Monday, April 30, 2018

UK Schools Removing Analog Clocks - Teens Can't Tell Time

If you're of a certain age over 20 or 30, you grew up with analog clocks.  You got fully indoctrinated to "the big hand's on the ..." and "the little hand".

Apparently that's being lost.  A bigger question is whether we should care or not. According to The Telegraph, schools are switching over to digital display clocks to help remove stress during taking tests.  The stress only exists because the students, not just first graders but 9th, 10th and 11th year students in the UK, can't tell time at a glance.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said youngsters have become accustomed to using digital devices.

“The current generation aren’t as good at reading the traditional clock face as older generations,” he told The Telegraph.

“They are used to seeing a digital representation of time on their phone, on their computer. Nearly everything they’ve got is digital so youngsters are just exposed to time being given digitally everywhere.”

Mr Trobe, a former headmaster, said that teachers want their students to feel as relaxed as possible during exams. Having a traditional clock in the room could be a cause of unnecessary stress, he added.
It's easy to turn this into a "those pathetic children today" screed, but I don't want to do that.  I think it's reasonable to ask if it's really necessary.  In my mind, it's hard to not immediately see a clock face when I'm thinking of a certain time, and that the clock face helps me visualize the difference between time zones, time intervals, and other things but maybe that's just "a product of my raisin'".  Perhaps if you were born and raised with a digital display on everything, you see those things as easily.  What does someone raised with digital clocks think when they encounter instructions to position two things at the 10 and 2 o'clock positions, or to look for something at 6 o'clock.

(I can't imagine how you could visualize everything on a digital display.  For example, how fast does the sun move across the sky?  Half the speed of the hour hand on a clock; the sun goes from east to west, or 3:00 to 9:00 in about 12 hours (it varies with the season).  The clock obviously takes 6 hours.)

I think there's an honest need to ask whether tons of arithmetic-by-hand is worth doing in an era when calculators are everywhere.  For perspective, I made the observation in my first year in an engineering department that the guys who were on the top on the technical side could do the most math in their heads, so I'm not at all opposed to doing lots of math, it's just that most students won't be in that environment.  Similarly, is there a real need to spend weeks teaching children to read an analog clock if digital displays are replacing analog clocks?  If the only analog clock they see is in school (or Big Ben - this is the UK after all) what's the point?  So they can read an analog clock if they have to?  If digital electronics suddenly went "poof"?  If we really get a TEOTWAKI event, the question will be whether or not one can read a sundial, not an analog clock.

(Image from The Telegraph)

The other item the Telegraph linked in the same article is a bit more troublesome:
Earlier this year, a senior paediatric doctor warned that children are increasingly finding it hard to hold pens and pencils because of an excessive use of technology. Sally Payne, the head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, said that when children are given a pencil at school, they are increasingly unable to hold it.

To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills," she said.

"It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil."
Do we need to ensure students can communicate with a pencil, and not just a keyboard, or even just texting with their thumbs?  Yeah, I'm gonna come down on the side that we really need to make sure kids don't lose the ability to write with pencil and pen on paper.  Using written language is being human.  Losing the ability to write has "dark ages" written all over it.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Negative Impact of the #MeToo Movement

That's the title of an interesting piece from Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, writing in Imprimis, the online magazine of Hillsdale College.  It's a long piece and an interesting read, so as usual, I'll recommend you read the whole thing.  I also think she misses some things so I'll quote some of what she says and comment on what I think she gets wrong.
Our nation is about to be transformed, thanks to the #MeToo movement. I am not speaking about a cessation of sexual predation in the workplace. If that were the only consequence of #MeToo, the movement would clearly be a force for good. Unfortunately, its effects are going to be more sweeping and destructive. #MeToo is going to unleash a new torrent of gender and race quotas throughout the economy and culture, on the theory that all disparities in employment and institutional representation are due to harassment and bias. The resulting distortions of decision-making will be largely invisible; we will usually not know of the superior candidates for a job who were passed over in the drive for gender parity. But the net consequence will be a loss of American competitiveness and scientific achievement.
And this is like a topic sentence to the entire piece.  Ms. MacDonald talks a lot about the distortions that are coming due to this, but puts it in terms familiar to us.
Pressures for so-called diversity, defined reductively by gonads and melanin, are of course nothing new. Since the 1990s, every mainstream institution has lived in terror of three lethal words: “all white male,” an epithet capable of producing paroxysms of self-abasement.
But however pervasive the diversity imperative was before, the #MeToo movement is going to make the previous three decades look like a golden age of meritocracy. No mainstream institution will hire, promote, or compensate without an exquisite calculation of gender and race ratios. Males in general, and white males in particular, will have to clear a very high bar in order to justify further deferring that halcyon moment of gender equity.
From here, MacDonald goes into a litany of examples, from fashion giant H&M, criticized for having a board that's "too white", to show business, the Academy awards, classical music, TV news, book publishing, banks and finance institutions, and to silicon valley.

It's nothing short of an all out war on competency and meritocracy as the basis of hiring.   

Mac Donald talks about STEM education, pointing out UCLA’s Engineering Department now has its own diversity dean.
Audrey Pool O’Neal, the director of UCLA’s Women in Engineering program, justified this sinecure with the usual role model argument for gender- and race-conscious decision-making. “Female students let me know how much they appreciate seeing a woman of color in front of their classroom,” she told the UCLA student newspaper.

Why not appreciate seeing the most qualified scholar in front of your classroom? Any female student who thinks she needs a female professor in order to envision a scientific career has declared herself a follower rather than a pioneer—and a follower based on a characteristic that is irrelevant to intellectual achievement. Marie Curie did not need female role models to investigate radioactivity. She was motivated by a passion to understand the world. That should be reason enough for anyone to plunge headlong into the search for knowledge.
She spends quite a bit of time on this subject, talking about the James Damore incident at Google, including information I haven't seen before. 
In August 2017, Google fired computer engineer James Damore for writing a memo suggesting that the lack of 50-50 gender proportionality at Google and other tech firms may not be due to bias, but rather to different career predilections on the part of males and females. He cited psychological research establishing that on average, males and females are attracted to different types of work: males to more abstract, idea-centered work, females to more human-centered, relational activities. Damore was not disparaging the scientific skills of the female engineers working at Google; he was trying to explain why there were not more of them. Nevertheless, Google accused Damore of using harmful gender stereotypes that put Google’s female employees at risk of some unspecified trauma.
Definitely worth the read.

Where I think she's missing things is in two places.  To begin with, these issues in hiring aren't that new and therefore aren't specifically from the #MeToo issue; this fire started a few months ago.  For at least the last few years it has been becoming apparent that white men shouldn't apply to work in Fortune 500 companies.  You'll be passed over for every important promotion, if you even get in the door past a less qualified minority that's applying for the same spot.  My last job was in a Fortune 500 company and diversity, "defined reductively by gonads and melanin" as she says, was our gospel.  As I noted in 2011,
I can't help but feel like they're going about it all wrong;  they emphasize what we look like, or what we eat, not who we are.  ... Diversity isn't white guys and Indian guys or "smart Latinas": it's engineers and art majors.  .
The second thing she doesn't address is a response that was whispered about in the immediate aftermath of the first explosion of #MeToo: startups and small companies will refuse to hire women.  If anything one says can be interpreted as threatening and lead to legal troubles, why would anyone take the chance?  It's already a problem for startups when they have to hire outside their circle of friends and people they used to work with.  An alternative is that when the startup gets big enough to need to hire more employees, they contract with a Professional Employment Organization, or PEO (think of old companies like Manpower or Kelly Services).  There are no employees, just contracted services that can be terminated instantly at will. 

This is just more pressure on full time work.  I've been saying for years that the continuing expansion of regulations is making full time employment less likely for more people, which means more and more people will be contract employees and more people will gravitate to small businesses.  I can envision large companies, call it Fortune 500 companies, with some small percentage of the work force actually being full time, permanent employees and the vast majority of workers being  contractors.  The regulatory load being put on companies is getting so odious that the companies respond by not hiring full time employees any more, hiring only contract workers. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Solar Cycle Followup - Cycle 24 Weakest in 200 years.

A couple of days ago, I noted that while we may not technically be in the solar minimum, we're pretty much at the bottom.

Thanks to a link at Watts Up With That, we learn that a German solar activity site Kalte Sonne (Cold Sun), and translated by NoTricksZone, says this solar cycle has now surpassed previous milestones of low activity and the intercycle solar minimum has started.  They're saying this is the weakest solar cycle in 200 years, since cycle number 5.  The site opens with:
In March our supplier of energy was more inactive than in the previous months. The sunspot number was only 2,5, which is only 8% of what is normal for this month into the average cycle (month 112).  Only solar cycles 5 and 6 were weaker.
Recall that the sunspot number contains information on the number of groups and the number of spots, so that the number can't be fractional.  The smallest possible sunspot number is 11 - one group with one spot.  To get a monthly average of 2.5 means several days with SSN of zero were involved. A sunspot was detected on just 6 of the 31 days in March. 

This plot shows the average of cycles 1 to 23 in blue, this cycle (24) in red, and cycle 5 in black.  A more vivid way of examining the claim that this is the weakest cycle since cycle 5 is this plot:

The plot shows a comparison of the deviation from the mean (112 months into the cycle) of all the solar cycles recorded thus far since the 18th century.  Here it's obvious that cycle 24 with a sunspot anomaly of -4196 is the third weakest behind cycle 6 and cycle 5.  Cycle five started in 1798 and peaked in 1805. 

It's worth pointing out that the entire space age is contained in cycles from number 20 onward.  The highest solar cycle on record was 19, which peaked in 1958s, just before satellite solar observation became a thing.  At the start of this cycle, there were reports that the solar wind had dropped to the lowest values ever seen; we've only known of the solar wind in the space age; although it was thought to exist, it was first observed by a Soviet satellite in 1959.  Obviously, we have no measurements showing what the solar wind was like during solar cycles before then.

The first spot of cycle 25 briefly appeared on April 10th; there is a transition period when spots from both cycles can appear, with the newer cycle spots higher in latitude than the current cycle (which gives rise to the solar butterfly diagram).  It's entirely possible that cycle 25 won't really get going until 2020.  Or later.

Why does this matter?  As the original source (Cold Sun) says,
It is well known that frigid phases on the planet are associated with low solar activity. A number of papers, for example, have linked the Little Ice Age of the 17th century to the low solar activity of the Maunder Minimum. Other published papers link cold winters in Europe to low solar activity as well.

Now it’s sure: solar cycle 24 will go down as the weakest in close to 200 years. Thus all the news of massive snow and ice this winter over the northern hemisphere don’t come as a surprise for many scientists.
It's interesting, then, that from February of 2016 to February of 2018, we've just had the largest temperature drop in the last hundred years, 0.56C.  But I'm sure that's just weather and had nothing to do with climate change.   

Friday, April 27, 2018

Alfie Evans, Charlie Gard, the Liverpool Pathway and Ezekiel Emanuel

What do all those names have in common?

The story of Alfie Evans in the UK is another one of those "unless you've been living under a rock" stories.  It needs no introduction, but perhaps a summary.  The British National Health Service is insisting that Alfie be allowed to die with dignity - although reports from people who have seen the room say they're not even allowing him to live with dignity.  Stories and photos come back  showing the hospital staff leaves him to sleep in urine, and that mold grows in his breathing tubes.

Alder Hey, the hospital where Alfie lies, has a history of appalling treatment of patients.
In 1998, a heart specialist at Alder Hey accidentally revealed during an inquiry that the hospital was storing — in bulk — children’s organs. With no consent from the parents, Alder Hey Hospital was harvesting the organs from dead babies.

They were also caught selling human tissue to pharmaceutical companies in exchange for cash donations, but what they didn’t sell, they stockpiled. Alder Hey had 2,080 children’s hearts, over 800 other organs, and 400 full fetuses. A pathologist at Alder Hey was even accused of keeping the head of a baby stored in a jar. NONE of this was done with parental consent.
Now the hospital is not only denying Alfie medical care, they won’t let his parents take him home to die and say it's because the protests show the parents have a bad attitude.  Merseyside (city) Police threatened people who posted opinions that disagreed with the government.  Spokesmen for Alder Hey hospital are now saying that unless his parents have a “sea change in attitude,” they won’t allow Alfie to go home.  This week, Alfie was taken off life support and defied expectations by breathing on his own.  It took the hospital most of a day to decide to give the child water.  

Last July, in a similar case, the UK government insisted that Charlie Gard die - it's too euphemistic to say they allowed him to die, it wasn't that passive - and denied the parents visitation to be with Charlie when he died. After a lengthy struggle to try to save the child, he was transferred to a hospice, taken off his respirator, and quickly died.

It's important to recognize that neither case is about the cost of treatment.  In both cases, outside sources are guaranteeing funding and offering to coordinate the treatment.  In Charlie Gard's case there was a crowdfunding effort that gathered funds and an American researcher who thought Charlie might be treatable.  In Alfie's case, the Italian government has granted him Italian citizenship and has offered him treatment there.  Additionally, Pope Francis has offered to intervene, leaving an aircraft in the UK to take Alfie to Italy. 

The cases are about the governments ability to decide who lives and who dies.  Like the saying about gun control goes, it's about control

This shouldn't be a surprise; the UK enacted the Liverpool Pathway over 6 years ago.  The Pathway was a treatment protocol to kill off the elderly, primarily by depriving them of water and food, although there were allegations it was used on children.  Hospitals paid millions to reach their goal numbers of elderly patients "allowed" to die on the program (I hear the Mafia pays to get rid of people, too), and there have been many stories of complaints by relatives of how awfully their parents were treated. It's a system that a prominent oncologist called "immoral medicine" and "the most corrupt practice in British Medicine".  We shouldn't be surprised they'd yank treatment from the youngest.  Killing off the young as well as the old is a natural consequence of systems like the UK's. 

The same ideas are encoded into the laws of Obamacare.  This is what the media buzz about "death panels" was about back before Obamacare was passed.  The Complete Lives System, which came from a paper co-written by Chicago Mayor and former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's brother Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel.  The guy who said that he hoped to die by 75 and thought that was the right way to run a healthcare system.  The concept is most easily explained with a graph (pdf warning).

It's based on the ability of the patient to repay society for the cost of the treatment.  An infant like Alfie won't be in a position to pay back taxes for at least 20 years, so they get the lowest priority of treatment of any age group.  Let them die.  Someone over 60 might be able to pay back to society, but the chances they'll pay it back in taxes get lower the farther into retirement they go.

For a concrete example, consider someone needing a kidney transplant and we'll make up that one is 30, one is 5 and one is 70.  A 30 year old working a good job has the best chance of getting one.  Heck, yank one of out of a 10 or 12 year old in for something else and get that 30 year old back to work!  The 5 year old or the 70 year old probably isn't going to be getting a kidney unless one happens to be available.  

I've met people who defend socialized medicine; I'm sure you have, too.  In cases like this, the usual response is to talk to us like we're retards who can't grasp that there's always some sort of healthcare rationing going on and that the experts of the NHS know best.  There's tons wrong with the way health care is done in the US, but I've never read one thing about the NHS that made me say, "I have got to get me some of that!"

EDIT to add, 4/28 1042 EDT:  Alfie has passed away since this was posted last night (our time).  The State wins again and grinds on.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

171,000 Manufacturing Jobs "Reshored" to the US Last Year

In a report released by the Reshoring Initiative called its 2017 Reshoring Report, the group shows data on U.S. reshoring and foreign direct investment (FDI) by companies that have shifted production or sourcing from offshore to the US.  According to Design News:
The report notes that last year, combined reshoring and related FDI announcements surged, adding over 171,000 jobs—up 2,800 percent from 2010. The report also shows upward revisions of 67,000 jobs from prior-year data, bringing the total number of manufacturing jobs brought to the US from offshore to 576,000 since the manufacturing employment low of 2010. The report claims that the 171,000 reshoring and FDI jobs announced equal 90 percent of the 189,000 total manufacturing jobs added in 2017.
It seems that the first mention of the word "reshoring" in this blog as back on February 12, 2013, so I've been following this trend at least since then (it links to an article here a year earlier).  The Reshoring Initiative (RI) includes data going back to 2007.  The factors involved in the decision to produce something offshore or here are wide ranging.  In the report, they question companies for the reasons of moving back (or investing in the US).  RI then ranked those reasons from 1 to 23 as factors against offshoring and factors favoring reshoring.
They're all instructive, but the top few are the ones that the most survey respondents cited.  292 respondents said that the quality of the imported goods combined with the amount of warranty cost and the cost of the rework they had to do to make the products usable was the biggest disadvantage.  The top five disadvantages were that, freight cost to ship goods to the US, the total cost, delivery and inventory problems.   The top reason for reshoring to the US was government incentives to move back, but that barely edged out the next two reasons: proximity to the customers and the availability of a skilled workforce and training for them.  Rounding out the top five were brand image (a desire to say "Made in the USA" to look better) and "eco-system synergies".  I have no idea what they mean by that, but it's generally a good idea to beware of people saying things like that.

Also, note how the numbers on the right column are greater than 100 much farther down the chart than the left column, and how the right column has bigger numbers in general.  It's a rather unified group of respondents.

RI noted that one of the reasons jobs are returning is that the cost differential between home-produced goods and landed goods from overseas has been shrinking for years. RI founder Harry Moser said:
“We know where the imports are by country, and we know the price difference between the foreign price and the US price. The total cost of foreign-made goods delivered to the US is a full 95% of the cost of US-produced goods,” said Moser. “We know how much you have to shift it to make the US competitive with China.”
Those who haven't worked in manufacturing probably don't understand how intense the pressure is to always do more with less.  In manufacturing, time is money and getting the job done right with minimal waste, and then always getting better is the mantra.  Maybe because of that, managers chase fads that promise better performance or lower costs.  The cost advantages of going offshore have to be much bigger than they are to overcome that column of reasons not to offshore.  

From Design News.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

About That Shop Problem I Mentioned

Yesterday, I mentioned a bizarre problem I had come across while getting my flame licker engine's first part fixtured and cut.  I've resolved the issue and think I'm ready to move on to the original task, but it was honestly a problem that I had never thought could exist.

The problem has to do with my rotary table (RT), which I've written about before.  To use the RT the way I need to, the center of rotation has to be under the center of the mill's spindle.  It turns out the center of rotation doesn't have to be the physical center of the RT.  

I used the same centering method that I used in that "before" link.  I put my MT2 dead center from the big lathe into the matching taper in the rotary table, put a small spotting drill in the spindle and used the Rumblepad controller to jog the table around until the points lined up looking along the mill's X and Y axes.  That puts the physical center of the RT under the spindle.  Satisfied it was in place, I put the work piece (picture of part here) on the table and started working to center that.  I had coated the piece in blue machinist's layout fluid and scratched lines that crossed where the center of the big hole will eventually be.

Now with a center finder (a pointy cone), I was going to put that over the intersection of the two lines then clamp everything down.  I rotated the table so that I was looking down the Y axis, centered the work under the point, rotated the table 90 degrees so that I looked down X, centered, and repeated, going back and forth a few times until it looked like the point was always over the center.  Satisfied, I spun the table farther and when I was on the far side of the original Y axis (table set to 270 instead of 90), the center finder's point was no longer over the center.  It was about .035 away.  Red circles drawn on this photo make the marks I made look obvious.

I spent the rest of the Sunday trying to resolve this issue, eventually going back to the original MT2 center and verifying the problem was there.

On to another way of centering the axis.  I used the open bore in the table, and set each axis so that the coordinate of each edge was the same.  Then I clamped a piece of thin aluminum to the table and using the finest engraving bit I have (which has a .010 tip) rotated the table 360 degrees.  I found that it cut a circle that's about .035 in diameter (center of the path, not the very edges).  If the center of rotation was really the physical center of the hole in the table and directly under the center of the spindle, that should have been one small hole. 

The only conclusion I could make at this point was that since my machine said the center of the bore was 0,0 but the cutter put there didn't just cut a single hole was that the table wasn't rotating around the geometric center.  It was rotating around someplace else - someplace away from the center.

A consultation with some experts online said the trick was to find the coordinates of that spot.  To do that, machine a cylinder by putting a cutter in a fixed spot and rotating the table.  That would machine a cylinder centered around the table's center of rotation, and once I got those coordinates the work would rotate around that spot.

I grabbed a block of scrap aluminum about 2-1/2" square by 1" thick and cut a cylinder.   A convenient diameter to use seemed to be .750. I'd move the mill in X only and use a .250 end mill. This is easy stuff, right? A 3/4" diameter means a 3/8 radius; add a 1/8" cutter radius and the center of the spindle should be 4/8, 0.500", from the center of rotation.  I moved X to 0.500, started the cut, rotated the table 360, dropped the cutter .050 at a time and made cuts to make a ring 0.500 deep.

You might be able to see the slots I started to cut in from the sides in both +/- X so I could fit a micrometer in there, but I used calipers to measure the cylinder (the half inch wide slot is too narrow for my micrometer). 

The diameter is almost 0.700. That means the spindle was really .025 (radius) closer to the center of rotation than it should have been.  Now I switched over to an edge finder, found the coordinates of both sides of the cylinder in both axes and found the midpoints so that I get the same number (+/-) on both sides of the cylinder.

Finally, I put the mill's table to 0,0 lowered a sharp point engraving tool down to touch the top of that cylinder and rotated the table 360 degrees.  There was essentially no movement; it made a hole a couple of thousandths in diameter.  The big wobble I had with my original method was gone.  

Now it looks like the next step is to put the work piece back on it and try to center the cross hairs again.  My test cylinder block has enough clamps to keep my house from moving and I can't clamp more than half the work piece, since I cut half at once.

Up above, I remarked that it turns out the center of rotation does not have to be the physical center of the RT.   It seems that you can approximate how well they'll align by the cost of the RT.  I don't think it's true that all Chinesium tables are crap, but I do see echoes of "you get what you pay for" here.

And I need to figure out a way to not go through all of this the next time I need to use the RT.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Oh Where Oh Where Has My Day Gone?

Sorry.  Working on a bizarre problem with the little engine project on my rotary table, so no content. 

As always, I try to save a cartoon for times like this.  You've heard of Kiwi birds from New Zealand, and you've heard of, probably eaten, Kiwi fruit.  Finally a grand unified theory to explain the brown fuzzy fruit  and the brown fuzzy bird:

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day

It's time for our annual bacchanalia of the festival we call Earth Day.  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.
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. 

Over the years, I've wasted far too many minutes writing about Earth Day.  It's too long to sort through and pretty much all curmudgeonly, so I'll just say I hope you had a nice day.  Still, there are a a couple of good things to remember about the modern environmental movement.  Remember that nature wants you dead and most environmentalists prefer the wild animals over you (look at how they respond to wolf attacks on cattle or people) and you'll have a pretty good start.  In fact, it's probably easier just to say that mainstream environmentalists want you dead. 
  • CNN Founder Ted Turner: "A total population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal."
  • Dave Foreman, Earth First Co-Founder: "My three main goals would be to reduce human population to about 100 million worldwide, destroy the industrial infrastructure and see wilderness, with it’s full complement of species, returning throughout the world."
  • Maurice Strong: "Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?"
Gee, the moderate guy only wants to kill off more than 95% of the human race.  See the current world population is around 7 billion people.  For Dave Foreman, 100 million out of 7 billion is 100 out of 7000 or 1.4 %.  At 300 million, Ted Turner would generously let 4.3% live.

And remember: your tire fire should be visible from Proxima Centauri.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

About that Southwest Airlines 737 Engine Failure

Engine failure... sounds so sterile; so mundane doesn't it?  We can't call it an explosion because there were no chemicals exploding; no fuel going off.  It sounds like a joke to call it a "spontaneous engine disassembly", although that's fairly accurate.  Everyone knows the left engine on this Southwest Boeing 737 lost a turbine blade, leading to a very bad outcome: metal penetrating into the pressure vessel and killing a passenger.  I'm sure everyone has seen the story.

While I never worked on engines, I worked in the civil aviation industry for 20 years and have some knowledge about how the industry and FAA work.  Because of that I have some thoughts I want to share with you.

Let's start here: there's a reason that Jennifer Riordan, the woman who was killed, was the first U.S. passenger airline fatality since 2009: the relentless drive of tens of thousands of engineers of all kinds driving to always determine the root cause (brief overview) of all problems and to design systems so that a single failure, like losing a turbine blade, doesn't take down an airliner.  The engine housing should not have allowed the debris that punctured the fuselage to escape: that means there were two failures here.  The second failure, and arguably the one that caused the fatality, was the failure of the engine housing to contain the flying debris.

All jet engines on commercial airlines get qualified this way.  For example, here's a video of one of the huge engines on an Airbus double decker A380 having a turbine blade blown off with an explosive as part of its qualifications test.  Engines are designed to survive this; to fail gracefully.  Additionally, all two engine aircraft like the Southwest 737, are certified to be able to fly on one engine, including be able to climb out from an airport should the engine fail immediately after takeoff.

There's an undercurrent among the news talking heads that they're scared this is going to start happening widely.  I'd say that's not likely.  The Boeing 737 is one of the most common aircraft in service, with production lines rolling out about two new aircraft every day.  I don't know what percentage use the CFM56-7B (GE/Safran) engines that are being grounded for inspection, but it's not a big population of engines they're inspecting.  Reuters put some numbers in the story.
Ultrasonic inspections on fan blades that have been used in more than 30,000 cycles, or in service for about 20 years, will be required in the next 20 days, the agencies said on Friday. A cycle includes one take-off and landing.

That order will affect about 680 engines globally, including about 350 in the United States, the FAA said. The engine that blew apart on Tuesday’s Southwest flight would have been affected, since the company said it had 40,000 cycles.
680 engines in the world, somewhere between 680 and 340 aircraft, when at any given moment there are 5 to 10,000 aircraft in the air.  The chances of even being on one of those aircraft are vanishingly small. 

Everything that gets made can fail.  System engineers compensate for that by designing systems so that it takes more than a single point failure to take out the system.  If the two failures are truly independent of each other, the probability of both failing is very small. 

Being improbable doesn't mean it can't happen; after all, someone wins the Powerball lotto regularly.  A failure analysis is going on here, and it's a safe bet there will be a change to something.  Perhaps just a change to inspection frequency or methods for the turbine blades or a change to allowed hours of flight; perhaps design changes to the forward part of the CFM56 engines, perhaps something else.  This failure will become less probable.    

Friday, April 20, 2018

Solar Cycle News Update - We're Pretty Much at the Bottom

I surprised myself by going back looking for my regular Solar Cycle News Updates, which I had been doing pretty much every six months, and finding the last time I did one was in February of '16, over two years ago!  The decline has continued and while we're not technically considered to be at solar minimum between cycles 24 and 25, we are practically at solar minium.

NOAA's Space Weather Center shows the observed sunspot number graph at essentially zero.  As always, the red curve is the predicted value, the black curve with a lot of variation in it is the monthly values, and the blue curve is the smoothed monthly values.  We can see that this cycle had two peaks, like the previous (and it's not that unusual).  It's only by going back to earlier posts that you can see that this cycle's smoothed sunspot number was always below the predictions. 

I also usually ran the planetary A index value; a measure of geomagnetic activity, so let me refresh that.  There's no red predicted line, but the black and blue curves mean the same thing.

Today, there's a solar spot complex coming around the limb into view but zero sunspot days are becoming more frequent and will become more frequent as we go forward through 2018 and '19.  There were only three days with sunspots in the past week.

Geek out note - you can skip this paragraph and not miss anything: the sunspot number is not what you think it is.  It's not obtained by taking an image of the sun and counting all the dark spots.  It's a two digit number where the first is ten times the number of spot groups and the second the number of spots.  If there was a single dark spot on the entire earth-facing hemisphere of the sun, the SSN would be 11: one group, one spot.  In general the number is k*(10*G+S). (where G is # of groups, s is # of spots and k is a coefficient for each observatory that helps adjust for differences in their capabilities).

As I've posted before, this is the weakest solar cycle in 100 years, which means no living solar scientist has seen a cycle this weak, and our records of what the sun was doing back then are more sparse than what's available now.  Since no living scientist has seen a cycle this weak, expect all predictions to be even less accurate than usual. 

After saying something like that, it seems like a fool's errand to try to predict the next cycle (although that's never stopped anyone before).  Predictions seem to be uniformly on the low side, from being roughly the same as this cycle to somewhat weaker.  I've read predictions of an SSN of 62 for cycle 25 (compared to 82 for this peak).  Nobody I can find is predicting a strong cycle 25. 

It's probably too early to consider predictions for beyond cycle 25, let's not get like IPCC predictions trying to pin global temperature to tenths of a degree in a hundred years.  You may have seen mention, though, of a prediction that cycle 26 may start another Dalton minimum with no sunspots for perhaps 20 years.  From a 2015 meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, Professor Valentina Zharkova of Northumbria University presented results for a new model of the Sun’s interior dynamo system at the meeting that points to the end of the modern active period.

Zharkova and her colleagues (Professor Simon Shepherd of Bradford University, Dr Helen Popova of Lomonosov Moscow State University, and Dr Sergei Zarkhov of Hull University) have found a way to account for the discrepancies [in observed cycles]: a ‘double dynamo’ system.
Their predictions using the model suggest an interesting longer-term trend beyond the 11-year cycle. It shows that solar activity will fall by 60 percent during the 2030s, to conditions last seen during the Maunder Minimum of 1645-1715. “Over the cycle, the waves fluctuate between the Sun’s northern and southern hemispheres. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97 percent,” says Zharkova.

The model predicts that the magnetic wave pairs will become increasingly offset during Cycle 25, which peaks in 2022. Then during Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030-2040, the two waves will become exactly out of synch, cancelling one another out. This will cause a significant reduction in solar activity. “In cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other, peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder minimum’,” says Zharkova.
I'm wary of predictions for another Maunder minimum, on general principles.  It was both severe and at the dawn of solar observation.  We simply don't have detailed data of anything at the time.  There was no solar instrumentation comparable to what we had 100 years ago, let alone now; no radio observations, and (of course) no satellites.  Zharkova's team's method uses a technique from Digital Signal Processing, but it still depends on observations and is based on a short sample (three cycles - about 33 years) and while it matches these observations well (97%) I still don't know how well it can be extrapolated over hundreds of year.  Still, even a prolonged minimum that isn't that severe seems like it could be really bad.  It seems any deep sunspot minima correlates with colder temperatures; for example, the Little Ice Age.  Despite what the alarmists say about Global Warming (or whatever they call it this week), mankind has done better in warm periods than in the cold periods in our history (huge pdf alert - but fascinating reading).

As for my fellow hams, contacts on the higher bands (above 20 meters) will get more rare.  Perhaps FT8 and some of those new modes will help activity.  You might consider aiming improvements in your station to lower frequencies.  If you want to DX, that is.  

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Profound Day in American History

April 19th is a deep day in American History.  Most days are known for one thing (December 7th, 9/11).  Today is known for three.

First, of course, is Patriot's Day, the day "the shot heard round the world" was fired, starting open war between the colonies and Great Britain.  I'm sure this audience knows the story, but in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, King George decided a military rule was needed for those unruly colonists. In more direct words, it was a military dictatorship, under General Thomas Gage. Gage directed a house-to-house search for firearms, confiscating hundreds of guns.

When Gage's spies reported that the colonists were stockpiling weapons in Concord, he sent a group of regulars to confiscate the guns.  As all tyrants throughout history have understood, it is much easier to impose dictatorial rule if the general population has been disarmed.  This day, thanks to Paul Revere and other patriots, the rebels were better prepared and ready, meeting the redcoats at Old North Bridge, inflicting 73 casualties upon His Majesty’s forces.  Appleseed events give a great telling of the history of that day. 

Apparently, it was coincidence that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) staged a dawn raid on a religious compound belonging to an obscure religious group called the Branch Davidians outside of Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993.  There had been a standoff outside the compound since the end of February, when the ATF first raided the group, alleging that the Davidians were stockpiling illegal weapons, abusing children, and manufacturing illegal drugs - none of which were ever proven.
The surviving Davidians claim that it was a combination of the tanks pounding on the walls of their building, knocking over lanterns in a space filled with propane fuel (the government had cut off their electricity earlier) and CS gas that started the fires which killed most of those inside. The government, on the other hand, contends that it was Davidian leader David Koresh who ordered the fire started — either in self defense, to kill FBI agents, or in an act of mass suicide. President Bill Clinton even callously asserted, “A bunch of religious fanatics murdered themselves.”
It was not a coincidence however that Timothy McVeigh (and unknown others) chose April 19th, 1995 though; they acted in revenge for Waco and attacked on the second anniversary of the ATF's attack.   Their attack on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, probably because it contained an ATF office, would be the worst act of terrorism on American soil until 9/11/2001. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

LLNL Lab Successfully 3D Prints Optical Glass - With Some Tricks

I remarked a few months ago that we don't go a week without a story about something new in 3D printing in the trade magazines.  While I've become a bit numb to those, perhaps because of my interest in optics, this one made me say "huh?"

A group at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reports that they've successfully fabricated optical grade glass with a new printing technique.  Optical grade glass is tricky.  It's hard to convey just how clear and distortion-free optical grade glass is compared to other glasses you've seen in your life.  Eyeglasses, which are virtually always polycarbonate or a softer plastic, are nowhere near as  transparent as optical glass is.  The LLNL group isn't using a printer to produce a familiar eyeglass lens; the breakthrough here is the ability to print special mixes of optical glass with a different refractive index in each layer, which may allow more exotic shapes and performance.
Because the refractive index of glass is sensitive to its thermal history, it can be difficult to ensure that glass printed from the molten phase will result in the desired optical performance, researchers said. Depositing the LLNL-developed material in paste form and then heating the entire print to form the glass allows for a uniform refractive index, eliminating optical distortion that would degrade the optic's function.

“Components printed from molten glass often show texture from the 3D printing process, and even if you were to polish the surface, you would still see evidence of the printing process within the bulk material,” says LLNL chemical engineer Rebecca Dylla-Spears, the project’s principal investigator. “Using paste lets us obtain the uniform index needed for optics. Now we can take these components and do something interesting.”
Their goal is to improve the ability to manufacture difficult things, such as gradient index (GRIN) lenses.  The promise of the technique is to manufacture optical glass in novel shapes, reducing component count in some systems, and probably allowing new types of optical systems as well.  
For the study, researchers printed small, simple-shaped optics as proof of concept, but Dylla-Spears said the technique eventually could be applied to any device that uses glass optics and could result in optics made with geometric structures and with compositional changes that were previously unattainable by conventional manufacturing methods. For example, gradient refractive index lenses could be polished flat, replacing more expensive polishing techniques used for traditional curved lenses.

“Additive manufacturing gives us a new degree of freedom to combine optical materials in ways we could not do before,” Dylla-Spears said. “It opens up a new design space that hasn’t existed in the past, allowing for design of both the optic shape and the optical properties within the material.”

(Pictured: LLNL chemical engineer and project lead Rebecca Dylla-Spears and LLNL materials engineer Du Nguyen.)

As the article said, the lenses that they show in the picture are "small, simple-shaped" optics, and I'm not clear on how it's processed.  It sounds as if their paste will have to heated to the melting point of the glass, which means it will have to be held in a mold so that it doesn't flow away while it's liquid.  The treatment in the molten state is one of the things the distinguishes optical glass from regular slabs of glass.  Holding it at some temperature between molten and solid, annealing the glass until it's stress free and shows no swirl-like irregularities when looked through onto a flatly lit surface (or sky).  All those steps are still needed and still there.  I'm guessing the main interest here is the novel structures with different refractive indices in different stack-ups, or perhaps in rings or other shapes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

YouTube Part Deux - Narrowcasting

Thanks to commenter Ratus to yesterday's post about YouTube, a picture seems to emerge to me.  Ratus points out that Chris Bartocci, of the Small Arms Solutions Channel has been a victim of YouTube. Chris writes:
On March 23rd we received our first strike on YouTube for our Caracal CAR816 A2 video. Someone in the comments section said they were reporting the video for "promotion of terrorism" because Caracal's main hub is in the UAE. Obviously, it could not be deemed as any such promotion of terrorism and it has been appealed. However, more than 2 weeks later and we have not heard anything. Then on April 1st we received our 2nd strike for a video that was posted months ago on the Glock 19x for "violence". Again, that has been appealed. Because of the 2nd strike they will not allow us to post on YouTube for two weeks.
Chris goes on to say he's in the process of moving all of his video content to other platforms:,, and

One of the obvious issues with what Chris says is that his videos were reported to YouTube.  Which tells me some anti-gun nut saw the video and complained.  I think that's how it's going to work.  For all the channels I mentioned yesterday that seem intact and seem to not have been affected, some SJW is going to see something and complain.  Maybe someone saw him before and was stalking his channel for something to complain about.  Maybe they're being paid to search YouTube like Soros' Media Matters pays people to watch Fox News to find something to complain about.  Maybe not.  Regardless, someone is going to see a Ruger video for the Precision Rifle and decide it's too scary because it's black.  Or they're going to see a trick shooter like 22 plinkster shoot through a string of marshmallow Peeps and complain about the violence against Peeps. There's always something to complain about. 

In the 1980s, I read a book called, The Media Lab (long out of print), about the institution at MIT by that name.  The book introduced me to the concept of narrowcasting, in direct (deliberate) contrast to the idea of broadcasting that everyone grew up with from the dawn of TV until the mid-90s or so.  Narrowcasting is just that: aiming your TV program (and the advertising that sponsors it) to a narrow audience, and not trying to reach the entire country. 

In the era of hundreds of TV channels, the idea is obvious; it was less obvious in the '80s.  Programming like that found on the Outdoor Channel or World Fishing Network, to name a couple, will never have an audience the size as the major networks get for their big shows.  Last week, for example, the top rated show on the networks was the rebooted Roseanne series with 13.8 million viewers, while the last of the top 25 drew 5.9 million viewers.  It's difficult to get these numbers for shows on the small networks because they're so small, but I think tens of thousands instead of millions.

That's what I see YouTube dissolving into.  The attraction of YouTube, the good part was (note the past tense) that it was a vast reservoir of information - like the biggest library ever imagined.  If you wanted to learn how to troubleshoot your laser printer, it was there.  If you wanted to learn how to play some song on your guitar (or piano, or ukelele or...) it was there.  It's where I learned most of what I know about how to fix my sprinkler system.  If you wanted to learn how to take apart your new gun to clean it, with better visuals than the line drawings in the owner's manuals, that was there, too. 

What made YouTube worth hanging out on was the variety of content.  I have 25 videos on YouTube; 16 are related to converting my milling machine to CNC, and of the other 9, two are gun related and the rest are videos from Cabin Fever Expo trip in '15.  Now, if I want to watch videos on a new machining tool or technique, I'll go there; to learn how to clean my new gun I'll have to go somewhere else.

Instead of being a place people will tend to aggregate, their audience will drop as people interested in (what I can only conclude will be) a continually diminishing content follow their favored content, YouTube will diminish in importance in people's lives. 

We have several alternatives to YouTube for gun related videos.  Narrowcasting.  What we don't have is several alternatives to what YouTube used to be, and that's what we need. 

My built up GB-22 (last year).  Mark Serbu's videos of his were still online last night.

Monday, April 16, 2018


I've been watching YouTube since the start of the month, trying to see what their announced policies that went into effect on 4/1 actually mean in real life.

To begin with, let me quote their policies, pasted from this page:
YouTube prohibits certain kinds of content featuring firearms. Specifically, we don’t allow content that:
  • Intends to sell firearms or certain firearms accessories through direct sales (e.g., private sales by individuals) or links to sites that sell these items. These accessories include but may not be limited to accessories that enable a firearm to simulate automatic fire or convert a firearm to automatic fire (e.g., bump stocks, gatling triggers, drop-in auto sears, conversion kits), and high capacity magazines (i.e., magazines or belts carrying more than 30 rounds).
  • Provides instructions on manufacturing a firearm, ammunition, high capacity magazine, homemade silencers/suppressors, or certain firearms accessories such as those listed above. This also includes instructions on how to convert a firearm to automatic or simulated automatic firing capabilities.
  • Shows users how to install the above-mentioned accessories or modifications.
The way I read the first one, none of the manufacturers' sites should be allowed.  They don't offer direct sales of firearms, but they can't.  They're FFLs, after all, but what else are the gun manufacturers trying to do on YouTube except sell their firearms and accessories?  It's up to you to find the local shop to buy them from.  I find all of the channels I subscribe to (Mossberg, Ruger, Savage, Sig Sauer, and Springfield Armory) are all up and all look like they did last month.  Is that whole paragraph aimed at someone using a YouTube video with their Gun Broker listing, or their local classified ad?  I can't imagine that's a big number.

The second sentence in that paragraph sounds like it would ban Slide Fire (the company) completely.  They not only sell the suddenly-feared bump stocks, they sell a combination belt fed upper with one of their bump stocks that fires pretty darned fast. 

What about the last clause, about "high capacity magazines (i.e., magazines or belts carrying more than 30 rounds)"?  That should preclude the Slide Fire product I just linked to, and a good chunk of Magpul's product line.  Well, Magpul's channel is still up and their list of videos shows some of those Evil "High Capacity Magazine Clips".   No changes I'm aware of. 

Moving on to the second, I'd think that videos on machining an AR lower would be down.  Nope. There are "About 19,000 results" showing the completion of 80% lowers with everything from CNC to drill presses, and also many showing turning blocks of solid aluminum into complete lowers.  I'd call them "0% lowers" but that term has come to mean forgings that resemble an AR lower in shape, but that are otherwise solid metal.    None of the machinists or homemade gun videos I knew to look for are gone. 

Manufacturing ammunition shouldn't include reloading, and a quick check shows almost 3,000,000 videos that their search engine returns for "reloading".  Some of them certainly won't be ammunition but there were 19,000 for "RCBS reloading".

So what's the reality?   I have no idea.  I've been trying to find out just what is going on here and watched some videos from folks I've watched before.  Royal Nonesuch, in a video showing a shop built, single shot, 45 ACP "hand cannon", which certainly seems like it would fall under the second paragraph, says the only video he's had banned was one about selling home made guns at a gun buy back where he lives.  Then YouTube's Autoplay offered a video of his by called "Selling Homemade Guns at Gun Buyback!!" as the next one to watch - and it played. 

Trick shooters like 22 Plinkster or Kirsten Joy Weiss should be unaffected.  I see Hickok45 posted a fresh gun demo video yesterday with an old Winchester 92 lever action, and it's still there.  Going by the black letter of what those three simple paragraphs say, these things should be acceptable.  There should be tons of content still there. 

Have any of you noted videos going away?  Yeah, I know you can't link to something that isn't there anymore, but all of things I look for are still there. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Little Shop Project Update

It has been almost two months since I mentioned starting on a new engine, a flame licker designed by Philip Duclos.  I haven't been motionless, but I haven't been spending every day in the shop either.

Life has a way of intervening and there have been plenty of unexpected side projects that took time.  I've written about some of the planting.  Another of those projects is that I've learned how to diagnose and repair a sprinkler system, and am in the process of getting ours back to full, normal operation.  Since these come on at 4AM twice a week, I don't know that they're working or not, unless I see dried out areas in the yard.   On Easter, when I was up to put the pork shoulder into the smoker at 5AM, the sprinklers were on and I could see one was simply not rotating properly.  Its replacement went in Friday.

What I've done until now is cut rough stock to decent starting sizes and order some other stock I didn't have.  That includes turning a 2-3/8"diameter x 3-1/4" long chunk of aluminum down to 2-1/16 diameter, cutting blocks of metal to overall dimensions needed, and that sort of mundane task.  This weekend, I made the (almost ceremonial) first cuts to one of those pieces of rough stock, thinning a piece of 3/4" thick stock to the profile of the cylinder support pedestal.  This is the midpoint of the process, yesterday.  It took 3/16" off each side, 3/8" above one end, leaving a wider base. 

The part of the support on the right is 3/8" thick now; you can see the base on the left is thicker - it's 3/4" thick.  The whole piece started as bar stock that was a little over 2"x 3" x 1" thick. That's a couple of cubic inches of aluminum turned into chips in the vacuum cleaner. 

Next up is to mount this to the rotary table - after I mount the rotary table.  It's eventually going to resemble this:

Note that I didn't say it will look exactly like this. 

Just a little shop distraction. 

Call For Nosmo King

Nosmo, if you see this, drop me an email when you get a round tuit.  I've tried the address you've used before and it bounces.  Here's one in case you need it:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

If We're Throwing TLAMS at Evil Places

If we're throwing TLAMs at evil places, I'm not sure we're even in the right zip code.  You can go read whatever speculation you prefer over whether or not that was a real chemical weapons attack on "innocent men women and children" last week in the Syrian city of Douma.  Even if it was, I'm not still not sure did the right thing.  Someone snarked, "you're killing Syrians to tell Assad that he should kill Syrians the way you're killing them and not the way that he's killing them".   I don't know that any Syrians were killed, based on reading the rapidly-produced Wikipedia page and a couple of news pages, but there's something to be said for the argument.   Yeah, I know, prevent the spread of chemical weapons.  I think that horse left the barn about a hundred years ago. 

Frankly, there's no shortage of evil in the world, and I'm not sure where this one ranks in the Top 40 of Evil.  Yeah, chemical attacks on an unarmed, unprepared, civilian population are evil.  It's just that if a nation could only address one evil in the world, what should they attack? 

I very rarely talk about this, but I support an organization called Operation Underground Railroad that was formed to free children from sex slavery and fight human trafficking.  It's a small organization, and they recently celebrated saving their 1000th child.   There are estimates that 40 million people are enslaved today; that means more people are in slavery now than the entire period we think of as the peak of the slave trade - the 1700s and early 1800s.  No, it's not all Islamic countries: Haiti, Thailand, countries in South America and even the US are in the mix.  

But the Mideast is a hotbed of slavery today.  ISIS has spent the last several years capturing Christian and Yazidi women and selling them into slavery - sex slaves for their Jihadis.  The Yazidi faith combines elements of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion.  ISIS views the Yazidis or Christians as barely human - they are there for Islamic men to rape. 

Stopping this slavery is hard.  Throwing missiles or smart bombs at some buildings is comparatively very easy.  To stop sex slavery, you have to fight on dozens of fronts.  For one example, you have to fight from the bars in Bangkok, Thailand to the Americans that go there on vacation to use the children.  The very best thing we could have done for these ISIS slaves was destroy ISIS and Sec Def Mattis has done a good job at that, from what I can tell.  There are still pockets of ISIS over there, and in new countries they've moved to; those need to be hunted down and killed off, too. 

Because while slavery and sex slavery may be evil, that's just the warmup act for ISIS.  They've moved on to harvesting organs from slaves to sell on the black market.  OUR had partnered with the Nazarene fund; the two have run rescue operations and gotten children out literally minutes before they were going to be killed.  If the subject isn't human, they don't see any need to anesthetize the patient victim: they just cut them open and remove whatever they can sell, killing the slaves in the process.   

Hats off to the military planners and all the people spread around the world who made last night's mission work.  I just think this sort of evil is at least on a par with what the strike was all about, and I think it deserves the attention of world, too.
Tim Ballard on an operation in Haiti this February.  Tim is a former special operator who is founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad and recently made CEO of the Nazarene Fund. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Ding Dong the CAFE Standard's Dead

I've been reporting on the EPA's proposed 54.5 MPG CAFE standard since it was proposed in 2012 (to take effect in 2025).  So it only seems appropriate that I should cover the demise of that mileage standard that has occurred this month.

So while I've been watching this subject whenever it pops up in the news, I don't expect readers to know the important things off the top of their heads.  Allow me to summarize for you. 
  • First and foremost is a rule that I think all engineers know: TANSTAAFL - as Robert A Heinlein put it.  There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  You're going to spend money to redesign the cars to meet this average fuel economy number and car buyers are going to spend more money for the cars.  
  • The early estimate from the Obama NHTSA was that a car owner would save $8000 over the life of their car with the increased fuel mileage.  Naturally, most people with an engineer's or manager's perspective then wondered "how much do I have to spend to save $8000?"
  • Estimates of how much a typical car would increase in cost vary widely.  The according to the National Auto Dealers Association estimates $3,000 more.  The Center for Automotive Research (CAR, of course), says it could hit $11,000 to save that $8000.  Another research group, Scenaria, said the price would likely increase by $5000 to $8,000.  While spending $5000 to save $8000 doesn't sound like a good idea, spending $11,000 to save $8,000 sounds quite a bit worse.  Of course, as a buyer, your choice would likely be spend the money or don't have a car.  
  • A former CAR chairman pointed out that the savings on fuel costs turn into a diminishing returns curve. "When you reach 35, 40, and 50 miles per gallon, the cost to achieve it gets too high," chairman emeritus David Cole said in an interview. "And the value returned to the customer gets to be less and less. The risk is that people will say, 'Why should I buy a new car? I'll just keep the old one. It's a better business decision.' "  
The fundamental problem is that the world didn't comply with the 2012 EPA predictions.  Gas prices aren't over $5/gal and climbing.
The problem is that the projected fleet makeup for 2025 was based on the oil prices in 2010 to 2012, which were before fracking revolutionized US energy production and drove oil prices down.  Low gas prices have precipitated a strong consumer shift from cars to light-duty trucks and SUVs; American consumers love their larger, more capable vehicles. The shift to more trucks makes it more difficult for the industry to meet the government’s 2025 gas mileage target.
When the 54.5 mpg limit was proposed, the regulators assumed the public would buy 65% cars and 35% trucks.  In reality, the mix being sold is the exact opposite of that.  The math says that if they're selling 65% trucks to 35% cars, the fewer cars have to be very far above 54.5 MPG to bring the fleet average up to that number.  (The trucks need to be as good as they can be made, too).  I think most people are aware that the top three selling vehicles in the United States are all pickups: the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, and Dodge Ram. 

Of course, that's often a problem with these big government programs: the world doesn't unfold as they assumed, at least partly because they based their predictions on improper samples of the country.  Not everybody lives in a big city and drives a small car.  A pickup or SUV can simply do more than a sedan, and some people want that capacity.  Timothy Benson at the Daily Caller has a lot of choice observations on the insularity of the people forcing decisions like this on us.

The overwhelming problem with achieving the CAFE 54.5 mpg average, though, is that the real world doesn't take orders.  The only place the laws of physics can be broken is in TV commercials and cartoons.  A bureaucrat can't just say, "you must make every vehicle twice as fuel efficient" and have thermodynamics suddenly change - as much as they might think they can do that.  The internal combustion engine has been optimized as a system for a hundred years, and nobody is suddenly going to make it 70% more efficient (the difference in CAFE standards from now to 2025).  To deliver the power needed to move big things requires long piston strokes and large pistons, which means large engines.  Instead, to reach the new standard the small cars averaged in the car maker's fleet will get lighter, with more plastics and thinner metal structures. They'd be less safe. The new standard would cost more lives. 

A real half ton pickup, like the big three mentioned above, that got twice the current MPG for the same price would be snapped up so fast it would set every truck sales record imaginable.  Nobody's against that.  We're just against being forced to pay more for a flimsier, less safe vehicle than we save by buying it, and we're against getting stuck with a vehicle that doesn't do everything we need it to do.

Things you won't do with your Prius, courtesy Truck Trend Network.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Where (This) Man Has Never Gone Before

A cursory search shows that I've never mentioned on this blog that I used to make telescopes, including a few reflecting telescopes from grinding the mirror through building the mount and building a small refracting telescope from a copier lens (I have explained mirror making in one of my patented absurd analogies, though).  Telescope Making became a national hobby in the early part of the 20th century, led by a group of machinists at home in Springfield, Vermont.  The first telescope maker's conventions were (and still are) held in a place called Stellafane in Springfield.

While I haven't built one in a while (this place looks like a used telescope store), I'm still interested in astronomy, telescopes and the tech.  This week, I came across something I've never seen before.  Ultrascope from the Open Space Agency is an open source, small reflecting telescope, designed to be put together with a minimal amount of specialized knowledge, but assuming the builder has a 3D printer available and access to other "modern tech", like smart phones and a good internet connection.
Ultrascope is an open source robot telescope or ARO (Automated Robotic Observatory) controlled by a smartphone. It empowers citizen scientists with a low cost and open source robotic telescope to assist the work of professional astronomers.

If you're not from the astronomy world, I'm betting you've never seen a telescope mounted like this.  This is called a split ring equatorial mount and is a very stable design, originally designed by one of those Stellafane telescope makers for the 200 inch reflector on Mount Palomar in southern California: the largest telescope in the world for about half a century.  The way that this mount is oriented (in the left panel) we're looking at it from the southeast, so the plane of the ring the telescope sets in forms an angle to the horizontal equal to the latitude of the observing site. 

The scope is optically small: a 6" mirror with a focal length that looks to be about 36" (squinting while looking at various pieces, comparing sizes and guessing).  Therefore, it looks like an ambitious project for someone working on their own with no expert assistance, and who buys a professionally made mirror.  6" was the size of the first mirror I ground from flat glass and for a couple of generations, the standard beginner's telescope mirror to grind was a 6" mirror with a 48" focal length.  Like camera lenses, longer focal lengths lend themselves to higher power and shorter focal lengths toward wider angles.

The game here is a that this is a Robotic Observatory, to search for asteroids as a collaborative astronomy project.  The connectivity and programmability comes from an Arduino Mega processor, and the drive motors are controlled by a shield board that plugs into the Arduino Mega.  Because it's intended for robotic survey use, it's not designed for an eyepiece, but rather to use a smartphone camera as the eyepiece.  This video shows the scope in overview.

All in all, an interesting looking little project.  It's not strictly for astronomers, because they envision someone building it and then setting it up to work autonomously.  Builders aren't expected to sit out all night with it, but would need to do things like find how to focus the image, and operate the controls.  Final words to the Open Space Agency.
If you’re a maker, DIY Engineer, citizen scientist or just a long-time aspiring astronaut with stars in your eyes, then we’d love to hear from you.

Visit the Open Space Agency

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

We Interrupt the Continuous Stormy Daniels Coverage For This Syria Coverage

Just kidding.  CNN wouldn't do that.  If they interrupted their continuous Stormy Daniels story for anything, it's just that it's the latest shiny, whatever that may be.

As I'm sure you've noticed, we seem to be on the verge of doing something in Syria, again.  Trump is tweeting that we're going to launch missiles, Putin is saying his forces will destroy them and then destroy whatever platform launched them.  Meanwhile state television in Russia last night told people to have preps on hand for a few days in case there's a nuclear war, and know where to find the nearest fallout shelter
Which brings us to Russian state TV.  Last night on the nightly news broadcast, the coming conflict with the USA was the big news and officials in Russia repeatedly said “If the United States attacks Syria based on this phony chemical weapons fraud, then Russia will shoot down the incoming US missiles and fire upon the platforms which launched them – including Ships, planes and ground based locations.  This action by Russia would likely cause a war between the US and Russia and . . . . . Russian state TV gave citizens advise on what they should take to Bomb Shelters.
This was complete with a reporter standing in front of a wall of monitors showing a mushroom cloud.
(Full video - in Russian with subtitles)  Is this crazy brinksmanship rhetoric like we get from North Korea all the time?  I don't know.

The guy I trust for insightful thoughts on this sort of topic is LL over at Virtual Mirage.  He addressed the situation and thinks that it smells funny.  In response to a couple of comments, he said:
The LAST gas attack was likely an accidental release from rebel stores after an attack from Syrian Air Forces.

This time, I really don't know.
There was NO reason for the Syrians to launch a gas attack. It makes me very skeptical.
I don't honestly know what to make of this.  Is this a real threat of nuclear war (the closest we've come - perhaps - since the Cuban Missile Crisis), or is this some sort of belligerent posturing that Putin and Trump are going through?  In the last Tomahawk attack on an empty air base, we notified the Russians what was coming so they could evacuate their forces.  It's my understanding that was the normal way things worked in the first cold war: back channels talked to back channels so no big, ugly mistakes happened.  Is that happening again?   It apparently didn't happen in early February when Russian mercenaries attacked US forces in Syria, and lost 300 men (Peter had a really good summary here).  

Obviously, I don't have any access to the real intelligence on this, so it's pointless to comment on that.  

I'm old enough to remember duck and cover drills in elementary school, getting under our desks, and "put your hands behind your neck".  All of the talk of a "new cold war" has pretty much rolled off my back as "oh, that again".  I guess we'll find out in the next few days.