Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Some Astounding Halloween Facts

From the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).
  1. An estimated $575.26 million total will be spent on Halloween pumpkins alone in 2018, according to Finder, at an average price of $3.89 per pumpkin. That will exhaust about 80 percent of the US pumpkin supply.
  2. An estimated 95 percent of Americans plan on buying candy during the Halloween season, spending a total of $2.6 billion. 
  3. Americans are projected to spend some $9 billion total on Halloween in 2018, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a couple billion dollars more than was spent on federal elections in 2016.
  4. Americans will spend, on average, a record $87 per person on Halloween in 2018, according to The Balance. (Meanwhile, more than half of Americans don’t have enough money in savings to cover the cost of a $500 emergency.)
  5. A single business produces nearly half of all costumes worn during the Halloween season, Bloomberg News reports. The company? Rubies Costume Co., the world’s largest manufacturer and designer of costumes.
  6. The top five most popular candies during the Halloween season, according to, are: 5) Starburst; 4) Reese’s Cups; 3) Snickers; 2) M&Ms; 1) Skittles. These five candy brands will sell 55,000 tons of candy (11 million pounds) during the Halloween season, according to The Daily Meal. Skittles alone will sell 3,487,101 pounds.
  7. Americans spend more money on costumes than any other Halloween expenditure ($3.2 billion). The most popular costumes in 2018? Adults: witch, vampire, zombie, pirate, and Avengers characters. Kids: A princess, random superhero, Batman, random Star Wars character, and witch.
Some of those number boggle my mind.  11 million pounds of just those five candy brands (in #6)?  3.5 Million pounds of Skittles alone?  Maybe it's because candy isn't a routine part of our lives, and with Precious Grand Daughter and family a thousand miles away, we're hardly around candy at all, but that's a jaw-dropping amount of candy.  The Daily Meal has an article on the 25 most popular candies for Halloween, ranging from licorice at #25 with a mere 17,000 pounds being sold to that 3.5 Million pounds of Skittles.  Although I counted in my head, from #25 to #6 added up to about another 11 million pounds of those candy brands, bringing the overall total close to 22 million pounds of candy being sold.

Halloween trick or treaters, from the FEE article.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Space Can Be Spooky

An appropriate Halloween deep sky photo, this is a nebula cataloged as IC63 (for Index Catalog), seen in the direction of the north circumpolar constellation Cassiopeia.

The cloud looks like a ghost rising out of a foggy patch.  I see a head facing left, perhaps with a ridged helmet, and shoulders, and can follow it down to a body.  This is a portion of an image copyright Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Obs.) and featured on the Astronomy Photo of the Day for the 26th.  To borrow from the description at APOD:
About 600 light-years distant, the clouds aren't actually ghosts, but they are slowly disappearing under the influence of energetic radiation from hot,luminous star gamma Cas. Gamma Cas is physically located only 3 to 4 light-years from the nebulae, just off the top right edge of the frame. Slightly closer to gamma Cas, IC 63 is dominated by red H-alpha light emitted as hydrogen atoms ionized by the star's ultraviolet radiation recombine with electrons. ... 
This was cropped from a larger photo at the APOD link. In that photo, the field of view spans about 1 degree or 10 light-years at the estimated distance of the field of view.  That would make this cropped view around 1/2 degree.

Monday, October 29, 2018

US Poverty Ended a 20 Year Decline When LBJ Declared War On It

There's a quote attributed to Milton Friedman that goes, “if the government were to take over the Sahara Desert, there would be a shortage of sand in five years.”  There's some dispute over that (there seems to be dispute over virtually every famous quote), but the sentiment is right on. It's a wonderful description of the ineptness and incompetence of the big governments.  It has been used to describe the Soviet Union, Sweden and Dubai - and I'm sure that's just the ones the quote reference found.

In this case, points out that poverty in the US had been in decline for 20 years, from 32.1% the end of WWII to 14.7% when LBJ started his famous War on Poverty in the State of the Union speech of 1964.
Since 1966, the first year with a significant increase in antipoverty spending, the poverty rate reported by the Census Bureau has been virtually unchanged…Transfers targeted to low-income families increased in real dollars from an average of $3,070 per person in 1965 to $34,093 in 2016…Transfers now constitute 84.2% of the disposable income of the poorest quintile of American households and 57.8% of the disposable income of lower-middle-income households. These payments also make up 27.5% of America’s total disposable income.  [Emphasis added: SiG]

The FEE article is by Daniel J. Mitchell, who's a good guy to read if you're interested in smaller government and free market economics, both of the subjects here.  The article gives large chunks of text to different authors with extended quotes, like I'm doing in quoting his piece, so it gets a little messy to keep all the attributes in place.

When you look at the numbers in that quoted paragraph: 84.2% of the disposable income of the bottom quintile of American households, 57.8% of the disposable income of the next quintile up, and 27.5% of all the disposable income in the country, it's a bit shocking.  Not surprisingly, this huge amount of money being thrown around has negatively impacted incentives to work.  Quoting from Mitchell, quoting from the Wall Street Journal (paywalled):
The stated goal of the War on Poverty is not just to raise living standards but also to make America’s poor more self-sufficient and to bring them into the mainstream of the economy. In that effort the war has been an abject failure, increasing dependency and largely severing the bottom fifth of earners from the rewards and responsibilities of work…The expanding availability of antipoverty transfers has devastated the work effort of poor and lower-middle income families. By 1975 the lowest-earning fifth of families had 24.8% more families with a prime-work age head and no one working than did their middle-income peers. By 2015 this differential had risen to 37.1%…The War on Poverty has increased dependency and failed in its primary effort to bring poor people into the mainstream of America’s economy and communal life. Government programs replaced deprivation with idleness, stifling human flourishing. It happened just as President Franklin Roosevelt said it would: “The lessons of history,” he said in 1935, “show conclusively that continued dependency upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber.”  [Emphasis added - SiG]
I find it interesting that even FDR realized that the lessons of history show that dependency on relief  destroy the national spiritual and moral fiber.  It's almost as if he read Ben Franklin (1766)
“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
The problem with providing 84.2% of the disposable income of the lowest income quintile is the perverse incentives it provides for people to not do anything to improve their lot in life.  If they do improve themselves, their taxes go up and their disposable income goes down.  It's the Welfare Cliff.  That linked article is over four years old, but it shows in graphic form as well as numbers that a single mom is better off with a $29,000 job and welfare than taking a $69,000 job!  A quote in the FEE article updates the numbers a little but the conclusion is roughly the same. 
The welfare cliff drops off when income exceeds that $29,000 and the combined benefits and pay stays below that level until income exceeds $69,000.  Combined pay/benefits climbs from $30k to $43 and then drops off even more when income goes from $43 to $44k.  Going from $43 to $44,000 is a 2.3% raise in pay, but that leads to a roughly 23% decrease in total pay & benefits.  Would you turn down a 2.3% raise if led to 23% less take home pay?   If that single mother stayed sober and didn't put every dime she received up her nose,  $29,000/year is the peak lifestyle on this chart until work pay reaches over $70,000/year.
Welfare programs have constructed a trap there's no way out of.  Who wants to go to school nights, probably while raising kids, and basically turn themselves inside out for 8 to 10 years, only to find their new pay rate drops their welfare benefits and they would have done better financially just sitting home and taking the welfare checks?

How do you get rid of this?  Mitchell (at FEE) reports:
Folks on the left think the solution to high implicit tax rates (i.e., the dependency trap) is to make benefits more widely available. In other words, don’t reduce handouts as income increases.

The other alternative is to make benefits less generous, which will simultaneously reduce implicit tax rates and encourage more work.  
Of course, making the benefits less generous would lead to large scale screaming and protests from both the Free Shit Army and their government enablers.  Not to mention every invective known to man will be thrown at us - plus a few never-before-heard insults.  Hater. 

It's an axiom as true as any that you get more of things you subsidize and less of things you tax.  The open, free market was reducing poverty for 20 years until the War on Poverty started subsidizing it.  There has been no progress in 50 years.

Mitchell included a link to his blog, where he included this helpful diagram to show just how the Federal Welfare state works.  Get out your magnifiers and have fun!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Letting Out the Magic Smoke

Some of you understand that perfectly - so skip to the next paragraph.  "Letting out the magic smoke" is one of those jokes that I think everyone in electronics shares.  The standard form is that while they teach a lot of theory for technicians, all electronics is actually operating on magic smoke, not "transistors" and all the other made-up parts they talk about.  You can verify this because if you ever let the magic smoke out of the package, the circuit will never work again.  *

When I talked about moving threading onto my CNC Sherline lathe, I neglected to talk about the whole effort relying on a circuit I built back around the end of 2008, and that I was trying to understand how to make that work again.  After studying everything I could dig up to resurrect the the box and how it interfaced to my CNC controller, I decided it was time to hook it up and look for signs of life.  When power was applied, the magic smoke came out and I'm sure it will never work again.  (By the way, magic smoke stinks with a bitter, acrid smell.  A small source fills a room.)

Let me back up a minute.  When threading manually on a lathe, what those gear combinations do for you is to set the pitch of the screw in the spindle.  That is, they're setting how far the cutter moves along the screw in one revolution.  A 32 turns per inch screw moves the cutter 1/32 inch per turn; a 40 tpi screw moves it 1/40 inch and so on.  A side benefit of "locking" the movement of the cutter to the rotation of the screw is that the cutter always starts a thread at the same point on the screw's circumference.  Under manual threading like this, I'll start the cutter at some point on the screw, advance it along the screw toward the head, and stop when I reach a mark I've cut into the shaft.  Then I'll back the cutter out of the thread (a few thousandths of an inch is fine) and turn the shaft the other direction, so that the cutter goes back past the end of the screw and start of the thread.  Finally, I'll advance the cutter farther into the work by a small amount and cut another pass along the thread.  This process is repeated until the thread is cut.

If there are no gears connecting the spindle and tool (which is what I'm moving toward), how does the system synchronize the cutter and the screw being cut?  The CNC software will do that, but needs to know the position of the shaft of the screw.  That's done with something that tells the software where in a rotation the top is.  Years ago (the end of 2008), I made this little circuit box and, after some experimenting, got threading to work.  Here it is while I was getting it to work the first time:
The red oval is around the part that blew up (a Schmidt trigger for the curious, 74LS14).  What went wrong?  I simply misread a spot on the 10 year old diagram for the control board I was hooking the wiring up to.  I read VBB as VCC.  No excuse.  As a result, I put 20V on this part, which ordinarily runs on 5V.  Ooops.

On the right, four wires (orange, green, blue and white) are visible, the last three in big loops.  These are connections for the heart of the box, an optical sensor.  This part, barely visible at the right wall of the box, shines an infrared LED onto the reflective shaft of the motor, and then senses the reflection.  A small strip of black tape breaks up the reflection, which creates a pulse going to the computer when that tape passes under the optical sensor.

Part of getting this approach working is ensure you can cut a spiral groove on a blank. This was my first successful attempt at that from early 2009.
The barfed looking left half of that: not really threaded, not really not threaded, was another experiment that went bad and led to doing the scratch test.

I started looking for the parts to build another optical detector like the one I had, and found the transistor I used is obsolete and hard to get.  Looking around, I found that CNC4PC has a slightly different optical sensor for not much more than I'd pay for one of those transistors ( had the transistors for about $18 each).  The major difference is that while mine worked by reflection, this one works on transmission.  The sensor has two arms with the LED on one side and the phototransistor on the other.  A common use would put a disk with a hole through it onto the spindle and let the disk spin in that slot between the two arms, so that when the hole lines up, the software knows the index position just happened. 

So now what?  Now I figure out how to build the disk with the hole or slot in it, and how to mount both the disk and the sensor.  My little box goes away and the new little board goes inside the CNC controller box. 

* I imagine that like all specialized fields, electronics has its own jokes, legends and lore.  I didn't hear about the smoke theory until I was in the field for quite a while, maybe a decade.  Before that, the joke was that microprocessors ran on IBM theory.  Itty Bitty Men inside the components did everything.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

It's Looking Like Falcon Heavy Was A Successful Product Launch

Since it was so visible from my backyard, I naturally covered the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.  A couple of weeks later, I covered a review of the "heavy lift landscape" on Ars Technica that became one of my top 10 most popular posts. 

I say this so newcomers to the blog know I've been on the story for a while.

This week, ARS Technica reports that the Falcon Heavy seems to have caught on well with its intended customer base.  Part of that, I'm sure, is because (as ARS put it), "The Falcon Heavy is an absurdly low-cost heavy lift rocket". The other part seems to have something to do with the flamboyance of America's Favorite Huckster, Elon Musk, and the first mission which famously flung a Tesla roadster into solar orbit.

It's easy to forget that when the rocket first launched, the critics were saying that the company's Falcon 9 rocket had become powerful enough that it could satisfy the needs of most commercial customers, and that, "The Falcon Heavy is just a vanity project for Elon Musk."  It's as if the critics never expected customers to sign up for the big rocket.
At the time, the rocket only had a couple of launches on its manifest, including the six-ton Arabsat 6A satellite for Arabsat of Saudi Arabia and the Space Test Program-2 mission for the US Air Force. However, since that time SpaceX has seen the rocket certified for national security missions by the US military and has signed several additional launch contracts.

Last week, the Swedish satellite company Ovzon signed a deal for a Falcon Heavy launch as early as late 2020 for a geostationary satellite mission. And just on Thursday, ViaSat announced that it, too, had chosen the Falcon Heavy to launch one of its future ViaSat-3 satellite missions in the 2020 to 2022 timeframe.
Both Ovzon and ViaSat cited the ability of the Falcon Heavy to deliver heavy payloads "direct" - or almost directly - to geostationary orbit.  The Heavy's ability to do that direct-to-geostationary-orbit profile was the hidden meaning of the test flight.  The thing is, it didn't have to be the red Tesla, glitzy launch it became.  NASA was offered a more or less "free" launch if it wanted something delivered into deep space, but they had to follow the mission profile itself, which was a test flight.  That first test flight could have launched another mission for NASA and not the red Tesla/Starman publicity stunt. 
On the day before launch, SpaceX founder Elon Musk explained that the rocket would demonstrate the capability to send payloads directly to geostationary orbit by firing its second stage after a prolonged shutdown during which the rocket would coast. “The six-hour coast is needed for a lot of the big Air Force intel missions for direct injections to GEO,” Musk said
The ability to do the six hour coast, about twice as long as the longest coasts the Falcon 9 rocket has ever made, was absolutely not lost on the satellite industry.  It was watched closely, as you'd expect it would be; we are talking millions of dollars in cost impact to these companies, after all.
This turns out to have been a shrewd move. The demonstration flight of the Falcon Heavy apparently convinced not only the military of the rocket's direct-to-geo capability but satellite fleet operators as well. The Falcon Heavy rocket now seems nicely positioned to offer satellite companies relatively low-cost access to orbits they desire, with a minimum of time spent getting there in space.


Friday, October 26, 2018

I'm About Sick of Politcians Talking About Income Inequality

"Income inequality" is just one of those terms that doesn't seem to have any formally-agreed upon meaning, and is primarily used to inflame class envy.  The term seems to have a poorly-concealed core belief that all income should properly be given to the Glorious Motherland to distribute equally.  Once they take their cut off the top, of course.  The Motherland always gets their cut.

Pretty much every Democratic party candidate I can see is running on some version of claiming they'll do something about income inequality, like our Dem Soc gubernatorial candidate Telehassle Mayor Gillum.  

Well there are definitions of inequality, they just don't mean anything.  They don't give us any tools we use to answer the big questions:  (1) is it a real problem?  (2) is it something that can be fixed?  (3) is the cost to "fix" the problem worse than the problem?  

For example, Investopedia says:
Income inequality is the unequal distribution of household or individual income across the various participants in an economy. It is often presented as the percentage of income related to a percentage of the population. For example, a statistic may indicate that 70% of a country's income is controlled by 20% of that country's residents.
My response to that might well be, "So what?  How do I know those percentages aren't right?  What should they be?"  I might even say, "I should hope there's income inequality; why should I expect a daycare worker, plumber or taxi driver to make as much as a surgeon?" 

Here's the big problem.  Since income inequality isn't defined precisely, it's easy to manipulate methods to get whatever results the person complaining about inequality wants.   For example, how many times have you heard that the only growth in the economy has gone to the wealthy?  This is an argument exemplified by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, December 2016.  Russ Roberts takes on this subject in the online magazine Medium.
They write, “Looking first at income before taxes and transfers, income stagnated for bottom 50% earners: for this group, average pre-tax income was $16,000 in 1980 — expressed in 2014 dollars, using the national income deflator — and still is $16,200 in 2014.”¹ Piketty, Saez, and Zucman also found that incomes of the top 1% tripled over the same time period.
What that statement implies is that we're looking at the same group of people 34 years later, and they're both working the same jobs and making the current pay rates.  It's comparing a snapshot of the pay rate for people in that income slice in 2014 from one in 1980.  In 34 years, lots of things will have changed, including both people dying and no longer being in the sample, and jobs being obsoleted.  More importantly, after 34 years, it's highly likely the 1984 workers have children that are now in the income distribution.  The important part is that these samples are not the same people. Their statistical method is just looking at pay rates and ignores upward mobility.
Studies that use panel data — data that is generated from following the same people over time — consistently find that the largest gains over time accrue to the poorest workers and that the richest workers get very little of the gains. This is true in survey data. It is true in data gathered from tax returns. [Bold added: SiG]
This first study, from the Pew Charitable Trusts, conducted by Leonard Lopoo and Thomas DeLeire uses the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and compares the family incomes of children to the income of their parents.⁴ Parents income is taken from a series of years in the 1960s. Children’s income is taken from a series of years in the early 2000s. As shown in Figure 1, 84% earned more than their parents, corrected for inflation. But 93% of the children in the poorest households, the bottom 20% surpassed their parents. Only 70% of those raised in the top quintile exceeded their parent’s income.
In another study,  children from the poorest families ended up twice as well-off as their parents when they became adults. The children from the poorest families had the largest absolute gains as well. Children raised in the top quintile did no better or worse than their parents once those children became adults. 

When looked at as tracking people and not comparing "classes" in society, the results are completely different than the first paper.  We find that the bottom quintile of incomes is the most upwardly mobile; much like the old saying about "when you're down and out the only way is up".  What's going on here?
One explanation of these findings is there is regression to the mean — if your parents are particularly unlucky, they may find themselves at the bottom of the economy. You, on the other hand, can expect to have average luck and will find it easier to do better than your parents. At the other end of the income distribution, one reason you might have very rich parents is that they have especially good luck. You are unlikely to repeat their good fortune, so you will struggle to do better than they did.

But that doesn’t change what actually happened in the last three decades of the 20th century in the Isaacs study: the children from the poorest families added more to their income than children from the richest families. That reality isn’t consistent with the standard pessimistic story that only the richest Americans have benefited from economic growth over the last 30–40 years. Or that only the richest Americans have gotten raises. The pessimistic story based on comparing snapshots of the economy at two different points in time misses the underlying dynamism of the American economy and does not accurately measure how workers at different places in the income distribution are doing over time.
Part of the false view we get of income inequality comes from simple arithmetic.  If you measure inequality by comparing the number of dollars it takes to land at a certain income percentile, with a hard floor on the low end ($0 per year in wages) but no ceiling on the top end, any growth in the economy combined with simple arithmetic demand that incomes at the top will pull away from incomes at the bottom, for the same reason that any point on the surface of a balloon will get farther and farther away from an imaginary fixed point at its center as the balloon is inflated. 

I get that it's a political season, and if you honestly could ask one of these candidates what Income Inequality means you wouldn't get an honest answer.  Or a worthwhile or meaningful answer.  Final words to Russ Roberts:
There’s a lot more to study and understand. But what the studies above show is that the economic growth of the last 30–40 years has been shared much more widely than is generally found in the cross-section studies that compare snapshots at two different times, following quintiles rather than people. No one of these studies is decisive. They each make different assumptions about income (see the footnotes below), which people to include, how to handle inflation. Together they suggest the glass isn’t as empty as we’ve been led to believe. It’s at least half-full.

This does not mean that everything is fine in the American economy. There are special privileges reserved for the rich that help them reduce their risk of downward mobility — financial bailouts are the most egregious example. There are too many barriers like occupational licensing and the minimum wage that handicap the disadvantaged desperately trying to succeed in the workplace. And the American public school system is an utter failure for too many children who need to acquire the skills needed for the 21stcentury. But the glass is at least half-full. If we want to give all Americans a chance to thrive, we should understand that the standard story is more complicated than we’ve been hearing. Economic growth doesn’t just help the richest Americans.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

This Never Happens

Computer image recognition is so good that this never happens.

I mean besides all day every day.

Image from the great Sargasso sea of the Internet, Pinterest.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

I'm Not Saying I'd Like to Build One...

... I'm just saying I'd like to be able to build one.  That said, there are many things I can say that about.

Forged and Filed from Jesse Beecher on Vimeo.

Build one?  I'd need a manual just to open it.

Five minute video. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Using WiFi to Detect Firearms and Bombs

I've had this story lingering around for several weeks and never gotten around to posting it.  It has to do with adapting common WiFi hardware to find bombs or weapons before an attack.
According to a peer-reviewed study led by researchers from Rutgers University-New Brunswick, ordinary Wi-Fi can effectively and cheaply detect weapons, bombs, or explosive chemicals contained within bags.
WiFi signals can be used to penetrate bags to get the dimensions of dangerous metal objects and identify them, including weapons, aluminum cans, laptops and batteries for bombs. WiFi can also be used to estimate the volume of liquids such as water, acid, alcohol and other chemicals for explosives, according to the researchers. 
For their study, the researchers built a Wi-Fi weapon detection system that could analyze what happened to Wi-Fi signals as they encountered a nearby object or material.

When they tested their system on 15 types of objects and six types of bags, they found that it could distinguish dangerous objects from non-dangerous ones 99 percent of the time.

It could identify 90 percent of dangerous materials, accurately identifying metals 98 percent of the time, and liquids 95 percent of the time.
The author notes that if the material was in a backpack, the system could detect that object with a 95 percent accuracy rate.  If it was wrapped in something else before being put in the backpack, though, that figure dropped to 90 percent.

The intended application for this isn't airports, it's for public spaces.  Think the Ariana Grande concert bombing in Manchester, UK, in May of  '17 or the French Bataclan night club shooting in Paris in November of '15 or the Orlando Pulse Night Club shooting in June of '16.  Airports use X-Rays and other scanning devices, while concert venues are more likely to use security personnel manually searching bags.  The goal here is to use existing WiFi hardware to increase the effectiveness of the attempts to find bombs and other ways to attack.

Demo photo from Rutgers University.

Rutgers University professor and paper co-author Yingying (Jennifer) Chen notes that, “In large public areas, it's hard to set up expensive screening infrastructure like what's in airports.  Manpower is always needed to check bags and we wanted to develop a complementary method to try to reduce manpower.”
This low-cost system requires a WiFi device with two to three antennas and can be integrated into existing WiFi networks. The system analyzes what happens when wireless signals penetrate and bounce off objects and materials.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Federal Income Tax at an All Time High - Why is Anyone Surprised?

There was a headline last week that caught a bit of a buzz.  Business Insider reported it as, "Go Figure: Federal Revenues Hit All-Time Highs Under Trump Tax Cuts".  "Go figure"?  This is a business magazine writer?  I bet you regular readers figured revenues would go up last year, while that tax income was still being paid, just on economic principles.
The Treasury Department reported this week that individual income tax collections for FY 2018 totaled $1.7 trillion. That's up $14 billion from fiscal 2017, and an all-time high. And that's despite the fact that individual income tax rates got a significant cut this year as part of President Donald Trump's tax reform plan.
There's an important point left out of that paragraph.  The Trump tax cuts didn't start until the second quarter of fiscal 2018, when calendar 2018 started.  That means the increased revenues aren't the full effect of the tax cuts. 
 But if you limit the accounting to this calendar year, individual income tax revenues are up by 5% through September.

Other major sources of revenue climbed as well, as the overall economy revived. FICA tax collections rose by more than 3%. Excise taxes jumped 13%.

The only category that was down? Corporate income taxes, which dropped by 31%.
That corporate income tax burden moved partially to the personal income taxes because (say it with me) corporations don't pay tax, they collect tax from their customers.  To the extent those corporations sold to Americans, I'd guess over 80%, their tax burdens were paid in US income tax.  

One of the drums I beat all the time is that tax rates and tax revenues are not the same thing.  The classic example is Hauser's Law, after Stanford University professor Kurt Hauser, and as reported on these pages a bunch of times.  Here's a graph I've been using since 2012 (don't worry, it goes back to 1945, so it's not a big modification to leave out the last six years - here's a nice explanation from 2009)

With a few short-lived exceptions, it's obviously true that tax revenues are essentially constant (as % of GDP), regardless of tax rates.  That can only mean that when taxes are higher, the GDP contracts.  The government doesn't collect any more money because there's less to take a portion of.  When taxes are lower, GDP expands and taxes take a smaller percentage of a bigger pie, giving the same percent of GDP as tax revenue.
It's election season (much like allergy season or painful rectal itch season) so you'll hear a lot of talk about various Republicans having passed "tax cuts for their rich buddies" or their "corporate benefactors"; just like (often times) the same idiots saying the solution to our problems is to raise the minimum wage, you just can't get through to people like this. 

A few weeks ago, I swapped emails with a friend who was adamant about this.  As a fellow retired engineer, I thought he was better at math than his argument.  I said that I thought last years' tax cut was a pretty good attempt to try to target tax cuts for the middle class.  Since the upper incomes pay all the tax, giving even a tiny percentage cut to the rich will be bigger numbers than the amount given to middle or lower incomes - that's simple arithmetic.  I pointed out things like the lowest 50% of incomes pay 3% of all tax revenue, and the top 3% of U.S. taxpayers paid practically 90% of all taxes.  The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (37.3 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (30.5 percent).  The numbers of taxpayers paying most of the income tax become shockingly small. The top 0.1% of income tax payers, who paid more than the bottom 70% of the population combined, is just 1409 taxpayers.  Those 1409 people paid more than 98.7 million other taxpayers. 

I posted this quote back in June of '17, but it really stuck with me and became one of those quotes I can't forget.  It really fits here.  It's from David Stockman, Reagan's budget chief, who said,
The income tax has been slashed so many times since 1981 that it’s no longer a broad based societal tax; it’s a kind of luxury tax on upper income salary earners and the small share of households which garner most of the capital income from dividends, interest payments and capital gains…
By the way, that "fellow retired engineer" I sent some of these facts to never replied to me again.  I told him I could find these facts online within a few minutes while typing the email and I'm sure he could, too. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

First Man

We decided to take a chance on the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man today, at the suggestion of a friend.  Here in the post-career phase of life, it's hard to say exactly which of two big influences in my life pushed me more in the direction of engineering: ham radio or being a space-geek.  Among my earliest memories in life is being herded down to the only classroom in my elementary school to watch Alan Shepard's first suborbital flight, and a little less than a year later herded to watch John Glenn's first orbital flight.

As a space geek kid, I thought I was fairly familiar with Neil Armstong's life, but there were a couple major things I didn't know.  I'm familiar with his NASA career highlights, just not familiar enough with Armstrong the man.   I wasn't aware that early in his career he lost a very young daughter and that it was hard for him to get past - as I think it would be for most of us.  The movie isn't "the life of Neil Armstrong", starting at childhood, it's about 8 years out of his life: roughly 1961 to 1969.  It opens with him doing a flight in the X-15 rocket plane while working as a civilian at Edwards Air Force Base.   According to an authoritative summary on Ars Technica
Of the 12 people who flew the X-15 airplane more than half a century ago, just one of the pilots is alive today, Joe Engle. He was a consultant on the film. (The film consulted with numerous astronauts, engineers, and historians to ensure accuracy when possible. There are some liberties taken, such as the clouds during the X-15 flight. These were needed to show the dramatic speed of the X-15, but the rocket plane would not have flown on such a cloudy day). Ars spoke to Engle on Thursday and asked him about the depiction of Armstrong's flight in the movie.

"I never had a launch day that turbulent," he said. "But I did hear from many people that that day was, by far, the most turbulent they had ever seen in the program at launch conditions." As for the exhilarating action scene, no, it doesn't compare to the real thing, Engle said. That was truly spectacular. However, he added, "I think it's as close as you can get."
"I think it's as close as you can get." is probably an apt summary for the movie.  I wasn't concerned with the whole daily outrage over the movie not depicting Armstrong and Aldrin planting the American flag; in the small print during that, most writers acknowledged that they showed the flag on the moon, they just didn't show the actual planting.  They also showed the ALSEP on the surface (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package), but didn't spend time showing details of how that was deployed.  It seemed to me that they cut the film at the end.  The emphasis was getting to the moon.  It almost felt like it was fast-forwarded for the last few scenes on the moon and after their return. 

I was concerned about the movie over-dramatizing things just to be more dramatic; perhaps ginning up fights or tension between Armstrong and his wife Jan.  One might think it's hard to over-dramatize space flight, but I'm aware of film and TV doing things to "make it more watchable". 

Did they?  I think, yes, to some degree, but all in all it was a good movie.  IMO, they do a bit of over-exaggerated "shake the camera" in a few places so that it's impossible for the audience to see the panels and instruments.  At those times, they do things in the sound track to increase the tension in the movie; in other words, to manipulate us a bit.  Did they drum up tension between Neil and Jan?  No one that knows would tell, but the scenes between Ryan Gosling as Neil and Claire Foy as Jan grappling with the risks and reality of space flight come across as believable.  As an example, Ed White's wife Pat was the first person in Houston to welcome and befriend Jan; and throughout the start of the film you can see a closeness grow between the two couples.  The film barely touches on the personal devastation that Ed's death in the Apollo 1 fire causes but it seems it could be a contributor to the tension between Neil and Jan.

It's a good movie for space geeks and anyone interested in that period of history.  

Scene of Armstrong (center), Aldrin (left) and Collins heading for the Apollo 11 capsule.  IRL actors Ryan Gosling, Corey Stoll and Lukas Hass.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How to Tell Antifa From Nazis

It's subtle.  From the Babylon Bee - quite possibly the most peculiar satire web site you'll come across. If you haven't seen them, go look around.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Gentlemen, Choose Your Turd

Election day nears, and here in Florida it looks more and more like reaching into the cat's box and trying to pick out the cleanest turd.  At least for one of our US Senators.

For the governor and most other races, the choices are quite a bit easier and more clear.  For governor, we have US Congressman Ron DeSantis against Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum.  Gillum, who has been under a cloud from an FBI investigation for corruption, is promising to bankrupt the state with Free Everything For Everyone, following the brilliant political philosophy of rising Party star Alexandria Occasional Cortex.  Not to mention being endorsed by Bernie Sanders.   DeSantis, should be running a large margin over Gillum but has been running a campaign apparently managed by Gonzo from the Muppets or somebody with less grasp on reality.  Somebody who thinks campaign ads for a candidate for the chief executive officer of the fifth largest state in the country should show the CEO teaching his small children how to parrot president Trump.

The worst race is we choose our US senator between incumbent Bill "Bill" Nelson, of the Evil Party, who has been a reliable vote for Nancy Peloski (or whomever the left's Glorious Leader happens to be) and Rick "Voldemort" Scott of the Stupid Party.  Scott, of course, was so stupid that he enacted all of the Evil Party's gun control agenda for them after the Parkland shooting, so that they didn't have to take the blowback from constituents.

The legislation was celebrated as "gun control" by Democrats and the mainstream media (pardon my redundancy), and they should have celebrated it.  With one mass shooting, a mere 17 kids, they got the Republicans to enact their policies for them.   As always, the Republicans were beaten badly because the Dems have a strategy and work it relentlessly.  While Republicans go along complacently, the Dems hire organizers who work for years in preparation for the times they can push their agenda hard, and in this case, they didn't even need to push their agenda.  They didn't have to do a thing except propose amendments that make them look good to their base.

As a second amendment voter, I don't have someone to support.  As a small government guy, it leans Rick Scott.  Bill Nelson has been reliably on the side of big government as far as I can recall - I wrote a hypothetical response to one of his "constituent update" emails in 2011, pointing out the utter bullcrap he was spreading.  Farther back, I remember the first letter I wrote to an elected official was to Nelson asking he not vote for the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.  And I recall his terse brush off that came long after he voted for the bill.  As an administrator, Scott performed well.  Jeb Bush was excellent and I'm not sure there was much of a step down when Scott took the lead.  If you compare how Florida responds to hurricanes vs. how Louisiana responded to Katrina, it's like comparing DEVGRU to the Keystone Kops.  Reliably evil party strongholds respond like Louisiana to Katrina or Puerto Rico to Maria. 

Nicole "Nikki" Fried, Evil Party candidate for Commissioner of Agriculture, will make the focus of her administration pushing medical marijuana and opposing the NRA.  I don't think her office has anything in particular to do with the state's medical marijuana law passed two years ago, but the office does manage the concealed carry licenses for the state.  The last thing we need is someone to screw that up.  She's running against an NRA endorsed opponent Matt Caldwell.   Neither of them is a lifetime farmer, but the agency does much more than that.

There has been a lot of ink pixels spilled over the Scott/Nelson choice by fellow Florida bloggers.  It's one of those classic instances of there not being a good choice and I'm not sure I remember a time when the choice in an election included someone I thought was really good, just the lesser of two evils.  In this case, again, it's like digging in the cat box for the cleanest turd. 

You just went full retard, Gillum.  Never go full retard.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Migrant Caravan Manipulation Continues

Last spring, when the "Migrant Caravan" to the US/Mexico border was going on, I did a piece talking about how we're all being manipulated by the media on this.  Since there's another caravan going on, I tried to determine if the same forces are in play and the same game is being played.

Short answer: Yeah.  You bet.

Representative Matt Gaetz from the NW part of Florida posted this video to Twitter, showing a couple of guys going through the caravan crowd handing out money.

It should be obvious, right?  Here we have thousands of people migrating a long distance and leaving whatever home and life they had.  They have to eat.  They have to "function".  The military saying that "an army marches on its stomach" doesn't just apply to armies.  Furthermore, take a look at he people in this freeze frame: do they look poorly dressed?  Do they look like destitute refugees?  Not to me.  To me, they look fairly well dressed and even fairly affluent. 

How much money are we talking about?  Talk show host and Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham is being widely quoted for this tweet.
Who is funding the migrant “caravan”? Each migrant’s passage can cost as much as $7K each. Per capita income Honduras is $2.3 K.
A rough number for the cost of moving this caravan becomes trivial with this estimate.  Given I've heard estimates of 4000 in the crowd, that says it's a $28 Million dollar effort to rush the US border.

At the American Thinker, Daniel John Sobieski writes the funding comes from the Honduran government and Non-Governmental Organizations funded by George Soros.
It is doubtful that such sums came from the kiddies' college funds.  Evidence of Soros funding of an earlier "spontaneous" migration have been found among the tentacles of support that flow from his Open Society group coffers
The article linked, though, is from last May, and mentions the groups I talked about back then.   The organization taking the lead is “Pueblo Sin Fronteras”.  The name translates as "people without borders", but a more poetic translation might be Open Society, the name of one of Soros' pet organizations.  "A World Without Borders".
“The caravan is organized by a group called Pueblo Sin Fronteras, but the effort is supported by the coalition CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, which includes Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLIN), the American Immigration Council (AIC), the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RICELS) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) – thus the acronym CARA,” WND reported. “At least three of the four groups are funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation.”
It looks like this story is a duplicate of the last "caravan of central American refugees" story from last spring: much more "AstroTurf" than "grass roots".  By the way: did you happen to notice that Judicial Watch says there's 3.5 million more registered voters than living adults in the US?  Funny, that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Disney is Working on Robotic Stuntmen

An interesting little story on Machine Design about the effort to make autonomous robots that can take the place of stunt actors in dangerous scenes.

The story follows the development of a simple "BRICK" (Binary Robotic Inertially Controlled bricK); through a Parkour robot that was tested on an air hockey table; to a 7' tall stick that flips end over end; to a stick that bends, somersaults, and always lands on its "back" (sort of a simplified version of human bending their knees up and somersaulting), and finally to the anthropomorphic robot seen in the 40 second video above (which resembles the title character in Avengers: Age of Ultron).

It's a straightforward progression; methodically adding complexity until finally the humanoid looking robot is flung from a wire cable and maneuvers with "no strings on me".  I can see simple tasks like these being done by robots, but I'm still skeptical of the "robots will take all the jobs" idea that's so prevalent. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shop Improvements In the Works

The battery adventure was a diversion from the real work going on for the next project.  I have some improvements in mind.   In what I see as the order to do them, they are:
  • Build a new front onto my enclosure replacing the bifold doors, and more importantly, allowing me to get to the machine's table without scraping the top of my head on the aluminum rail
  • Resurrect the ability for my CNC Lathe to cut threads.  
  • Look at improvements to the spindle on my big mill, the G0704.  This is aimed at a few things:
    • Ability to start, and stop the spindle from the CNC code - this is fundamental in the real world.
    • Ability to set the spindle speed from the CNC code.  The GCode command exists for this and I think most all of the "real" machine shops do it.  
    • Together, these mean a new motor.  I will do this with an eye to roughly doubling the speed of my spindle.  Which will require new bearings for spindle
    • After this, I'm considering being able to tap (thread) holes under CNC control.  This one, frankly, isn't super important to me, but it looks like the I can accomplish that without adding much cost to the motor and controller improvements that do the first two.  
Changing the front of the enclosure has been on my mind for the last several months.  The bi-fold doors are convenient and give good access to the mill's table, but they're only 25" tall.  If I walk up to the enclosure without ducking, the bridge of my nose hits the top rail.  I need at least another 6 or 8" clearance.  (In fairness, I built this to Hoss' plans and Hoss is in a wheelchair.  The relatively low top rail isn't an issue.)  I spent some time looking at other enclosures online and like the idea of doors that can slide out of the way.  I come up with something like this. 

The new front would be framed entirely of 1x2 standard dimensional lumber.  The doors will slide in grooves routed in the top and bottom horizontal pieces, and will be able to slide past the ends, which will allow lots of access to the inside.  When the doors close, the center door will overlap the two side pieces to keep chips and splashes inside.

Moving to threading on the dedicated CNC lathe was something that re-occurred to me during the flame eater build.  I had to thread some small pieces; nothing I threaded was beyond the size capabilities of the Sherline.  When I built the CNC lathe, it was always intended for threading more than anything else, and after some trials and tribulations I was able to get a few test pieces threaded.  Unfortunately, that was 10 years and several garage re-organizations ago; it barely runs.  In fact, today I wanted to check some aspects of how it ran and it wouldn't run properly.  The cross slide (holding the tool) only moved in one direction, away from the chuck.  The motion to advance the tool into the work was fine.  It took a bit of troubleshooting to find out it was simply a connector that needed to be unplugged and replugged.

In the intervening years, the Sherline world has gotten more sophisticated, with high resolution position encoders and people driving their spindles with stepper motors for complete control of position.  I don't want to overcomplicate this, but I also want it to be dependable for little things like that wrist pin yoke I just made that 3 turns of a 32 TPI thread on it. 

The spindle motor almost is lower priority because it works as it is, it could just be better (and I guess all of these improvements are like that).  Another aspect of the spindle motor upgrade is that a lot of guys update the power of the motor on the 704, because the rated 1 HP is a little light.  I don't mind that as much, but from what I see while getting familiar with what's out there, I'll probably end up in the 1-1/2 to 2HP size by the time I'm done.

Why double the speed?  I have a "speeds and feeds" program called G-Wizard; what that gives me is a good starting point for how fast I should spin the cutter (RPMs) and how fast the table should move in Inches Per Minute (IPM).  Virtually every time I cut aluminum, it tells me to set my spindle to as fast as it can go, giving me the warning that the spindle being maxed out is bad for tool life.  I think doubling the spindle speed will allow me to cut at RPMs less than the max. 

I'm still contemplating the next big project, and I'm thinking of a simple internal combustion engine.  I understand they're less fussy than the flame eater.  I naively told Mrs. Graybeard that I'd like to make something like a single cylinder lawnmower engine.  There's a popular "first IC engine" by a guy named Webster who the engine is usually named after. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Adventures of SiG in 18650 Land - Part 2

I concluded part 1 of this little series by saying I purchased two Panasonic NCR18650BD batteries (BD is the important piece of the number that calls out these particular cells); these are sold as 3200 mAH, and capable of 10 Amp surges.  I don't anticipate surge current being an important part of my application, but it's a "nice to have" feature.   I found the data sheet for the batteries, which is useful and going to be part of my basis here (pdf warning).

Are my batteries really what they're sold as?  If I put them on my computerized battery analyzer, I should be able to measure that 3200 mAH if the seller is honest, right?  Well, maybe.  Welcome to the world of specsmanship - writing specifications to sell a product and sound like the best while not lying.   Jumping to the conclusion of the story, let me show you a plot of the battery discharge when running at 1A, or roughly 1/3 of capacity (usually written as C/3).

My measured capacity was 2900 mAH.  Is that a good value for a battery sold as 3200?

The first thing to note is that the data sheet never shows a number as high as 3200; in fact, the datasheet says they claim to be rated for 2980 mAH at 20C, although they're almost universally sold as 3200 mAH.  The highest "Typical Capacity" it shows is 3180, and I'm willing to say that's "close enough" to 3200 to be where that number comes from.  Here's the important table from that sheet.  I don't see an explanation for the values in blue - I'm guessing they're the minimums over the temperature range. 

My plot (above) cuts off the discharge at a voltage of  2.8V/cell, that's the red horizontal line (you can read it says 5.6V - there are two cells in series in this test).  The datasheet's discharge tests turn off the battery at 2.5V/cell.  If my system cut off at 2.5/cell instead of 2.8, that would push the capacity up. Does that close the difference between 2900 mAH and 3030?  It might well.  (Ignore the vertical line, I clicked the wrong button starting the test.)

Another factor to know is that the charge lasts longer and looks like higher capacity when the discharge rate is lower.  There is a chart showing the apparent capacity difference for charge rates of 0.2C (606mA), 0.5C (1015mA), 1.0C (3030mA) and 2.0C (6060mA), and the capacity appears around 10% higher at the lowest discharge rate of 0.2C.   What discharge rate is used for their specification?  I don't see it listed.  When I was involved in specifying batteries at Major Defense Contractor, around 1992, the usual practice was that rechargeable batteries were rated a C/10, or 0.1C. 

Based on everything I can see, I can't convince myself these batteries aren't exactly as specified.  They appear to be in the range of 3000 to 3200 mAH capacity and behave like I think they should. 

The two Panasonic batteries on the charger. 

Now for an example of bad.  This weekend was the annual ham radio swapfest in town, and a seller was there with some 18650s.  He was selling batteries marked something like 72 or 7600 mAH and 4200 mAH.  As I implied yesterday, I don't think anyone can really get 7600 mAH out of a battery this size, so I bought a pair of the 4200 mAH cells just to experiment on -- and I don't think anyone can get that capacity, either..  

I know that one of the ways to cheat on making a battery is to just put less "goop" in it: both electrodes and electrolyte.  As regular reader Reg T said, one can weigh the batteries.  I weighed the two good batteries on a Horrible Freight scale.  They weighed about 94 grams.  Then I put the two hamfest batteries on the scale:

Gee, they're supposed to get 1000mAH more out of the battery with 45% less stuff in them?  Nah.  Ain't gonna happen.  Physics is a bitch about the "you don't get something for nothing" stuff.  Don't even think about trying it.  So I tried charging and discharging.  Since I had run my first test on the good batteries at C/2, 1.6A, I set these to run at C/2 or 2.2A.  They lasted 10 seconds.  To cut the story (which really could have been cut at the weight), I kept reducing the discharge rate, alternating charge/discharge cycles and never got anything close to even half of their stamped rating; they weigh 55% of the good batteries, so perhaps they should be closer to a 1600 mAH performance.

The best I got out of these batteries was about 250 mAH.  I can't know if these were good and went bad because of bad storage, if the seller bought them expecting they were good and was cheated or just what.  All I know is that I can demonstrate these batteries aren't what they're sold as.  To be honest, I expected them to be junk, just maybe not this bad.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Adventures of SiG in 18650 Land - Part 1

I'm just envisioning a lot of  people saying "what?"

The generic term 18650 refers to a battery that has become very popular in the last couple of years.  The leading 18 refers to the cell diameter and 65 refers to its length, both in millimeters.  I have no idea what the trailing 0 is supposed to mean.  They're quite a bit bigger than the familiar AA battery, and those dimensions show the 18650 to be very similar in size to what's referred to as 4/3A at 17x67 or 4/3 Fat A at 18x67.  (There are literally about 85 standard sizes for batteries other than AAA, AA, C and D cells).

There may be an exception, but every 18650 cell I've seen is a Lithium Ion battery and most tend to be higher current capacity than a AA rechargeable.  The picture gets more complicated from here.  I'll pick that topic up in few minutes.

If you have a tactical flashlight like a Streamlight, Ultrafire or some other brands, you may know about these batteries because they have become very widely used.  Likewise, they'll get used without your direct knowledge in things like the power banks available for charging your phone on the go.  For example, one like this, which based on its ratings and size, is probably a single 18650 cell with the required circuitry.  I believe they're at the heart of things like car jump starters I've talked about before, but their use in laptop battery packs is probably where industry first cranked up to make lots of these batteries. 

I started down this road into 18650 land because of a battery powered light I found while looking for something else.  Not a flashlight, it's a bike headlight leftover from the days when the only time I could ride my bike this time of year was after dark.  (It's long since obsoleted by the manufacturer, but it resembles this one).  I found this light and a pair of batteries, long since forgotten.  Due to their shapes, I'll call them the bottle and the brick.  Both were Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, NiMH; the bottle measured more like 5 cells (over 7V open circuit after 16hours on a trickle charger) while the brick measured more like 4 cells (over 5-1/2V).   I believe the brick was the battery I used with this headlight while riding.

You would probably think it would be remarkable if they worked after years in storage.  I did, too.  After several discharge/recharge cycles, it turned out that the bottle would run the headlight for a while, while the brick wouldn't.  Neither was "good", but the bottle was better.  It's capacity curve looked very reasonable when supplying 1 amp, for over 2 hours.  When I say it's not "good", it's not like a new battery and can't be charged faster than a trickle rate for 16 hours.

I had started to think that it would be nice to have this bright light available in the aftermath of a storm, or any other blackout.  Lights are always good.  After some effort, I was able to measure the current the headlight drew, which allowed me to size how big a battery pack I would need: it would have to be over 4V and rated one amp*hour for every hour I wanted it to run it at max brightness.  As a test, I ran the headlight for over two hours on maximum brightness from a pack of 4 AA NiMH Eneloop Pros that I borrowed from a handheld radio, just as my "1AH per hour" predicts.  That meant I knew I could just buy another pack of those, but I got interested in the capacity of the Li-Ion batteries.

A quick search of Amazon and eBay showed a bewildering assortment of 18650s.  Worse than bewildering, I would say a preposterous assortment.  One the one hand, you have reputable  companies like Samsung selling a 2500 mAH rated battery - identical to the smaller AA Eneloop batteries I tested - while on the other hand you'll find companies you've never heard of selling batteries rated almost four times that capacity.   I'm not a battery designer, but I understand what goes into them and how they work.  While it's true that in a given sized battery, current can be increased somewhat by increasing the surface area of the electrodes, the capacity in mAH depends most on the battery size.  As a result, I honestly don't believe anyone on earth can get 9800 mAH out of any 18650-sized battery, if the companies with a good reputation are claiming 2500 mAH. 

Worse than ridiculous claims for batteries, the marketplace is also full of outright fraud, counterfeit batteries and counterfeit components.   After some looking around, I found a site dedicated to a niche use, home made battery packs for home made electric bikes.  That site ended up having lots of good solid information, including this gem:
Here is a video of disassembling an 18650 shell that has a very tiny 4.2V battery inside. Counterfeits are everywhere these days!

If you begin shopping for loose individual 18650 cells, and you find advertisements for 4200-mAh cells that put out 30A per cell…they are lying (Trustfire, Ultrafire, etc). An authentic Ultrafire cell is not horrible, but again, there are lots of counterfeits.

Buy some samples of the cell you think you want to use. Set-up a current-drain pulling the same watts that the cell is rated for, and…if it is too hot to hold in your hand after 5 minutes, its a fake. It may even look exactly like an authentic Samsung, Panasonic, or LG cell. Once you find a trusted vendor, only buy cells from them.
Using this guide, I narrowed my search to a few part numbers, eventually settling on Panasonic batteries rated for 10A surges and 3200 mAH, then found a seller on eBay with a decent package at a good price

More adventures in 18650 land will follow.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Next Big Thing - HD Haptics

Haptic technology is around now.  Haptics is using technological means to cause physical sensations to a technology user.  The easy example is the use of a vibrating motor in your phone to tell you a message is there; it's a way of communicating back to the user through physical sensation.  The Wikipedia definition (first link) contains a pretty useful summary.
Haptic or kinesthetic communication recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user.[1] This mechanical stimulation can be used to assist in the creation of virtual objects in a computer simulation, to control such virtual objects, and to enhance the remote control of machines and devices (telerobotics).
This is about what's coming.

Wired magazine used to have a meme for tech articles, where they would give a summary of some technology approaches saying the well known way was "tired", while the new advanced one was "Wired".   Electronic design puts a new spin on it with this lead into the article.
Tired: simple haptics that make smartphones vibrate with new message alerts.
Wired: haptic technology that recreates the sensation of pressing a physical key on a touchscreen.
Inspired: high-definition haptics that imitate the texture of a sweater’s fabric so that people shopping on their devices can feel before they buy.
That last one could shake the retail sector to its core.  One of the reasons Mrs. Graybeard and I go to brick and mortar stores to shop for clothes is to see what the fabric feels like.  If you could run your fingers over the screen of a phone or tablet and get an accurate simulation of the feel of that fabric, I can see massive impacts to the already-decimated local malls.

Perhaps you've seen the ads for places like MTailor that use an app to command your phone to take pictures of you.  Other services also say you'll answer a handful of questions.  They send you a custom tailored shirt - for roughly twice the price of your local department store's shirt.  Combine that with the high def haptics to feel the fabric choices and it seems like a combination that could take custom shirts made by using an app from a fringe small business to mainstream.

The company behind this is Boreas Technology, a startup company with 12 employees.
To recreate that touch sensation requires piezoelectric actuators that can generate a precise amount of haptic feedback. These parts are unable to function without large amounts of power, keeping them out of things like smartphones and wearables. But Boreas Technologies, a startup, introduced on Tuesday a high-voltage, low-power driver IC built from the ground up for these actuators. And it could help change things.

“The electronics required to operate these actuators has not been very efficient, preventing companies from using piezoelectric actuators in consumer products,” said Simon Chaput, chief executive and founder of Boreas. Changing that could move more responsive and realistic haptics into applications with power and thermal constraints. That could include not only smartphones and wearables but also home appliances and cars.
The market leader in drivers for these piezoelectric actuators is analog electronics giant Texas Instruments and Boreas is looking to capture parts of the market, which is expected to grow to $13.7 billion by 2022. Whether Boreas is the company that makes this reality or not is hard to say, but I think it's predictable High Definition haptics will succeed.  Between online shopping and gaming, both of which are among the biggest businesses, there will be plenty of push to make it happen.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Why I Don't Live on the Beach in One Picture

A montage of Mexico Beach, Florida from yesterday and Gilchrist, Texas from 2008.   Hurricanes Michael and Ike respectively. 

The picture on the right came to mind immediately after seeing early reports out of Michael - I knew I had posted it in the early days of this blog, 2010.  The point of that post is that people talk about a "TEOTWAWKI" event like an EMP, a monster solar flare, the magnetic poles reversing or even a Screaming Meteor of Death, but something like this is many times more likely, and for all the people whose homes used to be on the scattered concrete pads visible in those pictures, this was the end of the world as they knew it.  

Hurricanes are part of the forces that shape the planet.  Beaches are not permanent.  If you decide to live on "shifting sands", you may outlive your house and you may not.  Either way, exactly when your house is no longer there is not your decision. 

The official death toll for Michael was three a little while ago.  The AP article (first link) says:
State officials said 285 people in Mexico Beach had defied a mandatory evacuation order ahead of Michael. More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to clear out as Michael closed in.
As we said Wednesday night, the storm intensified so radically, so fast that they may have thought it was too late to get out of town Wednesday morning.  There's really only two ways out of Mexico Beach: the best is probably US98 to 231 and then I-10; the other is a back road, 386.  Being stuck in traffic or broken down in a car isn't much better than being in one of those houses - probably worse.  Searches are ongoing, but I think three fatalities is low by quite a bit.  Maybe low by a couple of orders of magnitude.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Aircraft Wing vs. Two Pound Plastic Drone

Courtesy of Digital Photography Review's newsletter, we get this video of two pound drone hitting an aircraft wing at speed (238mph).

The University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) has published a video showing the damage caused by a consumer drone when it strikes the wing of a fixed-wing aircraft. The test simulated life-like conditions, the end result mimicking the collision of a quadcopter with the wing of an aircraft at 383km/h (238mph).

Despite weighing only 952g (2.1lbs), the drone tore a large hole in the wing, ultimately causing damage to its main spar. UDRI's group leader for impact physics Kevin Poormon said in a university release that the drone caused "significant damage" to the structure. Both the video and test results were recently presented at the Unmanned Systems Academic Summit.
The "main spar" of a wing can be thought of as its backbone and the way the wing attaches to the aircraft.  We have a pretty good idea of what a couple of pounds of bird can do to an aircraft engine, but this is new research (AFAIK).  It's quite dramatic; it doesn't rip the wing off the the aircraft, but you can envision controlling the aircraft just got a lot harder.

Reports of "near misses" (near collisions) and actual collisions between drones and manned aircraft are increasingly common.  DPReview goes on to add:
Earlier this year, a video surfaced of a drone pilot operating their UAV directly above a passenger jet as it left McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.  Similar reports of reckless activity have surfaced in recent months, such as an investigation into a possibly drone-related helicopter crash earlier this year and a drone-plane collision in Canada late last year.
There was a lot of talk on other blogs about cheap hobby drones carrying small explosive devices; maybe that's not the only way of thinking they might be used.