to connect fittings I used and finally resolved to replace those with barb fittings that the tubes push onto.   The leak isn't really bad, but it shouldn't be there.  I'll find out in the next day or two if the fix worked. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

SEIU Is a Corrupt Bunch of Thugs

And in other news, water is wet and fire will burn.

Back on March 30th, the Daily Signal ran a story about Patricia Johansen of Minnesota who worked as a care giver for her two special-needs grandchildren.  This must have been something other than grandmotherly concern because she was getting paid by someone, apparently the state's Medicaid office, because she recently found that her paycheck was being reduced to pay union dues.
Since she never agreed to join the union that represents such Medicaid-eligible caregivers in Minnesota, Johansen was surprised to discover that union dues had been deducted from her benefit check for about four months.

In an affidavit, the Fergus Falls resident says she is convinced the union, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, forged her signature so it could start deducting the dues.
Here it turns into the kind of story you would think it is, involving a political appointee by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton; an appointee who's accused of conducting this fraud, as well as “fraudulent signatures, nonexistent voters, and ballot tampering” in a 2014 unionization election.  They're going to get right on it.  Honest.

In the wake of the 3/30 article, people started contacting the Daily Signal to report they also had their signatures forged by the SEIU, in various parts of the country.
Dear Daily Signal: I live on the South Shore in Massachusetts, and the same thing happened to me. I was a personal care assistant for a number of years for a young boy, Joey, and was paid by Cerebral Palsy of Massachusetts.

The union began taking money out of my paycheck. I made several calls to complain about it and got nowhere. I even called my state senator, and that got me nowhere. This is Massachusetts, of course.
The one that stands out is the guy claiming to have been an SEIU officer fighting this kind of corruption.
Dear Daily Signal: I’m an activist and organizer who worked for a short time, from October to December 2012, as lead organizer for SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, which, pre-scandal, was called SEIU 6434 in California. The local was in the middle of a huge leadership corruption scandal when I was hired with the charge of bringing the union back to the workers.

I was fired after a few months when I brought up these very concerns ...

The care workers through their paycheck deductions support the exorbitant salaries of staffers and high-level union administrators. Most members have no idea how much these administrators make. The care workers themselves get really nothing in return from the union.—E. Garcia  
To echo what I said at the top, next thing you know they're going to tell us water will wet us and fire will burn.  It's not just that SEIU is a bunch of lawless thugs, this particular scam isn't new.  I wrote about a case in Michigan back in 2011.  I suppose, though, it's illustrative that it's still going on.  Things like this are part of the structural reasons we're headed for economic collapse; the SEIU donates money to Democrat politicians, when they get elected, they pass laws or appoint the right people to carry out operations like these that transfer taxpayer money back to the SEIU.  It's the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine you'll see.  SEIU gives dues money to Democrats, Democrats give taxpayer money to the SEIU, who give part of the taxpayer money back to the Democrats, and on it goes.  No one ever gets punished, no one ever gets in trouble, the machine just keeps spinning.
Remember back during the days of TEA Party protests, when the SEIU thugs beat down Kenneth Gladney for selling Tee shirts, and then got away with it in St. Louis courts


Monday, April 17, 2017

I Think I Have An Answer to my Info Bleg

Back in January, I did a totally self-serving post asking for help in learning about long range rifle shooting.  In the intervening few months, I've shot all three of the guns that I think of as contenders and I think I know the one to use going forward: my Savage Scout Rifle.  All of them shoot well on the ranges I've had access to (out to 200 yards), but the Savage has the best trigger.  It's not their "Accutrigger" (I think it predates that design), it's just a nice, light trigger.  At the moment, I can't measure it, but I think there might be something I can hack to do it.  The disadvantage to this platform is that it has the typical, low power scout rifle scope.  I believe it's a 2x; to these eyes, it feels like the only advantage over iron sights is that crosshairs are nicer.   On the other hand, it's basically a Savage model 10 so I'd imagine there are ways to put a more conventional scope on it.

Pardon the craptastic picture, but this is two of the Savage's four round magazines.  The only two I tried. 
That's a Caldwell target, 12" diameter.  The shot marked with a star is the Diminutive But Deadly one's only shot.  My best group is probably around an inch to 1-1/2" in diameter.  (mumble..mumble, each hole is. 0.3 in diameter, looks like another shot could fit between each two, call it 0.9", right angles triangle...1-1/4"on the long side...0.6 MOA...maybe loosen all those numbers a bit)

If the spring runs as the winter did (that is, warmer and drier than average), we have no more than six weeks and probably four of what I consider our best time of the year to be outdoors and getting to the ranges, so I probably won't get many more chances to work on things.  Still, this leaves me with a better starting point for next season - along with whatever reading and mods I do.  The high today was around 80 or 82.  Frequently, by mid-May (four weeks) that number goes up to the lower 90s.  I may have remarked here that the seasons in Florida are opposite of the rest of the nation.  Most of you put up with winter to get a great spring through fall; we put up with summer (and a half on each end) to get a better winter.  Most of you are having April showers: this is our dry season before the summer monsoon season starts.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter

With the release of a movie based on Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, I thought a little repost of some things I wrote before might go well for today, with a few minor edits.
(Source here)
Back in 2011, author Lee Strobel wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal called "How Easter Killed My Faith in Atheism".  It's short, only about "a page", but behind a pay wall.  If you're a subscriber, it's worth your while to RTWT.  His book is worth reading if you're the kind of person with any questions about faith, or can't understand "how can an intelligent person believe in God?", a common idea.  A good place to hang out is Sense of Events.  Ever noticed how when the average comedian does a parody of a dumb person, it's always someone with a southern accent?  If they're going to make fun of Christians, it's always a dumb southerner who pronounces "Jesus" with three or more syllables?  I'll leave the topic of perceived intelligence of southerners vs. northerners for another day (well... except for this).

In a way, his story starts the same way mine does:
It was the worst news I could get as an atheist: my agnostic wife had decided to become a Christian. Two words shot through my mind. The first was an expletive; the second was “divorce.”
This was me in the mid 1980s.  In Lee's case he goes on to say,
I thought she was going to turn into a self-righteous holy roller. But over the following months, I was intrigued by the positive changes in her character and values. Finally, I decided to take my journalism and legal training (I was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune) and systematically investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity.
My wife didn't show any of those "positive changes in her character and values" - she really didn't need any - (no disrespect to Mrs. Strobel intended).  And although I didn't have "journalism and legal training", I had studied biochemistry and microbiology in college through my third year before eventually getting my degree and starting to ply my trade as an engineer.  In addition, my wife had started a subscription to Bibical Archaeology Review and the constant refrain from archaeologists, not religiously motivated, along the lines of "we thought this was folklore, but here it is" got me thinking "maybe there's something to this."  Strobel's book, played a role in filling in the gaps in my historical knowledge. 

Easter is the most important day in Christianity and far more important than Christmas because of the resurrection.  Everyone has a birthday, but only one man in history has been resurrected.  So since virtually everyone, including honest atheists, agrees Jesus was a real man in history and died on the cross, the question becomes whether or not it can be verified that Christ was seen after the resurrection by someone other than the closest circle of disciples. Strobel says:
Did anyone see Jesus alive again? I have identified at least eight ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, that in my view confirm the apostles’ conviction that they encountered the resurrected Christ. Repeatedly, these sources stood strong when I tried to discredit them.
Could these encounters have been hallucinations? No way, experts told me. Hallucinations occur in individual brains, like dreams, yet, according to the Bible, Jesus appeared to groups of people on three different occasions – including 500 at once!
In the end, after I had thoroughly investigated the matter, I reached an unexpected conclusion: it would actually take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a follower of Jesus.
The other religions of the world are about ritual and ultimately about self, about proving yourself worthy; Christianity is about grace.  You're not good enough on your best day; you are saved by Grace.  No other religion teaches Grace.  Islam teaches that Allah is unknowable.  Christianity teaches that not only is God knowable, he wants us to know him.  Islam doesn't teach salvation, it teaches servitude to a fickle, arbitrary, distant Allah.  Christianity teaches forgiveness by Grace; that you're given a gift you don't deserve by a God who wants a close personal relationship with us.  I like the way the Message translation does this verse (Ephesians 2: 8)
It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. 
Evolution vs. creation? I believe people pay way too much attention to this.  There's no mention of evolution in the bible, but there's no mention of the laws of thermodynamics, Avogadro's number, or relativity.  The bible isn't a science book.  Look at it this way: the creation story, how we got here, takes up a page.  The next thousand pages (or more, depending on font size, paper size, and so on) are concerned with how we treat each other while we're here.  Creation is clearly not the emphasis of the book, the other 99.999% is.  And saying nothingness or a fluctuation in the quantum vacuum exploded into light ("Let there be light") sounds like as good a picture of the standard model of cosmology for non-physicists 2000 years ago as I can think of.

Enjoy your day.  Enjoy your families.  I have a whole turkey and a dozen chicken drumsticks in the smoker as I type.  Enjoy things while we can.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

It Was One of Those Days

In the shop, that is.  I guess we all have them, right? 

In the GB-22 image you can see here, there are three pieces screwed together in a stack to make the slide.  I've previously cut them to the proper size, so it was time to get the through holes drilled in two pieces and the other piece drilled and tapped.  First problem: I realized that I cut the middle of the three slide pieces too short and need to start it over.  Moved on to the two side pieces, which are thicker and longer.  Drilled the first one out to clear the screws, then drilled the opposite side with a smaller drill so I could tap it... and broke the tap off in the first hole.  After some time trying to drill the 10-32 tap out, first with a carbide drill bit then with a diamond coated bit, all I can say is... dang that stuff is hard!  No success - I may have put a 10 or 20 thousandths dimple in it.  Can't use alum because that only work when it's a steel tap in aluminum; this is steel in steel.  I could build an EDM tap burner.  Gee, that commercial machine is $1500, I'm sure I could build one for a few hundred $.  Lessee... $250 or $500 depending on what I can scrounge, and the time to build it, to save about $3 worth of, I think this one is scrap, too. 

So I'm 1 for 3 on simple, minimally machined parts.  

While trying to drill the tap out, I needed to raise and lower the mill head, so I'm using Mach3.  Out of the blue, my keyboard input stops working.  It's a wireless keyboard, and changing the batteries didn't fix it.  At one point, turning the computer off and on seemed to help, but I'm not sure. 

So, all in all, an annoying day.  One thing worked out well: I came up with a mount for my Fogbuster system.  Sort of a wooden hat rack.
The legs are a pair of 2x4s in lap joint, and the upright is a 1x4 that's glued and screwed to one of the legs.  In this view, the compressor is behind the viewer, the input hose is the dark blue one dropping below the edge of the frame, and the output of the tank is a pair of clear hoses going over the top edge of the enclosure to the sprayer mounted on the mill's headstock. 

Well, tomorrow will bring more time to mess-up some more metal pieces.  I'll be smoking a turkey in the afternoon, so plenty of time to play in the shop.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Brutality That Was Crucifixion

Years ago, a medical doctor named C. Truman Davis did an investigation of the effects of the Roman death sentence of scourging and crucifixion on the human body.  It becomes obvious why the Romans only used this for the lowest of criminals.  Roman citizens weren't crucified except for the lowest dregs of the society, like soldiers who deserted and other traitors.
About a decade ago, reading Jim Bishop’s The Day Christ Died, I realized that I had for years taken the Crucifixion more or less for granted — that I had grown callous to its horror by a too easy familiarity with the grim details and a too distant friendship with our Lord. It finally occurred to me that, though a physician, I didn’t even know the actual immediate cause of death. The Gospel writers don’t help us much on this point, because crucifixion and scourging were so common during their lifetime that they apparently considered a detailed description unnecessary.
It is a particularly brutal way to execute someone.  Beheading would be infinitely easier to endure; in contrast, crucifixion seems to have been designed and optimized to cause the most amount of agony imaginable.  Donald Sensing at Sense of Events writes a remarkable post on why Jesus of Nazareth would be crucified; Dr. Davis writes about the how of the practice itself and its effects on the body. 
Apparently, the first known practice of crucifixion was by the Persians. Alexander and his generals brought it back to the Mediterranean world — to Egypt and to Carthage. The Romans apparently learned the practice from the Carthaginians and (as with almost everything the Romans did) rapidly developed a very high degree of efficiency and skill at it. A number of Roman authors (Livy, Cicer, Tacitus) comment on crucifixion, and several innovations, modifications, and variations are described in the ancient literature. 
It's a medical description of a terrible act, mixed with some sense of the suffering that was being dispensed on this Friday, a Friday both long ago yet as immediate as today's news.  A Friday that would change the world forever.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Just a Little Teaser

Any idea what that is?  

That's the barrel of my GB-22 test fit into the block that will hold it in place.  The holder isn't complete, so I'll pull the barrel out in the morning.  The only work that has to be done to it is to add four holes for 1/8" spring pins to hold it in the frame, and 3/16" slots along the middle of the top and bottom where it slides into the frame. It's part #2 in this graphic from Serbu Arms' Website.
Adaptive Curmudgeon said he loves it when I say things like this:  the barrel measured 0.368, so I thought a 3/8" (0.375) drill bit would be too big.  I was going to get a reamer in .373 (.005 oversized), but thought I'd measure my "best" 3/8 drill bit.  It was .370!  So I tried drilling out the holder, figuring that it might end up being a "test cut" that ruined the piece, and it came out more like 0.371 (it was still warm, so maybe I'll recheck it in the morning).  I'll eventually stake the barrel in place with either red LocTite or JB Weld.  I'm not sure if I'm going to cut it shorter and crown it.  Da bomb would be to cut it in two equal pieces, crown both and cut a chamber in the new half!

And not a single lesbian squirrel was even inconvenienced in the making of this post.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Uber's Arizona Accident

A couple of weeks ago, there was buzz about one of Uber's autonomous (self-driving) cars being involved in an accident in Tempe, Arizona, and the company halting all autonomous car trials.  I had not heard that this halt was only in place for three days. Not quite just overnight, but it didn't take Uber long to conclude there's nothing wrong with their technology. 
According to the reports:
Josie Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the Tempe Police Department, told Reuters that the accident occurred when the driver of a second vehicle "failed to yield" to the Uber vehicle while making a turn. She added, "The vehicles collided, causing the autonomous vehicle to roll onto its side.”
Considering the novelty of autonomous cars, it's easy to dismiss this as an accident caused by a human-driven car; drivers have most of their collisions at intersections, and especially turning left.  Given the hype of the safety promises made by the promoters of self-driving cars, it's easy to conclude that Uber’s robo-car, loaded with crash-preventive sensors, proved itself defenseless in the face of an ill-timed maneuver by a careless human driver.

If you're like me, though, you're saying  “How did the Volvo end up on its side pointing in the opposite direction?”  I've been hit a time or two, and even in an SUV with warning labels that make you think it's a dog yearning to "roll over and play dead", I've never ended up on the car's side.  What kind of speeds were involved in the collision?   Mike Demler, senior analyst at The Linley Group, goes further, asking: where was the Uber SUV (Volvo) exactly hit?  The kicker is either nobody knows or nobody is saying. 
Strategy Analytics’ Riches asked, “Was the outcome of the crash (Uber vehicle on its side) inevitable given the impact? Or were there post-collision autonomous manipulations of throttle/brake/steering on the Uber vehicle which made things worse (or better, for that matter)?”

Demler also raised similar questions to Uber. “Did the self-driving system respond at all?  Did it abruptly steer or brake? Perhaps the way the Volvo reacted caused the roll over? The lack of damage to the Ford indicates to me it wasn’t traveling at high speed, so what caused the rollover?”
Although Uber hasn't been forthcoming with the contents of the "black box" records in the car, the Tempe police department has been a bit more helpful; it just took a couple of days.
First, the driver who hit Uber’s Volvo was in the intersection waiting to turn left and was therefore moving slowly. She wasn’t exactly making a sudden, reckless move.

Second, Uber’s Volvo, in self-driving mode, was moving at 38 mph in a 40 mph zone and failed to detect the left-turning vehicle. Further, although the Uber’s driver remembers the traffic light changing to yellow when his car entered the intersection, the Uber Volvo didn’t react, neither hurrying nor hesitating. [Bold added - SiG]
This doesn't seem consistent with the Volvo lying on its side facing the opposite way.   The accident report explains:
Vehicle #1 (Honda CRV) was driving northbound in the left lane of S. McClintock Dr. when it failed to yield making a left turn onto E. Don Carlos Ave. and collided with Vehicle #2 (Uber Volvo), which was southbound in Lane 3 of S. McClintock Dr.

After being struck, the Uber Volvo collided with a traffic signal pole, then flipped on its side and collided with Vehicle #3 (Hyundai EST) and Vehicle #4 (Ford Edge), which were stopped in traffic southbound in Lane 2 of S. McClintock Dr.
Demler summed up: “To clarify — the Uber Volvo proceeded through the intersection after being hit on its driver side by the left-turning Honda CRV. This is documented in the police report drawing, which shows the Volvo’s trajectory after the collision. The CRV stopped there. As the CRV driver said, she was in the intersection waiting to make her left turn, so wasn’t moving very fast when she came across the stalled left and middle lanes, and then hit the Volvo moving at a much higher speed through the rightmost lane. Had the CRV been traveling at a higher speed, it is unlikely the Volvo could have proceeded South on McClintock on a trajectory that resulted in it colliding sideways with the light pole on the opposite street corner.”
As I'm sure you know, in a situation like this, the driver turning left will be cited for failure to yield the right of way and will be written off by the techies as the "careless human" that messed up the autonomous car.  In reality, it sounds like the car driver did far more to avoid the accident than the "sooper intelligent" self-driving car. 

My conclusion is that this accident makes the Uber cars sound bad.  About as bad as the Tesla that couldn't tell the sky from the side of semi-trailer and decapitated its driver.  Both of these accidents make me think any reasonably competent human driver would have done better.  The driver in the Honda CRV was driving prudently, she just wasn't driving prudently enough (they're called accidents for a reason).  The Uber Volvo (which sounds like a comic book hero) went unabated through an intersection where several "caution flags" would be apparent to anyone who has had the least bit of defensive driving training.  Mike Demler put it this way:
Demler would like to ask Uber, “Why did your vehicle proceed through the intersection at 38 mph when you could see that traffic had come to a complete stop in the middle and leftmost lanes? What action did the Volvo’s self-driving system take once it recognized a collision was imminent… or didn’t it recognize it at all?  Did the Volvo brake after the collision? That would have been the proper procedure, since the CRV had screeched to a halt, and traffic ahead was stopped.”
I would add that at least in Florida, not stopping after you've been hit is a criminal offense, "leaving the scene of an accident".  If the Uber car didn't brake after the collision, that's some software that needs to be fixed. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Norks

The perpetually concerned are talking about the world being on the precipice of WWIII with the goings on with Putin about Syria, the dispatch of the Carl Vinson to patrol off Korea and China putting 150,000 troops on the border with North Korea.

While it could be, I suspect that we have a ways to go yet, and exits from that highway still remain, barring any black swan moments that change everything.  Have we had our Archduke Ferdinand moment already, and we didn't notice it?  I've heard the actual Archduke Ferdinand moment wasn't thought of as a harbinger of doom when it happened, either. 

I have to admit that I'm puzzled about the real relationship between China and the Norks.  While lots of people say that L'il Kim doesn't take a dump with Chinese approval, I wonder if China doesn't see him as problem; a liability.  Perhaps he has his uses, he can do totally insane shit and they can watch our reactions to it, but it has to be apparent to the Chicoms as well as the whole world that he's FN.

The pessimistic, paranoid way of looking at the situation is that China put their troops there in case we did something to North Korea.  The argument is that the Korean War (which had plenty of Chinese troops in it) never ended; there has just been a long ceasefire.  There has been talk of us preemptively striking Pyongyang if we "knew" they had put a nuke on an ICBM and were in position to strike us.  If we were to strike Pyongyang, China could claim their interest is to stabilize this country on their southern border and are only acting out of "humanitarian concern".  That could potentially put Chinese and American forces shooting at each other. 

On the other hand, Zerohedge reports something more along the lines of what I was thinking: if he gets too FN, China will take Kim out themselves.  China knows North Korea is on the verge of a very big nuclear test, likely on or about the 15th, and is telling Kim that if they cause any trouble, the Chinese will wipe out North Korea's nuclear program themselves. 
The editorial in the military-focused Global Times tabloid, owned and operated by the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper, said that North Korea’s nuclear activities must not jeopardize northeastern China, and that if the North impacts China with its illicit nuclear tests through either "nuclear leakage or pollution", then China will respond with force.
“China has a bottom line that it will protect at all costs, that is, the security and stability of northeast China... If the bottom line is touched, China will employ all means available including the military means to strike back. By that time, it is not an issue of discussion whether China acquiesces in the US’ blows, but the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will launch attacks to DPRK nuclear facilities on its own."
This is "one of those stories": shortly after publication, It seems to have been retracted without explanation, the URL now returning a "404" error.  Not before the original article was cached on a webpage owned by China Military, courtesy of google (which is worth your time to read).

Trial attorneys are known for  sometimes saying something they can't substantiate in court.  When the opposition objects and the quote is taken out of the reporter's notes, it can not be taken out of jurors minds.  Google is even better.  This could have been floated by the Chinese, long enough to be sure Google would cache it, and then taken away.

I know that one of the two ways North Koreans can escape the "hermit kingdom" is to flee north into China.  China generally returns them to the Norks, who generally torture them and any family they have to death.  I don't think the population of North Korea would be difficult for China to absorb, but I have no idea what ethnic feelings they may have toward each other.   From an economic standpoint, South Korea is a bit of a competitor to China, although a distant 11th place in the world GDP rankings compared to China at #2; China is tremendously larger country. I could see China not wanting a unified Korean peninsula if it was an economic competitor. 

Back to Zerohedge's summary of the Global Times piece for an interesting conclusion:
The report also said that "the DPRK must not fall into the turmoil to send a large number of refugees, it is not allowed to have a government that is hostile against China on the other side of the Yalu River, and the US military must not push forward its forces to the Yalu River.” It notes that "this sentence is meant for the United States, because the premise of it is that the US military has launched attacks to the DPRK."

But what may be the most notable part of the oped is the mention in the Global Times editorial that North Korea will not be "not allowed to have a government that is hostile against China on the other side of the Yalu River."  This implies that if and when the US initiate strikes on NK, the Chinese PLA will likely send out troops "to lay the foundation" for a favorable post-war situation.

In other words, China may be just waiting for Trump to "decapitate" the North Korean regime, to pounce and immediately fill the power vacuum.
It makes me wonder if Trump and China's President Xi discussed this last weekend.  Comments from anyone with good, in-depth knowledge of the area are appreciated, as always.

Monday, April 10, 2017

After Yesterday, Do You Want to Fly United?

The Friendly Skies? 

By now, everyone has likely seen the pictures of a passenger being hauled bodily off an overbooked United flight, after the Chicago Department of Aviation security officer smashed his face onto a seat arm and bloodied him.

(Here, I've edited out the center of the photo by Audra D. Bridges from SFGATE )  The flight was a short hop, from Chicago O'Hare to Louisville, Kentucky.  The passenger, whose identity has not been released, was returning from a quick trip to Japan to see the cherry blossoms, and was saying that he's a doctor who was scheduled to see patients this morning so he couldn't voluntarily give up his seat.  United overbooked the flight, and here's the kicker, was going to need four seats to fly a United crew to Louisville.  That's right, they were giving up paying seats and paying a premium to anyone who took the offer so that they could fly staff.  Poor planning, anyone?

The root cause here is an antiquated process the airlines used called overbooking, which means exactly what it sounds like.  Airlines used to have a problem with under-utilization of the aircraft; people who buy a seat but don't show up.  I suppose in some halcyon old days, there were ways to get a refund if someone didn't use the seat, but I'm rather certain those days are long gone.  I know every time I've gone shopping for tickets for a flight, they tell you it's a non-refundable seat.  It's the cheapest.  You can pay more for a refundable seat. 

According to SFGATE:
At 5:40 p.m., a flight attendant requested four volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for $400 each.

“No one wanted to take the voucher because they told us the next flight would be at 2 pm the next day,” [Tyler] Bridges, a civil engineer, told The Chronicle.

United doubled the offer to $800 — and no one budged.
Again, once or twice in my travels I've been given an offer like that, but only on the way out; when not showing up would cost me hotel fare for the night, and a rental car expense.  Never on the way home, when I generally have the flexibility to be delayed a day.  As the day has gone by and everyone has reported on this story, I've heard stories of cases others say they witnessed, including Delta giving a family of three $1350 each for their seats, paying for a hotel room and transportation - roughly $4300.  I'd take that offer even on the way out, if it didn't impact anyone I was going to meet.

The problem here has a couple of aspects.  First: the whole antiquated overbooking phenomenon.  In what other venue can you buy a product, pay for it, and be denied it?  If you buy a flat screen TV and walk it out to your car, Walmart can't come up to you and take it back because they also sold it to someone else.  Maybe a better analogy is sports.  People will buy a season ticket to see their favorite team and not go to the game.  Either way, there's a finite number of seats that need to be sold for a certain date.  If the buyer doesn't show up nobody else gets that seat.  They don't sell the seat to two buyers and figure "we'll deal with it if they both show up".  If you don't go, you forfeit your seat.  Why isn't airplane seat the same? Why would they overbook in the first place?  Today, they have computerized systems tracking demand for seats that tell them on a flight-by-flight, seat-by-seat basis what the demand is and adjusting the prices moment by moment.   Sell the number of seats on the plane and then stop

The other aspect is that in the name of airline safety we've made the airlines immune to prosecution for this sort of insanity.  It's a violation of federal law to disobey the orders of the flight crew.  And that's totally ignoring TSA, Air Marshals and the rest of the security kabuki.  In the air, that has a certain sense to it.  Airplanes have a restricted set of conditions they can fly in (their "envelope"), and someone has to be in command.  If the pilot tells the passengers to do something, they'd generally better do it.  On the ground, overbooking the flight and telling some passengers they have to get off the airplane or they'll be bodily subdued and taken off that airplane is seriously wrong.

In the end, this will be forgotten within a day or so. Back to the SFGATE article:
United Airlines spokesman Jonathan Guerin said, “We’re reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him. We know that this is upsetting to all of our customers.”

Chris McGinnis, a travel writer who writes the blog, called the matter a “PR nightmare. It’s shocking and appalling and abhorrent to anyone seeing the video.”

At the same time, he said, “Everyone will be all up in arms and say they’re going to boycott United — but travelers have very short memories. So the next time United has a flight for $139, and everyone else is selling it for $189, they’ll forget about the boycott.”
Typical short attention span?  Outrage of the day?   Remember: United was at the center of a PR storm just two weeks ago for barring the children of employees from boarding an airplane on those free tickets while wearing leggings.  Did you remember it was United?  I didn't. 

How do we get real reform here?  How do we get the airlines to stop overbooking and stop bodily throwing people of planes?  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, United Airlines bumped 3,765 passengers in 2016, or less than half a percent — involuntarily.  The report says 40,629 passengers on 12 airlines were involuntarily bumped.  In my mind, if they think they're losing money at it, they'll stop.  After all, remember that often-repeated story about a company removing one olive out of every salad they served (back in 1987, in first class alone) and doing it to save $50,000 a year?  That was an airline: American Airlines.  If they lose enough seats every year, and have a way to track the sales they didn't make because of this, they'll change.