Friday, March 31, 2017

For Those of Us Still Considering a 3D Printer

Ten months ago, I ran into a friend and fellow engineer I used to work with.  It was at a restaurant/bar not far from the beach where I had gone to hear a band play, and I hadn't seen this friend since I retired.  He was playing keyboard for the band (another friend was the guitarist).  Among his very first words to me were, "do you have a 3D printer, yet?"  He knows I'm a home machinist, so I must be the logical guy to ask for input.

I still don't have one.

This week, Machine Design ran a series of articles on the topic of entry level 3D printers; all three by author Cabe Atwell.  I had never really noticed this guy as an author, but looking at his author's page at MD, I see I've read some of his stuff before, and also that he's a principal at a company called Gunhead that has two divisions: one that makes CNC lathes on the ubiquitous "7 by" platform while the other makes paintball products.  Which makes me think we'd probably get along fine.

The first one that caught my eye was "Are 3D Printers Overrated?"  In the first couple of paragraphs, he mentions something I've only heard as hushed whispers among the hoopla over the technology.  The bitter truth is that you can buy a 2D printer (better known as an inkjet or laser printer) set it up and get great results instantly.  3D printing is still a much, much less established technology.
You’re probably groaning by now, but hear me out. Yes, prices for the maker/desktop/DIY category of machines have dropped, the quality of their output has increased, and promotional materials abound with printers creating beautiful and delicate objets d’art.

What isn’t shown is the effort, the sweat, the tinkering, the trial and error, and the screaming to the gods themselves to please, please let it work this time.
He then goes on to list eight trouble spots that the home level printers have to address before they can really be thought of as useful appliances.
  • Warping.  Caused by excessive sensitivity to temperature changes.  Enclosing a printer works better than going with an open frame.  On a similar note; printers must have their beds aligned carefully; leveled so that print head is at right angles to the part, and the gap between the print head and object has to be set. 
  • Porosity.   Even when printed with 100% fill, parts leak too much for many applications.
  • Prints that won't stick to the print bed.  As Atwell puts it: "Reapplying treatments or specialty surfaces is too much like inking the letters on a manual printing press. There is no equivalent operation necessary before you print out your great aunt’s Bundt cake recipe on your inkjet."  
  • Prints that won't come off the print bed.  They stick too well.  
  • Prints don't get out of the way.  Partly an extension of the last issue, partly due to there not being something like the "out tray" that holds the prints coming out of a 2D printer.  3D Prints don't get ejected and left for pickup.  This makes the 3D printer require more babysitting than a paper printer.  
  • 3D Printers are way too slow.  For a variety of reasons, it takes hours to a day or even more to see if the print came out right. 
  • 3D Printers are way too manual.  Think of a laser printer: you buy it, and you buy a stack of paper.  You stick the paper in the printer, follow the setup instructions, and it prints.  As he puts it, 3D printers are, "more like MP3 players that get songs loaded onto them via Morse code. Oh, and the Morse code tapper thing costs extra."
  • And finally, the BIG one... (say it with me) Software.  "A decent selection of software is available, and we’ve all seen the impressive results. The problem is that the software, if it’s user accessible, requires a lot of tuning. Adjusting variables and trying to correlate cause with effect can be maddening."  
While this makes the printers seem exasperating, things like this need to be said.  If people aren't feeding back to the industry that they expect more out of the products, the pace of improvement will be slower.  The developers need to see the products through the eyes of their customers.

The next piece of the three almost seems to contradict this one.  Almost.  This one is entitled, "Ten 3D Printers that are Near Click and Print Capable Right From the Box".  In the first piece, he mentions two printers that are close to his ideal, the Tiertime UP-BOX and Afinia H series of printers, both of which are rather expensive.  In this piece he lists another ten, from a couple of relatively cheap consumer-grade printers, starting with the Tevo Tarantula I3 at $237 and the QIDI Technology X-ONE at $449.  The first thing you'll notice about the Tevo Tarantula is that it's not enclosed.  See his first item "Warping".  There is a Prusa USA i3 printer at $699 which is also not enclosed, but the selection runs the gamut to an Ultimaker3 at  $4295 and only three out of the 10 are not enclosed.  For those, he says, "build an enclosure".
(The Tevo Tarantula)

If you're seriously looking for a 3D printer, you might well find one in these 10 that will work for you.  The prices above seem to run the range; you'll also want to consider that they might not print in all the same materials.  That Tevo Tarantula prints in ABS, PLA, PETG, wood and PVS filaments, while a $699 (enclosed) XYZPrinting daVinci Pro 1.0 will only print in ABS and PLA (although those are the most popular filaments).   
Finally, the third column, "Essential Equipment for your Filament Based Printer" covers just that: 11 essential accessories that (chances are) you don't even know you need for your printer.  From BuildTak, a mat that goes on your printer's bed to help you avoid the problem of prints that fall off too soon, to a spatula-like print removal tool, to more mundane things like Rubbermaid sealing containers, and Super Glue.  Don't forget a set of feeler gages.  

Two of the main reasons I don't have one yet are the phase he describes above ("the effort, the sweat, the tinkering, the trial and error, and the screaming to the gods themselves to please, please let it work this time") and the long wait times to get something simple printed out.  It's cool stuff, but we're not really ready for a "3D printer in every house" world.  We're not ready to download files of plastic things we need from Thingiverse instead of buying them from Wally World, although that world is coming.  A fast working 3D printer that address the user friendliness issues that Cabe Atwell raises would be a good approximation of a Star Trek replicator.  Need a replacement part for something that broke?  Maybe you tell the replicator what you need and it goes to Thingiverse (or something like it), looks up a design, and prints it for you.  To borrow a phrase from Sci Fi author William Gibson, The future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed.”

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Bit of Fun This Afternoon

The first part wasn't fully expected, but we were hoping.  The Air Force Thunderbirds came into town today for a show this weekend and we were treated to them practicing their show around 5PM.  Castle Graybeard is a few miles from the airport, so we got to see a lot of the show, but not as well as someone at the airport would, of course.  Over the 30-something years we've lived in this house we've enjoyed being in the pattern for a lot of neat things to see in the sky, from the now-annual air show to seeing the space shuttle on the back of its 747 flying back to the KSC from a west coast landing. 
I didn't take this today; it was another time they were in town (the file is dated October 2014).  I hope to get more shots this weekend, or during tomorrow's practice, assuming there will be one.

The thing we get to see that most people don't is anything launched from Cape Canaveral or the Kennedy Space Center.  Tonight we got to see a truly historic launch: SpaceX launched a mission to place the SES-10 communications satellite into orbit; a European-built satellite intended to provide TV, internet and other services to customers in Latin America.  Satellite launches are pretty mundane these days, but what makes this one historic was being the first re-use of a previously recovered booster.  Plus, they stuck the landing on their drone barge, "Of Course I Still Love You", raising the possibility that this vehicle can be used again (the only views of this were online).  To add a touch more history to the flight, it launched from pad 39A, originally constructed for the Apollo program and the pad from which Apollo 11, and most of the Apollo missions, went to the moon.  After that, it launched most of the Space Shuttle missions.  In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease to use the pad.
Video here.  This booster was first launched in April of '16, so almost a year ago, on a supply mission to the ISS.  I've found nothing saying they plan to reuse this one, but I'm sure they're going to study the heck out of it.  SpaceX has now successfully landed Falcon 9 first stages nine different times: six have landed on drone ships, and three have taken place back on land at Cape Canaveral.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Weekly Shop Update

These reports are more or less weekly.  Most of what I've done in the last week is continuing in the path of tweaking and optimizing.  The portion that took the most time was to finalize the oil pump situation.

The first issue was that the oil bottle was sitting a few inches above the floor, while the pump was on the back of the chip tray two feet above the bottle.  This caused a problem getting it running.  When the pump was off, the oil drained out of the oil lines back into bottle and it would take 4-5 minutes to get it flowing at the mill.  I didn't have anything handy to put the oil bottle on, so I built a little wood box to hang off the base cabinet out of scraps of the half-inch plywood that the chip tray was made from.  I attached the pump to the box, so that now the oil level in the bottle will never be below the pump inlet.  The oil never drains out of the pump now, and it gets oil to the ways within a minute of starting.  Let's be "worst case" and say it takes two minutes. 
As I said last time, I have no plans to run the pump under CNC control, I just want to flip a switch and have it dispense some oil.  The next step was to make a housing to hold that switch for the PC power supply that runs the oil pump.  Turns out I had a nice metal box that I bought 30 years ago for a ham radio project that never got built.  The main difference between this box and the one I documented for the CNC controller is that I didn't machine anything on this one, nor do any 3D modeling.  I cut out the back panel with a jigsaw and a file.  It's ugly.  It looks like a rat gnawed out the hole, or that Royal Nonesuch made it, but it's a box.  Here it's sitting on an empty kitty litter bucket.  With two cats and a prepper mindset, we have a constant stream of these 34 pound buckets coming to the house.  The UPS guy has grown to hate us.
Now here's a tactical mistake.  I didn't seal the base of the mill where it sits on the chip tray, or where the bolts go through the chip tray before I worked on the oiling system.  I opened that cabinet and there was a small puddle of oil in the back right corner.  After cleaning everything up, I sealed all the bolts with RTV.  It seems to have worked.  I've added more RTV and caulk around the base.

The thing I've done with the biggest impact is reach the decision to implement a misting cooling system, as I mentioned thinking about last time.  To be honest, the choice between misting and flood cooling is one of those areas that isn't very clear.  The big pros are all using high pressure flood coolant, and water-soluble oil mixes are common.  Since the pros use it, that itself is going to cause some hobbyists to copy what they do (just like there's a run on whatever gun is the new hotness because the SEALs use it).  You will find references to rust being caused by these systems, and other folks saying "no problem".  On the other hand, the pros use multi-horsepower (or hundreds of HP) spindles and I have a 1 HP spindle.  The big guys might force coolant down the center of a long drill bit at thousands of PSI, while I would just peck drill - drill a couple of bit diameters and then pull the bit, repeat.  It just doesn't seem terribly relevant to the hobbyist.  I see the occasional comment from someone who claims to be a professional saying that for hobby-class machines, flood cooling just doesn't buy much compared to even manually spraying or brushing on a lubricant.  (If you like tool videos, and haven't seen this one that Og posted, you should watch it.)

The two big names in mist systems appear to be Fogbuster and Kool-Mist.  Fogbuster's claim to fame is to use bigger droplets and produce less fog that gets inhaled.  Kool-mist claims their mist gives lower overall costs to use.  Both claim to cool well and improve tool life.  Both require compressed air.  Uh-oh.  I have a compressor, and it's both loud and doesn't hold much air (it's a pancake style, 3 gallon tank).  Fogbuster requires 10-15 PSI, while Kool-Mist requires around 50 PSI.  Fogbuster's small system is ~$350-ish and Kool-Mist is around $150, but there are homemade systems, since they're not terribly complicated.  The advantage to Fogbuster is that 15 PSI sounds more like a home airbrush compressor and those should be designed to be quieter than what I have. 

Right now, I'm leaning toward Fogbuster, but I'm still looking.  Fogbusters are sold by Tormach, which is a bit of an endorsement, but Kool-Mist is carried by Amazon.  I haven't ruled out trying to design a system and make it from scratch either.  As long as it doesn't become a project like the mill itself was.  I'd still rather make my other projects than the tools. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Industrial Robots Hit Record Sales in '16

Machine Design reports that industrial robot sales set a record high in 2016, but wonders what that bodes for industry.
Industrial robot sales broke a record for the most orders and shipments in 2016, according to The Robotic Industries Association (RIA), but what will this mean for the 1 billion people employed in the manufacturing industry?
Machine Design says (I'm hoping with tongue in cheek):
But if you want to know how these robots will impact the diminishing industrial job force, read on. And, if you happen to work in the industry, download Uber...because you’re going to need a new job sooner than you can say, “I heart robots for life.”
While the RIA takes a more prosaic approach.
Orders for robots spiked 61 percent in assembly applications and increased 24 percent in spot welding. The food and consumer goods industry increased orders for robots by 32 percent in 2016. Robots in these industries can be used in a variety of functions, including improving food safety, performing repetitive primary packaging tasks such as bin picking, tray loading and bottle handling, and assisting with secondary packaging tasks such as case packing, bundling, bagging and palletizing. 
They provide the additional insights that of the 61% increase in orders for assembly applications, much of the growth came from the automotive industry, long a supporter of automated technology. The industry saw a 17% increase in orders and a 25% increase in shipments. 

As I pointed out before, and as Machine Design reports, it has long been said that robots are going to replace us all some day; that concept is actually older than the word "robot", which first appeared in the 1920 play "Rossum's Universal Robots", or R.U.R, by the Czech author Karel Capek.  I suspect that the idea we'll all be replaced by machines goes back to the dawn of the industrial revolution, but I've read that the idea of automata as some some sort of servant or slave goes back to early societies before Christ.

Machine Design continues:
Whether we like it or not, using robots to execute repetitive tasks is wildly more efficient than human labor. In one case, the Changying Precision Technology Company replaced 92% of its workforce with automated robots, resulting in a 250% increase in output and an 80% decrease in errors.

Even if quality and output were equal between automated robots and humans (which it is not), robots can save companies gross amounts of money each year on labor alone—one of the most costly business expenses. At the infamous Foxconn factory, automated robots replaced [60,000 workers], cutting its labor expenses by more than half. Other companies, including McDonald’s, have considered following suit as a result.[NOTE: corrected error in original. - SiG]
Remember the name Foxconn?  That's the factory that became "infamous" (as he says) due to workers committing suicide, after working 60 hours weeks without reprieve.  That said, it has also been reported that the suicide rate of Foxconn employees was actually lower than the country's overall suicide rate.  Like many of you, I've worked 60 hour weeks and it is a pretty miserable existence.  On the other hand, 60,000 workers (out of 110,000, or almost 55%) have lost their jobs.  Part of me wonders which group has it worse; the group working 60 hour weeks or the group that has been replaced by robots. 

Last December, I published some numbers (coincidentally also from Machine Design) that show the relationship of robot sales to human jobs isn't as straightforward as these examples indicate and as simple as most people think.  Plotted alongside each other, for nearly the last 20 years robot sales go up as employment goes up.  Robots aren't replacing humans, they're augmenting us. 

That December piece pointed out that there is a projected skills gap in the coming 10 years, with 3.5 million manufacturing jobs becoming available from 2015 to 2025, and about 2 million of them going unfilled due to a skills gap.  That's almost a 60% shortfall; faced with that, manufacturing companies will have to automate - or die.  The skilled workers aren't being replaced by robots; it's the unskilled workers that look to be the hardest hit. 

It's a constant theme around here that world of work is changing, with my belief being that full-time workers will become more unusual while contract and self-employed workers will take their places.  The regulations that the various governmental entities keep putting on employers act as negative incentives to hiring more permanent workers.  For companies like the one I retired from, they're so big that they absorb those personnel and other regulatory costs that small companies can't absorb, but even they wouldn't hire hourly unskilled/low skill workers directly.  New hires were brought in from temp agencies and only given an offer if they looked to be a low risk.  Smaller companies are discouraged from growing big enough to be a threat to the large companies.  What the future holds is hard to predict, but I think Machine Design has a good approach when they say:
It’s very possible the future workforce will be comprised of a patchwork of niche entrepreneurs, artisans, scientists, doctors, and sustenance agriculturalists. If you work in the industrial sector, grab a tractor and a hoe: It’s going to be a bumpy century.
Image Not From the Factories Mentioned Herein (source)

Monday, March 27, 2017

"I Can't, Boss!... It's Too Hard!" - What Would Happen to You?

That's essentially what Paul Ryan said last Friday when they pulled the vote on Obamacare (because they didn't have enough yes votes to win).   
"We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do," a clearly disappointed Ryan said Friday. "And now, in three months' time, we've tried to go to a governing party, where we have to actually get ... people to agree with each other in how we do things."
"I can't!  It's too hard!  I don't know how!"  What would happen to you if you made that argument at work?  Would it fly or would you be fired?  In my experiences, not just engineering but everything I've worked in, you wouldn't get fired for not knowing how to do something, you'd be fired for not trying to do it anyway.  Taking that view says to fire all those politicians up there for not trying, not for failing.  If only I could. 

I see a lot of blame being thrown against the House Freedom Caucus for stopping it; Trump going so far as to Tweet:
That's typical, crappy thinking.  If two sides can't come to an agreement, why only blame one side?  Unless, of course, you're on the other.  That implies the typical RINOs in the house who don't agree with the more conservative Freedom Caucus are without blame.  That can be seen from both sides; why not blame the Establishment RINOs?  Except that Trump has historically been more like a progressive than a constitutionalist.   Did anyone voting for Trump think he was a real constitutional conservative?

In one of the best blog posts I've read in quite a while, ASM826 co-blogging over at Borepatch's place wrote on this whole mess.  Tying together the bread lines in Venezuela and maddening urges to socialize the health care system in the US, he begins:
I have given up, for the most part. I think that WesternCiv has reached the event horizon and there is no recovery. I think it happened somewhere in the last 30 years, as we allowed the debt to grow, failed to address the external threats, and used the education system to raise a generation of socialists.
Likewise, I've given up, for the most part.  I don't know if all of WesternCiv is going to collapse, but it looks like a safe bet.  I'd say it was farther back than 30 years ago; in fact, the trajectory may have been set by World War I.  Europe is collapsing in front of our eyes, being washed away under the tide of an Islamist invasion.  This country, the last, best, hope for freedom in the world is going to collapse into a socialist hell hole.  Back in the middle of the Obama years, someone said the problem wasn't Obama it was a nation that would vote for him twice - even after seeing his policies and actions for the first four years.  It's the same reason we're headed for collapse into Venezuela North: voters don't see the real reasons there are problems; they're incapable of seeing cause and effect clearly.  Just like the way the Venezuelan Government blames the shortages of flour on bakers, the "generation of socialists" can't see that the problems they perceive in society are caused by the big-government policies they keep asking for.  

It's a truism in politics that once giveaway programs are started, they're tough to roll back.  One explanation is that people who get a benefit are more vocal about having it taken away than the people complaining about being taxed to pay for it.  The longer they get those benefits, the harder it gets to end them.  Plus, big entitlement programs in our country have usually passed on bipartisan support, unlike Obamacare.  The fact that O'care hasn't been in place long and that it was passed only by Democrats should have made getting rid of it easier, but it was designed from the ground up to be hard to get rid of.  You've heard some of the talk about the process of reconciliation and other processes they're trapped into going through.   

In my view, in letting this opportunity to get rid of it slip away, the Stupid party is committing another big stupid.  Witness this quote:
"The president has also said that when Obamacare does ultimately explode, which it will, we are going to be prepared to lead again and if Democrats come on board with a plan down the road, we will welcome that," said Priebus.
Trump has said that when Obamacare "does ultimately explode" the people will blame it on the Democrats.  I don't think so.  The "generation of socialists" ASM826 talks about will blame it on the Evil Insurance Companies and demand single payer (socialized medicine), allegedly part of the intent of O'care since day zero.  They'll blame it on the Stupid Party because "they touched it last". 
(CQ Roll Call via AP) 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Eye Protection for the August Solar Eclipse

This is about this summer's coming solar eclipse, now being hyped as America's Eclipse or The Great American Eclipse, now five months away as of last Tuesday. 

The vast majority of the people on earth go through their lives without seeing one due to the combination of small area that they cover and infrequent appearance.  I haven't seen a total eclipse, yet, although I've seen several partial eclipses.  What's unique about this eclipse is how much of the population of the US is within a day's drive of the eclipse path.  If it's within your ability to get there, I'm told it's a uniquely beautiful experience. 

What prompts this posting is some talk on Survival Blog about getting protective eye wear, and the chance of eye protection becoming impossible to find as we get closer to the eclipse.  As a lifelong amateur astronomer, I thought I'd pass along some thoughts. 

To begin with, you know that the most basic safety instructions tell you not to look at the sun with your naked eyes, and Never Ever EVER with binoculars or a telescope without proper filtering.  Hopefully, everyone old enough to lift binoculars knows that.  That said, I'll bet that you've had the same experience I've had of having to drive into or otherwise look close to the sun in the sky.  It's painful.  You won't want to do it, and you don't have to do it.  In fact, looking at the sun, with the exception of the few minutes of total eclipse will not be your emphasis. 

The easiest way to look at the eclipse as it's progressing toward totality is with a pinhole viewer.  This doesn't have to be fancy; it's simply a box with a pinhole on one end.  A shoe box will do fine.  The pinhole will project an image of the sun onto the far end.  It will be bright enough to observe in daylight.  Something like this is a fancy way to do it:
You can achieve the same results with a couple of pieces of thin cardboard; put a pinhole in one and hold it in front of the other at arm's length.  A box leads to less arm strain. 

You don't have to do this.  Any thing that cast shadows with a hole in it will project mini-eclipses where the sun shines through, and this is one of the cool aspects of watching an eclipse.  If you're near a tree, everywhere sun shines between the leaves, you'll be seeing images of the eclipses.  When totality is close, the holes between the leaves of a tree will project hundreds of crescent sun images. Have you ever seen a Ritz cracker used to project 7 images of the sun through the 7 holes in the cracker? 
(Colander image from here)

If you're bringing binoculars, (you're not going to look through them without proper filters, right?) you can project magnified images on the ground.  Attach the binocs to a photo tripod, with bungee cord if need be.  You'll get better contrast if you cut holes in a piece of cardboard to put on the binoculars so that there's some shade where the images are being projected. 

The commenters on Survival Blog were recommending #14 welding glasses, like these, which are known safe.  When you're wearing them, you will see nothing but the sun (at least, not much other than the sun).  Survival Blog pointed out that these may be unobtainable as we approach the eclipse.  I believe these are about $12 more than the last time I looked, but that time they were out of stock.  At this higher price, they're still available. 

You'll see cheap plastic film "sunglasses" like these, for a buck or two now and probably going up in price as the eclipse gets closer, or something like these.  The maker, Thousand Oaks Optical, is one of the well-regarded optical companies that knows what they're doing.  The film is a neutral density filter that transmits less than .001% of the light through it.  Yes, they're cardboard and flimsy, but you'll use them once and can put them over your glasses.  If it's up your alley, get one of these sheets and think of how many little viewers you could make out of 100 square inches of that film!  Sell them on the side of the road, or wherever you go to watch the eclipse.  A 10" square sheet like that can be used as a full aperture filter for a big amateur telescope, but I'll bet if you have such a scope, you already know that.  I have a 12" diameter filter made of that material that I built for my telescope back before I had metalworking tools.   I cut two 12"ID rings out of 3/4" plywood and mounted the film between the two rings.  It fits over the tube of the 10" reflector I built. 

As totality approaches, it will get progressively darker, like evening approaching at midday.  If you're on a hill with a good view to the west, the direction the moon's shadow is approaching from, you may be able to see totality coming as the shadow races toward you (the speed varies, but can be several hundred MPH).  The instants before totality starts and when it ends are often characterized by what's called a "diamond ring" effect and Baily's Beads  where sunlight shines between peaks on the moon's limb.  Now you'll put down your solar filters or dark glasses, telescopes and anything else you've brought and just watch it.  You'll see whatever stars and planets are above the horizon that time of day.  Animals will go quiet, and birds stop singing.  You'll see the Sun's corona, one of the rarest sights on Earth because it's not visible to the eye at any other time.  Given the low level of solar activity we've been having, it will probably just be streaming away from the sun evenly in all directions.  I've seen so many "enhanced" or photographically stretched pictures that I have no idea what to expect. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Blast From the Past... 100 Years Ago

A friend sent me this link to a collection of post cards depicting the Ford factories in 1917.  It's worth your time to go take a look.  According to the collection of cards itself, Ford Motor Corporation was founded in 1903.  From the 1903 founding until September of 1904, they sold 1708 cars.  In 1917, they planned to produce a minimum of 700,000 cars, an increase in capacity of over 409 times.  Over 8 doublings of production, so doubling production in less than two years, eight times over.  

Truly amazing. 
It's a cool collection of pictures. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Start of the King Kong Story Arc

Most readers will have seen at least one of the trailers for the movie Kong: Skull Island that opened on March 10th.  Mrs. Graybeard and I went to see it yesterday afternoon, as weekday movie matinees have been our habit since my retirement.  If I had seen this trailer, I might not have been left with some of the impressions I left the movie with.

There might be some spoilers in what follows, but nothing that I don't think you'll find by reading more than I did.  If you really want to discover the whole thing for yourself, be warned: "Here be spoilers"

To begin with, this is absolutely not a re-telling of the classic 1933 King Kong story.  There's no bringing Kong back to New York; no Kong on display in a small theater and being freaked out by camera flashes; no Kong climbing the Empire State building with the pretty girl in hand.  There is absolutely not a "it was beauty killed the beast".  There's no Kong tap dancing on Broadway to "Puttin' on the Ritz".  No... Wait.  Come to think of it, that was Young Frankenstein.  Scratch that last one.

Instead, it's a re-imagining of the King Kong story, set at the very end of the Viet Nam war in 1973; a key scene includes a recording of Nixon announcing the end of the war.  The movie opens, though, at the closing of WWII with an American P-51 crashing onto the sands of Skull island and its pilot following under his parachute canopy.  The Japanese Zero he was fighting crashes moments later, followed by its pilot descending under his parachute canopy.  1973 makes sense in terms of the movie being based on an undiscovered island; they portray Skull Island as being discovered by Landsat, one of the first full-Earth surveying satellites.  They milk the undiscovered island story for all it's worth and throw in some plot devices to isolate the folks on the island despite the relatively modern technology of 1973. 

The movie has the feel of an anti-war movie like Apocalypse Now; Samuel L Jackson plays Preston Packard, the military leader who seems disappointed to be leaving the war behind, and plays the sort of over-the-top crazy MoFo he does better than any other actor.  The anti-war feel is accentuated by the designated pretty girl, Brie Larson, who plays the "anti-war photographer" Mason Weaver, and Tom Hiddleston plays the jaded Ex-British Special Forces operator and "human tracker" James Conrad who seems to have left the British under circumstances he never talks about and whom has to be tracked down in a seedy Bangkok bar.  The Apocalypse Now feel is deliberate: director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, when asked what kind of monster movie he had in mind, suggested to it be in the Vietnam war era, as a sort of 'Apocalypse Now with monsters'.  Throughout the movie, the music of the late 60s and early 70s blares in the jungle alongside Vietnam era military hardware of all sorts. 

The movie centers, though, on John Goodman as Bill Randa and Corey Hawkins as Houston Brooks, two scientists from a shadowy organization called Monarch.  Bill Randa makes reference to an atomic test in 1954 that wasn't really a test but an attack on something and being sole survivor of a ship destroyed by that thing.  The test was an attempt to kill Godzilla and both pins this movie onto a timeline in the Legendary Pictures universe defined by their 2014 Godzilla and also creates a reference to the story arc Legendary Pictures is creating, which will end in 2020 with Godzilla vs. Kong.  After the credits, there's a scene where Houston Brooks meets Conrad and Weaver and shows them records that indicate other monsters existing on Earth; the monsters seen are Rodan, Ghidorah, Mothra and Godzilla. The scene ends with Godzilla's roar.  Before the 2020 finale of this arc, Godzilla will be reintroduced in 2019 in Godzilla: King of Monsters

(the almost-obligatory "pretty girl meets the monster and doesn't get et" scene, somewhat like the one in the movie)

What did I think of it?  I think it was entertaining, fast-paced, Kong was great CGI, and most of the rest was great too.  All in all, it was fun.  Were the characters a little too one-dimensional and stereotypical?  Was it a bit too predictable in parts?  Well, yeah.  We're watching a freakin' giant ape movie, not Shakespeare in the park.  Still not as fun as the Iron Man movies, which I always find a lot of fun, and well played.  Tom Hiddleston, who is fantastic as Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has a really low-key role in this one (see what I did there?), despite top billing.  I'll give it a four out of five star rating.  A fine Thursday afternoon diversion.   

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I'd Say A London Style Attack is Coming Here

But the fact is that "lone wolf" or "self-radicalizing" jihadi attacks are already here in the US. 

What else was San Bernardino?   Ohio State?  

The Ohio State attack followed a pattern that's becoming all too familiar; and the same pattern was in today's attack on Parliament in London.  The attacker drove a nondescript car into crowds and then came out slashing.  Nothing unusual, like the trucks used in Nice on Bastille Day; or the Christmas market in Berlin; just a plain old SUV.  It doesn't require tactical ninja training, access to a weapons cache, organizational skills or anything beyond the ability to drive and desire to die for Allah. 

It's jihad for dummies.  ISIS is proud of it.
Chances are none of us will be in an attack, no matter where we live.  On the other hand, the chances aren't very good any one of us will ever win the lotto or get hit by lightning, but someone wins the lotto pretty much every week, and that's less likely than getting hit by lightning. 

I don't have any great words of wisdom here, certainly nothing that you haven't heard before.  Stay alert.  Stay armed; and if you can't lift your hand and retrieve a gun RFN you aren't.  Consider carrying a little more capacity.  Practice.  Put in a little extra time at longer distances.  It's not all preparing for someone within 3 yards who wants to grab your stuff and get away.  Someone wanting to die isn't going to stop until you help them achieve that goal.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Judge Gorsuch Doesn't Give Me Warm Fuzzies

John Richardson over at No Lawyers - Only Guns and Money has a video from the confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch.  You can watch either the 5 minute version or a 2 hour 40 minute version.  I watched the short one.

The video is of Babs Feinstein* questioning Judge Gorsuch and trying to get him to commit that he'd overrule Heller and declare AR-15s as being illegal.  Gorsuch is no fool and is not going to be cornered by someone of her dubious intellectual abilities.   
Does he answer properly?  I would say he does say the right things but he doesn't fill me with warm fuzzy feelings that he's really filling Scalia's chair properly.  He does say Heller is the law of the land, and that it gives certain tests that he's to apply.  He doesn't address anything about those tests.  He doesn't address how he might interpret those going forward, which, I suppose, is the game all supreme court nominees go through. 

Justice Scalia said that the 2nd Amendment is certainly subject to regulation.  One thing I recall him saying was that right to bear arms for an individual implies that there is no right to weapons that an individual can't carry.  Examples of what might be forbidden could include crew served guns, a cannon, or perhaps anything larger than a BAR or M2 (and that's my interpretation, not what Justice Scalia said).  You certainly wouldn't have the right to have an Abrams tank, and by extension, I would think you wouldn't have the right to an M2 mounted in a pickup truck.

I'd like to see some indications gun rights are going to expand and not be reduced.  I'm one of those self-identifying fools who signed that White House petition to repeal the NFA of 1934.  I'd like to see that, the GCA of 1968, and to be honest pretty much all of it, thrown onto the junk pile of history.  I see no clues that Neil Gorsuch is such a guy.  Maybe that's the way they want it to be.

* to those who think "Babs" is too disrespectful, I'd say I'm trying to be respectful.  Ordinarily, I would call her "Back seat Barbie".

Edit 03/22 @0800 EDT: Judging by the first couple of comments, I suffered from my usual unclear writing.  My point is that while Justice Scalia was the high water mark of recent Supreme Court justices, he was not a perfect supporter of the second amendment and left a lot to be desired.  I was hoping that Neil Gorsuch would be better but I don't see any signs of that.   [SiG]

Monday, March 20, 2017

Odds and Ends - Shop Edition

Saturday, I was able to get the oiling system for the CNC mill running despite the battery issues I talked about Thursday.  It didn't go as easily as expected.  I found a wall wart from an old Sound Blaster speaker system that was marked 12V at 4.2A.  Since the highest current I measured was 3.5-ish, I said, "hot diggity - I'm there".  Not quite.  The pump ran for a solid 4 or 5 minutes with oil never seen moving in the tubes.  Since the 35AH battery wasn't ready, it was on the CBA for the second discharge test, the only thing I had was my Gooloo jump starter.  The reason I picked this jump starter is that it has a 12V 10A output, enough to run my SHTF ham HF radio for hours.  That output ran the pump, so it's obvious that the basic system is OK, but the pump really sucks some serious current while it gets going and the current I read on the HF ammeter is a gross underestimate.

I have a spare PC ATX supply, as commenter matism suggested, and I pressed that into service.  Its 13 Amps is enough current, so it works to get the oil delivered from a dry start in about 4 minutes.  I need to build a case, to keep the power supply dry and add a few niceties like an on/off switch, but it will get the job done.  I don't plan to run the oil under the CNC control; just punch the switch every now and then. 

The 35 AH battery recovered nicely after a couple of cycles.  The first time, I tried to discharge it at C/10 rate (3.5 A) and it failed quickly.  The output was erratic on the CBA.  I lowered the discharge rate to 1.75 (half that or C/20) and ran the battery down to about 30% discharged, then recharged it on my new "good" charger.  The second time, it discharged at the C/10 rate and looked completely normal.  I discharged it to about one third remaining and recharged it. 

The biggest improvement is that the enclosure now closes thanks to some cheap magnets from eBay - 73 cents each including shipping.  I found a piece of half inch angle aluminum I salvaged out of something years ago, drilled some holes for mounting hardware and everything went together.
Closeup of one of the magnets and holders (the extra hole, upper right, is original - just happened to be there but was too high to be usable).
The drawback to these is that they will stop the doors from opening as far as I might need.  I find if I loosen the screws just a tiny bit, they'll stay attached to the extrusion but slide out of place if I want them to.  Perhaps I might improve that a bit with a bit of design and machining.

I took the opportunity to take the tweak I did to fix backlash on the Y-axis and try it on X.  I was able to reduce that from 0.013 to .003.  That's not as good as Y, which came out at .001, but I think it's usable; certainly for now.  That makes X, Y, Z, .003, .001 and .004 respectively. 

I'm working on the coolant system design now, and the option is either flood cooling with a couple of gallons of coolant and a sump pump, or something like the Fog Buster system.  Fog Busters are like mist cooling in that they spray a relatively tiny amount of cooling fluid, but in larger droplets than a mist.  I've read guys saying they have no drain and storage bucket under their mill at all with a mist cooler.  One user I read sprays a tiny amount of kerosene to cool aluminum.  I suppose that's not that different than using WD-40.  The professionals all seem to be using flood cooling, I'm just a bit concerned that this enclosure isn't an aquarium, and I need to do some testing before I'd feel comfortable spraying water around in there. 

Basically, though, it's a fully ready CNC system.  Which means I've been pondering what I might build for my first project on it.  Does this look familiar to you? 
I understand it's hard to visualize from one view, but it's supposed to be a 10/22 receiver with an integrated picatinny rail.  I know there are products like this out there, but what's the fun in that?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Last Month's Story Sounds Rather Different Now

Remember the early February story of the guys walking into a police station open carrying rifles?  Widely criticized as epic-level stupidity, epic failure, the story goes that these guys walked into a Dearborn, Michigan police department station openly carrying rifles and handguns, because they had been hassled while open carrying on the street and wanted to protest that their civil rights were violated. I think every gunny site I read essentially summed this up as "how stupid can you get?"

If today's Daily Caller can be believed, the story is not at all what we've been fed.

Here's the story that I think we've all heard:
Brandon Vreeland, 40, and James Baker, 24, were arrested Feb. 5 after the younger one, clad with a black ski mask, walked into the police department with a short-barreled rifle strapped to his chest, and a semi-automatic pistol tied to his waist, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Vreeland left his gun in the car so he could videotape the encounter as an experiment to see if police would respect the Second Amendment rights of the U.S. Constitution. Both have previously said they are legal gun owners, and that Michigan law allows them to carry their weapon openly, including in a police station.
According to their lawyer, though, there's more here than that summary implies.
The men allege that police knew of their arrival because of a fake Facebook account that was used to track their activities. Officers reportedly had their guns drawn before Baker and Vreeland reached the precinct.

“After the discovery, it is very clear that Dearborn (police) knew that they were coming, knew who they were, and planned the ambush,” said attorney Nicholas Somberg, who represents Vreeland, according to the Detroit Free Press. “It’s not that they were reacting to a situation they thought was going to be violent. They actually knew it was not violent, knew who they were, and just wanted to teach these guys a lesson.”
[Note: I believe phrase "After the discovery" refers to the stage in a trial called Discovery, in which the two sides question each other about the evidence they're going to use. ] 

Fake Facebook account?  Being used by the police for surveillance of gun owners and activists?  The story morphs quite a bit from emphasizing the "admirable restraint" the police showed in not shooting them on sight. 
Somberg alleges that not only did his client and his associate do nothing illegal, but the police were acting in a wrongful manner. He says documents show that police created a Facebook profile with the name “Olivia” and scanned publicly posted conversations on the social media platform.

“My clients have other activist friends,” Somberg said. “They have a whole network, so they’re just screen-shotting everybody.”
Vreeland was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, assaulting/resisting/obstructing a police officer and disturbing the peace; Baker was charged with two counts of carrying a concealed weapon and one count of brandishing firearms in public.

“We audit police to see how well they honor the Constitution and people’s rights,” Vreeland said after posting $1,500 bond. “We showcase police abuse and abuse of police power in the totalitarian police state that we live in.”
Sounds a bit different from the original "two open carry idjits walk into a police station ... all open carry guys with rifles are idjits".  
(the video that Vreeland filmed was shown widely; this screen capture is from

And in case you missed the point the other 9 gazillion times it's been made, you have no expectation of privacy on Facebook - or other social media.    Likewise, in case you missed it the other 9 gazillion times it has been reported, the regularly passes rules and laws saying what they can't do, and just as regularly completely ignores those laws.  Like the BATFE, for example. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mining in the Landfills

About 10 years ago, I heard an astonishing fact.  I was told the richest copper deposit in the world is the wiring that has been added to New York City.  Whether or not that's still true (or was ever true), it brings about an important point: our extraction of materials by mining, refining and manufacturing also includes putting those materials back into environments by landfills.  Landfills and junk yards have higher purity iron ore, copper, tin, and a bunch of other metals than you'll find in a typical mine.  To me, a sure sign that some industrial metal is getting rare is that companies will want to mine old landfills. 

Today, I learned that those discarded metals and other things are combining into new minerals
A mineral called Simonkolleite, a corrosion product of Zinc.
[S]imonkolleite, was described as a new mineral in 1985 for samples collected at Richelsdorf, Germany. It is a rare secondary mineral formed by weathering of zinc-bearing slag, and is associated with native zinc, 
Maybe I'm a bit sensitive to it, but the linked article on Science Alert seems to have a bit of a greenie-inspired "mankind is destroying the world" tone to it (IMO, of course).  The geologist they talk to says that since the industrial revolution, we've seen the creation of the largest number of minerals in the shortest period of time in history.
"This is a spike of mineral novelty that is so rapid - most of it in the last 200 years, compared to the 4.5-billion-year history of Earth. There is nothing like it in Earth's history," one of the team, Robert Hazen from the Carnegie Institution for Science told The Guardian
On the other hand, Hazen followed that statement up with an argument that strikes me as rather weak.  He said he and his team analyzed the 5,208 minerals on Earth that are officially recognized by the International Mineralogical Association, and found that 208 of them would not exist if it weren't for human activity.  208 out 5208 (4%) in 200 years is the most dramatic creation in history?  Previously, the most dramatic period of mineral creation was when oxygen was introduced into the atmosphere (a period known as The Great Oxygenation Event).  That event led to an increase in the number of minerals on the surface from just over 2,000 varieties to more than 4,000, essentially doubling.  That's a far cry from 4%.

Most of the 208 minerals triggered by humanity came about thanks to mining, while six were found on the walls of smelters, three in a geothermal piping system, and four on prehistoric sacrificial burning sites in the Austrian mountains.

Many other new minerals could also be forming in our giant waste dumps, encrusting old batteries and electrical appliances like never before, the team suggests.

"There are probably all sorts of things forming as a result of old silicon chips or batteries," Hazen told Chelsea Whyte from New Scientist.

"TVs have all these exotic phosphors they use, and magnets and all sorts of high-tech materials. When you start hydrating and oxidising them, you're going to start finding a lot of exotic new materials."
The point of the article, instead of pointing out that things like this are going to be mined in landfills in the future, is that this "rapid" formation of minerals marks a new period in the earth's history, the Anthropocene.  Clearly, Hazen is an advocate for that explanation:
"That's really I think the most important factor in deciding whether or not the Anthropocene is a new geological time period - the fact that we have created these materials, these crystals, that are incredibly diverse and beautiful and they persist through billions of years," Hazen told Nicola Davis at The Guardian.
 After the fall of the iron curtain, and the arrival of pollution control in former "Eastern Bloc" countries, a new mineral made the scene among crystal and gem collectors.  Called Zincite, it was zinc oxide, ZnO, something that occurs in places like Franklin, New Jersey, but it's virtually never seen in the size and clarity of a new crop of specimens coming from Poland.  The Polish zincites were deep red, sometimes yellow, or yellow to orange, and typically long, prismatic crystals.  It turned out they were collected from the smoke stacks of zinc smelters, and obtained the size and beauty they displayed only because of the conditions in the smoke stack.
Is Zincite a naturally occurring mineral or an Anthropogenic mineral?  Certainly natural because it's found in deposits of zinc ore, just rarely that big and pure.  And that's the heartburn I have with this insistence on "Anthropocene minerals".  Consider the first picture, that Simonkolleite, which is another zinc compound (zinc chloride hydroxide monohydrate).  Calling it a man made mineral is simply saying we've never seen it before, but have we really examined every microscopic particle of grit from every zinc deposit?  Most Zincite deposits are small crystals.  Is it really new, or is it just an unusual occurrence?  Can we ever really know? Likewise they talk about abhurite, which was found on the wreck of the SS Cheerful, which sank off the coast of Cornwall, England in 1885, and only formed because of a chemical reaction between the salt water and the ship's sunken supply of tin ingots.  Given the right constituents, this could have formed anywhere. 

I have to say it's interesting, but I'm not sure I'm convinced. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Using Cotton Candy Machines to Create Synthetic Blood Vessels

The topic of tissue engineering comes up from time to time here, and I ran across a story in Design News that I thought was really cool.  Dr. Leon Ballan of Vanderbilt University has developed a way to use a cotton candy machine to create networks of tiny blood vessels - capillaries - that are essential to grow other tissues on.
Leon Bellan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, said he began working with a cotton-candy machine several years ago as a graduate student. He used a process called electrospinning to make nanofibers to form nanochannels, which led him to the idea that it could be used to form artificial capillary system, he told Design News.

During his research Bellan said that by chance he spoke with a reconstructive surgeon, who mentioned that a major hurdle in the field of tissue engineering was the difficulty of building a vascular network.  

“I figured that my nanofibers and nanochannels looked like capillaries, but were too small, so I had the idea to try cotton candy instead,” he said in an interview. Bellan paid about $40 for his first machine at a local Target store.  

His team eventually built a custom fiber-spinning device to makes fibers from solution for their latest research -- a paper about which has been published in Advanced Healthcare Materials -- but it is still “effectively a cotton candy machine,” Bellan added.
Of course it's not just as simple as buying a cotton candy machine and dumping some sugar in it; and it's a modified cotton candy machine, no longer the $40 machine from Target.  If an experimenter creates a network of fibers using sugar, when they pour a hydrogel on it, the sugar dissolves away because the hydrogel is mostly water.  The key was to have a chemical with the right physical characteristics.  
“First, the material has to be insoluble in water when you make the mold so it doesn’t dissolve when you pour the gel. Then it must dissolve in water to create the microchannels because cells will only grow in aqueous environments,” Bellan said. 
After experimenting with many different materials, Bellan's group discovered that the key material is PNIPAM, Poly (N-isopropylacrylamide), a polymer with the unusual property of being insoluble at temperatures above 32 degrees Celsius and soluble below that temperature. In addition, the material has been used in other medical applications and has proven to be cell-friendly.  
A three-dimensional slab of gelatin that contains a microvascular network. (Bellan Lab / Vanderbilt
The researchers first spin out a network of PNIPAM threads using a machine closely resembling a cotton candy machine. Then they mix up a solution of gelatin in water (a liquid at 37 degrees) and add human cells, like adding grapes to jello. Adding an enzyme commonly used in the food industry (transglutaminase, nicknamed “meat glue”) causes the gelatin to irreversibly gel. This warm mixture is poured over the PNIPAM structure and allowed to gel in an incubator at 37 degrees. Finally, the gel containing cells and fibers is removed from the incubator and allowed to cool to room temperature, at which point the embedded fibers dissolve, leaving behind an intricate network of microscale channels. The researchers then attach pumps to the network and begin perfusing them with cell culture media containing necessary chemicals and oxygen.
Experimentally, they've shown that in their perfused microchannels, 90 percent of the cells in a scaffold remained alive and functional after seven days, compared to only 60 to 70 percent in scaffolds that were not perfused or did not have microchannels.  Their task now is to develop methods that will allow other researchers to create the artificial vasculature needed to sustain artificial livers, kidneys, bone and other organs 

Tissue engineering at the level of growing replacement parts for those damaged by injury or disease has remained elusive.  As with this example, it appears that the key is to develop the right substrates so that the required 3D structures can organically form.  As an engineer, it has always seemed to be to be the real answer to a lot of problems.  

15 years ago a technician I was working with asked me if I'd like to live forever.  I surprised him by saying no.  Tissue engineering might provide an exception.  I think his idea came from someone (Ray Kurzweil?), who said if we can survive until the year 2030, we will have the option of immortality.  I think that's wildly optimistic.  Before that would be reasonable, every disease would have to be cured, and it would have to be possible to surgically fix or grow a replacement for every part of the body.  Spinal cord repair would have to be as reliable as changing a fuse in a car.  All those annoying things that happen as you age would have to be eradicated; things like old injuries turning arthritic, deteriorating hearing, metabolic problems, all the rest.  Not to mention replacing all the scars from every little cut and injury, lest we turn into one continuous mass of scar tissue.  Forever is a long time, and I don't think the futurists have really thought it through.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I'm Starting to Really Dislike Batteries

I'm starting to really dislike batteries because they always seem to be the cause of a lot of problems in my life.  I know I mentioned a problem we had a few months ago where the batteries in two old iPhone 3ses (that's supposed to be plural for 3s) suddenly started swelling, one breaking its case and the other causing the phone to roll off the stand it was on, fall and break open.  I think I mentioned replacing batteries in our current (almost four year old) phones.  I know I've mentioned batteries a lot, and even did a few podcasts on them last year when I was guesting on the Gun Blog Variety Podcast.  I even did a pretty thorough introduction to rechargeable batteries 15 months ago.  And that's just the rechargeable ones; don't get me started on alkalines that leak!

I got hit by that hammer again today. 

Now that the mill enclosure is working, I thought I'd "just" hook up the oiling system "for real" and get oil pumping.  I wrote lots about the oiling system back when I was doing it, but I don't think I mentioned how it works.  The system uses a universal fuel pump for cars that can be found virtually everywhere.  I got this one from a seller on eBay (no connection, etc.).  Hoss recommends a thin oil compared to what others use on their machines' surfaces, a 0W-20 oil, but not knowing any reason not to do so, I picked up a quart at the local auto parts store.  I started trying to get it running yesterday and could not get the oil to pump out of the pump.  Since my tubing is clear, I could see oil moving up the tube until it got to the pump but it never came out of the pump, which must mean it had stopped flowing at that point. 

When I started back on it this morning, I did everything I could think of.  I even took it all apart and looked into the the pump to see if I could find a dead critter stuck in there (hey, I had a dead lizard lodged in my printer keeping that from working... it's not that far-fetched).  Nothing.

At one point, I primed the tubing by injecting some oil into the outlet tube that goes to all the fittings on the mill.  Then I put a little oil into the outlet side of the pump.  Still, nothing. 

As you may have deduced by now, it was the battery.  Starting on the job yesterday, if there was anything I thought was beyond suspicion and didn't need to be troubleshot, it was the battery.  Today, I noticed the sound from the pump, which was loud enough to be rather annoying, suddenly getting quieter.  Some time later, I noticed that when I was done with a troubleshooting step and reconnected to the battery, it started out loud and then got weaker.  That triggered an old memory that batteries can behave like that: deliver a surge of current when you first hook them up, then tail off.  It happens in a lead acid battery that's in bad shape (sulfated).  After a couple of attempts that kept pointing at the battery, I tried my jump starter.  Not only did it sound better, but I instantly saw oil coming out of the pump and moving in the hose.  This jump starter has a button on it to trigger the surge and it stays on for a few seconds.  I hit the button when it stopped to run it again.  After a few cycles, I had oil flowing everywhere.

This is the battery in a picture from that December of '15 column, with the "smart charger" it has been living on for a few years.  As you can read on the battery's top, it's an AGM (absorbed glass mat, lead acid) battery.  Considering the poor performance of the battery, this calls into question just how "smart" this charger really is, as well as how suited it is for AGM batteries.   As a side note, the charger's slightly smaller, slightly younger "brother" that has lived on our boat died about three weeks ago and was replaced with a charger that is for AGM batteries only and supposedly incorporates features that keep the battery healthy. 

Troubleshooting the battery has started, along with trying to ensure it cycles properly.  I put it on the battery charger/discharger that was also featured in the 12/15 post, set it to discharge at a 1A current, but it only discharged at 300 mA, which I think means it can't draw a higher current without depressing the cell voltage too much.  I think I need to cycle it harder. 

Back at the Orlando Hamfest in February, I bought a Computerized Battery Analyzer from a ham radio accessory maker called West Mountain Radio.  Strangely, I had yet to hook it up.  It obviously needs a computer and the best one to use logistically is my CNC computer, but I've been pretty busy with that one.  Today I got that running and tested it out on yet another battery.  It seems to work pretty easily.  What it does is give a plot of the discharge of the battery and measure of its capacity.  I tested it on a 9.6 V, 2.8 AH NiCd battery.  After entering the battery parameters (and it offers some "expert advise" on what to use), it discharges the battery and gives you a plot like this:
You'll see in the legend at the top of the plot that it says the capacity is 2.29 AH, or just over 81% of rated.  Since it suggested (and I agreed) that 80% of that should be considered good, it says the battery passes.  Realistically, it's pretty much at the end of its life. 

On the down side, if things are really so complicated that we need computerized battery analyzers, computerized/smart chargers, battery dischargers/conditioners and a shelf full of accessories to get our batteries to work, it's getting too complicated.  I'm starting to really dislike batteries.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hawaiian District Court Stops Trumps Travel Inconvenience Ruling

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson also said Hawaii would suffer financially if the executive order blocks the flow of students and tourists to the state and concluded that Hawaii is likely to succeed on a claim that the ban violates First Amendment protections against religious discrimination.
Ohs noes!  The Muslim ban lie again!!   I think Michael Ramirez handled that argument pretty well.
Seems like such an effective ban on muslims when you look at it that way.  Why, it must be inconveniencing something like 1/1000 of the possible muslim immigrant population.  How dense does one have to be to see that as an attack on a religion? 
Watson was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2012 and is currently the only Native Hawaiian judge serving on the federal bench and the fourth in U.S. history. He received his law degree from Harvard in 1991.
An Obama appointee from Harvard?   That's like the density of a neutron star.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

It's an Enclosure -

Except for that whole "closure" part.  The doors barely close.  On the other hand, the other 95% of it is pretty good and very likely good enough to be done.

As I was saying last week, the enclosure isn't on the DVD I bought, but is in the open on Hossmachine's YouTube channel and discussed to some degree on the CNCZone forum.  In his final video, Hoss says he used some magnetic latches that grab the steel L brackets (seen pretty much whereever the horizontal and vertical elements of the frames come together).  The magnets are held in some plastic housings that Hoss 3D printed and screwed to the top rail in the front.  Well, I don't have the magnets and I don't have the 3D printer.  To compound things, you can see the enormous chrome plated handles Hoss had picked out.  How he gets the enclosure to close is to put both handles in his right hand and squeeze them together.  That pulls the two door panels closed and the magnets grab them.  In my version, the handles bang into each other and just barely allow the door frames to touch.  It will close, but it doesn't stay closed without those magnets.

Compared to a pin or some hardware to lock the doors in place, the magnets are a convenient solution, but I obviously need something to latch it closed.

For now, I'm going to try to find a few parts.  I'll say the enclosure is over 90% done.  Granted the last few percent are very important, but there's still more tweaking, optimizing and maybe even upgrading to do on everything.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Will 2017 Be the Year Ransomware Attacks Cars?

That's what Andy Davis, transport assurance practice director at NCC Group (Manchester, the U.K.) thinks.  The NCC Group is an information assurance firm that specializes in software escrow and verification, along with cyber security.  Davis belongs to a technical steering committee of FASTR (Future of Automotive Security Technology Research), an industry group founded to foster cross-industry collaboration on automotive security technology.

The article, "Your Money or Your Brakes" in today's EE Times newsletter focuses on the growing implications of so much software in cars; software that's so badly protected.  How much software?  FASTR presents this:
100 MILLION LOC and almost 100 ECUs in a luxury vehicle?  That definitely needs more software assurance than the industry seems to be doing, but most importantly, that software needs to be inaccessible except to the service centers that work on the cars.  The problem is car buyers are so acclimated to their smartphones and internet-connected computers that they expect software upgrades to "just happen".  It's inconvenient to schedule time to bring your car to a dealer so that some system can be upgraded, and users prefer the so-called "over the air" software patches.  The problem is that systems that are open to the outside world are an invitation to disaster.
The very nature of a vehicle today has been altered by consumers who want a car to be like a smartphone, explained Davis.

They demand cars with more functions and features, just like smartphones, so they can run new applications. Fine, but most new features go into vehicles “without rigorous security assessment,” Davis explained.

Consider a smartphone app that can unlock a car. It’s a convenience feature. But every time such smartphone apps are integrated into vehicles, it’s an open invitation for ransomware. The attack surfaces in vehicles – available for hackers to play with – are many. Cellular, WiFi and Bluetooth network connectivity and their protocols can be all penetrated, said Davis.
So what sort of attack are we talking about?
Picture yourself in your car. You’ve turned on the engine, and a message pops up on the dashboard.” The message says, “This car has been hacked. Pay up XXX dollars in the next Y days, or we won’t allow you to start the car.”

This could be a very simple attack. It could be a bogus message. But you can’t help but wonder what will happen the next time you hit the ignition. Will it start? Will it blow up? Will it crash intentionally into someone else?

“Few drivers would take the chance.” said Davis. Most likely, they would get out of their car and simply walk away, because those ransomware messengers “are inducing fear.” Ransomware typifies an aspect of “social engineering” – in the hacking sense --designed for psychological manipulation.

There is a second scenario, said Davis, that “can be more lucrative but potentially riskier.” Hackers could go directly after car manufacturers for extortion. They’d play “a reputational angle,” he said. Of course, the bigger the car OEM they target, the greater law enforcement’s involvement, which could result in the hackers’ capture.
Imagine you get into your new high-end car to go to work and you get that message.  Now what?  Unlike Davis, I don't think people would just walk away from their car.  I think they'd call the dealers in outrage.  If a large percentage of the people with that model car were to call their dealer, it would backlog the dealers ability to shut the systems down and replace them.  If the dealers themselves aren't crippled by the same attacks.  Yet the auto industry appears completely unprepared for something like this to happen.
For years, traditional automotive engineers maintained that car hacking was far-fetched. They offered two reasons. First, they said, it’s “not possible” to pull it off without physical access. Second, there’s no way to make money from hacking a car. Granted, penetrating a car is no trivial task. It would take hours of work and expert knowledge.
The well-publicized 2015 Jeep attack (which led to a recall of 1.4 million vehicles) blew away the first shibboleth.  With automotive ransomware emerging, the second article of engineering faith stands on shaky ground. What if instead of demanding hundreds of dollars from car owners to get use of their cars, the ransomeware authors said, "pay us $25 and we'll leave you alone"?  With the choice of something small like 25 or $50 weighed against weeks or months waiting to get the car into the dealer, would most people pay that? 

Given how big the threat is, how prepared are the carmakers?  EE Times reports on a few surveys in the industry, and while about half of the respondents think hackers are "actively attacking" automobiles, less than half think their companies are taking the threat seriously. 
When we asked Davis why car OEMs remain so casual about cybersecurity, he said that he doesn’t think that’s the case. Rather, the challenges among traditional OEMs are more cultural. The engineers working on components at a carmaker are not the same as those who work in IT.

Blame, he added, falls on the internal communications and priorities set by car OEMs. Do car OEMs/ executives expect automotive hardware engineers to be software developers or security experts? Probably not.
Personally, I find the conclusion uncomfortable
The bottom line is that “it takes a real world incident” for the whole industry to take automotive cybersecurity seriously. The world’s first ransomware aimed at vehicles might finally be the industry’s wake-up call, Davis concluded.
There's an unfortunate saying in the aviation business that the regulations are written in blood; nothing gets changed until a big "real world incident" with a large body count happens.  Sounds just like that. 

I drive an '09 Explorer, and while it has an early version of Sync in it, the only way to update its software is to go to the dealer and pay them.  I don't think it's reachable from the outside.  When Borepatch talks about car security, he always ends up suggesting we return to the old iron with no electronics whatsoever.  The only car I had with no electronics was my '72 Pinto.