Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Breaking - Federal Judge Block Release of CAD Files for "Printed Guns"

As the deadline of August 1st approaches, where there are to be no more restrictions on the release of these CAD files, a Seattle-based federal judge has blocked the release of the files.
The restraining order from U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik puts that plan on hold for now.

"There is a possibility of irreparable harm because of the way these guns can be made," he said.
If you want a copy of the files, Gun Free Zone has hosted one (as I'm sure tons of other people are doing).  Help yourself - I got mine.  They've only been available since about 2013, after all. 

The pearl clutching going on over this ruling has reached levels that might possibly exceed Trump Derangement Syndrome.  I guarantee that these prints being available will lead to just as much blood in the streets as concealed carry has always been accused of: none whatsoever.  Miguel and J. Kb at Gun Free Zone have done yeoman's work at pointing out the stupid, but the base meme is that (to quote "actress" Alyssa Milano)
Imagine this: the convicted domestic abuser next door tries to buy a gun. He’s turned down because he fails his background check. When he gets home, he opens up his browser, and in half an hour he’s printing out his own undetectable, fully functional plastic gun, with no background check and no record of his purchase.
Half an hour?  Not bloody likely.  Half a week is more like it.

Milano shows a picture of a solid metal 1911 (you remember that one, right?) which is an absurd example undoubtedly used just to create fear.  Last time I looked, that's a half million dollar printer.  Your average gang banger or terrorist or whatever they're arguing just isn't going to drop half a million on a printer and spend the months required to get good results out of it. 

The second meme is that these will be undetectable, plastic guns.  The pistol at the heart of this is the Liberator 2, which is printed ABS plastic.  Even a relatively high end home printer ($1500 class) is going to take a few days to print this.  According to his book Wilson left a metal firing pin in the gun specifically because of laws about undetectable guns brought about by the first use of a Glock in a movie.  Besides, in some places (like a barrel) strength can be gained by using a larger part.  Much like aluminum parts have to be bigger to perform like steel, plastic can work for the barrel if it's much thicker.  But there's not enough room in a handgun to make a firing pin out of plastic.  It would be bigger than the round!  The firing pins will show up on X-Rays. 

Never one to be the second most stupid person in the room, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D - Uranus) takes the idiocy to 11 saying there will be fully plastic AR-15s taken onto airplanes and no one will ever know until someone shoots up the airplane. H/T for the meme to Gun Free Zone.

The serious side here is that Democrats are pressing the president to decree releasing the CAD files to be illegal and I have less than 20% confidence in the president's tendency to do the right thing.  This is the guy who walked around saying "ban bump stocks" a couple of months ago, and is breaking just about any conservative principle there is in this trade/tariff thing (bailing out farmers?).  In the last couple of days, I saw a video of him in what looked like a cabinet meeting, but with Jeff Sessions and some LEOs, threatening to destroy someone who's opposed to civil asset forfeiture, and it almost made me throw up.

EDIT: 080118 at 0710 EDT - Added photo that Blogger wouldn't let me add before original posting.  Reworded slightly around that.

Monday, July 30, 2018

If You're Looking for Crazy, Don't Forget Bernie!

Before Evita Guevarra-Castro, when you talked about openly socialist idiots you always mentioned Bernie.  Don't forget Bernie!  He's still there and still talking nonsense.

Bernie released his plan for single payer, universal health services Medicare for All (like the failing British NHS) last September, and a George Mason University study released this week said the plan will cost taxpayers $32.6 Trillion dollars over 10 years.
Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for all" plan would increase government health care spending by $32.6 trillion over 10 years, according to a study by a university-based libertarian policy center. That's trillion with a "T."

The latest plan from the Vermont independent would require historic tax increases as government replaces what employers and consumers now pay for health care, according to the analysis being released Monday by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia.
As I always say, these "over 10 years" numbers tend to be about as accurate as when someone asks you "pick a number"; go find an archive of your favorite news sources and see what they were saying 2018 would be like back in '08.  Nobody gets it right.  Plus, they tend to be constructed to favor spending by making it appear linear ("just 3.26 Trillion a year?") when it's cheaper at the start and more expensive at 10 years. 

The important point is that the US National Debt is $21.3 Trillion right now, and we're racking up debt every year.  It's true that we currently have the highest tax revenues in history, thanks to the tax cuts, but the projected FY 2018 deficit still adds $600 Billion to that debt.  The entire Federal Budget is officially $4.1 Trillion, adding this plan would cost 80% of that.  There is simply no way to get that $3.26 Trillion/year.

What Bernie says is laughable, or would be, if it wasn't so serious.
Sanders said that this plan could be paid for by a “6.2 percent income-based health care premium paid by employers,” a “2.2 percent income-based premium paid by households,” and a progressive income tax rate that ranged from 37 percent on those earning $250,000 to 52 percent on anyone earning $10 million or more. He also proposed cutting tax deduction options for wealthy people and increasing taxes on inheritances for the wealthiest Americans.
This is either deliberately lying or economically illiterate, as you'd expect from a self-proclaimed socialist.  Anyone who has thought about it a moment knows that anything "paid by employers" is part of your pay.  If they're paying a “6.2 percent income-based health care premium”, that means they're not paying you that money.  Much like your social security contributions where you're told that you and your employer both pay half; in reality, their half is your money, too.  If you're self-employed, you know you pay that.  A tax that goes from 37% to 52% is guaranteed to result in forms of pay that aren't taxed as ordinary income (stock options, different types of non-monetary bonuses; we've seen these things before).  

That paragraph can be rewritten more honestly as: the plan could be paid for by an “8.4 percent income-based health care premium paid by all taxpayers”, and a penalty ranging from 37 percent on those earning $250,000 increasing to 52 percent for anyone earning $10 million or more.  Plus there will be an all out effort to screw over as many wealthy people as possible. 

Like I said three paragraphs ago, that's increasing federal spending by 80%.  Increasing income taxes by 8.4% ain't gonna cut it.  I don't think they could make their Wealth and Success penalties big enough.

There's only one way they can hope to pay for that: confiscatory taxes rates; tax hikes much bigger than 8.4%.  Since the top 50% of incomes pay over 97% of the tax revenues, such taxes will by necessity hit the middle class and higher the hardest.  That probably wouldn't work.  The Blaze piece on the Mercatus report includes this:
The study argued that a “doubling of all currently projected federal individual and corporate income tax collections would be insufficient to finance the added federal costs of the plan.”

The Mercatus study also speculated that this plan could also cut the amount of medical services offered to patients, since the payments awarded to providers would be cut “by more than 40 percent.”
The socialist magazine Jacobin cherry picked data from the Mercatus study that said Bernie's plan would save (an oddly specific) $2.054 trillion in national health expenditures.  Only they would think spending $32 trillion to save $2 trillion is a good idea.  As always, I don't think that's the only option here. 

Bernie at the podium, flanked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., left, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., right, supporters, and obligatory actor looking like a doctor.  Andrew Harnik / AP

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Bizarre Addendum to a Strange Story

Back in March of this year, former Russian Military officer and British spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, were sickened in an what is always described as a Russian poison attack.  I assume you're familiar with the incident from news reports.  (Background of the incident).  Both survived the attack with what's called Novichok poison. Perhaps ironically, the only person to be killed in this attack was a British police officer investigating the attack.

Around the start of this month, a second Novichok poisoning made the news from the UK.  Two people who apparently had no ties to Russian or British intelligence were sickened, Charlie Rowley and his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess.  Miss Sturgess died.

Here's where it gets bizarre.  Mr. Rowley apparently found a bottle of liquid disguised as a perfume.  He gave it to Miss Sturgess who tested it and was sickened by it almost immediately.
The new revelation that there could be more Novichok in the otherwise quiet town comes as a man poisoned by the same agent several weeks ago near Salisbury told the press that he came across the nerve agent in a branded, cellophane-wrapped box containing a bottle he thought was full of perfume. The victim in that case, Charlie Rowley, 45, didn’t reveal—or remember—exactly where he had found the box. He said that on June 30 he gave it as a gift to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, who recognized the branding on the box.

Rowley reported that he had put a pump dispenser onto the bottle, spilling some of the oily liquid onto his hands in the process. Although he said the liquid didn’t smell like perfume, he washed it off without thinking about it and gave it to Sturgess, his girlfriend of two years. The 44-year-old sprayed the liquid on her wrists and rubbed them together. Within 15 minutes, she developed a headache and went to draw a bath, Rowley said. He discovered her shortly after in the bath, fully clothed, and in a “very ill state.”

Both were later found unconscious and were hospitalized. Rowley has since recovered but Sturgess died from the poisoning over a week later, on July 8.
This is causing quite a bit of concern in the UK, as well it should.  The method of this poisoning was to disguise the poison as something that might be attractive to the target.  This seems more like a random psycho than a Russian state operation aimed at eliminating someone who spied on them.  Unless, perhaps, this is how the nerve agent is transferred from Russia to their agents in the field and somehow the Russian agent/assassin lost it, or never got it.  Somehow the transfer went wrong.  
British officials determined that the Skripals were likely poisoned after a would-be assassin smeared the nerve agent on the front door handle of Mr. Skripal’s home. It’s unclear how or why Rowley and Sturgess came into contact with nerve agent, however. British officials reported that there was nothing in their backgrounds to tie them to Russia or suggest they were targeted. Investigators are looking into whether they simply accidentally came across remnants of the batch of poison used in the Skripal attack. Thus, they may have been inadvertent victims from discarded or lingering nerve agent—a possibility likely to put residents on edge. [Note - the piece this is quoted from is dated July 5th; the piece explaining about the disguise as a perfume box is from July 26, three weeks later.]
It leaves a very obvious, very large question hanging.  Is there more?  Are there more "branded, cellophane-wrapped boxes", boxes made to look like a perfume that people will recognize, around the UK? 
"What we can't tell, and probably will never be able to tell, is actually is there anything else out there," Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, of Wiltshire Police, said during a press briefing Wednesday. "So, all we can do is be intelligence-led… and be meticulous with the searching," he added.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal.  After what you've been through, raise a glass and enjoy.  Have one for me, too. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fiddly Bits

This week my shop time has focused on a few of the small parts I'm working through.  Pictured here, the part on the right is the cam for the engine and the smaller one on the right is called the cam roller.

Each one had its own puzzles to overcome.  The major one on the cam was that large radius cut on the left.  When I first bought the book these plans are in, I thought that if I brought it out to the shop those glossy pages would eventually get grease and oil stains on them and might make it unreadable, so I decided to photocopy every page and print them out.  Out of the 18 pages, only one page shifted enough on the copier that not every word made it to the copy, and only about one sentence was fully cut off.  And that sentence had a couple of words that were critical to cutting that part. 

Murphy's Law is as much a part of the fabric of the universe as Newton's or Faraday's. 

Since I had the book, it was easy enough to read the missing sentence.  The trick to cutting this part is to cut it on the rotary table in two separate steps.  First, the table is centered so that its axis is directly under the spindle.  Next, the table is displaced to one side (pure X or Y axis motion) exactly 9/16".  Let's say I displaced the table to the right.  Next, I put a vise on the table, with the rough shaped cam clamped in the vise (the cam is now just a 15/16" diameter round part with a 1/4" hole down its center).  The vise is then moved around to center that hole under the spindle so rotating the table rotates the part around a point to the right of its edge.  Now the table is moved farther to the right so that the cutter just touches at the left edge of the cam and the cam is trimmed back until that shape is obtained.  Mostly.  The rounded upper and lower edges are sharp when the machining is done.  The roughly 3/16" radius each corner has was done by hand/eye with sandpaper.  Found a washer with a hole that matched and used it as a circle template to draw a curve on the points then sanded to match on my el cheapo Horrible Freight sander.

The cam roller was rough cut to shape and drilled on axis on the lathe and then the lathe chuck moved to the rotary table on the mill to drill the holes and cut the web between the hub and outer rims.  In theory, all I needed to do was set the rotary table back to its original zero (before the 9/16" move) and the table should have been centered.  It was!  That web starts out 3/16" thick and 1/16 is taken off of both sides with a 1/8" diameter end mill.

There are a few parts left on my page'o fiddly bits; two are custom made screws with 40 pitch threads; one is an intricate little screw with about 5 turns of 4-40 threads that goes through this cam roller and the other is a long push rod for the valve (pictured here) that gets threaded 5-40.  Unless I decide to make it 4-40 also.  I mean, making it #5 instead of #4 makes me need to buy two 5-40 nuts for no other reason while I have some spare 4-40 nuts in my parts bin.

Duclos makes an alcohol lamp for the engine out of a door knob.  I have a glass alcohol lamp that'll be what I use.  At least at first. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Confidential to Ms. Occasional-Cortex: Socialism in Action

The news cycle continues to focus on New York City Socialist Twit of the Year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  I could never hope to top the fantastic, almost-poetic, snark-fest, hatchet job that Raconteur Report did on her.  A post highlighted by coming up with a different name for her at every mention: Evita Guevara-Castro one time, Ocarina-Piñata the next, Obrador Chavez-Maduro another, and more.  I could go on, but I shouldn't.  If you haven't read it, go read.  I'll wait.

Part of the hubbub has been a (likely staged) confrontation between Joy Behar and Megan McCain on the Spew and interviews with her socialist twit supporters with no relevant knowledge and even less ability to explain how the socialist policies could be paid for.  Behar annoys me by lying about "tax cuts for the wealthy", and McCain annoyed me for not correcting the lie.  I never watch the Spew. 

I think Ms. Obrador Chavez-Maduro and those who advocate socialism should be sent to the land of the real Chavez and Maduro: Venezuela for a while, although I wonder if even living in real socialism could teach them anything.  Reuters reports that Venezuela is going to "remove five zeroes" from their currency, turning 500,000 Bolivar notes into 5 Bolivar notes as they attempt to deal with the expectation of one million percent inflation this year.
Venezuela will remove five zeroes from the bolivar currency rather than the three zeroes originally planned, President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday, in an effort to keep up with inflation projected to reach 1 million percent this year.
They report inflation is currently at 46,000 %.  With that current inflation, the "minimum wage" in Venezuela comes out to one US dollar per month.  Venezuelans simply can't buy food or necessities.   The predicted 1 million % inflation will put Venezuela's collapse in a league with the (also communist) Zimbabwe collapse of the 2000s and the 1920s Weimar Germany hyperinflation.

Maduro, Venezuela's leader, refuses to accept any blame for even a part of  the failure of their economic system.  Instead, it's due to other countries being mean to them.
The government has said it is the victim of an “economic war” led by opposition leaders with the help of Washington, which last year levied several rounds of sanctions against Maduro’s administration and a group of top officials.
The Blaze points out:
The U.S. has imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan government in order to restrict “the regime’s ability to liquidate state assets at fire-sale prices at the expense of the Venezuelan people.” President Barack Obama had also issued sanctions against some Venezuelan government officials.
Maduro's reaction is, of course, just trying to preserve his power.  Economic sanctions against the country and specific political leaders have been an effect of, not the cause of, their economic mess.  The country is in economic free fall and people are getting out any way they can.  There's a full blown refugee crisis in Columbia, Peru, Guyana; neighboring islands like Curacao and Aruba; with some applying for refugee status in the US and others going farther south in South America.  I'm sure everyone has probably seen (or knows of) the video of a group of Venezuelans finding a cow that had gotten separated from others in a pasture and killing it for food. I've seen reports that there are no more stray dogs or cats in Venezuela.

(500 and 100 Bolivar Notes - the old ones about to be replaced, but still usable as toilet paper. Getty Images).

This is socialism, Ms. Guevara-Castro.  This is what happens, time after time.  The so-called successful European socialist states aren't really that.  They're liberal democracies with high tax rates, and a rich uncle (us - the USA) who pays for some of their bills (defense).  If you took every single penny of income from the richest 1% in America, you couldn't run the government we have now for more than a few months - and you have no right to take all of anyone's income.  There isn't enough money do what you want to do.  It's not that "it works in a homogeneous society", as you'll hear.  It just causes misery, pain and suffering wherever it's used.   

And please, God, please, don't give me the "socialism has failed because we haven't had the right people in charge" crap.  If it has never worked once in human history, what makes you think you're the one in 10 billion that can do it?  You sure don't have anything in your background or apparent IQ to recommend you for the job, Ms. Ocarina-Piñata. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Santa Barbara, California, 2019

Since they've criminalized the use of plastic straws to the tune of $1000 fines and jail time.
Santa Barbara, by contrast, has banned even compostable straws, permitting only drinking tubes made from nonplastic materials such as paper, metal, or bamboo. The city also has made a second violation* of its straw prohibition both an administrative infraction carrying a $100 fine and a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Each contraband straw or unsolicited plastic stirrer counts as a separate violation, so fines and jail time could stack up quickly.

Unlike other enacted or proposed straw bans, Santa Barbara's does not include an automatic exemption for the disabled, who often lack the ability to bring cup to lip. Restaurant owners can request an exemption based on medical necessity, but granting one is at the city's discretion.
Let's see, plastic straws from the entire US account for about .0002% of plastic pollution.  When you narrow it down to straws from Santa Barbara, it has to go down to parts per billion.  If there wasn't a single straw from the US, let alone Santa Barbara, I doubt if anybody could ever measure that.  Santa Barbara apparently not only thinks their imaginary pollution is a problem, as J.Kb at Gun Free Zone says, they feel that using a plastic straw is a worse crime than knowingly infecting someone with HIV/AIDS
To put that into perspective, a soccer mom with two juice boxes for her kids in the back of the minivan can be sentenced to the same amount of jail time as a person in Santa Barbara deliberately infecting another with HIV.
I get the impression that at least some people from California can't understand why the rest of the country thinks they're insane.  This is an example.  The most charitable thing that can be said about California is they're trying to get everyone to leave the state.  This law, they would argue, will just be for revenue enhancement; another chance to collect a kilo-buck from someone who can afford it.  I'll stick with what I said a few years ago: there are environmentalists who want to kill off 95% of the human race.  California governments: state, local and every level, appear to be trying to get rid of 95% of their population without actual genocide. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Bit of Puzzling News from Phys.Org

Phys.org is an online physics journal and not in my regular reading rotation, but there's an article that got picked up in the Woodpile Report (no. 538) about a pretty bizarre discovery having to do with machining aluminum and some other "gummy" metals.  Their machinability can be improved by coloring them with a Sharpie, or applying a glue stick. 

Say what? 

Let me back up for a minute.  I machine mostly aluminum these days, and I've seen the result of machining alloys like 6061-T6 (so-called aircraft aluminum) many times.  The freshly cut metal welds onto the cutting edge, eventually rendering the cutter useless.  It has become standard advice to home machinists to use coolant when machining aluminum to prevent or minimize this.  Spray water with aqueous coolants added are popular, it's why I have my Fogbuster system, but I've seen many guys say that either WD-40 or kerosene are better.  Copper is notorious for gumminess as well, and I've heard the standard cutting fluid is (or used to be) milk; presumably full fat, not skim.
Your everyday permanent markers, glue sticks and packing tape may offer a surprisingly low-tech solution to a long-standing nuisance in the manufacturing industry: Making soft and ductile, or so-called "gummy" metals easier to cut.

What makes inks and adhesives effective isn't their chemical content, but their stickiness to the surface of any gummy metal such as nickel, aluminum, stainless steels or copper, researchers at Purdue University and the University of West Florida find in a study recently published in Physical Review Applied.

These adhesives help achieve a smoother, cleaner and faster cut than current machining processes, impacting applications ranging from the manufacturing of orthopedic implants and surgical instruments to aerospace components.
The first question that came to my mind is whether or not I'd have to machine one pass, and stop to apply more marker or glue before the next pass once I cut past the layer I'd applied.  They don't specifically say so, but it seems to be the case.   Still, if this really improves the production rates of machined pieces, the technique should reduce the costs of things machined out of aluminum or the other metals they mention.

It turns out the gumminess of the metal is because of the way it moves in response to a cutter.  At the microscopic level, most metal machining is peeling away a surface layer of the stock; the metal shears and temporarily flows like a fluid.  A non-gummy metal flows in straight paths; a gummy metal doesn't.
"Gummy metals characteristically deform in a very wiggly manner," said Srinivasan Chandrasekar, Purdue professor of industrial engineering. "This wiggly flow involves significant energy consumption, which means that these metals require more force to machine than even some hard metals. We needed to find a way to suppress this wiggly flow."
Photographically, it's rather visible.  Especially when "flow lines" are included.

Gummy metal on the left, easier machining metal on the right.  Photo from Phys.org/Purdue University.  There's a video at Phys.org which shows details like this photo captures. 

Marking with ink or attaching any adhesive on the metal's surface dramatically reduced the force of cutting without the whole metal falling apart, leaving a clean cut in seconds. The quality of the machined surface also greatly improved.

Stickiness didn't initially stand out as a solution that permanent markers, glue sticks and tape have in common.

"We looked at the chemical ingredients of the permanent ink, isolated each of those on the metal's surface, and there was no noticeable effect," said Anirudh Udupa, lead author on the study and a postdoctoral researcher in Purdue's School of Industrial Engineering. "So we realized that it's not a particular chemical but the ink itself sticking to the metal through a physical adsorption mechanism."
Somehow the ink reduces the energy in the atoms at the surface?  Beats me.  They don't say. 

I have to wonder how important this is really going to be, since all commercial operations I'm aware of use flood cooling, most often with streams of coolant forced into the cutter at substantial pressures to clear chips from the cutting operation and prevent them from welding to the cutter.  To develop ways to cut, apply another layer of (whatever), cut more, and so on would take some detailed cost/benefit studies.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The World Can't Keep Up with America's Space Companies

The stories have been hitting the techy press every now and then.  SpaceX, with Blue Origin on its heels, has so disrupted the launch industry that the Russians and the European Space Agency are being squeezed out of the launch business.  From that first article linked, about the Russian industry in 2017, it starts out saying the Russians might be able to catch SpaceX if they'd just stop advancing.
As recently as 2013, Russia's venerable fleet of rockets commanded nearly half of the global share of the commercial launch market. Since then, the emergence of other players, most notably SpaceX, has considerably shrunk the once-dominant Russian position.

This year, although Russia has made 17 successful orbital launches, only about a third of them have flown for paying customers other than the Russian government or the International Space Station. By contrast, SpaceX has made 16 launches this year, 11 of which have been for commercial customers.
There are persistent rumors that the Russians have essentially surrendered the market, saying what's left is too small to go after.  The shift away from Russia is vividly depicted in this graphic of world wide launch shares. In 2010, the game was entirely Russia and the ESA.  Starting in 2013, a light blue share appears - SpaceX.  This year it's SpaceX, then the ESA with about half of their load and Russia with less than 10% of the world's launches. 

Which leaves the ESA and their flagship Ariane rockets.
But times change. Like the rest of the aerospace world—including the Russians and traditional US companies like Boeing, Aerojet, and Lockheed Martin—Europe must now confront titanic changes in the global launch industry. By aggressively pushing low-cost, reusable launch technologies, SpaceX has bashed down the traditional order. Blue Origin, too, promises more of the same within a few years for larger satellites. Beyond these prominent new space companies serving larger satellites, dozens of more modest ventures are pursuing innovative strategies like 3-D printing to slash costs and snag a share of the small satellite market from traditional providers.
The ESA, like the Russians, are developing new launch vehicles with the intent to reduce costs.  The Ariane 6 is scheduled to fly in 2020 and is projected to reduce launch costs to about 40 to 50% of the costs of the 20 year old Ariane 5 while maintaining its lift capability.  Unlike SpaceX and Blue Origin, the ESA is not going to make the Ariane 6 reusable.  The reason?  The market's too small.
It will not be reusable, of course, and it can never reach the theoretically super-low cost of a fully reusable Falcon 9. But having eight to 10 launches a year, from an economic standpoint, simply does not justify the expense of developing and flying a reusable rocket, European officials say. Two dozen or more launches a year might, but that is not the scale Europe operates at or seeks.

Truthfully, if Europe ever did develop a reusable rocket, one that could fly all the missions in a year, this would be unhelpful politically. What would the engine and booster factories sprinkled across Europe do if they built one rocket and then had 11 months off? The member states value the jobs too much. This is one difference between rocket-by-government and rocket-by-billionaire programs. [Bold added - SiG]
"Rocket by billionaire"?  How about rocket by private sector that's driven to optimize service for all customers?   The ESA says they're not interested in the big dreams that Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos share, of lots of people living and working in space.  They have no interest in manned rockets to the moon or mars; they're happy with a tidy little business that they want to keep to themselves.  They say, in essence, their launches are more expensive but their rockets are higher quality, saying “We don’t sell a Tata.” - comparing the Falcon 9 to the famously crappy Indian car.  They also make allegations that SpaceX is subsidized by the US Fed.gov.  Something I've heard about the ESA for as long as I can recall. 

To quote from the ARS piece,
Even, so, Charmeau rejects comparisons to SpaceX, because he maintains that the company is heavily subsidized by the US government. There used to be some substance to this claim. Without a critical NASA contract a decade ago for cargo delivery to the International Space Station, the Falcon 9 rocket probably would not exist today. However, as the analysis above shows, the majority of missions SpaceX flies are now for non-governmental customers. Moreover, there can be no question that, effectively, ArianeGroup is subsidized by its member governments.

But Charmeau persists with this argument today. The US government, he says, props up SpaceX by paying inflated rates for launches.

“The price for a US customer is not the same as the price for a commercial customer,” he said. “You can call it what you want, but that is a fact. It is known that the Air Force has procured launches at $100 million, when on the commercial market the price is well below for the same service.”

This is true. However, the US military says it pays more for launches because of its mission assurance requirements, which require extra steps to be taken for preparing and attaching the payload alongside myriad other system checks to ensure a safe ride to space for costly national security payloads. What does Charmeau think of this explanation?

“I would be surprised if SpaceX explained to commercial customers that they deliver bullshit to them,” he replied. “I would be extremely surprised by that.”
The article is an interesting read, if nothing else for the arrogance displayed by the ESA folks like that last quote.  If the customers wanted SpaceX to nestle their satellite in the rarest, most expensive goose down in the world, and wanted to pay for it, why should they not provide it?  It's not bullshit to provide what the customer contracts for and pays for.  SpaceX can (and should) tell the customers "you don't need to do that", but the customer is always right.  I've never been in the military, but even I've heard "there's the right way, the wrong way, and the (insert service name here) way".  Why should I think that doesn't apply to launches? 


Sunday, July 22, 2018

The President, the Federal Reserve, and Raising Interest Rates

For the entire life of this blog, which goes back to the second year of the Obamanation, I've been hammering on the Fed and their monetary policies.  The Federal Reserve Bank and all central banks are the worst bit of central planning that the entire world has fallen for and I believe they're not just unnecessary they're damaging.  The only things they add to the financial world are all the things wrong with the financial world: destructive levels of debt, countries engaged in constant currency manipulations to try to get an advantage over each other, the creation of money out of nothing, money as debt rather than asset, the destruction of the information channel in monetary transactions.   Everything that's wrong with the world's economies goes back to central banks.  

If you don't see what I'm saying, I can't summarize much more here.  Just use the search bar in the upper left and search on terms like Ben Bernanke, or "Bernank" as I often called him, Janet Yellen, quantitative easing (QE), interest rates, the Fed, or any other related term.  Or just go to the bottom of the right column where the list of labels appears, click on Economics and get all 458 posts so far.  Be prepared to spend days.

So where am I going tonight?  You might have heard that president Trump criticized the Fed for raising interest rates.  He says the Fed is working at cross purposes to his economic program.
In an interview published on CNBC, Trump said he wasn’t thrilled with the Fed’s rate hikes — despite calling Jerome Powell, whom he picked to replace Janet Yellen, a “good man” — and said he didn’t care that he was breaking a precedent under which presidents do not comment on the Fed so as to safeguard its independence.

“So somebody would say, ‘Oh, maybe you shouldn’t say that as president. I couldn’t care less what they say, because my views haven’t changed,” Trump said.
The media, predictably, is getting the story completely wrong, focusing on Trump's statement being political pressure on the Fed.  Fed head Powell has said he’s not concerned about political pressure from the administration. Instead, Powell responded with this knee-slapper:
In an interview with the public-radio program “Marketplace,” Powell said “the Fed has a long tradition of conducting policy independent of all political concerns.”
The Fed is “independent of all political concerns”?  Don't make me laugh.  Central banking is inherently a centrally controlled economy (by controlling what's arguably the most important information in the economy: the cost of money) and that's essentially leftist.  Everything they do is big government control.  They may think they're independent, but they inevitably help any president who's in office when the economy goes into downturn with their interventions to end the downturn, and hurt any president who's in office when the economy is booming with their interventions to slow down the growth.  Their enabling of deficit spending helps all elected officials over the unelected.  Just as now their fear of Trump's tax cuts "overheating the economy" is inherently biased against his free market-based solutions and toward central control of money. 

After the '08 crash, the Fed created trillions of dollars in an attempt to stimulate spending.  Other central banks around the world did the same, with smaller totals in dollars.  The fact that it took the economy almost eight years to recover leaves us to speculate if they really helped or hurt.  Perhaps they just lined the pockets of a few well-connected bankers.  The problem with all those trillions out in the world is that they don't have to be stuck in bank vaults; they can be spent and that will tend to devalue those dollars; that is, cause inflation.   I've been advocating for the Fed raising interest rates back closer to normal, historical means for years.  That will impact government spending as the amount spent on interest returns to historical averages, percentage-wise.  It leaves less to spend on other programs.

Yes, Mr. President, the Fed is at cross purposes to your programs.  Quite frankly, they think they know better than you.  For some reason, probably the inflation of the 70s which followed the final elimination of the gold standard, the Fed seems to fear middle class wages going up more than any other indication they look at.  You ran for office saying that middle class working families haven't had an increase in standard of living in decades; the Federal reserve is the reason behind that.  Whenever wages go up, they raise interest rates to slow down spending.  With less spending, some jobs go away and there's less wage pressure.   

It would take enormously bold leadership, but hobbling the Fed's powers would help the nation.  During the transition, Trump advisor Dr. Judy Shelton was advocating we provide something like the Treasury Inflation Protected Security (TIPS) bonds which would be redeemable in either dollars or gold, effectively tying the two together without a formal gold standard.  That would be a good start.  This idea was actually first floated by Alan Greenspan in 1981!

It's also true as you say, Mr. President that other countries manipulate their currencies to try to get advantage over us (and others).  As Dr. Shelton also pointed out,  the proper monetary foundation for genuinely free trade has to be stable exchange rates. That way nobody can manipulate currency to get an advantage.  That means that we couldn't manipulate our exchange rates, and I believe the Fed's machinations are manipulating our currency.

There's a saying that "if you're going to dream, dream big" and that would be "End the Fed".  That would take a far more work, and if you think the intelligence services know how to screw over anyone that messes with them, imagine the Fed trying to demonstrate how important they are.  

Overview of the Federal funds target rate, through this March.  NY Times graphic.  What stands out to me is the over 30 year downward trend in the interest rate, and the prolonged period at essentially 0% (the notorious ZIRP - Zero Interest Rate Policy).

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Little Shop Update

I haven't posted on the shop project for a while, because things have been a bit ... scattered. 

I had to do a maintenance/repair task.  One of my sheet rubber Y-axis covers had split along a place where it gets compressed - folded - when the table is all the way toward the Z column.  I bought a new sheet of rubber, this time 3/32 instead of 1/16, and then had to make a new sheet metal bar to fasten the rubber to the table because the OEM plastic piece was breaking.  Falling apart, actually.  You can't see it, but it's on the right, under the fold where the rubber goes downward at the table.

This took longer than it should have because of just one silly goof up after another. 

The main effort was to make the next part for the Duclos engine, the valve.  Duclos does a kind of funky arrangement where the valve just slides on the flat side of the cylinder I milled.  (Visible here)  The valve gets clamped to the side with a bent-up sheet metal spring.  He cuts a slot in the valve with slitting saw, but due to the small size of the part, uses a 1" diameter saw blade.  I don't have anything that small and it's so much smaller than the saw blade holder I have for the big mill, the teeth would be inside the holder.  Time to switch to the Sherline CNC mill.  That slitting saw holder is 1" diameter, but could be turned down 1/16 or so. 

My attempts to find a saw blade didn't go well.  The supplier he recommended doesn't exist anymore, and the company that bought them out had one blade that was $95.  For a single use?  I'll keep looking.  I eventually had to settle for a 1-1/4" blade a little thicker than he recommended from Travers Tool.  That took until Wednesday to get here. 

I cut the slot out yesterday, using my Rumblepad hand controller to advance the blade .001" at a time into the work.  110 button pushes, if you're interested.  I didn't count, I watched the Digital Readout of position in Mach3. 

After that all that was left was to turn a 1/2 x 15/16 x 1/4" thick piece of steel with a slot cut into it into a piece 1/32 thick with a section 1/16 wide and 1/8" tall that has the slot in it.  That was today. 

Some of you might not think of the Sherline for making things out of steel, but it's very good at fine work like this and steel isn't a problem.  I've cut titanium on it, it's just a matter of getting the "speeds and feeds" right - the depth of cut, speed of the spindle and inches per minute the cutter moves.  Unlike the bigger mill with its 1HP spindle, where I might have cut it in a couple of passes, the Sherline has about a 1/10HP spindle, so I cut it in .010" thick passes.  Which is why we have CNC, that doesn't get bored and lose count of where it is.  It just follows the code you write. 

There's a couple parts coming that are almost absurdly detailed.  Remember my flywheel?  There's a cam roller to be made that looks like that 3-3/8" diameter flywheel but will be 1/2" diameter.  Instead of 3/4" holes, it gets 3/32" holes.  A Sherline job for sure.  In fact, the rest of the engine until I get to the mounting plate may all be Sherline jobs.   It's all small, fiddly bits.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Peak of Civilization Day

H/T to Aesop at Raconteur Report for the name.  Unfortunately, it really was.  Today, men from the earth first set foot upon the moon.  And it was 49 years ago.  Borepatch called Apollo 11 the high water mark of the United States.  I think it was more than that; it was the high water mark of human civilization.  

I found this on Pinterest; it plainly says via 9GAG.com. 

One of my favorite rants I've ever done on the subject was "We Are the Counter Culture" back in July, 2015, which ends with a video that I never fail to laugh at.   

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Straw Jihad

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the Green Jihad of the Day is against plastic straws.

As always, it's hard to track down the history of something like this, but there have been arguments about plastic use, especially single use plastic items, for years.  If you're old enough, you'll remember when plastic grocery store bags were thought to be a wonderful answer to paper bags, and the only Proper answer to "paper or plastic?"  Now neither paper nor plastic is good enough, and you're required to reuse fabric bags that need to be washed and disinfected after each use so what you carried last time doesn't make you sick.  How much pollution does that cause?

In the last few months, several cities have announced bans on plastic straws: Seattle did, San Francisco is getting ready to Oakland, Malibu, and Miami Beach have already banned them, Santa Barbara just upped the ante by allowing jail time for violators.  Of course, it's not just the US, it's a global push.

Plastic straws exist because they fill a need and do it very well.  If you're old enough to remember when plastic grocery bags were wonderful, you might be old enough to remember paper straws that collapsed after you used them for a while.  If plastic straws didn't work well for their purpose, they wouldn't have become the virtually exclusive solution to the problem:  paper straws are more expensive than plastics and don't work as well.  Do we go over to stainless straws?  Not for hot beverages; they'll get heated and burn your lips.  Tempered glass straws? 

Just as you don't reduce total pollution by going to a hybrid or battery car, the Law of Unintended Consequences applies to plastic straws, too.  Perpetually aggrieved coffee store, Starbucks, was one of the first big companies to swear off plastic straws, saying they'll be gone by 2020.  Instead, they'll be selling coffee in what everyone calls a Sippy Cup.  There's just one problem: according to some work done by Reason, they'll be generating more plastic waste, not less.
Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size.
This means customers are at best breaking even under Starbucks' strawless scheme, or they are adding between .32 and .88 grams to their plastic consumption per drink. Given that customers are going to use a mix of the larger and smaller nitro lids, Starbucks' plastic consumption is bound to increase, although it's anybody's guess as to how much.
The mythology of the plastic straw swirls around the myth of the floating garbage patch in the Pacific that's twice the size of Texas and the myth that plastic is eternal and doesn't biodegrade.  It has been reported that if one takes a boat there to look for the garbage patch, there's nothing - or very little - to be seen.  The same goes for a similar garbage patch said to be in the Atlantic,  There's something there, it's just that people expect to see floating debris looking like a landfill.  Instead, there's an increased concentration of partially degraded plastics particles that can be dredged up in a very fine (.013") mesh net.  The problem is that if you call it, "the extended patch with a higher density of partially biodegraded micro plastics", that just doesn't sound as important as calling it the Pacific Garbage Patch. 

The anti-plastic straw people came up with a photo that has gone viral of a sea turtle with a straw up its nose.  I mean, it's a turtle with a straw in it's nose!!  How much more important does that sound!?!  

If we're to reduce the plastics pollution in the ocean, it's not about straws and it most certainly is not about reducing plastic pollution out of the US.  According to Reason,
At most, straws account for about 2,000 tons of the 9 million tons of plastic that are estimated to enter the ocean each year, according to the Associated Press—.02 percent of all plastic waste. The pollution problem posed by straws looks even smaller when considering that the United States is responsible for about one percent of plastic waste entering the oceans, with straws being a smaller percentage still.
The vast majority of the plastic waste in the oceans comes from Asia: China (as the giant of the region) and other countries with waste disposal systems that are rudimentary compared to ours.  Truly addressing the problem of marine plastic pollution will require going after those sources: all the uncollected litter from poorer countries that don't have developed waste management systems.

The most surprising fact out of this whole mess is that virtually every source you can find will quote the number of "The US Uses 500 Millions Straws per Year".  Nobody knows if it's accurate or not.  And the source?  A 10 year old boy doing a science project seven years ago.
But what about that scary “500 million” figure that celebrities, politicians and news anchors constantly cite? It turns out that number came from a 10-year-old who, for a school project, telephoned some straw makers.

Because the boy is cute, the media put him on TV. Now the media, environmental activists and politicians (Is there a difference?) repeat “500 million straws used daily … many end up in oceans,” as if it were just fact. The real number is much lower.
I'd argue that someone could come up with a more accurate number, but as always when arguing with the greenies, facts don't matter.  If facts mattered, nobody would give a rat's patootie about plastic straws. 

The Starbucks sippy cup.  (Business Insider)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mid-Atlantic and NE Readers, Pay Attention This Hurricane Season

That's the message from meteorologist Joe Bastardi at WeatherBELL Analytics, relayed by Watts Up With That.  For the next few days, you can go to WeatherBELL's site, click on Premium and then the ‘Saturday Summary’ video to watch his complete forecast.  

We're not quite two months into the Atlantic hurricane season and it has been a bit of an odd one.  In May, before the formal start of the season, the first named storm of the year formed off the Yucatan on May 25.  Formally Subtropical Storm Alberto, it made landfall in the west Florida panhandle-Alabama border area as a moderate tropical storm and dissipated slightly thereafter but before the June 1st start of the season. 

Since then, we had a Hurricane Chris which formed off the coast of South Carolina and lingered for most of a week before heading NE out to sea, slightly after Beryl, which formed just east of the Antilles. Beryl was briefly a tropical storm, even more briefly a hurricane, then dissipated into an unorganized mess south of Puerto Rico.  The mess was then pushed into the same general vicinity where Chris formed, re-formed and was re-named Beryl, and then headed NE and dissipated yet again.  (Confused?)

Joe's main point is that sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic have dropped dramatically in the North Atlantic basin, as seen in this plot comparing 2015 to 2018 (both plots on the same date in the year).

The color code is simple: red, orange and yellow are warmer colors, green and blue are cooler colors.  White is neutral.  Like virtually all of these sorts of maps, these are plots of temperature anomalies; departures from some long term average so the red "above average" indication in Hudson Bay in 2015 is much colder than the blue "below average" near the Yucatan. 

The most vivid difference is the enormous absence of red and orange in the North Pacific and the El Nino in process in 2015 stretching across 3/4 of Pacific to the coast of South America (mostly Peru).  If you look at the arctic, you'll notice yellow and orange up there in 2015, while this year shows colder temperatures.  Another point Joe makes is that according to the Danish Meteorological Institute, the arctic temperatures have been below normal all summer.  But this piece is supposed to be about the Atlantic.

Returning to the Atlantic, then, there's a little orange in the Gulf of Mexico, more than in 2015, but much less orange off the SE than 2015.  You'll notice the Cape Verde waters off the west coast of Africa show orange in 2015 and blue this year - this doesn't seem to be a likely spot for hurricane formation if this stays.  The warmest places appear to be from the Delmarva Peninsula up through New England.  What Bastardi is concerned about is the area just east of North America, where cold and warm waters are close to each other.  From his comment to the article about his report on WUWT
I am pointing out the cold/warm configuration in the northwest Atlantic like that promotes higher than normal surface pressures as per the Euro seasonal idea over Southeast Canada into the north Atlantic, which is something I look for [to predict] landfalling, higher impact storms. What is vastly different is the Main development region from last, so not near as much production there.  But I think you will see and I point this out in the video ( please watch so I am not taken out of context) is what storms there are [become] more intense relative to averages further north than south. The current rotation of the MJO ( into strong 5 and 6) is not unlike 1981,1984,1989,1996.  Dennis, Diana, Hugo, Fran and Eduoard all had later season impact on the east coast. I showed on the video this morning how close the current pattern is with July 1960 (so much so I am concerned about a hybrid on the east coast this weekend ala Brenda July 27-30 1960) [Note:  some minor editing and formatting cleanup; most in square brackets - SiG]
If you've never watched Bastardi's hurricane forecasts, he's a big advocate of looking for certain big picture items, such as sea surface temperatures, the state of major oscillations in weather patterns (like ENSO, or the MJO), and the location of big semi-permanent pressure systems, then basing predictions on the kinds of weather that happened the last time the major features were the same.  It's the same philosophy as the observation that "history doesn't repeat, but it does rhyme". 

In his video, he specifically mentions appropriate historically horrific storms, calmly showing memorial plaques that can be found in northeast cities now talking about these storms.  He actually almost sounded like what I said about NY Governor Andrew Cuomo after Hurricane Sandy: the people who act like these storms are new things there are either stupid - they don't know the history of where they live - or they're evil; trying to extort money because somehow they'll fix climate change.  There's a handful of storms that he names that are models for the kind of storm he's concerned about. 

The problem with these storms, if I understand him, is that since the conditions for development are close to shore there will be little time for preparations.  They will spring up and be upon a city quickly or approach as a weak storm and explosively intensify.  A complicating factor is the geography: Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, Raritan Bay and the mouth of the Hudson River; all these are places where wind driven water - the storm surge - piles up and gets worse.  The Great Gale of 1821 went up the same area that Sandy in 2012 did and was an astonishingly worse storm than Sandy.  The difference between them is that Sandy hit at peak high tide, on a full moon, the worst conditions possible for storm surge.  The "Great Gale of 1821" hit at low tide under a very different moon.  It can be calculated that the 11.2 feet of surge from the 1821 storm, if moved to the same tide and moon phase as Sandy, would have been 19.2 feet.  Sandy was 13.82 feet.   Or consider the 1938 "Long Island Express Hurricane".  If instead of sparing that area, it went over the mouth of the Hudson, you can imagine a storm surge of well over twenty feet surging up the Hudson River. That is practically a tsunami, and likely would reach Albany.

Of course, that's picking on New York.  The same sorts of things could happen in the Chesapeake Bay and wash out Baltimore or Delaware Bay and take out Philadelphia.  This is the kind of thing Joe Bastardi is concerned about and talks about in his video.    

Got preps?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Radical Improvement in Electric Motors

Chances are, if you're like me, you've taken apart a motor at some point in your life.  I've thought every kid who had a slot car took apart a motor at least once.  At the least, you've probably seen inside a motor.  Either AC or DC as a broad brush idea doesn't matter, the coils of wire were likely wound something like this view of the stator (non-moving) portion of a motor.

Because of the way current and magnetic fields are always at right angles to each other, these are called radial flux motors.  The magnetic flux is perpendicular to the axis of the motor, pointing in or out radially to the motor.  Unless you work on the leading edge of motors, this is probably all you've ever seen. 

As is often the case, there's another approach to building motors that hasn't worked out as well in a practical sense in the past.  This alternative is called axial flux motors, and it's being advanced by a Belgian company called Magnax as covered in Machine Design news this week.  As the name implies, the magnetic flux is parallel to the axis of the motor.  Again, the concept isn't new, but there have been manufacturing cost and product design issues that have kept the approach in marginal roles in the market.  Magnax is saying they've improved on some of the known drawbacks to the method.  The axial flux approach, literally thinking at right angles to conventional motors, is leading to massive improvements in power density by reducing the size (and therefore weight) of the motors.
Magnax says the key to the high power density is its motors’ yokeless AF design with two rotors at each side of the machine. The yokeless AF motors have a shorter flux path, and permanent magnets are farther away from the axis, resulting in greater efficiency and leverage around the central axis.

Furthermore, thanks to the axial flux design, very little copper is wasted on overhanging loops on the windings. The motors have zero overhang; that is, 100% of the windings are active.
The motors are being targeted where the higher power density is the most sought after: electric vehicles; not just cars, but including motorized scooters and other mobility devices.  The same approach can be used in generators where they can reduce the weight of the generator in critical uses.  They're targeting wind turbines.  
According to the company, a 100-kW axial-flux permanent-magnet (AFPM) generator for a mid-size wind turbine offers the following benefits:
  • Increased efficiency (+96% efficiency, up to 97% for larger generators).
  • Reduced length (5X to 8X shorter than traditional wind-turbine drive trains).
  • Reduced mass (2X to 5X lighter than geared or traditional geared direct-drive generators).
  • Reduced resources requirement (½ to ⅓ of materials required vs. traditional RF direct-drive geneators, which also results in lower costs). [RF = radial flux.  SiG]
I think the head to head comparison to an electric car motor is rather dramatic.  Magnax compares one of their motors to the motor BMW puts in their I3 electric car.

Note the 4x advantage in power vs. weight, which comes directly from the weight reduction.  The smaller motor weighs less, offers more peak power and the same torque as the motor BMW is using. The motor isn't a big contributor to vehicle weight, but every pound taken off the vehicle weight helps the range.

One of the things that strikes me as cool is that their design is easily scalable, and easy to parallel for more power output.  Look at this comparison to another generator technology.   That's three of their identical generator "slices" paralleled to increase output. 

The MD article goes into lots of details on the comparison of radial flux (RF) to axial flux (AF) motors.  I've just barely excerpted highlights to whet your interest.

Monday, July 16, 2018

About That Young, New York City, Socialist Twit

About that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the celebrated socialist running in New York City.  The press makes it sound like she's somehow important; like the Democrat primary voters electing her over a better known candidate are some sort of vanguard of what's to come, and not the reaction of a group that's already lock step in line with Chairman Mao.

To begin with, her win wasn't the tiniest bit noteworthy.  I find the best summary I've read is from Divemedic at Confessions of a Street Pharmacist soon after the election:
A closer look at exactly how she won the Primary indicates that her win is less about a sea of change and more about voter apathy. She won just shy of 16,000 votes out of 27,000 cast, in a district with over 236,000 registered Democrats. That equates to a voter turnout of under 12 percent.
She won by about 11,000 votes out of 236,000 registered voters; that means not even 5% of the voters in the district voted for her.  Her margin of victory could have been wiped out if something like 30% of the district turned out to vote instead of the 11-1/2% that did.

Need I remind you this is New York City, a deep, sapphire blue city that elected communist Bill DeBlasio as mayor ?  Generally, the population voting in primaries will be different from the population voting in general elections; in general, primary voters are more toward the edges of their parties, not toward the center.   In this case, it seems Ms. Ocasio-Cortez actually showed up and campaigned while her opponent took his victory as given and lost because of his overconfidence. 

So what?  She hustled, showed some good, capitalistic, you-work-for-it-you-get-it spirit, right?  The problem is she's selling socialism; she's selling other people's work.  You don't have to go far to find she's an uniformed twit who lied about her humble history.  Her platform is free stuff for everyone: free college, free trade school, free socialized medicine, criminal justice reform, a "green new deal", the ever popular "commonsense gun reform", "equal rights for all" (whatever that means today), forgive all existing Federal Student Loans, guaranteed Federal jobs labor camps for all, and ... wait for it... Abolish ICE!  (I thought Miguel at Gun Free Zone had a good summary on what we'll get when we abolish ICE - don't go there if you have a delicate stomach).  She mouths the socialist mantra that "we're the richest country in the world".  Actually, we're not.  We're the most indebted country in the world in total debt: over $21 Trillion at the moment.  The only "wealth" we have is by maxing out our credit cards and paying them off with other credit cards.  We're the most indebted country in the history of the world.  And that's just what has already been borrowed. It says nothing about looming pension problems, medicare, or anything else.

You know the story: how much does this cost?  Where does the money come from?  In a time when we should be cutting spending and trying to reduce deficits, she wants to increase costs everywhere.  Don't bother asking her; you'll get no answers.  Well, you'll get people defending her saying "tax the wealthy", just as Venezuela, Cuba, Zimbabwe and so many other places have done before.

(excerpted as live tweets on The Blaze)

She followed this wisdom with the equally brilliant bumper sticker quote, "If we’re not courageous enough to push the needle forward, we will get taken backward."  Years ago, I worked with a guy who had saying for times when someone said something phenomenally illogical.  He'd say, "you just can't argue with logic like that".  It was good because the person didn't realize how stupid they sounded and would leave.  I came to prefer and use, "you can't out think someone who isn't thinking".   Either one goes well here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Warning: Extreme Ham Radio Geekery Post

In my 42 years as a licensed ham, one of my constant interests has been the subject of propagation: how the signal gets from point to point.  Most of that interest has centered on the ionosphere and the HF through VHF spectrum.   I can't say I study it at any sort of academic level, just the practicalities of the topic.

The ionosphere is the part of the Earth’s atmosphere that has been ionised by radiation from the sun.  It stretches from about 27 to over 540 nautical miles above the Earth’s surface (commercial aircraft typically fly under a fifth of the lowest limit - 5-1/2 nautical miles) and is generally divided into layers which differ in their behavior.  At the altitude it exists, the density of the air has dropped so much that atmospheric molecules are far apart, and when hit by solar (mostly UV) radiation the gas molecules can lose one or more electrons, turning air into plasma.  Most importantly, it refracts radio waves, affecting radio communication around the world.  Ionospheric propagation varies day by day and season by season, but the High Frequency radio spectrum, from 3 to 30 MHz, is the only place in the entire electromagnetic spectrum where worldwide communication is routine without man-made infrastructure such as towers or radio relays.

I subscribe to the ARRL Propagation Bulletin, which is mailed out at the end of the work week by the American Radio Relay League and available on their website for non-members.  This week's bulletin had a link to a really interesting paper about a new discovery out of Sydney, Australia.  The research comes from a new Australian radio telescope,the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA).   The article, by senior research and lecturer Tara Murphy, describes how an undergraduate researcher, Cleo Loi, has confirmed the existence of something previously theorized: there are tubes of plasma drifting above the earth in the ionosphere. 

The story is worth reading.  In these days of rampant junk science and papers that can't be independently verified, it starts with a "that's funny" type of observation; a postdoctoral researcher from Curtin University, Natasha Hurley-Walker, was examining data from the MWA and came across a night that looked "funny".  Celestial objects were dancing around wildly, distorting strongly in shape and flickering in brightness. She flagged this night as one that the ionosphere had rendered unusable for our astronomy research.  Turning to Dr. Murphy:
Cleo then developed a way of visualising the distortions caused by the ionosphere on the images of distant background galaxies. She took the data Natasha had identified and applied her analysis to it.

When she showed me and other researchers the distortion maps she was generating, we were surprised to see huge waves of correlated motion rippling through the image. They looked like spokes radiating from a point outside the image.
Here we find a key contribution from the undergrad, Cleo Loi.  She transformed the reference frame of the coordinates of everything the MWA recorded from a celestial to an earth-based frame.  This immediately showed that the bands were hanging almost stationary in the Earth’s sky.

Some time later, after working through hundreds of emails of suggestions, Loi had another moment of great insight:
As she was preparing her honours thesis, Cleo had a geometrical insight into explaining the radial spoke-like pattern. She realised that a set of parallel lines viewed at an angle would appear to converge due to perspective distortion, like train tracks going into the distance.

However, without much knowledge of geophysics, it was several weeks until she made a second critical link: the layout of the spokes matched the Earth’s magnetic field. These strange tubular structures were tracing the magnetic field lines, which are parallel to one another but at an angle to the ground. The agreement was perfect.

(A visualization of the plasma tubes - very worthwhile video here).

Consultations with other, more experienced scientists ensued.
Finally, Fred Menk from the University of Newcastle suggested they might be “whistler ducts”. These are cylindrical structures aligned to a magnetic field, where the electron content is higher inside than outside. They are thought to guide the propagation of electromagnetic waves called “whistlers” in the same way that optic fibres guide light.

Whistler ducts had never been seen before, but all their properties deduced by scientists over the years matched what we were seeing with the MWA. Except for one thing: we didn’t know how high they were.
Again, a major contribution by Cleo Loi.
She realised that the MWA could be used stereoscopically to achieve 3D vision, like a giant pair of eyes. By splitting the data from the eastern and western receivers of the MWA, she revealed a slight parallax shift in the distortion pattern that let us triangulate the altitude: around 600km above the ground.

We were all astounded that this idea had worked, confirming that these were likely to be whistler ducts.
The only phenomenon that I'm familiar with which uses the term whistler is a type of VLF signal, (Very Low Frequency - 1 to 30 kHz) explained as lightning strike pulses being ducted to a different hemisphere. 

The visualization image (above) led me to think of transequatorial propagation at VHF.  It has been known among hams since the end of WWII that 10 and 6 meters (primarily) are more likely to open (allow contacts) on north/south transequatorial paths than paths oriented more east/west.  Is this how the transequatorial signals propagate, ducted by the plasma tubes, or is it totally unrelated?  I don't know, but it bears watching.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Very Odds and Ends

The other day after the NATO talks in Brussels, President Trump said something that I thought was remarkable.  In response to a question about Vladimir Putin, Trump said in essence that Putin isn't an enemy or a friend: he's a competitor.  Putin is trying to make Russia great and Trump is trying to make America great.

As a guy who has envisioned Putin in a "Make Russia Great Again" hat for years, this naturally resonated with me.  Maybe it takes a business leader to look at people as competitors instead of enemies; someone simply after the same goals of wealth and power, but looking out for themselves.  Putin may be a corrupt ex-KGB officer and he may be worse thug than any Mafia Don to deal with, but he unapologetically says the worst event in the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Empire.  He's trying to restore the Russian empire, which goes back centuries. 

I don't think I've heard such a rational statement from any American representative before.  Ever.  To get the details right - at least the details as reported by Time magazine:
Trump, who was in Belgium for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, cast his much-discussed relationship with Putin in a competitive light after a reporter asked Trump why he thinks the two leaders will get along ahead of their meeting in Finland next week.

“He’s a competitor. He’s been very nice to me the times I’ve met him; I’ve been nice to him,” Trump said, echoing comments he made earlier in the week. “Somebody was saying, ‘Is he an enemy?’ He’s not my enemy. Is he a friend? No, I don’t know him well enough. But the couple of times that I’ve gotten to meet him, we got along very well … but ultimately, he’s a competitor. He’s representing Russia. I’m representing the United States. It’s not a question of friend or enemy.”

You've probably heard the story about South Carolina State House member Katie Arrington's nearly fatal car crash back on June 22.  Well, nearly fatal for Katie, it was fatal for the drunk driver that hit the car she was a passenger in.  She was released from the hospital Friday, but is clearly not done recovering.  While she's expected to be able to walk again, she's still in a wheelchair for now.
Speaking from her home, the candidate said she broke both her feet in the crash, “demolished” her second vertebrae in her back, lost most of her small intestine, lost her right colon and ruptured her aorta.

“I was bleeding to death from my aorta. I have no neurological damage, and not a scratch on my face,” Arrington said.
That last one stands out.  As described, I'm surprised she's alive.

Chances are you're like me in not having heard of the very decent act of her opponent in that Congressional race, Joe Cunningham.
In the Congressional race Arrington is facing Democratic challenger Joe Cunningham of Charleston, who put his campaign on hold immediately after news of the crash. He has since returned to preparing for the Nov. 6 general election.

Cunningham even expressed he and his wife’s happiness for his opponent’s hospital release Friday.

“Amanda and I are thrilled to hear that Katie is leaving the hospital, and we continue to pray for a full recovery,” he said on Twitter.
Apparently, he returned to campaigning within five days.  Campaigning resumed with surrogates for Arrington, so (much like show business) the show must go on and it's understandable to me that Cunningham would resume campaigning.  Still, can you imagine any of the vocal "resistance" candidates acting with such decency?  Can you imagine a Maxine Waters, or any of the more well-known Democrats putting their campaign on hold, and not attacking while their opponent was down? I can't.  Unimaginable. 

Hat tip to you, Mr. Cunningham. 

My general attitude about pride in life is to be proud of your accomplishments; the things you've done that perhaps other people couldn't or wouldn't.  Things you have no control over, like your race or ancestry are just things that "are"; they're not worthy of pride, just acknowledgement.  Growing up in the south was my parent's idea, I had no part in it.  Staying in the small-town south was an active decision.  The way that Katie Arrington has been treated is yet another reason to be proud to be a southerner from flyover country.

Years ago, the New Yorker ran this cover (I hope as self-deprecating humor), depicting a view of the world as seen from the city.   All detail stops at the Hudson River.  They're aware of a place called Jersey, and a few others, but it's basically nothing until you get to Pacific.  As good a metaphor for flyover country as you'll find.