Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve 2017

It was a busy day here as we had a house repair that had to be done, and something we wanted to get done.  Since it's a holiday, I'll emphasize the "want to do". 

Regulars here know I'm a barbecue guy.  I currently own three smokers: two electric and one wood-fired.  For the last year, I've been using this one exclusively.  The wood-fired version, called a Char-Griller with a side box, is also capable of grilling, and can handle lots of food at once.  Something I've never done is the specialty called cold smoking.  This is the kind of smoking that used to be done with a separate smokehouse that sausages, whole hams, and other meats or fish would hang in while smoke from a separate building would be piped into the smoke house. 

Cold smoking, as the you'd think, is done with foods kept cold.  Two common examples are smoked cheeses and lox (different from regular, hot-smoked salmon), but people also add smoke flavoring to salt, crackers and other things this way.  All of the electric and wood fired smokers are hot smokers and the electric smokers typically produce smoke best when their chamber temperature is 200 or over.  A block of cheese would melt into a puddle at that temperature. 

So for Christmas, Mrs. Graybeard and I got ourselves an attachment for our electric smoker to allow us to experiment with cold smoking.  It's not apparent from the main picture at that Amazon ad that it's sized to fit right next to the digitally controlled smoker and plug right into its wood chip tray as you can see here.  Today was my day to try it out. 
That's the 30" digital smoker with the side cold smoking attachment.  (Yes, that's a Weber grill behind it.  What can I say?)  When you cold smoke cheese, my project for the first half of the day, the big electric is turned off, and the side box generates the smoke.  Since the smoke itself is going to be warm, it's common practice to put ice in the smoker under the cheese to keep it cold. 
Folks up north talk about cold smoking when the smoker is covered in snow, so I'm sure their chamber temperatures are lower than what I could get here.  With the smoke going, the temperature probe (hanging from top right) registered 65 to 70 degrees (70 F, not C).  The rule of thumb on this recipe is to smoke it for 2 hours and then let it rest for a few weeks in the refrigerator.  Many people vacuum pack the cheese or wax coat it (just kidding) and won't touch it for a year.  Since it's our first batch, we'll probably try some in a month. 
My other thing to try with the side smoker is some smoked salmon; hot-smoked, not cold-smoked lox.  This is done by brining the fish overnight before smoking it.  As you might imagine, that means soaking them in a saltwater solution.  While the cheese was in the smoker, I prepared the salmon, rinsing off the brine and then letting it dry in the room temperature air.  It went into the smoker and the electric smoker was set to a chamber temp of 100 for an hour and then 150 for another couple of hours until it finished (internal temperature of the salmon at 145).  So why not use the digital smoker itself?  While it can generate temperatures as low as 100, it won't generate smoke when the heating element is that low.  The only way to get enough smoke to flavor the salmon is to run the side smoker box to generate the smoke and just use the digital smoker as a low temperature oven. 
The three slabs of salmon fillets weighed a pound all together, and turned out great. 

I learned a bit about using the side smoker box today.  Another feature I'm hoping it can bring us is the ability to smoke long periods without as much baby sitting as the digital smoker requires.  One drawback to the digital smoker is that the chip load it can handle is small, and chips need to be replenished every 45 minutes to an hour.  The side box is supposed to be able to smoke for up six hours, which would be much more handy for a long duration smoke, like 16 hours for a Texas brisket.  To have brisket for dinner at 6PM means starting it at about midnight the night before and running the smoke until around 4 the next afternoon.  I hope to get this to work well enough to do that soon. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Are These The Thinnest Wires Physically Possible?

That's what the folks at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) are saying.  This week's EE Times picks up the story. 
SLAC has demonstrated what it claims are the thinnest possible nanowires — just three-atoms thin. SLAC's process uses the smallest possible fragment of a diamond — called a diamondoid — as an insulating shell into which the copper/sulfur atoms self-assemble. The world's smallest diamondoid — an adamantane with just a 10-atom circumference — allows a three atom conductive core to self-assemble to any length.
Seems tough to imagine they can get much thinner than three atoms, with a 10-atom insulating sheath on it.  I'm sort of surprised that with only three atoms across the nanowires exhibit the macroscopic properties of ordinary insulated wire, and not bizarre quantum superposition of properties.  You're not going to be using your Stripmasters on these anytime soon.

The paper is published in Nature Materials (paywall for worthwhile content) and focuses on the self-assembling properties that combine these small pieces of conductor, each bound to an insulating particle of diamond (pure carbon).  The conducting portion is copper sulfur atoms, shown here as sulfur in yellow and copper in reddish brown.  The gray scaffolding is the carbon atoms - the diamond.  
The key here is literally finding the right ingredients.  Then they're put in a vessel on the desktop and the experimenter just sits and watches as the wires self-assemble.
The simple "beaker" process used to form the nanowires, created by the SLAC researchers, merely involves putting the correct materials in solution with the diamondoids and within a half-hour, the nanowires begin self-assembling as long as the materials last. 
The nanowires even help the experimenters out after the "watch the magic" phase.  They diamondoids have a high attraction to each other and so it's easy to gather them.  
The diamondoids themselves are found naturally occurring in certain petroleum products, making the process relatively inexpensive to execute. Stanford researchers have already found other uses for the diamanoids in improving electron microscope images and in the construction of tiny electronic devices.  Sulfur and copper are both abundant, cheap components, so this looks like it could be an economical way to manufacture wires for even smaller semiconductors than are currently in development.  The team has already fabricated similar nanowires using cadmium for optoelectronics applications, zinc nanowires for solar applications and piezoelectric materials for energy harvesters.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Plumbing Proceeds Apace

As long as that pace includes zero.  (Ever notice I like to use alliteration if I can find one?)

When I last talked about the big CNC conversion project (aside from the Great Ball Nut Removal Tool Fiasco), I had completed the long hole down the cross slide to bring oil to the middle of the slide from a fitting that will go in on the right end.  The two eighth inch holes crossed.  Since then I've been drilling the rest of the oil holes and am finally getting ready to start tapping holes and connecting oil fittings.  The right end of the slide looks like this now.
The long hole is visible in the upper right.  It's going to get tapped for a straight oil fitting that sends the oil pumped down that hole to the 1/8" channel and to the surface.  The big hole you see is from an "R" drill bit (0.339") and goes in a couple of inches.  The 1/8" hole extends from there.  In the middle of this picture you'll see another large hole approximately centered between and below the two cap screws.  This is the same size hole and will be tapped for another one of those fittings.  That large hole is connected to another 1/8" hole to drain a little oil in that line down onto the ways that it's sitting on.  There's a matching pair of holes like that on the opposite end of the slide so that both "Y" ways get oiled.  The big R holes each get a screw-in, 1/8"-27 NPT fitting. 

The front required a little "shuckin' and jivin'" - making it up on the fly. 
Hard to see in this picture, but there are two threaded holes in the middle of the front of the slide.  Their sole purpose in life is to hold a plastic indicator that marks the centerline of the slide so that when they're cranking the table by hand, an operator can read a scale that shows how far off center the table is.  I had to drill a hole between them, and just used a number Hoss rattled off.  Hoss put his in too high and the tap broke the surface above it, in front of the oil groove.  He had to grind his oil fixture flush with the surface of the way and make sure it was flat and won't mess up his X axis.  So he said to knock that hole down to about 0.3" from the surface allow the fitting to not break the surface, and it would do that.  Unfortunately, the big hole I drilled overlapped the existing top screw hole and I'll have to patch that with Bond-o or something.  There's a hole visible in the middle of the oil groove right above that tubing fixture and a vertical 1/8" hole that allows oil to pump up into this oil groove.  

Unfortunately, this is as far as I get for a few days.  My 1/8-27 tap is a piece 'o crap and barely cuts the cast iron.  The cast iron wore away as much of the tap as the tap cut cast iron.  I need a better tap. 
Gosh, this tap was in a Horrible Freight Tap and die set - this one, I think.  The fact that the "40 piece set" cost less than half of what some of the "real" taps I'm looking at cost should be a clue.  And some of the good taps would buy about 20 of those sets.  I'm actually surprised all the other taps in the set worked as well as they have, but to be honest, I think they've always been used in aluminum. 

The best case is that a new tap gets delivered Monday or Tuesday; the local Grainger doesn't have one in stock.  Time to study some more on how this whole thing goes back together.  Maybe the Orange or Blue Borg has one. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Have The Tea Party's Killers Hit the Gunnies, Too?

Last August, I wrote a piece on how the Tea Party was killed off.  In brief, they were killed off by professional fund raisers and political activists: the very thing the Tea Party got started to kill off.
Republicans inside the Beltway reacted to the burgeoning Tea Party with glee but uncertainty about how to channel the grass-roots energy usually reserved for the left. A small group of supposedly conservative lawyers and consultants saw something different: dollar signs. The PACs found anger at the Republican Party sells very well. The campaigns they ran would be headlined “Boot John Boehner," or “Drop a Truth Bomb on Kevin McCarthy.” And after Boehner was in fact booted and McCarthy bombed in his bid to succeed him, it was naturally time to “Fire Paul Ryan." The selling is always urgent: “Stop what you’re doing” “This can’t wait.” One active solicitor is the Tea Party Leadership Fund, which received $6.7 million from 2013 to mid-2015, overwhelmingly from small donors. A typical solicitation from the TPLF read: “Your immediate contribution could be the most important financial investment you will make to help return America to greatness.” But, according to an investigation by POLITICO, 87 percent of that “investment” went to overhead; only $910,000 of the $6.7 million raised was used to support political candidates.
Miguel at Gun Free Zone posted a piece today about the National Association for Gun Rights, NAGR, and I find the parallels striking. Miguel, in turn, links to an old article on the Blaze, that's sill relevant.
As it turns out, NAGR is just one of a pack of ankle-biter groups, all of which trace back to Mike Rothfeld. Among this web of Rothfeld groups are Campaign for Liberty, Foundation for Applied Conservative Leadership, and Council for Freedom and Enterprise.  Nice names. What they all share is the Rothfeld secret sauce — best described by the wizard himself:
“I am a professional junk mailer. I am a professional telemarketer. I’m a professional spammer — like, a hundred million pieces of emails a month. And I’m a professional negative campaigner. And I’m damn proud of all four.”
While most of us abhor negative campaigning, we can at least understand it as an effort to induce people to choose Option A over Option B. But that isn’t the game Rothfeld and Dudley Brown are playing.
I've mentioned before that I've been a member of NAGR before and became displeased with them for a couple of reasons.  The biggest is the never ending stream of emails like the previously mentioned "stop what you're doing!", urgent response required type.  The legend of the "boy who cried wolf" that we learn while we're growing up is a good one to keep in mind.  Perhaps a better idea to keep in mind is that when someone is urgently demanding your money now, now, now, experience says the chances are good you're being hustled.  They want you to donate the money now and not think about it.  As the author of that original Blaze piece put it
Riddell’s article recounted one instance in which an NAGR Mississippi e-mail blast solicited funds to help them fight against an ammunition registration bill. The only problem was that the bill had died in committee a month before the e-mail was sent.

NAGR has branded itself as the conservative alternative to the NRA, one not beholden to Washington insiders. But some Second Amendment advocates think the group’s main claim to fame is stoking the fears of the less-informed for-profit.
Similarly, I recall a NAGR mailing from "Dudley Brown" railing against a piece of legislation in the Florida Senate that wasn't there anymore.  Rothfeld may be "damn proud" of being a spammer and telemarketer, but apparently complete truthfulness isn't one of the things the organizations are "damn proud" of.
NAGR Affiliates. 

NAGR bills itself as the "No-Compromise Gun Rights Group" and attacks the NRA.  But compromise itself isn't a bad thing.  The bad thing is continually backing up in compromise and saying, "this is as far as we go" only to contradict yourself in a year or two.  Compromise on the attack is what the other side has been doing for a century and I don't think anyone would say it hasn't worked for them.  Every few years they push and push and get as far as they can.  Once they've moved the bar, (or the Overton Window if you prefer) they start from farther along "next time".  If the R2KBA side went in to this legislative session with the argument "nullify the 1934 NFA" and in September we found the best we could do was the compromise, "OK, we agree the prohibition on short barreled rifles and shotguns is silly so we'll remove that, and we'll make silencers a $5 tax, but we will not deregulate full auto weapons and we're keeping the AOW class", who wouldn't take that compromise?  Would you turn that down because it's not perfect, total victory? 

Look, it's your money; give it to whom you want.  I think it's a waste to give to these Rothfeld organizations like NAGR because I see the parallels to the destruction of the Tea Party movement.  If Rothfeld's groups suck up all the funding and spends it all on themselves, like all those groups that killed off the Tea Party, could they kill off the Pro-2A side? 

Carrie Fisher

What is it about movies and the entertainment world that makes you feel like you know someone, like you're connected to them, just because you see them on screen a few times?  I'm about as committed as anyone to the "Shut Up and Sing" side of not caring about these folks' opinions on anything, but I'm not immune to feeling like I know them and didn't just watch them on the big screen.

When the news broke about Carrie Fisher's heart attack while flying on Friday, it felt like I got news about someone I know.  When she passed away, it felt too much like someone I know or worked with.  Not a close friend, not a family member, but someone I know.  Possibly because we had just gotten home from Rogue One and just seen the CGI young princess Leia so the image was fresh in my mind.

And I'm going shamelessly post a piece of fan art I stole from Borepatch. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Sharyl Attkisson on "Fake News"

Within in the last several days, Sharyl Attkisson was interviewed for the WND News on the emergence of the hype over "fake news".  

For those whom the name is unfamiliar, Sharyl is a highly respected investigative reporter, formerly with CBS News, and now doing a show called Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson for the Sinclair Broadcast Group.  Attkisson won five Emmy Awards and an Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting during her stint as the top correspondent for CBS News from 1993 to 2014. Before joining CBS, she was an anchor and correspondent for CNN from 1990 to 1993.  A few years ago, when insiders leaked details of the Fast and Furious gun trafficking scandal to new media journalists David Codrea of The War Against Guns and Mike Vanderboegh of the Sipsey Street Irregulars (now deceased), Attkisson started covering the story in reports on CBS.  This marked the only time the broad public was exposed to this story of the US administration running guns to the Mexican drug cartels in order to smear American gun owners, and attack second amendment rights. After CBS stonewalled, delayed and threatened her over her coverage, she resigned from the position she held 20 years.
Years ago, Attkisson noticed the emergence of what is now called fake news, only she called such stories by their traditional name: a smear. The reporter began researching the topic in earnest, and the result is her new book, coming out on May 22, 2017, titled “The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote,” .
For example, she noted early on the development of a narrative story that swept the news media alleging "white nationalist" ties to the Trump campaign.  “The white nationalist stuff came up through a pro-Hillary Clinton group run by David Brock (founder of the liberal group Media Matters) called Blue Nation Review. And they wrote like six articles in five days that were all about alt-right, white nationalists, racists, stuff like that.” she says.
She described how, on Aug. 15, the “collective David Brock propaganda groups begin a theme and meme of Trump and his supporters as ‘white nationalists.'”

“And,” she relayed, “Brock’s Blue Nation Review pummeled Trump in six days with smear articles titled”:
Attkisson is quick to point out that there are many sources trying to manipulate what gets on the news: not just the two major parties but groups like Media Matters, corporations, public relations firms, think tanks, nonprofits; a whole cottage industry that’s built up around manipulating the media.  Anyone who can throw a press release on a letterhead and find the contact information for the major news outlets is suspect; which is to say anyone that can buy a mid-grade computer and - maybe - a fax machine.

WND pours praise on Attkisson, repeatedly calling her a superstar reporter, and while she uses a lot of the space to tease her coming book, at heart she is the kind of old school journalist we grew up thinking they are, or should be.
“I was always told in journalism school that if someone hands you a press release, whether it’s from the government or a corporation, it’s almost never news. It may be a starting point for something to look into, but in itself it’s not a story. That’s what they want you to think. And it’s your job to figure out the truth, and not to be used just report something that someone’s trying to slip on your plate.”
“Me? I look for stuff that other people try to keep me from seeing. I seek that stuff online. Because that’s where I find some stories. And, occasionally, I do find truth in these places where they don’t want you to look. Or where they are trying to marginalize stories and make them controversial.”

“One last little thing,” Attkisson added.

“Part of the directive on how to find out if something is fake news, is a narrative is that if it’s not in the Washington Post or New York Times, or Snopes says it’s a myth, you know not to believe it.

“Well, all those sources, in my view, can be suspect. And Snopes especially has been incorrect, factually incorrect, on a number of topics. So the very places some people have directed us to, to get the truth, are the very places where I think I wouldn’t necessarily look for it.

“And I think that’s a danger.”
Attkisson's perspective is that this whole "fake news" meme, itself a product of the industry that manipulates the news media, is an attempt at censorship and to further centralize control.
Attkisson observed, “These people who consult with political operatives or corporate interests, they are going to be the ones to censor our news? And tell us what truth is? And even when that truth is more a matter of opinion or not even fully known?”

“I’m really nervous about someone saying we’ll decide the truth,” the seasoned reporter flatly stated.

“You know, they used to say cigarettes couldn’t cause lung cancer. So, theoretically, a story or study that said otherwise wouldn’t show up on your Google search today, because that had been determined at the time not to be true.”
It's an interesting interview with an interesting journalist.  A bit long, but worth it.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Good Rule of Thumb for Old Graybeards and Young Shavers

Always keep this in the back of your mind: "everything you know is wrong".  Once you say that, know that it's an overstatement that's just easier to say than "in all probability, some of the things you know that you hold most dear are wrong".  Always keep an open mind.  Realize you've probably been misled or lied to about some things, and never stop questioning.  Always ask yourself, "how do I know what I think I know?"

Where does tonight's emphasis come from?  It was Dilbert that introduced me to the idea that web surfing was equivalent to bouncing around like a ping pong ball in a clothes drier.  Today, the ping pong ball of my mind ended up at a blog I've never visited before called Stonekettle Station.  Obviously rather liberal viewpoints.  I ended up there by way of a blog I've visited a few times and that seemed moderately (occasionally) coherent called Just an Earth-Bound Misfit, I,  which I bounced to from The Vulgar Curmudgeon.  (Whew!  Got that?)

In a post called "Blind Spot", Stonekettle Station starts with the provocative question, "Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?".  In general, most of us go through that by about 18 or 20, usually aided by some substances that alter mental states - except for those of us who go on and read quantum physics, and then reality gets even stranger.  Despite the juvenile opening, he drifts to this being a central theme of the new Westworld series, then goes into some better writing about how on rare occasions things that are well known by masses of people turn out to be completely untrue.  For an example, he writes about the McMartin Preschool Trial in the 1980s.  For those who don't remember, this was a sensational trial essentially conducted in the press in which a lone suspicious mother; a mentally-ill, alcoholic mother (diagnosed as such, this isn't slander on my part) started what turned into almost a Salem Witchcraft trial of our age. 
By the time it was over, more than 321 individual criminal complaints had been brought against seven people detailing an unbelievable tale of horrific crimes

But in the end all of those charges, all of them, were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Every single one.
For sure, the McMartin Trial was a terrible thing, and an example of some sort of mass, media driven, temporary insanity.  From there, he goes into pizzagate and immediately takes the side that not only is there nothing to it, but that everyone associated with pizzagate is innocent and everything being linked to the story in any way is false.  From my standpoint, I don't have enough evidence in front of me to know in either way.  Frankly, I don't think it's true or real, but as I said the one time I even got close to the subject, these are serious allegations, and "If a quarter of what's alleged in this thread on Reddit is true, the entire Clinton Foundation and everyone in that circle needs to be burned to the ground".  I'll note that Stonekettle doesn't present any evidence that he's right, nor did he provide a link to any point-by-point refutation, nor anything else solid, just that he baited some people online and received hostile response that he took to show those people are idiots. 

Gosh, there are idiots online!  Stop the presses!  Shut down the Internet!  There are idiots out there!  Who would have ever thought there are idiots in the general population?  I mean, besides everyone. 

From there, it gets worse.  He goes down the road that the only people stupid enough to believe conspiracy theories like these are a ... certain subset of the population
You see, that segment of the population is, after 30 years of being habituated to fear by talk radio and TV pundits, fake news, false narratives, an endless diet of conspiracy theories from bottomless cesspools such as Infowars, conditioned by their religion of suspicion and intolerance and a political party of paranoia, that population, is now uniquely vulnerable to this kind of manipulation.
The astute will realize that "habituated to fear by talk radio" means Rush Limbaugh, so I'll cut to the chase: it's the conservatives that are the only ones stupid enough to fall for a conspiracy theory.  There are no liberal conspiracy theories after all.  I mean besides the ones that two seconds with a search engine turn up.  Frankly, there's nothing worthwhile in the column after this.  The rest of it is just attacks on the Trump administration for not following his model of thinking, which the previous paragraphs show that he isn't following himself.  Another smug self-impressed liberal; nothing new here.

I doubt you'll ever end up here, Mr Stonekettle, but repeat after me: "everything you know is wrong".  Once you say that, know that it's an overstatement that's just easier to say than "in all probability, some of the things you know that you hold most dear are wrong".  Always keep an open mind.  Realize you've probably been misled or lied to about some things, and never stop questioning.  Always ask yourself, "how do I know what I think I know?"

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah

Merry Christmas, or Happy Chanukah, everyone!  Tonight's sunset marked the start of Chanukah, while midnight, of course, marks Christmas. 

Tonight, December 24 in the US marks another occasion.  On this night 47 years ago, Christmas eve of 1968, Apollo 8 was on the world's first mission to the moon. Like sailors sailing out of sight of land for the first time, man was leaving the safety of our big rock for the first time. We were becoming a space-faring population.  Here on the ground, 1968 had been a tumultuous year but we were united in watching the Apollo 8 mission in a way few things have united Americans.
I suppose that like most people alive then, I'll never forget that.  I can't imagine the world of trouble a modern crew would be in for what they read back to Earth from about 1:10 on.

Churches, like all groups, have personalities, and in the one I attend, it would be remarkable to toss a wadded up paper ball and not hit an engineer, nurse, doctor, or a tech professional.  It's not news to this bunch that Jesus was probably born in the spring or fall rather than in the dead of winter, nor is it news that the December 25th date comes from adapting to the Roman Saturnalia or other pagan holidays; nor would they be shocked if you told them Christmas has more secular than holy traditions associated with it and many things that are totally ingrained in the holiday traditions started out as advertising gimmicks.  There was no little drummer boy when the events we portray as the nativity happened; in fact, the scene we call the nativity is a conglomeration of bits and pieces from multiple Gospels, and certainly did not happen within the first couple of days of Jesus' life.  Nobody knows how many magi ("wise men") came to visit the child; we say three because of the three gifts listed, but it could have been almost any number.  Furthermore, it wasn't at his birth; it was when Jesus was closer to two years old. 

A friend sent me this contribution on the question of the exact date.
The truth is we simply don’t know the exact date of our Savior’s birth. In fact, we don’t even know for sure the year in which He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C.  One thing is clear: if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, He certainly would have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, even down to what the baby was wearing – “swaddling clothes”—and where he slept—“in a manger” (Luke 2:12). These details are important because they speak of His nature and character, meek and lowly. But the exact date of His birth has no significance whatsoever, which may be why God chose not to mention it.
I've heard another explanation for why December 25th was chosen.  It's close to the solstice, the longest night of the year - which made it the darkest night of the year in those days. Jesus was the light of the world, and the symbolism of bringing light when things are at their darkest fits perfectly with the story.  If someone came out with a convincing line of evidence that Jesus really was born on December 25th, I'd be surprised... but not terribly shocked.  Again, paraphrasing that previous quote, not that it matters.

While going through my mom's things after she passed away a few years ago, we found this picture.  This is my brother (on the right) and me visiting Santa.  He looks a bit more skeptical than me, but he is my older brother.  While I'm not sure of the date, it would have been around 1960, plus or minus one or two years.  That's right: this is the first "full frontal" picture of me I've posted here!
Hold close the ones you love.  If we're very lucky, this will be the worst Christmas of our lives and everything in life gets better year by year for the rest of our lives.  And if things get worse, we'll remember this as the "good old days".  Either way, hold tight.  And do it "before you dot another 'i' or cross another 't', Bob Cratchit!"

It's one my of my blessings that a group of really great folks stop by here to share my blather - Google says about a 1500 of you every day, which blows my mind.  Thanks.

So however you mark this day, enjoy it well.  Spend time with family or friends or both.  Remember the good service members deployed far from home.  If you're Military, LEO, or fire; EMT, Nurse or MD, and are one who must work while the rest of us rest, thank you.

Christmas Eve 2016

Michael P Ramirez cartoons

There's a lot that's good with this cartoon: the contrast between Christianity and Islam; the light vs. the dark.  Ramirez got the essence of that exactly right.  There are things that are wrong with it, too.  The reference to Isis is a date, not a verse in the Koran and while the expression "on Earth Peace, Good Will Toward Men" is a translation, it's one that's not the majority view.  I have the YouVersion Bible app in front of me which has 49 different English translations (and, seriously, if you want to study the Bible, I think this is irreplaceable).  Most seem to translate that as "peace to men of good will" or "peace to men on whom His favor rests".  But let's skip the "my translation is more better than yours" stuff.  Whatever you read that you understand is better than something you can't understand. 

A lot has been written about the Islamic attacks across Europe in the last year, and it should have been written.  As others have pointed out, the transnationalist viewpoints that have led to this are far from accidental.  The transnationalist structures around us were deliberately constructed at the end of WWI as a response to the horrors of that "war to end all wars".  The League of Nations and subsequently the United Nations were specifically designed to lead to "one world government".  The elites at the time believed it was the way to put an end to future world wars.  There was recognition that the weak spot in their plan was "non-state actors", like Al Qaeda or ISIS, that the mechanisms being put in place would only work on states with similar value systems, but they didn't see that as plausible. 

There are those who say the problems in Europe, and one would argue the problems that are coming here, are entirely deliberate: they're right and that is why.  These people who are driving the "diversity" move are doing so in belief that they're doing the right thing, because they've been trained all their lives that this is the right thing.

And so as Christmas Eve leads into Christmas, keep your eyes all around.  Don't let your situational awareness slip to condition white for a minute.  There was talk about ISIS putting out a list of churches to encourage attacks; whether not that happens is more a question of when and where, not if. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Sig Sauer and the MCX - How Recalls Should Be Handled

Although I'm not affected by the recall, I bow deeply to Sig Sauer for the way they're handling the MCX recall.  I got the recall emails, presumably because I'm a registered Sig owner, although possibly because I enter their contests all the time.  The way Sig is handling this is exemplary.  Since the meat of the email is only two paragraphs long, I'm going to excerpt it here, with bold added in a few places:
SIG SAUER is conducting a mandatory replacement of the carriage assembly in SIG MCX rifles. SIG has found through extensive factory testing that in extremely rare instances, not reported in the field and extremely difficult to replicate, a condition may exist causing an unintended discharge. Failure to follow the loading procedures and basic rules of safe firearms handling outlined in the user’s manual has the potential to cause serious bodily harm or death.  Although this has only been witnessed in 300 blackout, SIG has decided to upgrade all MCX models since the MCX is a modular platform and we want to ensure the quality and reliability of all products we manufacture.

Stop use of firearm immediately, and visit the SIG SAUER website listed below as soon as possible to register your firearm, initiate the process and view a video explaining how to change out your carriage assembly. SIG will send you a prepaid box to return your complete carriage assembly to the factory. A new assembly, designed with the firing pin locking mechanism, will be shipped out to you within 5-7 working days of the receipt of your parts at no cost to you. Please note total in transit times will vary based on geographic locations. SIG will also send you a $50 gift voucher for any inconvenience this may have caused. This upgraded carriage assembly addresses this potential issue while enhancing the performance and longevity of your rifle. You may also contact SIG SAUER customer service at the number below with any questions if needed.
In my mind, this is textbook perfect handling.  They found the issue through their "extensive factory testing", which based on my experience, I interpret as reliability testing (in our business, we called it HALT - Highly Accelerated Life Testing and was done by testing beyond the products' rated limits; you are basically trying to induce failure).  It was never reported by a customer or field user.  It was hard to duplicate even in the testing lab, but it could possibly cause an ND.  Even though it only showed up in one caliber, since users can reconfigure the firearm, it could affect guns that are setup for an unaffected caliber today at some time in the future.  So Sig Sauer told their customers to let us know you have one, we'll send you a box to return the subassembly, we'll get the replacement out to you in a business week, and include a $50 gift voucher. 

I'm shocked at the bad reactions I see on the Firearms Blog. 

By contrast, I first heard and talked about the Taurus issue with unsafe Millennium pistols back in August of 2015.  The Millenniums were being returned because of real field problems, not testing at Taurus: customers were observing discharges when the gun should not have fired.  At that time, I learned there was a legal settlement to complaints about the guns.  Taurus did the old, "deny, deny, deny" tactic.  Again, bold added.
The Taurus Companies do not admit liability in connection with the settlement,” the official told Grand View Outdoors. “If anyone has one of these pistols, we are happy to inspect it under the warranty and suggest that they send it to us so that we can do so.”
I've chronicled my problems with Taurus since then.  I sent my Generation 1 Taurus Millenium Pro (PT-145) back then; August 19th, 2015.  In brief, I've followed up a few times, the first at three months (when they said the gun would be returned in 6-8 weeks) and was given a story, then a few months later when I was given another story.  This August, on the one year anniversary of turning my gun over to them, I got yet another story.  From the transcript of my customer service chat:
... your firearm is a part of a class action settlement. All information related to the matter can be found at A Third Party Administrator has set up this site , and can handle inquires. Please visit the website. You can fill out the contact us form or call the number on the website for further assistance.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter (actual snail mail!) to the law firm mentioned on the settlement website.  There were two reasons for this: the first was to make sure that my registration on the site showed up (there is no feedback) and then to see what the status is.  From one viewpoint, I handed over a gun that was not known to be bad 16 months ago in exchange for absolutely nothing.  Much to my surprise, I had a phone call from one of the lawyers on that case.  What I learned is that the settlement was contested by someone else (trying to get more back from Taurus, I suppose), that contesting was denied by the courts, and that denial is in appeal.  If I wanted my gun back, they could almost certainly get it returned to me, but I'd be giving up my spot in the line of returned guns.  The attorney stated there are few returns to Taurus now, and once this is finalized, they expect more of a flood.  Right now, I'm closer to the front of the line than I'll ever be. 

The terms of what Taurus will do about this are unchanged.  Under the "enhanced warranty" option, Taurus will repair or replace at their discretion, except that there is no known repair.  If an owner opts for a buyback, Taurus will buy the gun back at a currently unknown price.  The original settlement set a fixed dollar payout amount that Taurus would not have to exceed in total, so they won't know how much they're paying out until they know how many people are applying.  I understand that the maximum payout will be $200.  It could go lower.  $200 is considerably less than I paid for mine, even as a used gun.  The only option that makes any sense to me is wait for the replacement gun. 

Given the way Taurus has handled this problem with their guns and how Sig Sauer is handling the MCX issue, Sig is the better company by a mile.  Hands down.  No question about it.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lessons I'd Rather Not Learn

Tonight, the long saga of the ballnut removal tool, or the BRT. 

One of the more involved parts of the CNC conversion I've been working on since I retired is the Y-axis (last Friday was my 1 year anniversary).  There simply isn't much room in there to do much work, and to complicate things even farther, during the development of this system, the originator of the plans I bought, Hoss, moved the Y-axis motor mount from the front to the back of the mill.  This resulted in at least three versions of the Y-axis ballscrew.  I had wanted to front mount my motor, although it might provide a little more range on the Y-axis to use the back, but when I ordered my ballscrews, I wasn't aware of this.  I emailed the vendor and mentioned "Hoss DVD CNC Conversion" and he said, "Oh, that's a standard product" and gave me the quote.  I received a version of the leadscrew that sticks farther out of the front of the mill than a later version does.  No problem, this is taken up in an external spacer (which I pictured here), also available on the DVD.  

To put the ballscrew/nut and mounting piece in the base, the ballscrew needs to be removed, and the machined end pushed through the front of the base.  Then you hold the ballscrew end in one hand, the ballnut/mount and BRT in the other, and screw the ballnut/mount back onto the screw.  Hoss made a simple tool to remove the ballnut.  The drawings for this are on the DVD, along with drawings of the various versions of the Y axis.  He printed it on a 3D printer, probably in PLA plastic.  It looks like this:
It's roughly the length of the ballnut, and has a 0.400" central hole down its axis to fit over the machined end of the ballscrew.  Dead simple.  In use, the ballnut/mount combination is unscrewed onto the tool, the tool is pulled off the screw, and the whole combination wrapped up with a zip tie or something so that the tool and ballnut don't separate. See, the only thing that holds the balls in the threads of a ballscrew/nut combination is the presence of the ballscrew or something in its place.  If there's no ballscrew, or no BRT, you suddenly find yourself with a mess of loose ball bearings migrating to every corner of the house. 

A while ago, I bought a Delrin rod to machine a BRT, and while trial fitting it, I found my major problem.  My ballscrew isn't like the one pictured above.  Mine has a longer machined section, and has a part immediately before the ballscrew threads about 1-1/8" long that's 0.500" diameter.  The trick is that for the ballnut to screw onto the tool, it has to match the minor diameter of the threads, about 0.530" inch.  To fit comfortably on the 0.500" OD, the tube ID has to be a bit larger, perhaps 0.505".  That leaves .025" in diameter, so the wall thickness goes down to about .012".   While I was trying to machine this, I pushed the live center on the lathe too far forward and the tube crinkled.  With a wrinkle in the plastic, the next time the cutter got to that point, it tore the Delrin.  

Unfortunately, when I ordered the Delrin, I forgot the motto "two is one, one is none" and now I had no way to make another.  While there is no force on the tube when the ball nut is on the BRT, it has to be tough enough to be machined.  I didn't have any other plastic lying around the house, but I did have some pieces of 12L14 steel about 3/4" diameter and long enough.  Steel sounded like it has to be tougher than the Delrin plastic and I machined a replacement BRT out of steel. 
Steel BRT and the torn Delrin piece.  Steel > plastic.

OK, should be good to go, right?  Not quite.  When I tried to unscrew the ballnut onto the BRT, it took some effort.  I unscrewed the nut and saw that the ball bearings were pushing into the thin steel wall of the tube and creating matching threads in it.  After about 1 turn, I couldn't make it unscrew any farther.  So back to the lathe to gently skim a few thousandths off.  Only the piece moved on the lathe - it was too thin to hold tightly the way I had it.  Again, I had a damaged BRT and no hope for a workable one.  All of this for what's very likely to be used once and put on the shelf. 

Yesterday, it occurred to me that if I had a piece of the threaded portion of the ballscrew, it's a standard profile, I could just unscrew the nut onto that and then put it back in place once the screw is in the base.  I asked on a forum I belong to, and was told, "You are way over-thinking this. When you buy a ball nut separate they come with a cardboard tube inserted into the nut to keep the balls in place. "  Cardboard tube?  Like this? 
The writer went on to say, "Without having the original cardboard tube, I have simply taken a piece of paper, formed it into a tube, and then wrapped it with masking tape to build the thickness and diameter to where it needs to be and then slid the ball nut off of the screw and onto it".  I thought one of those terrible thoughts, "how hard can it be?"  In the engineering world, this considered on a level of pure badness about equal to "all you gotta do", which is the most horrifying phrase in all of engineering, and usually precedes the worst times in your career.  Indeed, "how hard can it be?" preceded the worst moment in this story.

Realizing I need about .012 to .015 wall, I wrapped three turns of printer paper around the leadscrew, ran masking tape down it, then tried to unscrew the nut.  Didn't work. It started binding and when I unscrewed it back into place, I could see the same problem I had with the first two tools - the balls were trying to create matching screw threads in the paper.  So I pulled most of the tape to make the tube thinner and started again.  This time it was unscrewing onto the paper without binding.  I guess I thought, "holy crap! it's actually going to work." and kept going.  A few seconds later, I heard the balls falling into the folded over paper end in my left hand.  At this point, it was over.  I unscrewed the leadscrew the rest of the way and found that the last few threads in the nut were exposed and the balls fell out of that.  I think I caught all the balls and none escaped, but I won't know until I put it back together.  I put tape over both ends of the ball nut and paper cup (folded over paper tube) so that the balls don't escape.  
I'm told it's really not a big deal to re-ball one of these.  The first time is likely to take me close to an hour, but if I do it a few times, I'll get it down to 10 minutes or so.  My main fear is that the balls have escaped and ended up in another space/time continuum.  The micrometer in this pic is to measure some of the loose balls (.1242").  I should order some spares. 

Another user on that forum I went to said they did a similar path to me.  Tried plastic a few times, then machined one out of aluminum, and then ended up dumping all the balls into something and re-balled the screw.  I really don't want this lesson, but it sounds bad to say my goal is to need an hour to re-ball the screw, and not do it often enough to do it in 10 minutes.  I have things I want to use the tools for, not just make tools.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Things That Can't Go On

Complete the sentence ... won't go on. 

I've been saying for a long time that the problem with our infinite spending that is never mentioned is that when we need to borrow so much, there are very few places in the world we can borrow from, and they pretty much all have their own problems.  For fiscal year 2016, which ended September 30,  our deficit was just under $600 Billion.  In theory, the way we spend $600 billion more than we generate in revenue is by borrowing that money.  Again, in theory, we do that by selling bonds: long term and short term debts.  That's prelude to introduce this data that I saw today:
The data is Net Purchases of bonds by the foreign central banks (Bank of Japan, European Central Bank, etc.) and the negative number means those banks are selling our bonds, not buying them.  So what can we do to make our bonds more attractive?  Pay more interest?  Lower the prices?  Don't forget that since the election, bond yields have been going up and prices down.  Bond interest rates are up so much that in Switzerland, interest has almost gone positive again.  (Note - we really do need a sarcasm font)  It's pretty commonly stated that we're in a global bond rout.  Given the time scale of this data, it's possible that an uptick in sales wouldn't show up on this plot. 

From the standpoint of bond buyers, this is a good thing.  The prices they pay for bonds go down, and the interest they get paid goes up.  From the stand point of the, not so much.  The interest they have to pay goes up as a line in the budget making deficits worse or imposing some much needed discipline.  Of course the Fed has been buying our own bonds for a long time, (example) and there's no reason to think this sleight of hand won't continue. 

In some poetic way it makes sense to talk about this today.  In the financial world, we're seeing this grand cycle of bond prices going down for a long time and then starting back up (10 year treasuries have been in a down trend since the 1980s!); and the cycle of prime interest rates being held at historically low rates for historically long times coming to an end.  In the real world, we see today is the winter solstice: the end of the cycle of every day being a little shorter and the sun setting a little farther south than the day before.  From now on, very slowly at first, days will start getting shorter, and the sun will start moving north.  The earliest sunset of the year was a few a weeks ago, and it has started setting a little later every day; the latest sunrise is still a few weeks away.  By late January, every sunset will be later and every sunrise earlier, and both will be a little farther north - until that cycle comes to an end next June. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Over the Operation That Scared Me

Not surgery.  I'm over the drilling operation I needed to do for the oil hole in the cross slide, the operation that scared me the most.  I've written before about the 4" long 1/8" diameter hole I need to drill.  It's complete. 

Before I go on, I'd be remiss if I didn't do a hat tip to a frequent commenter here, who usually posts by the name of John.  John reached out to me via email some time ago on some project and we've kept up correspondence.  John also happens to have been a mechanic in the Navy and had some experience with hydraulic systems that make this one look like child's play so I asked him for some advice and he largely redesigned the system on the fly.  That included adding some details that made it easy to go on a net-based shopping trip to find all the fittings I need. 

The main difference is to recognize that while Hoss referred to 1/4" tubing, unlike plumbing (which has its own oddities - like pipe size "schedules"), these little tubes are either specified by their OD or their ID, depending on the seller.  That spells TROUBLE to me.  I searched for table of actual sizes for these tubes and found 3 different IDs for a 1/4" OD or 3 different ODs for a 1/4" ID.   John's main recommendation was to go to fittings on the cross slide that screw into a standard pipe taper threaded hole.  He recommended a switch to 5/32" OD/ 1/8" ID tubing for everything because of ease of matching all the parts I'd need to get.  The tap is 1/8-27 NPT.  All the fittings will match the 5/32 OD, and everything with a barb fitting will be 1/8" matching the ID.

I watched Hoss' videos and sketched out how I think this system lays out on paper.  This allowed me to see where I needed threaded fittings and where I needed Tees.  I found a great supplier for these parts online, PolyConn, in Minnesota.  I suppose it's always the trade of lower price per fitting vs a higher price that includes some handling costs, but their prices per fitting were great.  It allowed me to order a good amount of spares.  They were expensive on tubing, so I found a dealer on eBay selling the tubing at a much lower price.  I bought a cheap fuel pump, also from a seller on eBay, figuring I'll be able to address the whole 5/16 fuel pump fitting vs 1/4 (or 5/32) once I got a pump in hand and could measure it. 

Everything arrived over the last few days, and while I could have drilled a couple of holes earlier in the week, this led to me wanting to get to it today.   Earlier in the week, I put the cross slide back on the base, with the gib strip in place, so that I could use the mill as a drill press to drill the vertical hole in the slide, right in the middle of the oil groove.  Then I laid out a square path to find the place to drill on the end of the slide for a fitting, 0.3 down from the top of the slide (non-critical).  The only critical point is that when I drill the 1/8" diameter, 3-1/2" long hole, it has to cross this 1/8" hole. 

I had concluded after that last post on the subject, based on feedback from commenter Raven, that I'd drill a larger diameter hole and only finish out the last inch or so with the 1/8" bit; John suggested I use the recommended tap drill for the larger first hole.  The 1/4" bit I was leaning to was not a special size in any way, so I switched to the recommended R drill (0.339") hole that I'd need for the tap anyway.  I could drill with R, 1/4 and 1/8, but the 1/4 is really not necessary.  That cavity will fill with oil and the only difference is the larger amount of oil in the larger R drill profile.   
The last inch was drilled by hand, and this is it when it was just completed.  The 1/8 bit wanted to flex and move around more than I was comfortable with, so I turned that little piece of aluminum with a 1/8" hole in it to help me keep it centered and not wobbling as much.  Once this was drilled, if everything was cool, I should be able to shine a flashlight in the side hole that this long hole is supposed to intersect with and see light. 
Although this isn't the greatest photo, it shows the 1/8" hole at the end, which was my focus point, and a taper to the larger hole which comes toward you at the top (and goes out of focus).  That taper is the top cut of the R bit. 

I have some more holes to drill and a mess (literally) of chips from cast iron to clean up, but we're moving at a good speed again. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Solar Study Shows Best Predictions for The Next Maunder Minimum

Probably the best argument I've seen for the view that our next Maunder or Dalton Minimum is coming soon comes from Nature Science Reports in October of 2015.   Researchers Simon J. Shepherd, Sergei I. Zharkov, and Valentina V. Zharkova (who are not strangers to these pages)  performed a new type of analysis of solar data.

In the abstract of the paper, the authors say they obtained full disk magnetograms of the sun and derived ways of describing the Principal Components (PCs) of two main, time-varying magnetic waves found in the magnetogram data.  They observed that these magnetic waves in the Solar Background Magnetic Fields have opposite polarity, i.e., originating in the northern and southern hemispheres, respectively.  Over a duration of one solar cycle, both waves are found to travel with an increasing phase shift toward the northern hemisphere in odd cycles (21 and 23) and to the southern hemisphere in an even cycle (22).  They were able to derive equations that described those waves, and see that at times the waves coincide well and the sun is more active, while at other times the waves partially cancel each other out producing a quieter sun.  Taking these equations they then extrapolate the PCs backward and find two 350 year long cycles superimposed on the 22 year sunspot cycles we're all familiar with.  The results show a remarkable resemblance to sunspot activity reported in the past including the Maunder and Dalton minima.  Cutting to the chase here, when they run these predictions into the future, they find the next grand minimum is coming soon in cycles 26-27 (we're currently in the end years of cycle 24).   That's around 2028 or 2030 and go forward 22 years. 
The fit of the Eureqa-distilled law (the solid curve) to the summary component in cycles 21–23 (dotted curve) and its expansion to cycles 24–26.  Dashed curves show the predicted summary curve compared to the real PCs derived from the SBMF in the cycle 24 with an accuracy better than 98%.

My standard disclaimer goes here:  I'm wary of predictions for another Maunder minimum, or another Carrington Event on general principles.  In the case of the Maunder minimum, it was severe and we simply don't have detailed data records of what the preceding cycles were like, to the level of detail we could produce in the last hundred years.  There was nothing like the solar instrumentation we had even 50 years ago, let alone now.  This study's predictions are based on analysis of only three cycles worth of data.  I don't know how long magnetograms have been available that show lines of magnetic force going back to the sun, but with 24 cycles, I'd like to see more than three.  Still, even a prolonged minimum that isn't as severe as the real Maunder minimum seems like it could be really bad.  It seems any deep sunspot minimum correlates with colder temperatures.  Despite what the alarmists say about Global Warmening,  mankind has done better in warm periods than in the cold periods in our history (huge pdf alert - but fascinating reading).  Of course the cool kids (or the kids who consider themselves cool) say not to be concerned about the Maunder Minimum because the warmening will wipe out any cooling and you skeptics are silly to trust these predictions - and a few other things that are demonstrably wrong, too.  

On the positive side, these researchers' main approach is similar to a signal processing approach I've seen used successfully many times.  The agreement of their predictions with measured data given their small study sample is impressive.  In fact, I think it's the most persuasive study I've seen that says a deep minimum is coming.  By this prediction curve, it will be much shorter than the Maunder minimum, and the next grand minimum, in about 2300 to 2400 looks more like the Maunder. 
Letting their prediction run 2000 years: from AD 1200 to 3200.  Text on the plot explains the markings.  From Nature

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Our Little Tree is Up

Our little tree is up and I think we're fully settled into being ready for the holiday. 
It's a skinny tree, but we have a small place and not a ton of room.  From where I'm typing right now, the tree is just a little farther from my left shoulder than my keyboard.  (At the bottom left of the tree, you can see Aurora, the designated cat-in-charge of that part of the house)

Story time: we've been buying our trees from a local Boy Scouts troop for as long as I can recall.  Over the years, I've run into two different guys I worked with whose sons were selling those trees.  We got their annual email, printed out their coupon and took off about noon-thirty to go get a tree.  The boy scouts weren't there.  I have to assume they sold out and shut down, but that has never happened before.  That's a complication.  Since we knew where we were getting our tree, we both have a tendency to be blind to things we don't need.  "Where do we get a tree?"....  "I don't know". 

Within a few minutes we both remembered seeing another dealer about a mile south of where the Boy Scouts were.  We walked up and instantly saw this tree. 

We're going through a warm spell here and it was about 85 when we went out shopping so I was wearing my red Ruger "100% American Made" tee-shirt.   As we're paying for the tree, the girl says, "I like your shirt".  All I could think to say was "Ruger?  Good stuff".  She agreed.  Her partner, the guy who helped get the tree ready, said, "Her dog is named Kimber".  We all laughed, shared a few more gun jokes, wished each other Merry Christmas and then went on our way.  I wonder how many blue-city, trigglypuff snowflakes would go apoplectic over a Ruger tee-shirt or that whole exchange.  (seriously, don't go to that link  Especially guys)  If they understood it.  Gotta love small city Florida.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

On Politicians, Bureaucrats, and Anthony Weiner

Yesterday, Borepatch did a piece on the Bureaucrats of the DOE vs. the Trump administration; in the larger sense, this is 18th century society vs. 21st century society.   What?  I get a laugh when I hear the term "progressive" for socialists and communists, as if handing more and more control over to a bigger and bigger government headed by a powerful central ruler is somehow a new idea, somehow moving to an ideal future.  That's the complete opposite of progress.  The Romans did that two thousand years ago and they weren't the first.  Same idea, different technology.  There's nothing futuristic about a centralized government controlling as much as they can and stealing everything that's not nailed down in the process.  The Romans did that, too.

The truly progressive system, is the free market, which spreads power over all consumers.  It adds self-correcting mechanisms that continually make things better - if it's left alone.  The removal of control by an elite few is the only really revolutionary change in governments in history.  Progressive government is a five thousand year old idea that gets disproved over and over and over. 

The money quote in Borepatch's piece is from Willis Eschenbach at Watts Up With That:
If you want to take over a bureaucracy, the key thing to know is that a single bureaucrat all alone is almost always a weak, pitiful creature for a simple reason.

He/she finds it very, very difficult to make a decision on his/her own.
And that's an undeniable truth of the universe and the human condition.  A bureaucrat's ideal condition would be to be invisible but still have power over us; to be able to wreak havoc on the lives of little people without being seen.  They must be in a job where they feel safe to bully people with no chance of being blamed.   

By contrast, the career politician may not necessarily be averse to making decisions.  They'll make a decision as long as it seems really safe and they have ample excuses for unpopular decisions but while the bureaucrat may want to be invisible, the career politician is more like Anthony Wiener.  He doesn't just want you to see him, he's going to force himself onto you and force you to look at it, no matter how much you don't want to.  The career politician is more like a perverted exhibitionist than they are like a bureaucrat. 

Unfortunately, it gets worse from here.  I often ponder how our society got where we are.  The glib answer is because we weren't hard enough on them, but I think there's a deeper view; there's something else under the surface.  Let's start here:  do you really enjoy politics?  I mean the day to day horse race, as they say.  The endless media coverage of "who said what"; did the Rs score some points over the Ds for something?  Did some big name D say something so remarkably stupid that media talks about for days?   I maintain that for most people, politics isn't something they enjoy.  They have a life, they have their kids to worry about, their careers to grow, the constant worries about job security.  Simply put: they have a life.

I think what's really the answer to how we got here has a lot to do with two things: because voters have a life and voters learned (or used to learn) that we elected the best people we could find to do that job for us, that the voters then left them alone to do their jobs.  And they left them alone because they have a life and can't constantly be monitoring the politicians.  But the politicians are all much more like Anthony Wiener than Winston Churchill (in about a million ways), and they kept doing things to make us look at them.  The career politician is incapable of going through life without attention; without being talked about all the time.   Once they realized they were being left alone to do their jobs, they skimmed money in any amount they could, from the limited graft of a local office to the unlimited insider trading that goes on in DC.  The kind of corruption that makes a douchebag like Harry Reid worth $10 Million on a salary of $193,400 per year (actually, that's only now, at his peak earning level).  Eventually, that proved to be "only money" and that inner exhibitionist that simply must be paid attention to did things to demand attention. 
Obviously, there's more to this story.  There are politicians who don't crave the attention so much as the money they can steal.  There are some so devoted to their progressive anti-progress ideas that they will do everything they can to "steal, kill and destroy".   Only some of the politicians are literally attention whores that have to be seen and paid attention to.  Between the attention whore politicians and their bureaucrat lackeys that want to be invisible, they create a lot of trouble. 
(One of my favorite pictures from the early days of this blog:  Harry Reid and a blobfish: separated at birth?  Reid's the one with the glasses.  Ethically, I'd feel better around the blobfish.  The blobfish didn't take $10 Million in kickbacks or bribes.)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Heads Up on a Good Deal

In today's emails I see that Midway USA is selling the Walker Razor X electronic hearing protectors for  $93.11. 

I wrote about these after we picked up our pair in early November.  Having used them a couple of times, including a good amount of "cheek time" on a .308 and .30-30, I have to say I really like these things.  Now that I figured out the "indoor/outdoor" option, the response is great.  And after a day on an outdoor range with people all around, shooting everything from .22 to "something loud", I have no complaints.

I really can't find faults with it, and think it's a great way to do hearing protection.  Mrs. Graybeard, who really wanted in-the-ear protection because she kept getting her electronic ear muffs knocked off during recoil is even happier with them than I am.  You can actually forget you're wearing them.
At some point during the Christmas sale emails, I think I saw these for $90.  I paid $99. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

For the Tool Addict On Your Shopping List

Yeah, a bit late, but if you're getting down to the last week and wondering what to get someone with an unnatural love for tools and gadgets, Machine Design comes to the rescue with a half dozen little tech toys.  I have to admit some of these seem like "why'd you put Bluetooth in that?"..."because we can".  But maybe that's just me.

SmarTech by Black & Decker
The big idea here is tracking your battery packs for your battery powered tools.  Not a big concern?  Not for me, but I can imagine it might be handy if you're on a jobsite and have tools wander off, or maybe have a few teenagers at home who might borrow a tool and never let you know where it is.  Smartech gives you the ability to pick up your phone and disable the batteries to all your tools.

Obvious disadvantage here: It's Bluetooth and that's designed to be useful over short ranges (a Personal Area Network).  Once the battery and phone are out of Bluetooth range, users aren't able to lock a battery or locate the Smartech battery by triggering it to emit a sound.
Now, I can see a design choice here that I'm frankly happy they didn't make: allow batteries to work only if they're in range of the App controller.  That way if someone walks off with your tool, it won't work.  On the other hand, that sounds annoying; what if I'm somewhere outside and need a tool?  Now I need two tools, my drill and my phone.

Tool Connect by DeWalt
Since DeWalt is owned by Stanley Black & Decker, you'd think they'd have a similar or identical tool connect system.  They seem to be holding to the distinction, though, that DeWalt tools are more aimed at "professionals" than B&D and added more features to their program.  DeWalt's monitor offers temperature notifications in case the battery gets too hot while charging. While both this tool and SmarTech enable and disable the battery pack, the DeWalt tool reportedly has a notification that can alarm the user if a battery goes outside of Bluetooth range.
One Key by Milwaukee
At first, this one sounded pretty dumb, but the more I thought of it, the more I thought there's a decent idea in here.  The Milwaukee One Key is connected to the drill, not the battery. As a result, users can (not must) control the speed and torque with their phones. At first, this sounded inconvenient.  Why would you reach for your phone when there's an adjustment right on the drill in your hand?  One reason is, “because it’s there.” Another reason is there is a preloaded library in the app that includes common fasteners. If you don’t know the torque or speed to use on a wood screw or a concrete anchor, the app will set the drill automatically.  Ever rip the head off a small screw driving it into oak?  DAMHIK.

Now personally, I usually leave mine set to maximum torque (which is a lower speed setting), but every rational brain cell I have tells me that's stupid.  I have turned many Phillips head screws into screws with an irregular cone bored into their heads (and turned a few screw driving bits into abstract art, too).  According to the company, the end result is reduced fastener stripping, breaking, and material damage. I believe it just might.

There are other tools coming that it will work with: they list a reciprocating saw, and a shop light.

Matrix by Black & Decker
Those of us older than about 40 (as a guess) will remember when we had one drill, usually 1/4" drive.  It was plugged into the wall, and we interchanged things that attached to the chuck - besides screwdrivers (which I don't recall at all).  The point is that motors were expensive and batteries that would drive them were so much more expensive that you didn't even have one.  I recall polishing pads and car wax buffers, but there must be some of you who remember more.  You put cheap attachments on the motor you had because a motor driven tool like a car buffer was outrageously expensive by comparison.

Today, motors and batteries are both cheap and Matrix takes this full circle. Batteries aren't very reliable, and that leaves the motor as the longest-lasting part of the tool. Matrix swaps out the front part of the tool and leaves you with the motor.  By having multiple tools fit onto a single motor, the Matrix Quick Connect System can reduce the cost of a new attachment. In addition, when the motor stops working, the user can simply replace it versus the entire product. Your replacement is a battery when it stops taking a charge, and your motor can drive a handful of different tools. 
Phone Works by Ryobi
Ryobi puts their twist on this "add apps to your phone for your tools" thing by making the phone the "tool" in the sense that you add something to the phone and the combination of the phone and "added on thing" turn into the tool.  There are add ons that make your phone a laser level, wood moisture meter, stud sensor, water level sensor, IR thermometer, and a few more.  Interesting, but (to me) a bit less practical than some of the others.
CoolBox - isn't real yet; it's on Indiegogo
This one deserves to bring up the rear because it's not a real product, and it's not all that innovative either.   It's a 22-in. long, 12-in. deep, and 9 ½-in. tall toolbox that offers a built-in rechargeable battery to charge electronics. The battery is connected to a 11.1-V, 3-Ah plug, so it may not power anything serious.  It might keep your phone charged, or its own Bluetooth speakers, but that's all.  This just seems like a toolbox for hipsters who put together the occasional piece of Ikea furniture.  (Was that snarky enough?) 

There you have it.  I think it's an interesting collection of tools and accessories, for those of us who still make things.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Will The Next Battery Breakthroughs Be Capacitors?

Researchers at the University of Central Florida announced that they've developed a new type of supercapacitor that can substitute for a battery in consumer electronics.  As anyone who has had a rechargeable battery can tell you, they eventually fail to charge quickly and then discharge quickly.  
The novel method from the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Center could eventually revolutionize technology as varied as mobile phones and electric vehicles.

“If they were to replace the batteries with these supercapacitors, you could charge your mobile phone in a few seconds and you wouldn’t need to charge it again for over a week,” said Nitin Choudhary, a postdoctoral associate who conducted much of the research published recently in the academic journal ACS Nano.
The key, of course, is the material they developed that allows the capacitor to be made much smaller than previous supercaps.  The team at UCF worked with newly discovered two-dimensional materials only a few atoms thick and made them to supercapacitors.  Other researchers have also tried formulations with graphene and other two-dimensional materials, but with limited success.
[principal investigator Yeonwoong “Eric”] Jung’s team has developed supercapacitors composed of millions of nanometer-thick wires coated with shells of two-dimensional materials. A highly conductive core facilitates fast electron transfer for fast charging and discharging. And uniformly coated shells of two-dimensional materials yield high energy and power densities.
A part I found particularly interesting was this:
[A] lithium-ion battery can be recharged fewer than 1,500 times without significant failure. Recent formulations of supercapacitors with two-dimensional materials can be recharged a few thousand times.

By comparison, the new process created at UCF yields a supercapacitor that doesn’t degrade even after it’s been recharged 30,000 times.
The part I didn't see them mention is how to get that much charge into the phone.  When everything is said, a capacitor is tank that holds electrons.  Those electrons are pumped into the storage tank and then drained out during use.  That means if "you could charge your mobile phone in a few seconds and you wouldn’t need to charge it again for over a week" you need to put in the same number of electrons in those few seconds that the phone drains out for over a week.  It's only slightly imprecise to say another word for the number of electrons per second is the number of Amps of current flowing into and out of the capacitor.  As an example, my phone battery is about 1600 milliAmpHours, and remember one milliAmpHour is 1 milliamp times 1 hour.  To charge that, I put a smaller number of milliamps into the phone for more hours, say 400 mA for a bit under 4 hours.  To charge that in one hour, we're back at 1600 mA.  To shove in the same number of electrons in 10 seconds, 1/6 the time, that current becomes 6 times larger: 9.6Amps.  Now add in that my battery may last one day, and they're saying, "you wouldn’t need to charge it again for over a week" and the number of electrons gets even bigger; now maybe we're talking about 68 Amps. 

Think of a charger cord the thickness of car jumper cables rather than the skinny little USB charger cable you currently use.

There are other problems, but let's leave it here.
A sample of the nanomaterial they used. (UCF Photo)