Friday, August 31, 2018

Troubleshooting as an Away Game

As regular readers know, I'm a retired engineer.  Electrical engineering is a broad field so people tend to develop specialties.  Mine was radio frequency circuit design, more specifically receivers, phase locked loop frequency synthesizers, the automatic control loops commonly used in receivers and transmitters, and electronic filter design, from DC to about 14 GHz.  This is what I consider my home field; fixing broken radios, both transmitters and receivers, is my home field advantage.

For the past couple of months I've been playing an away game, troubleshooting in a specialty of electricity and electronics is so far from my specialty that virtually nothing I learned in my career is useful here, except the big picture aspects.

I'm troubleshooting an intermittent failure in my house's electrical power distribution.  Finding a ghost, if you will.

When we had the addition built onto our house for the shop back in 2014, the general contractor subcontracted to some electricians who wired the entire shop.  The AC outlets were divided into two branches largely along the west and east walls.  Each circuit is on a 20A breaker and each side had a ground fault interrupter.  Once or twice in the intervening four years, the west wall breaker would trip.  In the last few months, that started becoming more common and started to become a problem.  The east wall breaker has tripped much less often.  I can only really recall once, which was on a night a couple of months ago when both GFIs tripped. 

To be clear, nothing is completely broken, in the sense of not working.   I'm not completely sure, but I think the most often it has ever reset in a single 24 hour day has been twice.  Most of what I'm trying to troubleshoot is something that happens at random times no more than once a day.  It has gone weeks without tripping.

While I have general electronics troubleshooting tools; a few digital multimeters, and an oscilloscope, most of the rest is more specialized for radio testing.  I don't have any specialized tools that an electrician might carry.

I do have a lot of hours troubleshooting intermittent problems and know the general method is to try to make the rare failure happen more often.  Failing often would be good.  Breaking it permanently, for once and for all, would be better.  As a general rule, you try to figure out what's causing it to fail and do it more often.  If a radio or computer fails when it's cold, you spray it with freeze mist to find out which sections are sensitive to cold.  If it fails when it has been running a while and gets warm, you use a hot air gun.  If a radio fails during vibration testing, you tap it with a rubber mallet.

I've been unable to find something that causes it to fail.  The GFI has tripped most often overnight when no one is watching. It has tripped in the early evening during or after nearby thunderstorms.  It has tripped on a day with no storms.  It has tripped while I was making a part for my engine, thankfully when the mill was off and the cutting was done.  At one point, I thought it was fixed.  I went outside to check out the ground rod for the house, where the power comes into the house (we have underground utilities) and found the ground rod corroded away - if you look in front of the yellow tag, you can see the point on the ground rod. I had the ground rod replaced and the GFI stopped tripping for two whole weeks.

What I've ended up doing is spending time looking for stories about things that cause GFIs to act strangely and do things like this.  Someplace I read said that refrigerators or freezers shouldn't be plugged in a GFI circuit because ... some reason that sounded plausible.  So last Sunday I removed the east side GFI outlet and replaced it with a conventional outlet.  Then I took the east side GFI and replaced the west GFI with it.  Comparatively, the east side GFI was much less likely to trip.  It took two days for it to trip on the west side. 

One difference between the west side and east side of the shop is that the west side has three surge protected AC outlet strips.  A search for reports that combining surge protection and GFI might cause the GFI to trip more often said that the surge protected strips might be a problem.  They theorized that when the surge protector dumps current from one side the AC line or the other over to ground, it looks like an imbalance between hot and neutral, which is what the GFI is detecting.  In other words, when the surge protector does what it's there for.  I took one of the surge protection strips out of place and just plugged in only the things I was using.  Today is the second day and it hasn't tripped. 

I have basic knowledge of how these things work, and nowhere near enough experience to look at something that's bad and know where to start looking.   "Away game" is probably too lame a comparison.  AC house power follows the laws of current and voltage I'm familiar with, but everything else is its own language.

All suggestions will be appreciated.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Cody Wilson Sticks A Finger in the Judge's Eye

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Upon rereading the judgement against Defense Distributed for the 29 Godzillionth time, they had a realization.  The judge ruled he couldn't give the files away.  So he'll sell them.  For whatever you want to pay.
Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson crushed their short-lived happiness during a Tuesday press conference where he revealed that he actually won't be stopped from sharing technical data; he will simply sell the files via his website, (Yes, he can do this.)

"This judge's order, stopping us from simply giving things away, was only an authorization that we could sell it, that we could mail it, that we could email it, that we could provide it by secure transfer. I will be doing all of those things, now," announced Wilson.

"A lot of this to me was about principle," he continued. "For many years, I just chose not to sell these files, because I'm an open-source activist. I believed in demonstrating that there was a right to commit this information to the public domain."

"But, this is my opportunity to correct the media all in one place. To read headline after headline about how you can no longer 3D-print a gun, you can no longer have these files, this is not true. This has never been true. I now have to demonstrate this to you, forcefully, to deliver the point."

There is no set price for the material; patrons are asked to give whatever they'd like in exchange. Wilson said the money would be used for further legal fees.

"Everyone who wants these files in America can get them," he said. "They're allowed to name their own price at our website. Making money is not important to me."

The 30-year-old said he's "happy now to become the iTunes of downloadable guns if I can't be the Napster," but added that it was somewhat "regrettable" that state attorneys general drove him into the commercial space.

"The only person who was hurt by the [Seattle ruling] is the common man," Wilson noted later in the presser, again adding that he will not be stopped.
Defcad will also allow the public to sell their own files via the site.
Allow me to remind you again of the DefCad fundraiser.  Yet another interesting thing about Defense Distributed is this promise.
"What are we? We call ourselves Defense Distributed," Wilson said in the video. "We're a defense contractor. We don't contract with the state. We contract with the public. So, I'd like to come to terms. If you will fund this fight for me, I will offer two new contracts to you."
The two dollar amounts that trigger the two new contracts were 200 and $400,000.  As of now, the $200,000 goal has been met.  When (if) it hits $400,000, they'll commit to the other new contract.

Cody with one of the Liberator pistols, of course. Photo by Kelly West/AFP/Getty Images.

If you go to the DefCad Fundraiser you can contribute.  Or you can go to the top level site, pick out the designs you want and get something for your bucks.  Either way, every time someone downloads a file, a gun grabber cries. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

An End to the Sliming

Today was the Florida primary election, meaning the last week has been almost back-to-back telephone calls.  We've actually had opponents of each other call back-to-back, and the snail mail for most of the last week has brought six to 10 large photo postcards every day.  The primary being over will bring with it a blessed end to the non-stop, neck-deep slime we've been assaulted by for months.  For a few weeks. 

This election season has been negative, vitriolic, and slimy.  There might have been worse, but this one has been among the worst I can recall.  It started early, too.  Today's primary (or for the last 10 days for those who do early voting) is for our local state representatives, senator, judges, and then for US senator.

It's hard to peg the most vicious race.  The big name race has been the competition for our liberal senator's opposition, and features soon to be ex-governor Rick Scott against a joke candidate.  Seriously, remember Pat Paulsen?  He has nothing on Scott's opponent "Rocky" De La Fuente.  Our state representative is a "career politician" type who has bounced between jobs up in Tele-hassle, taking one term limit and moving to the next two term job on his name recognition.  He's one of the Stupid Party insiders who sold us out after Parkland and needs to go.  His opponent has run before as a Libertarian, but moved to the mainstream party this time.

The most surprisingly bitter and slimy race was for our county commissioner.  The incumbent was challenged by a former commissioner who used to live in a different district and has now moved to the one I live in.  She was well known for fiscal restraint, sanity and discipline, and I would think she has a good enough reputation to just get her name out, but aside from a brief but pleasant chat when she knocked on the door, I've heard virtually nothing pleasant or positive out of her campaign.  I wouldn't doubt that we got a stack of the glossy mailers over a foot tall between her and her opponent. 

Long ago, like 35 years or so, I decided that a good rule of thumb was to not vote for the first candidate to sling mud.  Like all "zero tolerance policies" or rules of thumb, it's not right all the time, and should be used with some commonsense, but it's a pretty good indicator.  In this case, with both of them being negative 99% of the time, it basically came down to picking the least disgusting candidate - truly trying to pick up a turd by the clean end - holding our noses and vote.

I know no political consultants will ever read a blog like this, much less listen to what I say, but how about you tell me why I should vote for you not why I should vote against your opponent?

The candidates all act like there's a template they're filling out.  They all act like if they just say the same handful of buzzwords, or buzz phrases, they win.  This year's buzz phrases include:
  • I'm pro-Second amendment (having the NRA ratings to back it up adds cred)
  • I'm pro-life
  • My opponent is a career politician
  • I'll save the Indian River 
With a surprising amount of
  • My opponent is anti-Trump
The coveted endorsements seemed to come from our departing Attorney General turning into TV personality, Pam Bondi, and the "Republican Sheriffs".  Whoever the campaign consultants are this year, they've apparently convinced everyone this is the winning formula because they all say the same things.  Not that there's anything wrong with any of these, but if you're trying to distinguish yourself from other candidates, it's not working. 

I'm looking forward to the slime going away for a while.  Of course, we transition to the mud slinging for the November general election, and it'll resume a few weeks.  I'm going to move the recycling bin right next to the mailbox so that campaign literature can just be directly dumped from the mailbox into the recycling can.

(The famous Indonesian mud volcano has nothing on the mud these candidates are slinging).

Sigh... a check of the county election results shows the candidates I most wanted to go away won their races..

Monday, August 27, 2018

US Patent Granted for Way to Look Out of Radar Cloaking

A US high tech company called Fractenna announced it had received a US patent for an ability to turn cloaking on and off, allowing a vessel that's in a radar cloak to see out of it.
The firm pioneered and invented invisibility cloaks and holds both the ‘source’ patent (8,253,639) and the related comprehensive IP portfolio.

Recently issued patent 10,027,033 is a continuation of that state of the art innovation. It discloses a novel means of turning invisibility cloaks on and off, by changing the characteristics of a boundary layer. Notes inventor Nathan Cohen: “The person or sensor inside the cloak is thus no longer blind.” Cohen asserts that not being able to sense the outside has previously been the number one impediment to the use of invisibility cloaks.
So Star Trek had it right - the Romulans had to drop their cloaks to see out and use sensors.  The fact that the cloaking technology has worked both ways (keeping the cloaked from looking out as well as keeping an outsider from looking into the cloak) has been an impediment to the development of cloaking technology, which has tremendous military potential, as well as civilian uses.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find a description of how the cloak is turned off.

The hams in the audience might recognize Factenna, because Nathan Cohen is better known as W1YW, and known on the bands as 'Chip'.  Chip was an early adopter of fractal antenna technology and an advocate of the technology when most other hams were dismissing them as obvious derivatives of existing antennas.  The best write up on the technology isn't on that "Business Wire" link at the top, it's on the forum section of ham radio callsign lookup site, QRZ.
The newest patent, 10,030,917, describes related technology where electromagnetic energy is absorbed by fractal-based metamaterials. Called ‘fractal absorbers’, the innovation uses evanescent waves to divert such impinging energy off to the sides, where it is absorbed in a resistive layer. Previously, absorbers relied on the thickness, not the width, of materials to accomplish this. Now these very thin fractal absorbers accomplish the same result with dramatic thickness and weight reductions.

Fractal absorbers have been known and recognized as important for many years. Explains Cohen: “It is outrageous and bizarre to see teams from PRC (China) claiming invention of fractal absorbers. They have received unusual attention for their alleged invention, under the premise of so-called ‘supermaterials’. Fractal absorbers were discovered many years ago, at this firm, and the new patent conclusively establishes fractal absorbers as an American invention that pre-dates others’ alleged invention: we didn’t give it to them. We held it under wraps, waiting for this patent issuance. The patent application was withheld from publication. Ironic for them, the Chinese have unwittingly established credibility for our invention and its American uses. And, in my opinion, they are now very far behind in the game.”

Cohen sees a variety of commercial applications for fractal absorbers, whose broad bandwidths and ultra-thinness are especially sought.
Fractal absorber with some material sanded away so that the some of the fractal pattern can be seen.  Fractenna photo.

If you really want to read a fun piece, Chip was awarded a Technical Achievement Award at the Dayton Hamvention this year, and talks a lot about his background on his callsign lookup page.   Go to and enter W1YW in the box on the top left of the page.  For hams using RTTY (Radio TeleType) communications, there was a tradition of writing a few things about themselves to send to everyone they contacted as an introduction.  It was saved on a tape that was fed into a paper tape reader (then cassette audio reader, then a text file on the computer) that's known as a "brag tape".  This is the first few paragraphs of Chip's brag tape.
Well, I was the kid who stuck his finger in the light socket. Some of you may think that explains a lot. I made my first invention at age 6.  At 11,  I got my license. There was no holding me back, immersed in a friendly wireless world fabulously unlike my limiting hometown. 

Human nature being what it is, not everyone is friendly. Some of you are aware of the tortuous 30 year path of the innovation of fractal antennas, fractal resonators and electronics,  the invisibility cloak, and so on.  You can’t not see the very verbal resistance to that amongst some of our ranks. But this is typical territory for innovators who understand the outrageous realities of Darwinism with its die-offs and resurrection.

I was allowing none of that on fractal antennas. I became champion for the technology I created and took more than my share of arrows. I shot quite a few of them back. The pioneer didn’t die and the technology, today, is exploding on a global scale across wireless and telecom. Kids get taught it in math class.College students get graded on it at universities. DIY’ers praise me for bringing in Green Acres reruns from 150 miles away.

 Bottom line: I did it, from the beginning, with ham radio. I haunted flea markets. I had a love-hate relationship with Radio Shack and MFJ. I built my own antenna range . I  used crystal controlled 2M rigs.  I funded it from slim earnings, and unlike this first-class meal here, cornflakes and ramen noodles. I hate  ramen noodles.

Bottom line: Fractal antennas are ham-grown. I am proud to be a ham. You should be too.
So what's a fractal antenna?
Here's an example from Fractenna literature.  First off, notice that there's a large number of identical, repeating elements called tiles (one is highlighted in white).  Think of each element's largest overall length as a full-wavelength loop.  (If you're not comfortable with the idea that radio waves have physical size, I do a little explanation here).  Each of the bends turns an electrical length into smaller pieces.  Start with the smallest little square you can see near the inside center of one of those tiles.  The smallest sections resonate on frequencies where they're close to 1/4 wave long,  if we include the next short section, it gets longer, lowering the resonant frequency.  We continue to include more and more of the square squiggles, and eventually the biggest pieces resonate where all of those lines, and the interactions between them, add up to be 1/4 wave.  The combination of all those squiggles gives the pattern a wide frequency response, from the lowest frequency that fits around the entire perimeter of the tile to the highest frequencies of the smallest little lengths, and the art of the design is creating all those lengths so that wide bandwidths are covered. 

How do they cloak a device?  We've talked about it before here, in particular, we talked about the technique of evanescent surface waves, or ESW.  Chip links to a video showing their system working. 
Evanescent surface waves going around an object, so that it doesn't interrupt the signal.  Similarly, radar hitting an aircraft's body will go around the plane as an ESW and not reflecting a return signal to the ground that reveals the aircraft to a radar looking for it. 

As I've said before, optical cloaking is probably still somewhat off in the future, but I think the same idea would work. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

And ... No Cigar

Busy day without a running engine to show for it. 

So a cartoon that struck me as quite a bit deeper than an average cartoon - from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Let's see - $17,000 per semester, I'll swag 15 semester hours or $1133 per semester hour, probably $3400 per class (3 hr class) with 30 students in class, or $102,000 paid in tuition for one class.  The adjunct professor makes median $3000 for the semester.  We'll double that to cover overhead and estimate that to host the class costs the college $6000.  In return, they get paid $102,000.   For one class.

Nice racket if you can get it.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Very Close - But Not Yet

What 's close?

My engine. Very close to being able to try to run it, but not tonight. 

Not finished.  Some of the hardware isn't quite right, and the base plate mounts to an oak piece I haven't even started on yet. 

I could run it without the wooden base.  More importantly, it doesn't spin freely enough yet.  It should spin freely with everything moving properly and no flame applied.  In the middle of the picture, a thin rod is visible with a spring wrapped around it.  That rod doesn't move freely.  That's supposed to be a spring that I wound, instead it's a pen spring I found around the house and abused - I stretched it out so that it wasn't loose and rattling in there.  Didn't feel like buying a hundred feet of spring wire to use a few inches.

At best, I just tweak the positions of some parts, maybe replace that spring with another that I have.  At worst, the flywheel and it's mounting brackets might have to be moved slightly away from your point of view in this picture and that will require a bit of effort. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Shopify, Banks and the Rising Threat to Legal Commerce in Firearms

I'm sure that by now you've heard that the online commerce service for business, Shopify, suddenly started shutting down any businesses that have anything to do with guns.  That article focuses on Spike's Tactical and Rare Breed Firearms.  The same thing has happened to Defense Distributed and a host of other companies as well.  Cody Wilson's Def Dist has been particularly hard hit. Def Dist is a non-profit and with the money they've spent on Shopify now thrown away because Shopify suddenly changed policies, they've created an online fundraiser on their own servers to try to raise funds for the legal battles ahead.  Cody Wilson intends to sue Shopify to get that money back.

We need to think about this in wider terms.  David French, writing at National Review, presents arguments that this is a coordinated attack by all the usual anti-gun forces.  He doesn't mention the Parkland shooting, but you will recall that in the immediate aftermath the NRA was blamed for everything, and a "Ban All the Things!" cry was everywhere.  French argues that the anti-gun forces realize they can't win politically so the next best thing is bullying businesses, especially banks and financial institutions, to cut the businesses off.

After all, he begins, from the standpoint of government restrictions on Second Amendment rights, the future looks bright.  The elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court (not a done deal, but a very strong bet) may well represent the death knell for draconian forms of gun control — including bans on so-called “assault weapons”, and standard-capacity magazines in semi-automatic pistols and rifles.  Moreover, meaningful federal gun control has been blocked for a generation, ever since the "red wave" after the Clinton AWB, and red-state legislatures are generally moving to liberalize state gun laws - Florida's gun control madness after Parkland a counter example.  On the other hand, consider the steady spread of “constitutional carry” and “shall issue” across the country.
But another threat looms, one that can stretch across the entire American landscape, is immune to the filibuster, and is largely sheltered from judicial review. It’s a threat that can choke off financing for the gun industry, stifle speech about guns, and lock the gun-rights community into offline (and small online) ghettos that restrict their ability to communicate.

So, what’s happening? Titans of American banking and communication are taking steps to restrict the use of their funds or platforms by gun makers, gun-rights advocates, and others. The threat is just now emerging, but it may be as great a danger to gun rights as it is to the culture of free speech in this nation, and indeed the two are linked.
French then goes on to recount the stories of Citibank and Bank of America, from March and April respectively.  I think most of you recall this - many of you whom I read said you were cutting up cards from those companies.  This latter one immediately puzzled me because BoA is the company behind Bass Pro Shops MasterCard.  In terms of sheer dollar volume, Bass Pro / Cabela's is undoubtedly one of the largest gun sellers in America.  BoA said they were going to not lend money to manufacturers of AR-15s, are they going to draw the distinction that they won't lend to manufacture them but they'll lend to sell them?   This week, I got a more clear picture.  I have a Bass Pro/BoA card (they gave me a big discount on some boat work) and I received a letter from them saying BoA will no longer issue the Bass Pro Card.  Capital One will issue us all new cards which go into effect in October.

French then talks about other movements against guns that make life for gun owners harder but don't involve the government.
Facebook has recently restricted any links to a website called, which contains downloadable plans for a number of entirely legal firearms, including the 3D-printable firearms at the heart of the lingering Obama-era case against Cody Wilson. The site includes plans for weapons such as the Colt 1911, a weapon so common and so basic that its plans date back to, well, 1911 (actually before). You can even buy the plans on a t-shirt.

YouTube has its own restrictions on speech about firearms and prohibits any content that “intends to sell” firearms or provides instructions on “manufacturing a firearm.”
Reddit has banned certain gun forums and updated its policies to forbid using Reddit to “solicit or facilitate” (extremely broad terms) transactions or gifts involving firearms.
Amazon Web Services has reportedly removed from its web servers, and Shopify just updated its free-speech policies to deny space for “the kind of products intended to harm.” It also placed on its “restricted items list” all semi-automatic weapons packaged with detachable magazines “capable of accepting more than 10 rounds.”
Think of New York governor Cuomo's attacks on the gun industry and the NRA, aimed at getting the financial companies headquartered in NYC to financially isolate them, as part of this bigger picture. 

Washington Free Beacon reporter Stephen Gutowski, whom French calls "perhaps the Internet’s best one-stop journalistic shop not just for technical expertise on firearms but also for national trends in gun control" has been diligently covering the recent trend of increasing corporate restrictions.  He noted that the corporate actions have been “more aggressive than what we’ve seen with Alex Jones,” with a fraction of the attention.
Simply put, that has to change. Few American communities (including the pro-life community) are better organized and more mobilizable than the gun-rights community, and it’s time to shine at least as bright a spotlight on corporate gun control as the one that illuminates governmental gun restrictions, the more traditional focus of the NRA. But not even the mighty NRA can generally force corporations to change course in the absence of government intervention. Corporations are entities that possess their own constitutional rights. Yet the NRA can seek to inform and persuade. Gun-rights proponents can invest in alternative platforms. Young conservatives can and should seek career paths in tech and other key industries to break up the monoculture.

In other words, while doing our best to make arguments in the here and now, it’s imperative for gun-rights proponents to play the corporate long game, just as they did in their remarkably successful 30-year campaign to liberalize gun laws. The ability to preserve a functioning gun industry and the free flow of information about firearms may well depend on it. Corporations have entered the fight, and gun-rights supporters are mainly on the outside, looking in.
This is not stopping at guns.  We've all heard the stories of conservatives being "shadow banned" on Twitter and having their content shut off on YouTube, Facebook and the other media.  This week David Horowitz' conservative think tank, the Freedom Center, was shut off by both Visa and MasterCard so that it becomes impossible to donate to them other than by mailing a check.  Why? The Southern Poverty Law Center convinced those banks the Freedom Center is an extremist group.  The SPLC is probably the biggest hate group in the country, with hundreds of millions of dollars in offshore accounts

We are just this side (I think) of mortgage companies asking on an application for a house buyer whether they have guns or if they're a member of the NRA.  If they do, their mortgage is denied.  All sorts of nasty possibilities arise if the pressure can convince employers to listen to the most outraged "offended class" in their companies. 

Time to take matters into our own hands.  Like Gab, full30 and the other companies that have sprung up to fight gun censorship, some banks and financial institutions are needed. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills That Thar Poop

San Francisco has a poop problem.  I know everyone has heard that.  The city gets an average of 65 complaints every day about poop in the streets: 14,597 calls placed to 311 between January 1 and August 13, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, making one of the most expensive cities in the US among the worst in the world for cleanliness and hygiene.  That's not even counting the discarded needles.  According to Business Insider, the city plans to respond with what's being called 'the Poop Patrol'.
Starting next month, a team of five employees from the Department of Public Works will take to the streets of San Francisco's grittiest neighborhood, the Tenderloin, in a vehicle equipped with a steam cleaner. They will ride around the alleys to clean piles of poop before citizens have a chance to complain about them, the Chronicle reported.
ZeroHedge reports that the poop patrol will be fairly lucrative work: the city has allocated over $100 Million to fix things. 
After quoting Mayor Breed, who acknowledges, “We’re spending a lot of money to address this problem,” the following San Francisco Public Works budget items are presented:
  • A $72.5 million-a-year street cleaning budget
  • $12 million a year on what essentially have become housekeeping services for homeless encampments
  • $2.8 million for a Hot Spots crew to wash down the camps and remove any biohazards
  • $2.3 million for street steam cleaners
  • $3.1 million for the Pit Stop portable toilets
  • $364,000 for a four-member needle team
  • An additional $700,000 set aside for a 10-member, needle cleanup squad, complete with it’s own minivan
And crucially, there's now "the new $830,977-a-year Poop Patrol to actively hunt down and clean up human waste."

The SF Chronicle casually notes in parenthesis, "By the way, the poop patrolers earn $71,760 a year, which swells to $184,678 with mandated benefits."
What would they have to pay you to clean up poop all day?  $71,760 with full city benefits, probably including retirement, all the insurances (health care, dental, etc.) and ample holidays might sound pretty good.  Most people don't end up getting paid 2-1/2 times their pay in benefits.  I'm sure they're generous benefits.  If you have no particular skills, this might be the best pay you'll ever get.  In fact, even if you have a decent job, this might be the best pay you'd ever get. 

It begs the question of whether one can live on $71,670/year in San Fransicko.  A 2015 article on Investopedia makes me think it's possible.

A snapshot of a poop map, from KFI AM640.  Actually rather old data, 2015, so it's probably much worse now.

Like most of you, I have ideas about how to permanently solve this issue without spending $100 Million a year, but those ideas would get me accused of being a Hatey McHater just hating on those poor, innocent homeless people.  With worse hygiene habits than the slums of Calcutta or Rio de Janeiro.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Out of Touch - Ms. Occasional Cortex Bemoans Coffee Shop Shutting Down

The story with the most out of touch, tone deaf theme of the week concerns the young celebrity socialist Alexandria Occasional Cortex tweeting about a coffee shop she used to work closing.  What makes it so out of touch and tone deaf is that the shop is closing because of New York City implementing the exact policies that she wants to implement nationally! 
Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lamented the closure of a New York City coffee shop on Monday, which is ironic considering a major factor contributing to it shutting down was because of higher minimum wage laws—a position she supports.

“The restaurant I used to work at is closing its doors. I swung by today to say hi one last time, and kid around with friends like old times,” the 28-year-old said on Twitter. “I’m a normal, working person who chose to run for office, because I believe we can have a better future. You can do it too. We all can.” goes on to quote the owner of the store with a bit of important context.
The Coffee Shop in Union Square, which became especially famous after regularly appearing on HBO’s “Sex and the City,” will close down this fall after nearly 28 years in business. Co-owner and President Charles Milite announced the decision to shut the doors to its 150 employees last month.

But unlike what Ocasio-Cortez wants you to believe about the closing down, it wasn’t the result of greedy capitalists trying to squeeze the workers, but rather government regulations that forced the company to go bust.

“The times have changed in our industry,” Milite told the New York Post last month. “The rents are very high and now the minimum wage is going up and we have a huge number of employees.” (
New York City's minimum wage for fast food workers is currently $13.50, and is going up to $15.00 per hour at the first of the year (actually 12/31/18).  I'm not sure if this coffee shop counts as fast food; that would lower the current wage to $13.00 now but still increasing to $15.00/hr.  The combination of that with the costs of regulation make it impossible for a successful (28 years in business) coffee shop to continue to exist.  On her campaign website, Ocasio-Cortez calls for a $15 minimum wage:
A Federal Jobs Guarantee would create a baseline standard for employment that includes a $15 minimum wage (pegged to inflation), full healthcare, and child and sick leave for all.
According to her campaign website, Ms. Occasional Cortex has a degree in economics from Boston University.  Either she should ask for a refund from BU, or they should nullify her degree.  If BU was worth anything, they would.    

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Have Researchers Created the Most Wear-Resistant Metal Ever?

Materials researchers researchers Michael Chandross and Nic Argibay at Sandia Laboratories have created the first metal alloy that approaches the wear resistance of the hardest minerals, like sapphire and diamond; 100 times more durable than high-strength steel.  It figures to be an expensive material, it's made of 90% platinum and 10% gold, but there are places in industry where just a little of that could dramatically improve the lifetimes of products.  To create their new alloy, they had to throw out the conventional wisdom on what makes a metal resistant to wear (abrasion). 
The Sandia discovery flies in the face of accepted wisdom on friction. It says that a metal’s ability to withstand friction is based on how hard it is. The Sandia team proposed a new theory that says wear is related to how metals react to heat—not their hardness—and they handpicked metals, proportions, and a fabrication process that could prove their theory.

“Many traditional alloys were developed to increase the strength of a material by reducing grain size,” says John Curry, a postdoctoral appointee at Sandia. “Even still, in the presence of extreme stresses and temperatures, many alloys coarsen or soften, especially under fatigue. We saw that with our platinum-gold alloy the mechanical and thermal stability is excellent, and we did not see much change to the microstructure over immensely long periods of cyclic stress during sliding.”
How wear resistant is it?  Remember, we're talking about an expensive alloy that will be used by the gram (or milligram), so the example is a little absurd, but vivid.  They say if you put tires made of this alloy on a car, they would lose only a single layer of atoms after skidding a mile.   

But the story gets better for applications where the metal would be in moving parts, due to a feature in its surface chemistry.
Discovering the new alloy was a happy accident. One day, while measuring wear on the platinum-gold alloy, an unexpected black film started forming on top. The team recognized it: diamond-like carbon, one of the world’s best man-made coatings, slick as graphite and hard as diamond. Their creation was making its own lubricant, and a good one at that. Diamond-like carbon usually requires special conditions to manufacture, and yet the alloy synthesized it spontaneously.

“We believe the stability and inherent resistance to wear lets carbon-containing molecules from the environment to stick and degrade during sliding to ultimately form diamond-like carbon,” Curry says. “Industry has other methods of doing this, but they typically involve vacuum chambers with high temperature carbon plasmas of carbon. It can get very expensive.”
While industry strives to reduce the use of precious metals in electronics to keep costs down, switches and other electrical contacts often get a thin coating (microns thick) of gold or silver.  These coatings are expensive and eventually they wear out as connections press and slide across each other day after day, year after year, sometimes millions (or even billions) of times. These effects are exacerbated with smaller connections because the less material you start with, the less wear-and-tear a connection can endure before it no longer works.
The ultradurable coating could save the electronics industry more than $100 million a year in materials alone, Nic Argibay says, and make electronics of all sizes and across many industries more cost-effective, long-lasting and dependable — from aerospace systems and wind turbines to microelectronics for cell phones and radar systems.
To hop over to the Sandia Labs story:
“These wear-resistant materials could potentially provide reliability benefits for a range of devices we have explored,” said Chris Nordquist, a Sandia engineer not involved in the study. “The opportunities for integration and improvement would be device-specific, but this material would provide another tool for addressing current reliability limitations of metal microelectronic components.”
Unlike some of the stuff I've reported (cough, cough), this one looks like it could well be commercially successful.  How successful probably comes down to calculated cost/benefit ratios for the switch makers and other electronics companies.

Sandia National Laboratories researchers Michael Chandross, left, and Nic Argibay show a computer simulation used to predict the unprecedented wear resistance of their platinum-gold alloy, and an environmental tribometer used to demonstrate it.  Photo by Randy Montoya

Monday, August 20, 2018

Audacious Plan to Charge Electric Vehicles While Operating

Electric vehicles come up fairly regularly around here, and one of the weak spots of EVs is the amount of time spent in recharging, which leads to inferior performance for most buyers compared to an internal combustion vehicle.  While going through some old links ("I ought to read that..."), I stumbled across an audacious plan published in Power Electronics magazine back in February.  What if the entire infrastructure was designed to accommodate electric cars, so that they could be charged during operation?  Maybe instead of audacious, we should say "mindbogglingly expen$ive".

From a technical standpoint, it doesn't look like there's new tech that has to be completely invented; it's re-using existing ideas.  They need to be optimized for this use, but what they have to do is probably well understood.  If you have a phone or other personal electronic device that's put on a charging mat it's probably the same technology: a common electrical component called a transformer is conceptually split in half: one side is in the mat and the other in your phone.  In this case, one side of the transformer would be buried in the road and the other half mounted in the car.  The combination is called Near-Field Wireless Power Transfer.  This won't be as efficient as plugging a car in, but with dense enough placement of these transformers, the cars could have their batteries continuously topped off by the road.
Near-field WPT systems are of two types: inductive, which use magnetic field coupling between conducting coils, and capacitive, which use electric field coupling between conducting plates to transfer energy (Fig. 1). For medium-range applications (in which the distance between the transmitter and the receiver couplers is comparable to the size of the couplers, as in EV charging), inductive WPT systems have traditionally been preferred.
A simplified electrical block diagram with the transformer coils shown as green for the road and red for the car.  The concept drawing of the car shows its transformer coils in red passing over the green coils in the road.   The same figure could be redrawn with minor changes to show metal plates (capacitors).  There are profound circuit differences between the magnetic (inductive) coupling based on transformers and the electric (capacitive) coupling based on capacitors, but conceptually they're just transferring power either as an electric field or magnetic field.  The authors appear to do most of their analysis based on capacitive coupling after arguing that the transformers will depend on large hunks of ferrite (a ceramic with iron powder and other metals fired into it) while the capacitor approach will rely more on high performance electronic circuitry.  They expect the ferrites will be more expensive than the electronics approach and the electronics will get cheaper over time.

Let me break from the technical details here, and say if you want to read them head over to Power Electronics.  Honestly, they assume more familiarity with electronics than I'm doing, but not much.

What I want to address is the sheer megalomania of it, and some of the obvious problems. The article begins like this:
Consider a future in which a driverless ridesharing electric vehicle (EV) pulls over as you exit a building, takes you to your destination, and proceeds to drive passenger after passenger without ever needing to stop to recharge its battery. Instead, power generated by nearby wind and solar resources is delivered wirelessly from the roadway to the vehicle while it is in motion.

Not having to stop for recharging will make EVs truly autonomous, and, because the vehicles can thus remain in service for more hours, fewer vehicles will be needed to meet passenger demand. Furthermore, EVs with in-motion (dynamic) wireless charging can have much smaller batteries, an option that can reduce their cost and accelerate adoption.
Think of what it would cost to put electric plates with supporting electric circuitry every few feet down every road in a city; any road you don't put charging circuits on would be a back road either not-served or not well-served by electric cars, depending on how well they'd be charged and how long they could go without being charged.

Did you notice the part where it said you'd call a "driverless ridesharing electric vehicle"?  That means it's some sort of future where you're not going to be driving your own car, some entity like the city or state or some crony, er, contractor to the city or state will be renting rides to/from where you want to go.  As long as it's on a road that has the required million dollar a mile (PFA number) worth of electronic circuity.  Think back to the back road that won't get the electronic charging circuits; is that an ideal way for politicians to get "contributions" to ensure they make sure those businesses get a new road?

On this basis alone, I say it ain't happening this way.  Cities and states are far too broke to do something like this.  This is a massive, gargantuan public works job.  Only someplace as crazy as Califruitopia would spend on something this crazy, if even they would.  

Now think of the safety.  Those electric fields from the road are capable of transferring energy into pedestrians and animals, too.  The cars would need to be specifically built to shield the occupants.  The metal plates in the road would need to be able to sense when the vehicles are moving over them, pulse the power on and turn it off when the vehicle goes past.  That only adds a little cost.  The fact that the plates are in a road actually adds a little safety; after all, a stray dog or a kid will be more likely to be killed by being hit by the car than the electric field.  (That was irony - nobody would think that's a good idea).  

The cars would have to be pretty well aligned over the plates to get a good percentage of the electrical power across (i.e., good coupling).  Any placement to the side, rather than directly over/under each other would decrease the coupling.  The car couldn't be too high off the ground either: ground clearance would be a design requirement.  Any snow, or other foreign matter (like discarded hypodermics or feces, speaking of California) would make the charging less efficient.

Like most of these wild-hair design proposals that get into these magazines, this is the author's lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, showing you what they can do.  This doesn't have a snowball's chance in Florida of being adopted.  In my opinion (of course).  

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Agonizing Over the Ballots

Our primary election is the last Tuesday of the month, the 28th, and "early voting" started yesterday.  The phone has been flooded with candidates calling and the postal mail flooded with campaign flyers.   There have been visitors knocking on the door, some of whom I've actually talked with.  This is likely to not be interesting except for people in this area, but some thoughts while trying to sort this out.

First off, the "marquis race" this year, the one has gathered the most press, is the race to unseat our Reliably Lefty Senator, Bill Nelson.  Running against him is current governor Rick "Voldemort" Scott.  Except that's not officially true, yet.  The candidates haven't been chosen.  Rick Scott is running in the primary against a candidate impossible to take seriously, a guy named Roque De La Fuente, or Rocky De La Fuente.  He's running for the Senate in nine different states, and I believe lives in San Diego, CA.

I'm still anti-Scott for what he did after the Parkland school shooting, pushing through almost the entire Democratic gun control agenda for them.  This may be a bad aspect of his one, strangely positive feature: Scott is an incredibly inept politician.  Being bad at politics has its good side, but his gaffs and missteps could fill a book. 

I probably won't vote for either of them.  If (when) it turns into the actual Bill Nelson/Rick Scott race I'll have to think again.  Nelson needs to be retired, I just don't know what to expect of Scott as a senator.  After a career as a CEO, followed by CEO of Florida, would he work in a "debating club" as the senate is often referred to?  What's the alternative?  Nelson will vote for any policy the Dems put forward and I can't recall the last "moderate" positions he took.  Does it matter?  Marginally.  Maybe.

The governor's race to replace Scott (Florida passed term limits years ago) is the next big one on the list.  After an endorsement from President Trump, US representative Ron DeSantis is leading agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam.  DeSantis' district is Florida 6, up in the vicinity of Daytona.  While my only knowledge/familiarity with the Agriculture department is as the agency that manages our concealed carry licenses, and that is run well, Putnam has run a mainly negative campaign against DeSantis, with radio ads accusing him of all sorts of things.

Other statewide offices I need to pay attention to are Putnam's replacement at the Dept. of Agriculture, Attorney General, and our State Representative.  The first requires a bit more research, the last two are brain-dead easy choices.

Possibly the nastiest race this year is for our County Commission seat.  The incumbent is being challenged by a CPA who was on the commission a few years ago and wants to get back.  She was famous for digging into the numbers deeply and was routinely voted down for being too sane on spending matters.  Too fiscally conservative for the others.  Between the two of them, they're probably responsible for the bulk of the mail we've gotten and have driven me to hate both of them.

The Song of the Republican Candidate has long been, "I'm pro second amendment", "I'm pro-life", and "my opponent is a career politician" - which is routinely thrown out once they're elected. This year they've added, "my opponent hates Trump", and most surprisingly (to me), "I'll do more to save the River".  (The Indian River Lagoon runs pretty much the entire length of the county, and quite a bit more.  It's in bad health in many areas, and the county passed a "please raise my sales tax" bill two years ago to fund a major river restoration program.)  Every candidate from the county commission and up sells that they're going to be the one to save the river.

Similarly, last week Bill Nelson and Rick Scott were blaming each other for allowing a bloom of red tide to remain on the SW coast of Florida (far from the Indian River).  I get a weekly email from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and while this particular bloom is longer lasting than many, red tide blooms are pretty normal things in the state.  I recall hearing about them 40 years ago. 

As always, these choices are the lesser of two (or more) evils.  I think I said once in this space that if you've never gone into an election and been in the situation where you don't like either candidate, and you find yourself voting for the "least disgusting" candidate instead of one you really like, welcome to your thirties!  That threshold was long, long ago for me. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

We Pause for Different Content

Afternoon at my friend's funeral, so a little diversion. 

Scott Adams at Dilbert, of course.  No one thought for a zeptosecond that I did that, right?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Crazy Left Coast Story of the Day

From the National Shooting Sports Federation newsletter Ammoland, we find the story of a salmon researcher in Washington's Okanogan forest who was circled and surrounded by a pack of wolves, climbed 30 feet up a tree to keep from being eaten, and was almost abandoned to the wolves by the state.  According to a linked piece in the Capital Press, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officials sounded more concerned about not harming the wolves than letting the woman be eaten by the wolves.
Washington wildlife managers initially opposed sending a helicopter or a search-and-rescue team to save a woman treed by wolves in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, according to recordings and summaries of emergency calls obtained Tuesday.

The Department of Natural Resources pushed back and prepared to dispatch an air crew that eventually executed a swift rescue. Notes from a call between DNR dispatcher Jill Jones and a wildlife officer summarized WDFW’s position, and her position, shortly before the helicopter launched.

“No helicopter. Federally listed species. 3 WDFW personnel saying so,” according to DNR’s call log.

“We are more concerned for her life than the listed animal,” Jones told the officer. “He indicated that she is safe up in the tree. ... I told him that we do not know how safe she is. I don’t know how stout the tree is, and if the limbs will continue to hold her or how long she can hold on.”

Minutes later, WDFW and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, at the request of DNR wildfire supervisor Chuck Turley, OK’d an air rescue. Within a half hour, the woman was safe in the DNR helicopter piloted by Devin Gooch. The wolves had scattered as Gooch flew overhead before landing in a meadow.

The swift air rescue — reaching the woman by foot would have taken 2 to 3 hours, officials estimated — ended a hectic 45 minutes in which state, federal and local agencies discussed what to do.
In hindsight (always 20-20), WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said the wolf experts thought the woman was in no trouble, but later admitted they were making the wrong call.  “To tell the helicopter not to go was not the right call, and we have to own that,” Martorello said.

Bottom line to me is that the woman is very lucky to be alive.  First, the wolves didn't ambush her; she saw them and had time to react.  She pepper sprayed the first wolf, and more came forward to take his place.  Second, she's lucky there was a sturdy tree there, lucky she was able to climb that tree to 30 feet and lucky she was able to wait there safely.  If the branch she had been standing or sitting on had broken, the 30 foot fall probably would have left her unable to move, and she'd be an easy target for the wolves.  What if she was up there and couldn't call for help by radio or cellphone? 

Dean Weingarten, in the Ammoland News says the wolf apologists already have an answer from the "wolves are not a threat to people" file.
Researchers have already created an excuse for the aggressive wolf behavior. They say the area the woman was in is a “rendezvous site”; therefore the wolf behavior was “defensive” not aggressive. From
They determined that where the researcher was treed was a “rendezvous” site, and the wolves were likely acting defensively to protect offspring or food sources.
Look, I love animals, too, but the tree huggers and greenies that pushed the reintroduction of wolves in America are putting people at risk.  I have a pair of rescue cats around here who regularly boss me around, and while I've had many more cats than dogs in my life, I've had both.  Wolves are not domesticated dogs, they are extremely intelligent, top-echelon predators.  We're told that wolves are "not really dangerous" and "wolves never attack people".  If wolves aren't a threat to people, why do so many legends and sayings (one example) from our ancestral civilizations say they are?  Like mountain lions, wolves require massive ranges of land.  Lions are solitary hunters, not pack hunters, but attacks happen. Why should we think wolves won't attack people?  Weingarten puts it this way, and concludes with an unsettling observation:
When European immigrants first came to North America, they assumed that wolves were dangerous. All of their experience in Europe showed wolves to be dangerous. Wolves in North America are the same animals as wolves in Europe.

The mythology of the harmless wolf was created out of the success of the developing North American civilization. They were successful at protecting themselves and their animal resources from wolves. The European immigrants brought technology that was effective in keeping wolf populations on the defensive, afraid of contact with man. When wolves came in conflict with men who had access to firearms, steel traps, and poison, wolves learned to fear men or die.

The best way to keep wolves harmless is to keep them in fear of man. This pack in Washington state has successfully treed a woman, without any loss. They have learned from the experience. They are likely to treat the next human more aggressively.

File photo of a gray wolf, the species in the area.  John and Karen Hollingsworth/US Fish and Wildlife Service

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Apparently, It's Not Just Math That's Racist

Last year, Campus Reform was reporting professors saying math is racist because "algebra and geometry perpetuate privilege because 'emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi' give the impression that math 'was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.'"  (Confidentially, professor Gutierrez, that's because it was).

Now we learn it's not just math.  It's Chemistry, too.  A version of the periodic table showing the nation that discovered each element, found at Daily Timewaster.

Not a single non-Western country in the chart.  About a dozen (out 118) say, "known to ancients".  Dollars to donuts that was mostly the Greeks and Romans - Europeans - but possibly Egypt.  Go ahead and credit all 12 to the Egyptians, the Mayans, Chinese or whomever you want.  The deck is still pretty stacked.


So sorry to hear of her passing.  It wasn't unexpected as I knew she has been in declining health, but it's always sad to lose someone with her talent.  She was part of the sound track of my life.

For however long they allow embedding, here's a little bit of her magic, with one of my favorite songs.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Are Standard Time/Frequency Radio Stations WWV/WWVH Going Away?

A buzz has started circulating in the ham radio community since it became apparent that in the proposed 2019 budget (summary online), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) mentioned in their proposed budget that they propose to cut:
$6.3 million supporting fundamental measurement dissemination, including the shutdown of NIST radio stations in Colorado and Hawaii
Radio stations WWV and WWVB are in Colorado while WWVH is in Hawaii.  WWV and WWVH have a lot of duplication between them, but Hawaii doesn't have an equivalent of WWVB.   Apparently, the first report on this was from a guy named Tom Witherspoon, K4SWL, who maintains The SWLing Post website; he's credited by the American Radio Relay League, the National Association for Ham Radio in their post on the subject. 

The SWLing Post doesn't address WWVB, the Very Low Frequency (VLF) station and probably the most useful of the NIST services.  If you have one of the so-called "Atomic Clocks" or watches, those synchronize to WWVB.  Around our house, we're probably over 90% clocks or watches that sync to WWVB. 

Comments on The SWLing Post seem to show the majority are in favor of keeping the time and frequency stations on the air, which I expect.  In reality, it's hard to conclude that they're really at risk.  First off, there are five frequencies: 2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz on the air 24/7 at each location.  Prudence would dictate that if the designers intended to be on the air with over 99% availability that the stations would either have redundant transmitters or the ability to put a spare transmitter on the air quickly.  Could they be talking about cutting back the numbers of transmitters, the numbers of towers, or perhaps getting the realization of some actions already taken to improve reliability and reduce cost?  These sorts of details are simply not visible online.

NIST has some online photos and information on the stations.  There's a great deal of hardware there, exactly what they plan to eliminate to save money isn't clear.

It's also possible that someone in the NIST is playing some form of "Art of the Deal" and proposing this to get public outcry against budget cuts.

From Colorado Section Manager's blog.

The sign at the top says it's the Primary transmitter for the 2.5 MHz station, which automatically implies at least a secondary transmitter.  It's also a fairly recent vintage Rockwell Collins commercial High Frequency transmitter; I don't know the model number, but the color scheme of that orange stripe with the rest black dates as being post 2006.  It's not like this is a 1950s vintage transmitter hand built by the NIST (which was the NBS back then - the National Bureau of Standards).

So are WWV/WWVH going away?  I'm afraid I can't answer that either way.  It seems that something might be set to happen, but I can't track down enough details to say for sure.  There are other HF time/frequency standard stations, the main drawback is that their signals are going to be quite a bit weaker and less available in the mainland US.  The station with the most utility appears to be their VLF station, WWVB.  Since it has become so widely used commercially, it seems least likely to be affected, but that's just a guess.   Does anyone know any more?  Drjim, you're practically in their near field; heard anything? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

I'd Tell You the Story If I Knew the Story

Last night I mentioned a "major issue" that hit friends close enough to feel like family.  I can only tell you the vaguest overview of the story, because it's all I know for sure. 

Our friends, whom I'll call Gilligan and Mary Ann, are a few years younger than Mrs. Graybeard and I, so still working.  That tends to limit the times we can see each other.  Gilligan worked in home construction, while Mary Ann is a secretary in the corporate world.  Gilligan and I used to joke about doing "roofercize" on the roofs around here in the summer, or other problems of working construction when you're over 50.  Super sweet, super nice folks.  Mary Ann was out with her mother on Sunday, and when she arrived home she found him dead in the hallway of their home.  Shot twice in the chest.

We've been unable to get more details, but with nothing missing the police are saying "probably a botched robbery".  Perhaps Gilligan was in another room and walked in on the criminal, or perhaps he was also away, returned home, and walked in on the crime in process.  It's possible that it's weirder than that.  One of the things that strikes us the strangest is that there is nothing in the local newspaper, or any local news we can search online. 

So, while we're feeling a bit more normal a day later, it's still hard not to think about.  We're still missing a story; some framework to force some context and sense onto the situation. 

Both Gilligan and Mary Ann are OK with guns: we've talked about going to the range several times, but with construction being busy around here, work had been keeping him busy enough that it was hard to arrange a time.  We never talked lots of details about what that meant practically.  Was he ambushed?  Walked in and the other guy shot first?  Was there exchange of fire?  We simply have no idea. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Why Do I Like to Pick On Them?

Banjo players. 

I have nothing against banjo players.  I'd like to have that skill set, just don't feel like doing the study required.  I'm in the middle of a class on "finger style" guitar playing, which has tons in common with banjo.  It's just six strings instead of five, and all the notes are in different places. 

On a much more serious note, we've had a major issue hit friends close enough to feel like extended family.  It was difficult coming up with even this to post.  I don't feel it's right to talk about it at the moment, and might be scarce here for a few days. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

It's Two! Two! Two Parts in One!

Those of you who have spent too much time in front of a TV will recognize that line from an old  commercial (substituting "mints" for "parts").

The two parts in one is the crank arm for my fire eater engine.  It's a complex little part that is mostly made on the rotary table, except for some drilling, reaming and tapping of five holes.  That meant going from the milling vise for cutting the piece to size, drilling, tapping, and reaming; over to the rotary table for the three radiused cuts; back to the milling vise to cut the tapers, and finally to trim off the brass plug I turned to size and press fit into the 3/8" hole.   Almost every cut meant re-establishing the coordinates.  

This is the drawing for the part. 

And this is how it came out.

The brass plug started out as a cube roughly 1/2" on a side cut from a piece of scrap brass I've used for practice cuts.  It was held in a four jaw chuck on the small lathe until I could turn enough of it into a smooth cylinder.  A smooth cylinder meant I could turn it around and get a better grip on it with a three jaw chuck.  Once in that chuck, it was turned until it was a press fit into the crank arm.  The crank arm is 1/4" thick, though, so I had to trim off about a half inch of brass that was sticking out of the back.  The tool for that seemed to be my smaller mill, and I trimmed it to just a bit over the thickness of a paper gum wrapper that was handy - about .002 above the surface. 

It has taken a long time to be able to say this, but this part completes the machining of all the parts in the engine.  Left to do is to make the mounting base plate the engine will sit on.  The plate needs four holes to be precisely located and drilled.  Other than that, I need to get/make a couple of springs.  It's almost time to build it.  

Saturday, August 11, 2018

In a Week, You'll Thank Me

I read it's being released on August 19th.

They say this will be the last one.  We can only hope.  (Disclaimer - I haven't actually watched one.  It might be modern-day Shakespeare and wonderfully written drama, but I'm willing to take the bet it's not and not bother to watch.)

EDIT 8/11, 2115EDT: the typo monster got one by.

Friday, August 10, 2018

NASA To Produce Next X- Plane to Test Reducing Sonic Booms

NASA's X-planes are justly famous.  The X-15 rocket plane from the 1950s that came close to suborbital spaceflight, the X-1 that broke the sound barrier for the first time, and the X-29 with its bizarre, reverse swept wings, to name just a few.

This year, NASA announced they've cut a contract to produce the next plane, the X-59 aimed at researching a hot area of aviation: whether supersonic aircraft can be designed to produce less boom and become commercially viable - a topic I covered a few years ago.
To help with that first issue, noise, specifically the sonic booms generated by aircraft breaking the speed of sound, NASA plans on building its first manned X-plane in decades, the X-59 Low Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD). The single-engine jet will be built by Lockheed’s Skunkworks as they were the only company to submit a bid on NASA’s request for an aircraft. Lockheed, which will be paid about $247.5 million for the single aircraft has a vested interest in supersonic flight; it is partnering with Aerion on a supersonic 12-passenger business jet.
To summarize the earlier discussion, everyone has heard about (or heard!) sonic booms.  When an aircraft passes through the air it creates a series of pressure waves in front of it and behind it, similar to the bow and stern waves created by a boat. These waves travel at the speed of sound, and as the speed of the aircraft increases, the waves are forced together, or compressed, because they can't get out each other's way. Eventually they merge into a single shock wave, which travels at the speed of sound.  This expands in a cone behind the plane and creates a loud sound, sometimes close to the volume of an explosion.  On a smaller scale, virtually all rifle rounds are supersonic and much of what you hear at the range is the sound of the sonic boom the bullet generates.

A theoretical model was developed by aerodynamics researchers that said the aircraft's shape could be modified to change the interaction of the waves and reduce the "boom".  Tests were performed by modifying existing aircraft and results confirmed there was improvement, leading to this X-plane program.  Rather than small modifications to an existing air frame, this one starts with a clean sheet.
That theory postulated that shockwaves generated from the front and rear portions of a plane as it sped past Mach 1 coalesced or joined together as they expanded away [from the] plane, creating two thunderous booms when they hit the ground. So, NASA’s X-59 will have a fuselage shaped by aerodynamicists so that there will be small and nuanced volumetric changes from nose to tail designed so that shockwaves off the plane do not come together and coalesce as they move toward the ground. It is hoped they create an S-shaped boom that creates a mild thump as loud as a car door closing, not the classic double-bang of an N-wave sonic boom.
(X-59 concept art.  The engine is mounted above the wing and shielded from the ground. This should direct engine noise up, keeping it from being too loud on the ground under the plane’s flight path.)
“The airplane is a brand-new shape,” says LBFD program manager at Lockheed Martin Peter Iosifidis. “Everything else within the plane, however, is commercially off the shelf or salvaged from other aircraft.”

The plane will also fly slower than the Concorde since speed is directly related to the sound level of the boom. The cruising altitude will be above 50,000 ft, about 15,000 ft higher than most airliners’ cruising level. Higher altitudes soften the booms.

The plane is designed to replicate the sonic boom of a small supersonic airliner. It is predicted to have a maximum boom loudness of 75 PLdb when going Mach 1.5 at 55,000 ft. The Concorde generated a boom of about 110 PLdb when cruising at Mach 2. (PLdb stands for “perceived decibel level. It was developed to compare the loudness of aircraft in flight and takes into account the frequency content, rise time, and several other acoustic parameters.) Flight experts think a PLdb of 75 would be low enough that regulators would permit unrestricted supersonic flight over land, but NASA’s goal is to get the X-59’s boom down to 70 PLdb.

“This is a purpose-built experimental research aircraft,” says director for air vehicle designs and technologies at Lockheed Martin, Dave Richardson. “It is not a prototype for a supersonic business jet or weapon systems. It is not a derivative or some other modification an existing airplane.”
(Confidential to Lockheed: your last few dB from 75 to 70 will probably cost as much as going from 110 to 75.  DAMHIK)  Current schedule is for the aircraft to be delivered to NASA in 2021, with first test flights from Edwards AFB's supersonic test range.  This will be to confirm safe flight and then make measurements of the sonic booms (with some interesting photographic techniques I could do a separate piece on).
Then from 2023 through 20205, Phase Three, the plane will make “community response” flights staged out of Armstrong Flight Research Center located inside Edwards AFB. There it will flyover some as-yet-unnamed California cities. Then it will demonstrate its hushed sonic boom over four to six other cities around the U.S. The communities’ responses to the sonic booms, along with readings from ground and flight instruments will be given to the U.S. and international flight agencies. Those agencies could use this data to rewrite the rules governing supersonic flight over land and open the hangar doors to faster-than-sound passenger and cargo travel over the U.S. and other countries. If the booms are too loud and obnoxious, however, supersonic flight over land will remain a dream.
(The X-59 will fly precise flight profiles as it creates sonic booms. The chase plane will also have to maintain a precise flight path as it maintains a set distance from the NASA plane while it takes schlieren photos of the X-59 backlit by the sun as both fly supersonic. A TG-14 plane will record the shockwaves in the air, and NASA will record the sonic booms those same shockwaves make on the ground. Later analysis will let NASA determine how turbulence and weather affect shockwaves.)

I'm a little schizo on this.  It is pretty cool.  If we're going to pay for a National Aeronautics and Space Administration, this is exactly the kind of research they should be involved in.   On the other hand, if they're not able to do it, someone like Lockheed or Boeing should be paying for it out of their own R&D funds. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Lock Out and Tag Out

If you've ever taken any electrical safety training, you've heard of making doubly sure no one can turn something back on that's being worked on.  Usually, the circuit breaker is locked open and a large, conspicuous tag is hung on the breaker box to make as obvious a warning as possible.  Stumbled across a picture that seemed like a perfect example of the kind of job you'd want to not just switch the breakers, but you'd want to pull the breaker and keep it in your pocket while you're working.

That's a BFS.  He appears to be sharpening the saw's teeth with a file.