Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Problems in Complex Systems Don't Always Have Simple Fixes

There's a quote attributed to HL Mencken, which Wikiquote assures us is a misquote, that "For every human problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."  This observation seems to apply in bold italics to the economy.

One of the reasons we have President Trump today is that in his campaign he assured millions of people that the loss of jobs in America was due to bad agreements with other countries.  NAFTA was bad deal, resulting in jobs going to Mexico.  Trade with China is net loss in jobs for the US.  You all know those stories.  If we simply reached better deals those jobs would come back, and as the consummate deal maker, he can fix them.  Is there something to those stories?  A little, but those stories are far from a complete picture or an answer to bringing back jobs.

Let's start with a simple example: there are jobs that simply can't be outsourced.  Virtually every repair on everything you own has to be done locally.  You can't ship your backed up toilet to China for repair any more than you can send your broken central air conditioner to Mexico!  These things have to be done here.

Another example is home construction.  Yes, they're 3D printing concrete homes in a few places experimentally, but they're not making full sized houses and shipping them to the US.  It has to be done here.  According to the Financial Times, US homebuilding has been declining for a quarter century.  According to the article, sourced at Bonner and Partners, builders: 
“started work on the same number of houses in the past year as they did a quarter of a century ago, even though there are 36% more people working as residential builders now than then.”
That loss in productivity can't be caused by Mexican, Chinese or Bangladeshi workers.  The FT puzzled over this epic loss in productivity.  I think I can explain that, as I'm sure many of you can as well.  We'll get to that farther down the column.

Bill Bonner maintains that the 21st century has been an epic flop for America.
Economic growth rates have been trending down for 40 years. The number of people with “breadwinner” jobs – as a percentage of the working-age population – is at a 40-year low. And homeownership is back to where it was half a century ago.

There are pockets of prosperity. But get too far from the good neighborhoods and you find dilapidated houses… minimum wages… and drugs.
Add to these observations the fact that the percentage of people in the workforce is still on a par with the rates it had in the late 1970s, down significantly from its peak in the 1990s, and add that to the study we reported on two weeks ago saying that middle class wages have been in stagnation since the 1960s.  Sounds like Bonner is right about the 21st century being a flop.  At least for America.

I'm aware that I beat on the central banks and phony money all the time, and it's time to do it again.  In a normal, functioning economy, there's a thing called "creative destruction" that simply has to have its time.  The central planners have done their best to prevent this absolutely necessary phase.  Like weeding a garden or pruning back a tree, the economy has to get rid of the underperforming parts.  Just as jobs in the buggy whip industry had to go away to make room for the auto industry, and the vacuum tube industry had to give way to silicon, creative destruction is part of growth.

But big established businesses don't like destruction, if it applies to them, and government likes it least of all.  Businesses, and their insider owners, make campaign contributions and hire lobbyists. But politicians don't get invited to speak to industries that don’t exist yet. Politicians get no votes from people who haven’t been born nor tax revenues from businesses that have not yet been formed.  As a result, to quote Bonner:
The U.S. economy is slowing down. Now it creaks along, walking with a cane and trying to remember where it left the car keys.
The central banks policies have stifled innovation and so distorted the economy that it's simply dysfunctional.  In trying to keep the correction cycle from ruining the numbers for a few quarters, they've ruined it for years and as far into the future as we can see.
In an economy, the future sits at cheap desks in low-rent offices in bad neighborhoods.

Old businesses have yesterday’s methods and technologies; new business startups have tomorrow’s.

But “Americans are less likely to start a business, move to another region of the country, or switch jobs now than at any time in recent memory,” says the EIG paper. And “dynamism is in retreat nationwide in nearly every measurable respect.”

Forty years ago, nearly 6% of the population worked for a new company. Now, only 2% do. The job “turnover rate” was 12% in 1977; now it is barely half that.

Similarly, the startup rate has collapsed to only half of what it was in the 1970s. In 2010, more businesses closed than opened for the first time in history. Between 1983 and 1987, the nation added nearly 500,000 new firms. Between 2010 and 2014, only one-fifth as many saw the light of day.

The new businesses seem to be concentrated in small geographic areas, too – mostly between D.C. and New York, in South Florida, and in Southern California, with a significant block of growth between Houston and Dallas.

Most of the rest of the nation has been in an unrecorded recession – with more businesses closing down than opening up – for decades.

This means the average business is older than ever before… and that more people are more likely to work for one of these dinosaurs than ever before.

Also, as firms age, they tend to discard employees, not add them.

The idea of China or Mexico “stealing” jobs is largely fantasy. Old industries typically shed jobs as they age and die. Practically all net new jobs come from startup businesses.

The EIG study goes on to suggest that, in 2014, 1 million jobs went missing because of the lack of new business startups.

A startup business typically creates six new jobs in its first year. In 2014, there were some 150,000 fewer startups than in the 1980s.
These are profound, structural problems, not something that can be fixed by renegotiating NAFTA or "getting better deals" with the Chinese.  The structure at the root of this, probably the greatest concentration of cronyism in the world, is the Federal Reserve and the  The swamp has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are, at the expense of all of us and ultimately at their expense as well. 

Let's get back to the original issue, about why the productivity for homebuilding is in decline, and I said I thought I know why.  It's the same reason that health care costs grow at twice the rate of cost of living.  It's the same reason no matter what we spend on education, student performance doesn't go up.  It's the same reason tuition grows at three times the cost of living.  Over regulation combined with the effects of a broken, or nonexistent market.  Markets broken by, and over regulation created by, the big, freakin', out-of-control, government.
Just try to build a house.  In most places, zoning, building, administrative, and environmental regulations slow you down and add costs.  Either non-producing people have to be hired to deal with those regulations, or they consume the time of people actually building the house decreasing their productivity.  That's how it feels to start a business. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How Many People Has the TSA Gotten Killed?

Last Friday, those of you who get the newsletters from received a link to a story on the TSA.  That story, combined with the post from ASM286 on Borepatch today, about the Lesson of Manchester got me thinking.

One version of the Law of Unintended Consequences says that no matter how good the intent, or indeed the actual construction of a program, there are always unintended consequences.  They may be hidden or they may be slap-your-face obvious but they are always there.

An undeniable aspect of the TSA's Airport Security Theater of the Mind is that it's annoying; something that people put up with simply because they have to.  That leads to an unintended consequence: people will say "I'm not putting up with that for a trip that's an easy drive" and will drive to their destination instead of flying.  Driving is more dangerous than flying, statistically.  Using that information, some researchers have concluded in a 2005 journal article that
We find that driving fatalities increased significantly following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an event which prompted many travelers to substitute less-safe surface transportation for safer air transportation. After controlling for time trends, weather, road conditions, and other factors, we attribute an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month to additional road travel undertaken in response to 9/11. In total, our results suggest that at least 1,200 additional driving deaths are attributable to the effect of 9/11. We also provide evidence that is consistent with the 9/11 effect on road fatalities weakening over time as drivers return to flying. Our results show that the public response to terrorist threats can create unintended consequences that rival the attacks themselves in severity. [Bold added - SiG]
242 fatalities per month??  Depending on exact model and carrier, a Boeing 737 might carry between 85 and 200 people.  The reaction to the TSA causing 242 fatalities could be the equivalent of two or three fully loaded 737s crashing and killing everyone on board every month.  

Unfortunately, that's a snapshot study so while we can think it has gotten worse in the 12 years since 2005, we don't have real numbers.  They say that drivers were returning to flying, but we also hear air travel is increasing so perhaps those two trends offset each other.  If the number of 242/month has stayed constant, we're talking on the order of 3000 people dying from the TSA itself.  9/11 itself officially claimed 2996 lives, so it's possible that the TSA has killed as many people as the terrorists themselves. 

The TSA would say it's not their fault that those people died.  The fault lies with the people who decided to drive rather than go into the loving care of the TSA and airline reaccommodation.  I'm going to reference IMAO on this, from a completely unrelated topic. 
And that’s how government rolls: burn down your house, then blame you for choosing not to continue dwelling on the ash heap.
But if you do decide to face Uncle Pervy of the TSA, there's another unintended consequence: the TSA is completely, horribly ineffective at what it's supposed to be doing.   It's the worst kind of security kabuki. 
During covert tests conducted by the DHS in 2015, TSA agents failed to detect guns and fake explosives 95 percent of the time. In one test, an undercover DHS agent was stopped and received an "enhanced" pat-down search after setting off a metal detector, but the TSA screener failed to detect the fake bomb taped to the agent’s back.
If the BATF is the "F Troop" of federal law enforcement, they finally have someone to feel superior to.  Clever Hans, the horse that was famous for knowing arithmetic almost 120 years ago, could look down on the rank and file TSA.

A 95% failure to detect bombs and other contraband, of course, means that if someone suffering Sudden Jihadi Syndrome had actually tried to sneak a bomb onto a plane, there's a 95% chance they would have succeeded.  If there had been two trying on the same day at different airports, it's a virtual certainty that one would have succeeded with only 1/4% chance of them both being found.  If a duplicate of Operation Bojinka happened with one suicide bomber at each of 10 different airports on one day... well, you can complete that sentence. 

Still, that all might well pale in comparison to the biggest unintended consequence: the kind of mass murder the TSA could facilitate even if they caught everything they should catch - as ASM286 points out over at Borepatch's.  It doesn't require the TSA to mess up at all, just do what they do with the crowd in the airport. 
The lesson of Manchester is you don't need to get on a plane, into a secure area, or past a search.

Think about that the next time you're standing in the cattle chutes with your shoes in your hand hoping you don't get selected for extra screening. All those people in line with you haven't been screened yet either. That rolling suitcase the next guy has could be his underwear and socks for a week or it could be another nail bomb like the one at Manchester.
 (Source: Click Orlando)
While problems like that remain, private security employed at various airports around the country has been tested and found to be better at their jobs than the TSA. 
Private screeners at SPP airports (Screening Partnership Program) have proven themselves to be more efficient and more effective than the TSA. A report by a House oversight committee in 2013 found that private screeners at San Francisco International Airport were much better at detecting prohibited items than TSA screeners at LAX, and wait times were shorter. As a result of the report, calls are growing in Congress to abolish the TSA and return to private screening companies.
Having flown out of one of those SPP airports, abolishing the TSA and going back to private contractors is a move I could get behind.

An Oldie But A Goodie

Remember the alluring ads in the back of comic books and magazines?  I found this one while going through some cleanup around here.
Definitely seems to be dated to the 70s or early 80s. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

While You're Enjoying Your Holiday

Let me join the chorus of folks saying that while you're enjoying your day, be it beach, barbecue, pool or whatever, take a moment to think of and thank those who have given their all in service to us.  Some don't get that chance.
I stumbled across this October 2013 picture last year while looking for a Memorial Day image.  If I read that caption correctly, Ms. Sayne was visiting her husband's grave when taps sounded from another funeral in process, causing her to almost roll up into a little ball.  Her pain is palpable in the picture.

For most of us it's a day of picnics, family get togethers and more cheerful things: "the unofficial start of summer".  This year, I decided to try to smoke a Texas-style beef brisket.  Most people will tell you these are harder to get just right than making pulled pork, which Mrs. Graybeard and I get pretty well.  I've done a couple of briskets but they haven't come out "just right" and I'm always searching for better.  The last time I made pulled pork, I got out of bed at 4:00 to get the smoker going.  Last night, I put the brisket in at midnight, and just catnapped overnight; 2 hours here and there (and some of that was actually napping with the cat).  I probably got no more than four hours sleep.   At just about 2:30 EDT, it looks like it will be the right internal temperature around 3 PM. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

In Honor of Memorial Day Weekend

One of the stories that has impacted me deeply - and then stayed with me year after year.
In a final act of loyalty, Hawkeye, the dog of slain Navy SEAL U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson walked up to his fallen master’s casket during the funeral in Rockford, Iowa, and then laid mournfully down beside the body for the rest of the proceedings  [Note: Petty Officer Tumilson was one of the 30 killed in Afghanistan in the shoot down of Extortion 17 which the families blame squarely on the Obama administration - SiG]
A depressingly-sized portion of the ruling class could use Hawkeye's loyalty.  It's pretty bad to be shown to exhibit less humanity than a dog but the left does it all the time.  

It's widely reported that only 0.4% of the population is actively serving in the military.  That's a tremendous burden to be borne by such a small percentage of the population.  To all who served in the past or are currently serving, my heartfelt thanks. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Electric Cars Have the Same Problems As Always

It's the same bugaboo as always: driving range.  Which really comes down to recharging times.

In an unusually cogent look at the realities of the electric car market, author Charles Murray writes a piece for Design News titled, "The Electric Car's Same Old Problem".  For those unfamiliar, Design News is a engineering trade publication primarily aimed at Mechanical Engineers, not electrical.  I tend to link to them fairly frequently.
One unwritten rule of product design says that if you’ve given your customer a popular feature, don’t dare take it away.

Therein lies the problem with the mainstream electric car. Today’s cay buyers have been spoiled. They assume that they should be able to take their cars on vacations, on weekend trips, or on treks to drop the kids off at college. Thanks, gasoline.

Electric car enthusiasts don’t like that argument. And to some degree, they’re right. On average, driving is mostly about short trips – to work, to the gym, to the grocery store. Unfortunately, modern consumers don’t buy cars based on their average needs. They buy for their exceptional needs.
While I like to think of most of the engineers I've worked with as rational, being facile with technological problems doesn't necessarily make engineers immune to the impulse of wanting to control other people.  Witness the comments where readers think the solution is to get families to have two cars: one for around town and one for longer trips, or other fanciful social engineering.  (I'm assuming they're engineers or have a technical background just to qualify for a subscription).

It's a fundamental problem and Charles Murray hits the nail squarely on the head.  We tend to buy our cars for the expected uses even if the "worst case" isn't very often.  People expect to be able to get in a car and drive across the country - or just a couple of days - even if it's once a year or every other year.  This comes "for free" with a gasoline powered internal combustion engine.  Gasoline or diesel are tremendously better at energy storage than batteries.  While battery makers desperately try to figure out how to reach a specific energy of 450 Wh/kg (Watt-hours per kilogram), gasoline already offers 12,000 Wh/kg.

A basic problem is that even with the taxpayer subsidies, nobody is making money on electric cars.
Volkswagen, which is doing penance [for fudging EPA emissions tests - SiG] by loudly proclaiming its commitment to electric cars, admitted to The Wall Street Journal recently that “small battery-driven vehicles won’t be cheaper than their diesel equivalents until 2030.” And GM exec Mark Reuss  told reporters that his company wants to be the first to produce “electric cars that people can afford at a profit.” Implied was the fact that GM and its competitors aren’t making a profit on EVs today.

Even Tesla, Inc. – which sells big, expensive EVs – is still struggling with the bottom line. Recently released numbers showed that Tesla lost $330 million in the first quarter of 2017. Those losses were 17% more than the first quarter of last year. [This despite 1st quarter revenue more than doubling - SiG]

No one was ever more forthright about this matter than Sergio Marchionne, the refreshingly honest chief executive of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Talking about his company’s all-electric Fiat 500e in 2014, he said , “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000.”
There is talk in the industry that Washington is going to cut the tax credits for electric cars, predictably leading to talk that the sky is falling.  Perhaps it will for electric car makers.  The electric car fanboys complain that gasoline powered cars also get taxpayer subsidies, but apparently never suggest that all such subsidies, including those for solar, windmills and other fantasy-based uses be halted.  I've only seen advocates of internal combustion engines utter such heresies.

Is Volkswagen right in thinking that small, battery-driven EVs won't be cost competitive until 2030?  I'd trust the industry before I'd trust people who don't actually do anything, like think tanks or the EPA.  As Charles Murray put it,
You can’t ask consumers to give up a feature they already have, and then tell them they have to pay more for it. 

Unless, of course, you want to lose money.
The kinda-sporty Fiat 500E.  Besides costing Fiat Chrysler $14,000 if you buy one, if you're a big guy, you could probably fit it in a coat pocket.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The World Is Running Out of Sand (?!?)

That's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

According to a long and frankly interesting piece in the New Yorker, the worldwide mining of sand and gravel is greatly exceeding natural refresh rates.  Are we really running out of sand? 

It helps to understand that sand is not sand.  If you've never done it, do an image search for microscope images of sand; there are many different types with essentially a different type for every usage.  The article starts by talking about beach volleyball, a recent addition to the Olympics.  It starts with the interesting Fun Fact that beach volleyball is not played on ordinary beach sand.  It's not a good surface for hard athletics.
I visited the site shortly before the tournament, and spoke with Todd Knapton, who was supervising the installation. He’s the vice-president of the company that supplied the sand, Hutcheson Sand & Mixes, in Huntsville, Ontario. ... “You want to see the players buried up to their ankles,” he said, and stuck in a foot, to demonstrate. “Rain or shine, hot or cold, it should be like a kid trying to ride a bicycle through marbles.”

Ordinary beach sand tends to be too firm for volleyball: when players dive into it, they break fingers, tear hamstrings, and suffer other impact injuries. Knapton helped devise the sport’s sand specifications, after Canadian players complained about the courts at the 1996 Olympic Games, in Atlanta. “It was trial and error at first,” he said. “But we came up with an improved recipe, and we now have a material that’s uniform from country to country to country, on five continents.” The specifications govern the shape, size, and hardness of the sand grains, and they disallow silt, clay, dirt, and other fine particles, which not only stick to perspiring players but also fill voids between larger grains, making the playing surface firmer. The result is sand that drains so well that building castles with it would be impossible. “We had two rainstorms last night, but these courts are ready to play on,” he said. “You could take a fire hose to this sand and you’d never flood it.”
That's the sort of sand we're talking about being short of.  It leads to what seems like an absurd situation: sand is being quarried at one place in the world and shipped long distances.
The company’s biggest recent challenge was the first European Games, which were held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2015. Baku has beaches—it’s on a peninsula on the western shore of the Caspian Sea—but the sand is barely suitable for sunbathing, much less for volleyball. Knapton’s crew searched the region and found a large deposit with the ideal mixture of particle sizes, in a family-owned mine in the Nur Mountains, in southern Turkey, eight hundred miles to the west.
This became a problem because the mine is within shelling distance of the Syrian border.  The company originally planned to truck the sand across central Syria, through Iraq, around Armenia, and into Azerbaijan from the northwest, in two convoys of more than two hundred and fifty trucks each.  That's when they had to consider Isis and the Syrian civil war.  Instead they bagged the sand into one-and-a-half-ton fabric totes, trucked it west to Iskenderun in Turkey and loaded it onto ships. “We did five vessels, five separate trips.”  Just think: five separate ships carrying sand to Azerbaijan.
In the industrial world, [sand] is “aggregate,” a category that includes gravel, crushed stone, and various recycled materials. Natural aggregate is the world’s second most heavily exploited natural resource, after water, and for many uses the right kind is scarce or inaccessible. In 2014, the United Nations Environment Programme published a report titled “Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks,” [pdf warning] which concluded that the mining of sand and gravel “greatly exceeds natural renewal rates” and that “the amount being mined is increasing exponentially, mainly as a result of rapid economic growth in Asia.”
China’s swift development consumed more sand between 2010 to 2014 than the United States used in the entire 20th century.  In India, commercially useful sand is now so scarce that markets for it are dominated by “sand mafias”— criminal enterprises that sell material taken illegally from rivers and other sources, sometimes killing to safeguard their deposits.

As a general rule, civil engineers will say that it's not cost-effective to ship sand more than about 60 miles, so that builders tend to use whatever is available even if it's not optimum. Living in Florida, it's a strange thought that we don't have any good sand.  I've often thought that our motto shouldn't be "the sunshine state" but rather "the sand state".  Our beach sand, though, is mostly broken bits of shells and is doesn't work well as aggregate.  
In some places, though, there are no usable alternatives. Florida lies on top of a vast limestone formation, but most of the stone is too soft to be used in construction. “The whole Gulf Coast is starved for aggregate,” William Langer, the research geologist, told me. “So they import limestone from Mexico, from a quarry in the Yucatán, and haul it by freighter across the Caribbean.” Even that stone is wrong for some uses. “You can build most of a road with limestone from Mexico,” he continued, “but it doesn’t have much skid resistance. So to get that they have to use granitic rock, which they ship down the East Coast from quarries in Nova Scotia or haul by train from places like inland Georgia.”
A comparison of images of sands I found online.  The left is said to be from the Sahara desert, while the right looks more like Florida east coast beach sand. 

Given this is "The New Yorker", which seems to have lost the cartoons it once had a great reputation for, I was expecting to find the greenie tone something like "ZOMG! We're even using up all the sand on Earth!!", and it's thankfully light on that.  From beach volleyball courts to the man-made islands offshore Dubai to (what I've always thought of as) the nonsensical "beach replenishment" by dredging sand offshore and depositing it on the beach, it's just an interesting article on a part of life the typical person never thinks about. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

If You Can Figure Out How to Invest in Somali Pirates, Go Long

According to a piece in Power Electronics magazine, it appears that there are plans to make the world's cargo ships unmanned and autonomous.

It might be a good time to get invest in piracy on the high seas.  Is there a Horn of Africa Pirates Association - HAPA?  Association of Somali Freelance Merchant Marines?   Something like that?

I obviously joke here, but that was my first response when I read the piece.  Sure, there are sound reasons to remove the crews and make the system autonomous.  Crews take up room and add costs, taking the place of more cargo.
There are a number of obvious advantages to going crewless. Designs will eliminate the quarters, mess, stairs, doors, and just about everything else people use. One upshot of this is loads of extra space, available for more cargo. Another is a more streamlined exterior. It even enables the weight to balance out nicely. Traditional ships have a lot of weight in the stern, thanks to the bridge. The lighter center is buoyant, bending upward and requiring heavy ballast, often in the form of water, that is hauled around for no other purpose than to keep the ship level. Take away the superstructure, redistribute the weight, and it will reduce the ballast needed.
In addition to the "quarters, mess, stairs, doors, and just about everything else people use", there things like HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning), food and water, and other life-sustaining systems all of which add to the demands on the ship.  Not just space, but weight and electrical power.  With the lower weight of the vessel, the lower wind resistance, and lower power requirements, analysts expect a 10 to 15% fuel savings, for a typical cargo vessel. 
Rolls-Royce concept rendering of an autonomous cargo ship. 

Compared to cars or trucks on the highways, travel on the open seas is a pretty simple problem.  Certainly there are navigation issues, but those aren't really a big concern in the era of GNSS systems (Global Navigation Satellite Systems, the combination of GPS, Galileo, Glonass and more).  Likewise there are weather concerns; in October of 2015, the cargo ship El Faro went down in the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin, but that's a rare occurrence today.  A ship's exact heading is determined by the currents, winds and other physical conditions.  All of those can be sensed onboard and adapted to.  Detecting other ships can be by onboard radar, or by radio systems.  The way ships are expected to behave around each other are spelled out in details in the Colregs - collision regulations - a modern incarnation of old, established laws.

One version of an autonomous and zero emissions ship is planned to start in the latter half of 2018, although it will be a conventional manned ship for its first year.  Its role will be shipping products from YARA’s Porsgrunn production plant to Brevik and Larvik in Norway.  Autonomous and 100% electric, YARA Birkeland will be the world’s most advanced container feeder ship.
(which doesn't look anywhere near as cool as the previous picture)

The problem with an autonomous cargo ship isn't the open sea, it's everything within a couple of miles of the port.  Big ships start slowly, stop slowly, and aren't very maneuverable.  It's tricky to maneuver one into a docking berth.  In general, large ships don't navigate into and out of ports themselves; they are brought in and out by local pilots who are very familiar with the hazards of their ports.  This generally involves tug boats and putting pilots onto the inbound or outbound ships.
One way that might look, says Levander, is a sort of hybrid. A ship on the open sea, traveling primarily straight ahead with little in its way, will be controlled by an onboard computer, with the occasional oversight of a land-based operator who may manage hundreds of different ships at once. As it comes to port, or enters a congested area, several things could happen. The remote operator could take full control, or a crew could boat out and board. 
The problem is that just as there are sound reasons to remove the crews, there are sound reasons to have armed crews onboard, as we've seen with the use of private security against Somali pirates.  As long as the ship can be controlled by having a harbor pilot come aboard, anyone could board the ship on their own and redirect it.  Fancy electronics?  Satellite links?  Intelligent control systems?   Can they take a full auto magazine from an AK and still function?  They can?  OK, what about a stick of dynamite or however much it takes to blow the control links into the sea?  The golden rule of "man makey, man breaky" applies.  Security can't be an afterthought, it needs to be designed in from the start.  I don't see a single word about that in the article. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Steven Crowder - It's Not Time for Unity, It's Time for An Alliance

As in the Allied powers of WWII.  Steven Crowder takes a break from writing comedy for his channel to do a video on the attack in Manchester last night . 

Like most of us, I'm sickened by the murder of innocents in the UK; this time young girls.  Apparently a venue full of girls in the (I've read) 10 to 20 age group was chosen as a way to outrage westerners, because in their minds if some "westerner" goes and kills a random mooslim, that will cause the so-called "moderate" mooslims to endorse Isis and cause the battle for the end of the world they're trying to create.  That it's a sick, twisted view of the world is an understatement.

Crowder wrote an accompanying piece for the Blaze with some highlights.  
If you want to practice Islam in the inconsequential, semi-secular sense. Fine. But the only way to solve this problem is to recognize that POLITICAL Islam and anyone who follows its prescription is inherently incompatible with Western values.

That means:

  • Want sharia courts?  You’re not welcome.
  • Think it’s okay to marry a six year old?  You’re not welcome.
  • Think it’s okay to strike your wife for ANY reason?  You’re not welcome.
  • Believe in ANY kind of punishment for apostasy?  You’re not welcome.
  • Believe in ANY kind of punishment for “blasphemy”?  You’re not welcome.

  • These are the kinds of values that progressives would defend against any radical Christians who believe any of the above. And rightfully so. So why can’t we all agree on these universally? Anyone who holds any of those beliefs is by definition, incompatible with the Western world.

    People are giving President Trump crap for calling them “losers.” Listen, the guy isn’t eloquent, but he’s right. These terrorists fear shame more than death. It’s why Abu Ghraib was such an outrage when American, female soldiers stripped them naked and laughed at them while dogs barked. To them, that is a far greater punishment than death or even torture. If any American received said treatment at the hands of ISIS, we’d thank the Lord above that we weren’t being burnt alive in cages. We don’t merely punish terrorists through death. We punish them through shame.

    At least ONE leader is willing to give it the old college try. So today, I stand with the president of the United States instead of trying to mince words on social media and virtue-signal about how much “unity” we need. We don’t need “unity”. We need an alliance. There’s a difference.
    For as bad as the attack was, Miguel at GunFreeZone posts a twitter capture that may just be worse, at least as a warning sign.
    British journalist Katie Hopkins posts a message that sure lines up with my view.  "Western men.  These are your wives.  Your daughters.  Your sons.  Stand up.  Rise up.  Demand action.  Do not carry on as normal.  Cowed."  For which she's reported to the police for "inciting racial hatred" - hate speech - by SJW DarrenB.

    That is probably worse than the attack itself. The attack was awful, but it’s the deliberate actions of a bunch of evil murderers trying to incite a war.  Evil is as evil does.

    The response, though, is the DarrenB saying “Kill a few more of my daughters. Have you tried raping my wife?  Take over the country and I’ll be your slave.”

    It's the Death of the West in one Twitter exchange. 

    Monday, May 22, 2017

    A Dog Who Sniffs Memory Chips? Color Me Skeptical

    A friend sent me this video from of a dog from the FBI who can search out data memories.  I can't embed it here, so that's a link to the two minute NBC News video.  The summary is:
    Iris is one of many on the force who have the ability to do something that seems unimaginable: to smell digital storage media — computer chips — making them invaluable for law enforcement.
    Supposedly, the dog doesn't react to other electronics in the room, but can find hard drives, flash drives and other forms of memory storage.  The Daily Mail digs a little deeper into the story, saying,
    US firm Tactical Detection K9 discovered it was possible to train the dogs to detect electronic devices after asking scientists to identify the common byproduct used in external hard drives, SD cards, IPads, iPods and USB memory sticks.

    The dogs are trained to ignore other parts of the mobile phone or computer and not to touch the batteries.
    While we know dogs have incredible sense of smell and can detect scents no human can possibly detect, this one leaves me with Looney Tunes style cloud of question marks over my head. To say the dog doesn't respond to other electronics but can spot a thumb drive just doesn't seem believable.

    Let me point out that I never worked in the semiconductor business and never worked in packaging those components.  That said, I have the typical knowledge someone from the Hi-Reliability world will have.  I know about epoxy packages, ceramic packages, metal cans and much of what the packaging folks use.  I don't think it's possible for a dog to discriminate between a memory chip and any other integrated circuit because I think the same epoxy formulation is used in many places.  I know I get a lot of very smart readers including all sorts of engineers and I welcome your input, as I always do.  Are there some special compounds only used in memory packages?  According to some brief web searches, I'd say no.  There's no special mix for memory chips. 

    In the video linked at the top, they show Iris the black lab detecting hard drives and flash drives.  Nice, but those are very different inside.  A hard drive generally has some memory chips in it like the flash drive has, but the flash drive doesn't have any of the large mechanical features the hard drive has: no magnetic platters, no motors, and so on.  What they didn't show or talk about is what happens when Iris is in a room with an iPod or audio amplifier or plain old system that doesn't have digital components but has epoxy packaged linear circuits.  This is the inside of a thumb drive.  In addition to the two larger ICs marked, the "USB mass storage controller device", and the "Flash memory chip", smaller epoxy packages are seen at the right in the bottom view.  Those appear to be transistors. 

    Right now, most of our homes are literally stuffed with plastic-packaged ICs.  Not just our computers, tablets and phones, but many of our refrigerators, ranges, stoves, TVs, radios, air conditioners and on and on. Unless you've made a concerted effort to have no electronics in your house, you're surrounded by it. 

    Iris would be running around like a Pointer with OCD, shouting, "there it is! ... there it is!... no... it's here!!".   In many situations, people verifying the performance have found that the dogs were being given subtle cues by their handlers that they were getting close to the things the trainers had planted and not really finding them by their own means.  I wonder if that's what's really going on here.  Why the FBI wouldn't be exaggerating the abilities of their dogs as a psyop against criminals, would they?  Can you imagine?

    Sunday, May 21, 2017

    50 Years Ago

    On June 1st of 1967, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released by the Beatles.  The most famous album of its time, perhaps ever, with cover art that itself has become famous.
    Whoever owns the Beatles music has decided to remix and reissue the album for the anniversary.  (I have no idea who really owns it - at one time it was Michael Jackson)
    A new stereo mix of the album will be available as a single CD and as part of every other package. An expanded deluxe edition will be released digitally, as a two-CD set or two-LP vinyl package. A super deluxe six-disc box set will also be available.

    All three deluxe editions of Sgt. Pepper will boast previously unreleased complete takes of all 13 album tracks. The deluxe CD and digital versions will also include new stereo mixes: a previously unreleased instrumental take of "Penny Lane" and two unreleased takes of "Strawberry Fields Forever."
    The lead recording engineer on the project is Giles Martin, son of George Martin who did the original.  NPR music correspondent Bob Boilen put it this way:
    He's just remixed the album, which may seem to be a project that falls somewhere between the questions 'why do that?' and 'how dare you?' But, as Giles will explain and demonstrate to us by comparing the hastily done stereo mix we have come to know, from 1967, and the mono mixes George Martin and The Beatles spent weeks on (which nearly no one seems to listens to), there was good reason to undertake this project.
    As you might expect, glimpses of the final product have been leaking and are getting rave reviews.  Here, for example, is what's said to be the first take of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds".  For a 13 year old who had never heard anything like that, I was captivated by the ethereal opening keyboard line.  Most of us in the age group have heard the story that the lyrics were based on a picture John's son Julian had painted for a girl he knew named Lucy.  It came at the perfect time for John, who was growing beyond Barney-esque "I love you, you love me" lyrics and developing an appreciation for playing with words.  The turn was said to be at least partially inspired by Bob Dylan's lyrics and Lennon's own desire to be a sort of musical Lewis Carroll, with his love for Jabberwocky and Alice's Adventures In Wonderland.  Perhaps the crowning moment of this move was the song "I Am the Walrus".  The story there was that John received a letter from a child saying he had to analyze John's lyrics for class, so John decided to write the most confusing lyrics that he could. 

    Also being released as a part of the teaser is the "9th take" of the introduction to the album before the larger orchestra was mixed in.  At the end, Paul McCartney can be heard saying he thought they'd have it down after "one more day" of practicing that song.

    "Originally, I was against remixing the Beatles," Martin told Mojo magazine in a new interview. "But there’s a technical answer, which is that the stereo mix was never theirs and the mono mix, which they did themselves and is superior, does sound ‘old’, like it was done 50 years go. But this is one of the most important albums of all time – I don’t want it to ever sound ‘old’. Nor do the Beatles."
    In one sense, it feels strange to be able to remember this happening 50 years ago; in another sense it's a privilege too many people I've known don't have.  At 13, ending my 7th grade year, it was a year that would shape my life in several ways.  I was just learning to play guitar.  I was developing my hobby of taking apart electronics and trying to make things out of the parts.  A friend had a shortwave radio, and though I had heard shortwave before, I had never sat around and tuned the dial on one, trying to find out what I could hear.  In those days you could make a decent ham radio station taking apart a TV set, but I wouldn't get my ham license for another nine years. 
    "It was 20 years ago today
    Sargent Pepper taught the band to play
    They've going in and out of style
    But they're guaranteed to raise a smile..."

    Saturday, May 20, 2017

    GB-22 Progress is at a Crawl

    A couple of GB-22 posts ago, I asked how to go about testing something like this.  The suggestion that made the most sense to me was to pop the bullet out of .22LR round, dump the powder and just see if I can pop the primer.  Sounds like a plan.

    But first I had to build it.  Rude mistake/awakening: none of the ballpoint pen springs I could find were long enough. They also wouldn't drop the firing pin all the way.  About the same time, I was going through the prints for the umpteenth time looking for hints on what the spring needs to be.  In the original drawings Mark Serbu put down two numbers with the spring.  I just assumed it was some sort of in-house number for the spring, but then asked myself why there would two numbers.  A web search for the two numbers revealed that one of them was an MSC stock number for a spring.  They came in bag of 12, which I had to order.  I was able to assemble the gun.  All except for one last thing I'll get to.
    Clearly not finished, but much more "finished" than the last post that showed it on the milling machine after being cut out.  I went over the frame with a file, cleaning up all the edges, squaring up some features that milling rounded off; generally doing light finish work  Along the way of assembling it, I found a couple of places on the other pieces where I needed additional file work, but nothing major.

    There are two real differences between my implementation of the GB and Mark's: the firing pin and the barrel.  Mark used a 1/16" dowel pin for the pin.  Not wanting to play the shipping-costs-more-than-the-hardware game, and having a box of 100 1/8 dowel pins, I figured I'd grind one of them down.  It's pretty symmetrical, and centered in the hole.  

    The other difference between my version and Mark's is that he didn't use a separate barrel: he rifled the 2-1/2" long front piece of steel and reamed a chamber.  I am not set up to rifle barrels, so I bought one. That raised the issue of just where to seat the barrel.  Mark's drawing shows the back of his barrel chamber recessed for the rim, so that the round would be flush.  Re-watching his videos a bunch of times, the shell appears to be sitting on that surface, not flush with the back.  I spent a while with some fired .22 brass trying to hold the barrel in varying positions and see where the pin seemed to make a good solid dent.  Not surprisingly, it seemed to be best when the barrel was farther back.  I epoxied the barrel into the rectangular barrel holder so that the back of the chamber is flush with the holder.

    Old joke in quality control:  Designer puts a note on drawing "Build in accordance with MIL-TFP-41C".  QC Inspector says, "What Milspec is TFP-41C? I've never heard of that".  Designer replies, "Make It Like The F***ing Plans For Once!"  I didn't follow MIL-TFP-41C.

    With the GB-22 now built, it was with some trepidation and excitement that I pulled a .22 bullet, dumped the primer and chambered the brass.  I pulled back the slide, pulled the trigger and ... nothing.  No pop.  Tried again.  Nothing.  Thinking I should verify that I didn't somehow dislodge and dump the primer, I put it in a junky old .22 revolver I have, and it popped with one hammer drop.  No primer issues; the problems are purely with the GB-22.  With no other information, I pulled another .22 round apart and repeated.  On the third hammer drop, the round popped.  So one successful primer pop out of five or six trigger pulls.
    The round that fired on the third pull.  It's difficult to see, but the indentation that's closest to the rim isn't the one that fired it.  The second and third indentations push into that outer one.  Do I need a stronger spring? 

    Before I'd be comfortable taking the gun on the 40 minute drive to the my range, I'd like to resolve a couple of issues.  The first one is the obvious: it shouldn't take five slide drops to fire a round.  I notice in the YouTube videos that it's not that unusual to need to pull the trigger twice.  That would be a big improvement.  The second things is the general fit of the slide.  If I tighten the 10-32 screws in the slide all the way, the slide won't move.  That sounds like there are some burrs or "something sticking up" on the slide that's keeping it from sliding.  The two of these together sound like general "fit or function" improvements.  I have some troubleshooting to do before it's actually usable.

    Friday, May 19, 2017

    California Decides to Become Uninhabitable Within 10 Years

    According to a guest post on Watts Up With That, California's state assembly and senate have passed laws that require the state to reduce carbon emissions to 40% of the state's 1990 levels by the year 2030.  The new levels are 60% of the 2020 emissions levels, required by current CO2 reduction laws.  Yes, they are cascading reductions on top of other reductions which haven't been met, yet.
    It doesn't matter that this is thoroughly impractical or that it will have virtually no impact on anything they think it will and is among the purest forms of Virtue Signaling you'll find.  If you're reading this from home in the Golden State, plan your escape before property values collapse.  Get Out Now.

    WUWT author Larry Hamlin rightly says that if the state government is going to succeed, they're going to have to outlaw or strictly limit car usage - the largest source of CO2 emissions.  In fact, they'll have to go full tilt Agenda 21 or 2030 or whatever they're calling it today.  The state will have to control and dictate virtually every aspect of Californian’s lives including:
    • where and how they can live,
    • what kind of jobs and businesses they can work in,
    • what kind of housing they can have,
    • what kind of car they can drive (if any),
    • how many miles can they drive,
    • what kind of public transportation they must use,
    • how many times they must walk and bicycle,
    • how much and what kind of energy they can use,
    • what kind and how food can be farmed,
    The last of industry ought to be looking at making their escapes very soon.  I know Texas has been actively recruiting the fleeing Californians and I believe our state has been as well.
    The largest single source of the states (SIC) greenhouse gas emissions by far and away is the transportation sector (37%) with the industrial sector second (24%) , instate electricity generation third (12%) and import electricity generation and agriculture tied at fourth (8%).
    The benefit of all this disruption in California, essentially either massively reducing the state's population or removing most cars, is going to be immeasurably small - if there's any benefit at all.  In global terms, California's total CO2 emissions are less than 0.4% of the global CO2 emissions EIA forecasts for year 2030 and the reductions are 60% of that.  The rest of the planet, especially the "developing world" is proceeding with building coal fired power plants just about as fast as they can be built.

    In a piece I wrote in 2010, my first year here, I found a number for the amount of CO2 required to raise global temperature 1 degree C - according to the warmist's models. 1.8 million million metric tons.  California is going to reduce emissions by 172 million metric tons.  Since 172 is close to 180, lets be generous and round their reduction up to that.  That means they will reduce global temperature rise by 180/1,800,000 or .0001 degree C, which simply isn't detectable in a system as big as the planet.  

    It's a well-known truism that "gun control isn't about guns; it's about control".  The same goes here: "it's not about carbon dioxide control, it's about control".  Who's going to be left in California?  Limousine liberals, and rich Hollywood types.  Many environmentalists have said they'd like to see the number of humans reduced by 95%.  This way, they might get their wish in their state without actually having to kill anyone off.  

    Thursday, May 18, 2017

    Economic Idiocy From Bloomberg Business Week

    A couple of days ago, Bloomberg published a piece on retirees that made my jaw drop.  "Rich Retirees Are Hoarding Cash Out of Fear".  It seemed incredibly uninformed about the reality for retirees and never mentioned things that seem to me to be major drivers of behavior.

    I suppose I should point out that I don't think I qualify as a rich retiree.  I think I'm a middle class/ working class guy who managed to retire.  Maybe I shouldn't extrapolate my concerns to the real rich people they're talking about. On the other hand, the article is so ... dense, so full of wrong assumptions and bad thinking that I just can't let it slip by. 

    That aside, it's hard to know just where to start with the Bloomberg piece, but the opening sentence is this:
    There’s a time in everyone’s life to save. There’s also a time when you’re supposed to spend. That time is commonly known as retirement.
    I think that's a strange way to put it.  Yes, we save for retirement and spend down our savings for the rest of our lives, but in our case, we've found our expenses have dropped quite a bit.  Going to work has costs associated with it.  Clothes and shoes, gas for the cars, and a bunch of other more minor expenses that we find we don't have - or have quite a bit less often.  Furthermore, it's a general rule that as we get older, we need less because we've bought it already.  Sure, we need to spend money on repair and replacement of some things, and some new things, but how many people do you know who have regular garage sales or donations or even rent a storage warehouse because they have too much stuff?  That's what happens as you approach retirement age.  We're spending less because our expenses are lower, not fear.
    Millions of Americans aren’t doing that, however, which has put the U.S. in a perverse situation. Younger generations aren’t saving enough as their income slips further behind previous generations. Older Americans meanwhile sit atop unprecedented piles of assets built through stock market and real estate booms.

    Yet these retirees, or at least the affluent ones, aren’t spending it. It turns out they’re afraid of the unknown.
    At a retirement planning seminar held at work, the number one fear in this room full of people approaching retirement was ... outliving their money.  Given that fear, what's the most likely thing people are going to do?  Watch their spending.  Bloomberg goes on to say that on the average and adjusting for inflation, retirees are entering their 80s richer than they were in their 60s and 70s.  That's saying their savings are still returning for them.  That's a good thing not a bad. 

    Yet there are forces in society who want you to spend.  The article quotes several sources as studying the "problem" of why retirees are spending as much as these experts think they should.   They ask why.
    Notice the wording of the least common fear, "dying before I can spend all my savings", is actually the opposite of the most common fear in the seminar where I worked, "spending all my savings before I die".   The other two big fears are more in line with it.  Not being able to live my desired lifestyle (I'll add "on what I have saved") and not knowing how much I can spend tie directly to this fear of outliving our money and being financially ruined by disease or one of the ravages of aging.  No one wants to live out their last days, cold, homeless and starving. 

    One of the researchers behind this is Texas Tech University Professor Christopher Browning, who actually says, we need to "train people to spend".  He says that even as retirees live longer, healthier lives, they’ve become more pessimistic about the economy, the stock market, and their own financial situation.  They go on to say that financial planners and advisors should emphasize teaching retirees about ways to generate a more stable income, something more like a regular paycheck.

    No.  The answer is to let the free market set interest rates and not the central banks.  The central banks are the single biggest threat to retirees and their earning powers.  There's no way of knowing how many retirees they've actually killed.

    The problem facing everyone who attempts to live on savings in retirement is Yield Purchasing Power and that's 100% a function of the Federal Reserves' ZIRP and the phony money we're forced to use.
    A generation ago, 1979, one could earn a decent retirement income with the interest on savings of $100,000.  Today, it takes 1000 times that, $100 Million to earn that income.  How many of us have $100,000,000 in savings to retire on?  

    What does this mean for anyone with less than what they need to support themselves—$100M and rising? They must liquidate their capital, and live by consuming their savings. It’s terrifying to anyone in that position—which means anyone in the middle class.
    The whole purpose of the horrible ZIRP policies, policies that have distorted our economy into some sort of abomination, is to "train people to spend"!  It's the most likely reason for the worldwide war on cash: to force people into spending.  Right now, if they charge negative interest rates, you can stick your money in a safe, like they did in Japan, or you can invest in Bank of Sealy.  If there's no such thing as cash, you can't stick cash in a safe.  You're screwed.  You're forced to either spend your money or watch it evaporate.  It gives them nearly total control over you. 

    The real problem with all the policies intended to "train people to spend" is that there's no real data showing it works.  The planners say, "if we make it hard on savers, it will make more sense for them to spend".   Instead, real people seem to be saying, "if the interest rates are so low, I really need to save more".  The problem of an economy based on debt is that when people don't need to constantly buy more, it crashes the economy.  That's what the whole "train people to spend" is all about. 

    We shouldn't be burning off our savings and if we had a real-money economy, we probably wouldn't need to.  From my piece on Yield Purchasing Power from '15,  I quoted from someone using the analogy of thinking of our savings as a family farm we've built and grown over our careers.
    To come back to the analogy of the family farm, people should think in terms of how much food it can grow, not how much food they can buy by selling the farm. The tractor is good for producing food, not to be exchanged for it. Why, then, do people think of the purchasing power of their life savings, in terms of its liquidation value?
    Why? We're forced to by Fed and the central banks. 

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    Video of the Day

    Andrew Klavan does just over three minutes of what the news sounds like to me these days.


    Tuesday, May 16, 2017

    A Rotary Axis for the CNC G0704 Mill

    When I first started out on the G0704 conversion project, it was always in the long range plan to make the mill a large version of the Sherline/A2ZCNC hybrid I was coming from, and part of that was to add a rotary axis and make it a four axis CNC machine.  When I bought parts, I planned for the fourth axis: four of the big NEMA 23 571 in-oz motors, four stepper controllers, and so on.  I chose the rotary table that would be used early last fall and caught it on a Black Friday sale at Wholesale Tool.  Things like this don't go on sale very often, and I was glad to get it for 20% off (IIRC).

    Today, I completed the modification to the rotary table and got it running.

    Now considering I've had the table since around December 1st, you might want to ask why it took me so long to get it running.   Especially considering I finished the mill in early February, and have been tweaking and improving it ever since.  It's really a simple story.  The first time I tried to pull the crank handle to see what it takes to mount a motor, I couldn't get the handle off.  So I said, "some day when I have some time" and there it sat.  Well that reason and not having a pressing need for it. 

    The trick was to assume the handle could be persuaded to come off with a few light taps of a hammer on a screwdriver wedge, which it did.  The handle covered a pair of concentric cast iron disks, which is probably one casting finished differently on each layer.  It had three holes in it, although they weren't used.  I compared the pattern to one of the leftover "Phase 1" motor mounts I made over a year ago, and found that holes didn't line up, but that I could add new holes to my motor mount and drill and tap two new holes in this piece.  It looks something like this.  You can see the two new holes on the left and right of the centerline:
    With the two new holes added to this, and the motor mount drilled to match, it was simple to put together.  I had some threaded standoffs leftover from Phase 1 as well; some that were too long some that were too short.  Clearly, I used the long ones, which were cut off and re-threaded. It went together with no issues whatsoever. 
    The motor mount is held to the rotary table (far right) with two 8-32 screws; the motor is attached to the threaded standoffs with 10-32 screws, as the standoffs are attached to the motor mount.

    Now that it's done, it's probably going to get put aside for a while.  There are no projects in the queue that require one.  A rotary axis is essential for some projects, simplifies some and has no use in others. 

    For those of you who are new to this subject, and wonder why someone would do this, here's a brief overview.  Rotary axes can be introduced parallel to the two main Cartesian axes.  The rotary axis parallel to X is generally called the A-axis and is most common.  One parallel to the Y axis is called B.  Aside from an A-axis, like mine is mounted, the most common "next step" is a full five axis CNC mill.  The guy whose plans I bought for my starting point, Hoss, has used this rotary table to make a "Fifth Axis" version of his mill.  He says he didn't use it enough to keep it and just left the rotary table in place.  The drawback to fifth axis mills, besides the cost of the machine, is the cost of the CAM software to take advantage of it.  That's the main reason I'm sticking with using it as an A-axis. 

    Monday, May 15, 2017

    Researchers Provide New Data on the Stagnation of Middle Class Wages

    The National Bureau of Economic Research issued a paper (behind a paywall) last month that the Washington Post reported on last week.  The message that American wages have been stagnating since the 80s or 90s is terribly optimistic.  The wage stagnation has been going on since about 1960.

    On average, workers born in 1942 earned as much or more over their careers as workers born in any year since, according to this research — and workers on the job today shouldn’t expect to catch up with their predecessors in their remaining years of employment.
    Assuming workers born in 1942 were working by 1960 to 1962, those people have probably earned as much or more than workers born 40 years later and starting work 2000 to 2002.
    The new paper includes some “astonishing numbers,” said Gary Burtless, an economist at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution who was not involved in the research. “The stagnation of living standards began so much earlier than people think,” he said.
    The study examined career earnings for workers born in every year since 1932, and differentiated between men and women.  Those who didn’t work or only rarely worked were excluded, focusing instead on those who spent at least 15 years in the labor force.  Wage and salary data from the federal Social Security Administration was used to calculate the career earnings of the median worker born in each year.

    One of the difficult traps in a study like this is normalizing the wages to constant dollars, which they state they've done, but about which the Post article says nothing.  The original is behind a paywall, so I can't tell from there either.  Chances are they used something based on official CPI numbers, which we know are not only manipulated wholesale, but the manipulation methods change over time.  This raises a flag with me, but I don't think it's fair to dismiss the study over just that. 

    The charts they produce are like this, showing the wage vs. time progression for various groups that started working in particular years.  Their incomes at ages 25 and 55 were compared.  In this plot, the fist cohort were 25 in 1960.  The cohort that was 25 in 1967 started out making almost 30% more and their earnings 30 years later were only about 8% higher.  You can see how the cohort that was 25 in 1980 started out at the same adjusted wages as those from 1967 and in 2010 they were making less than a worker from 1967 at the same age in that workers' life. 
    According to the paper's abstract:
    First, from the cohort that entered the labor market in 1967 to the cohort that entered in 1983, median lifetime income of men declined by 10%–19%. We find little-to-no rise in the lower three-quarters of the percentiles of the male lifetime income distribution during this period. Accounting for rising employer-provided health and pension benefits partly mitigates these findings but does not alter the substantive conclusions. For women, median lifetime income increased by 22%–33% from the 1957 to the 1983 cohort, but these gains were relative to very low lifetime income for the earliest cohort.
    The chart for women:
    The Post adds:
    The study, published Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, has not been peer reviewed, so other economists may yet challenge both specific results and the paper’s general conclusions. All the same, the research offers an answer to a couple of important questions that have been nettling economists.

    In particular, the results show that more unequal incomes are not just a result of a widening gap between younger and older workers. Even among older workers, typical incomes have been falling while the wealthiest have been enjoying more and more of the economy’s gains. Poorer workers — who tend to be younger — will earn more as they get older, but they are not likely to earn enough to make up the difference.
    The short version to me is first of all, "it's worse than we think", and that leads to the question of "why is this happening".  I've written on the topic of the decline in wages several times and have had a tendency to think it correlates with going off the gold standard to debt-based "phony money" in 1971, but the problem predates that by a decade.  Which is not to say going to debt-based money couldn't be a factor in the problem since the 70s, perhaps exacerbating the root problem.  Nothing says problems can't have more than one cause.  The researchers don't offer any mechanisms to explain, saying that perhaps they're looking in the wrong places and need new avenues of research. 
    In the past, a good guide to forecasting typical career earnings among Americans of a given age has been their average income they were 25.

    The implication, Guvenen argues, is that economists should search for explanations for households’ current financial woes in the youth and childhood of today’s workers.

    “We are maybe looking at the wrong place for the solution to stagnation in wages and rising inequalities,” Guvenen said. “To understand higher inequality, we should turn and take a closer look at youth.”
    I'd like to see the same type of study done across other economies.  Most people will say it's because of off-shoring or outsourcing jobs or blame it on the Evil Rich People.  Bill Bonner had a good summary in a piece I quoted a year ago
    Most economists (and politicians) have blamed world trade for stagnant U.S. wages. The median wage in China is only $8 a day. No wonder U.S. factory hands can’t catch a break; who can compete with that? 

    But Germans compete with the Chinese, too. And their wages have gone up! In real terms, after adjusting for inflation, wages in France and Germany have been going up at a 0.7% rate for the past 15-20 years.
    So why are wages in France and Germany going up while American wages are going down?   

    Sunday, May 14, 2017

    Mother's Day

    Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there.  To the rest of you, if you're fortunate enough to be able to: call your mother.  Since Mother's Day is historically the busiest day for the phone system, you may have to try a few times. 

    Mike Myles over at 90 Miles From Tyranny links to a neat piece on Live Science with five pretty cool facts about mothers that aren't well known.
    I got up at 4 to start a pork butt in the smoker, and have been poking it along for just over 10 hours.  We have a few to go.  Enjoy your day.

    Saturday, May 13, 2017

    WTF, Tillerson? I Thought You Were Sane

    From Watts Up With That,
    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed his name Thursday to a document that affirms the need for international action against climate change, adding further uncertainty to the direction of climate policy under the Trump administration.

    The document, signed by Tillerson and seven foreign ministers from Arctic nations meeting this week in Fairbanks, Alaska, says the participants concluded their meeting “noting the entry into force of the Paris agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”

    Called the Fairbanks Declaration, the document says the leaders signed it “recognizing that activities taking place outside the Arctic region, including activities occurring in Arctic states, are the main contributors to climate change effects and pollution in the Arctic, and underlining the need for action at all levels.”

    After vowing that the U.S. would “continue to be vigilant in protecting the fragile environment in the Arctic,” Tillerson said this about current U.S. climate policy:

    “In the United States, we are currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change. We’re appreciative that each of you has an important point of view and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns. We’re not going to rush to make a decision. We’re going to work to make the right decision,” he added, pausing ever so briefly before ending with the phrase, “for the United States.”
    Before a bunch of you start up with, "the parties are both the same":  (1) I've said that more times than it's worth linking to, and (2) the only thing Trump had going for him was that he was an outsider and he hired a guy like Tillerson who was an outsider - screamed at by the left because he was from Exxon and was supposed to be sane.  Some outsiders, huh?

    What we see in the Trump administration is what I always thought would happen with a third party president.  Both parties and the deep state apparatchiks organize against him and prevent him from doing anything.  Yes, he has accomplished several nice things, but they're almost all executive orders, and while I think the fewer of those the better it's looking like the only things he'll get done are by executive orders. 

    Eric Worral, the author at Watts Up, concludes with:
    While the Paris Treaty Agreement was never formally recognised as US Law, the advice of the White House counsel is that it could still impact the decisions of US courts when considering vexatious legal challenges to oil and gas drilling activities brought by environmental activists.

    Friday, May 12, 2017

    Machining The GB-22 Is Done - Pic Intensive

    Just an update on the progress on the GB-22.  A really good question is, "what's taking you so long?" and I don't have a good answer except that I'm not a real machinist, I just play one on the Intertoobs.  It's taking me time to try to decide how to do things so that I break the least amount of parts.  Hopefully, none of my work holding schemes fall apart and send dangerous projectiles around the shop.  Also hopefully, I don't break delicate tools.  Well, I achieved the first one. 

    My concern is that long "diving board" spring that forms the trigger.  It's a piece of steel about 1-7/8 long and 1/10" thick - that ends in a big, chunk of metal 1-1/8 by 3/4 (the trigger).  I didn't want that to be unsupported at any time.  In my last update, I said I'd cut four passes: (1) a 3/8 wide end mill (EM) to remove most of the metal, leaving a thin skin on every surface, (2) a 1/4 EM to get final sizes and shapes, (3) a 1/8 EM to cut the slot and back of the trigger, and (4) a pass to cut the slot in the frame for the trigger to move. 

    After a lot of consideration, I thought I should cut the 1/8 wide slot first. Nothing unsupported here.
    For orientation, that's the top screw in the grips, and the four things in the upper right are 1/8" spring pins.  I broke the first of two cutters here.  I was cleaning chips out of the groove and bumped the emergency stop button for the spindle.  It took me a couple of seconds to realize what was going on and hit the start button again, and when I did, I think it broke a flute off the 1/8" EM.  A little while later, the cutter snapped off, and while picking up the pieces noticed that the flute was broken off.  I was able to change bits and get going again, with just a minor delay to re-zero the Z-axis. 

    Next I questioned why I should bother with the 3/8" EM pass at all.  I spent a bit of time with my feeds and speeds calculators and my CAM program getting different tool path to compare and seeing what difference it makes.  Cutting the whole thing with the 1/4" bit is slower than just the 3/8, but the 3/8 is followed by the 1/4 and the combination doesn't really seem to be appreciably faster than just going with 1/4", so that's what I did. 
    This is one pass along the top of the frame with the 1/4"EM fairly deep; right to left at this point.  At the end of this operation, the extra steel was removed.  This is a milestone!  And it freed up the raw material for the next GB-22 frame.
    (note my high-tech cover to keep the exposed ballscrew from getting coolant spray and chips on it - a ZipLoc bag and duct tape)

    Finally, it was time to cut the most delicate cut, that 3/32 wide slot in the frame.  Like I said, this cut made me nervous, and I thought the way to fix that was to add a threaded hole in my tooling plate and add one of the small clamps from my Sherline.  I drilled and tapped a hole for the cap screw, that ordinarily rides in a Tee-nut on the Sherline.
    With that in place, I needed to stick the 3/32 EM farther out of the holder than I'd like, more like 3/8" than 1/4".  This was done with a simple file that just went to points at the start and end of the slot, advance the cutter from start to end, raise the cutter above the work, go back to the start, lower it to the next level and do it over.  When I completed the cut, it was at the wrong depth, and while trying to figure out why it hadn't cut to the proper depth so I could fix it, I broke that cutter.  I was able to complete the cut and with it, machining of the frame.
    There's some work to be done before I can assemble it: some file work on the seer to get the shape right, some corners to square up here and there, minor stuff.  

    A minor word on software.  This is a software intensive hobby, between CAD, CAM, the Machine controller and so on.  I mentioned a "speeds and feeds" calculator that I'm using and I'm impressed enough with it to recommend it.  Speeds and feeds refers to the RPM of the cutter (or work, in the case of a lathe) and the rate that the axis motors feed the work into the cutter.  This is a recurrent problem for all sorts of machine work and has generally been solved with tables, graphs and look-up data of all kinds.  I had been getting pitches from CNC Cookbook for a while for their GWizard software and always put it off, thinking it was too fancy for my Sherline, hobby-class machine.  When I got the big mill going, I figured it might be time to take a more critical look.  They offer it on sale regularly and I picked up a copy of both the GWizard and the GCode Editor as a package last time.  It's on sale again for the next week, so you might want to check it out.   If you use a spindle motor of 1 HP or less, it's a one time purchase.  If you want to enter higher horse powers, you'll have to buy annual (or life) subscriptions.  (No financial connection or interest, yada yada)