Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year 2018

New Year's Eve is upon us, and I just want to wish all of you a happy New Year.

2017 was my second full year of retirement and was better in a couple of ways than the first year.  The biggest was that the year was free of medical issues like my emergency gall bladder surgery in June of '16.  It was largely a year of doing what we felt like doing - the privilege of retirement.  We took two vacation trips, one to South Dakota for a week with the kids and Precious Grand Daughter; the other to Tennessee to see the eclipse and they met us there.  We currently don't have anything planned for 2018, so it's getting to be time to plan something. 

Retirement is a relatively new concept in society, at best a couple of hundred years old, and it's evident that society (in some sort of nebulous, society-at-large sense) is having troubles with it.  See "underfunded pension plans" with your favorite search engine.   

I was looking at last year's blog entries to see what I was doing a year ago, and most of my posts were about completing the CNC conversion of my Grizzly G0704 - a year ago this weekend, I was completing the plumbing for the oiling system.  I also pointed out traps and tripwires that Obama was leaving for Trump.  We've encountered some of them as the year has gone by.

I had the mill built into a functional mill, completely under CNC control by February 2nd.  That quickly turned into a couple of months of tweaking and  improving.   First was reducing backlash on each of the axes, followed by completing an enclosure made from 12mm aluminum extrusion and plastic panels from the local Borg (mostly the blue Borg, not the orange).  And no, I don't know where that nickname comes from, other than I think it was the old Usenet newsgroups (kids, ask your parents).

I can't say I was done, because as recently as a few weeks ago, I talked about improvements to the rotary axis I originally added last May.  I can still think of things to do to improve its usability and user friendliness.  Then came adding an oiling system, fighting leaks until I went over to manual oiling, and finally adding a misting cooler.  It's probably best to never think of a project like this as done.

Then, of course, there was my "Son of Side Project".  Originally, Side Project was a joke because the project was putting a new side on the sawed away Breedlove guitar.  The original side was plastic left over from making the mill's enclosure.  Son of Side Project was a sequel to Side Project to replace the plastic with wood.  Now, it has a quilted maple side where the plastic was.  I gathered up the tools to do a setup on it this week and now it plays quite a bit better.  The guitar was most likely a Quality Control reject, so it needed lots of work.  The frets were uneven and had to be leveled with a file.  It probably needs some additional work.  I know the $8, eBay-special tuning machines I bought for it need to be replaced. 

As far as projects with my CNC'ed, four-axis G0704 mill, I haven't accomplished much.  I built the GB-22 but never got it to function reliably.  It's still sitting as a "one of these days" project, in pieces.  I built the Little Machine Shop wobbler steam engine.  After drilling out the flywheel on my rotary table, I took the whole thing apart and put a shinier finish on all of the parts by lapping them on finer grits of sandpaper, and/or turning in the lathe's chuck.  Put it back together to find it doesn't run as reliably as it did.  I think I took too much mass out of the Flywheel.  I will turn a new one and get it back to where it was. 

In addition to my ham radio antenna project, I have another electronics shop project, a box for a component called a variac.  This will allow me to put lower voltages on older vacuum tube equipment, at least while I get it running the first time. 
The black rectangle on the top is an AC voltmeter/ammeter like one of these and the AC outlet on the front is still under consideration.  This is going to be like my controller box for the CNC 704, with the panels laid out in Rhino3D CAD and cut out on the CNC mill.  This time it will be cut out on the big system, though.

Aside from those two, I'm looking at more projects for the metal shop, with fewer involving guitar resurrection.

Happy New Year!  Remember, if you drink, don't text and if you text, don't drive.  Or something like that. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

99 Reasons 2017 Was A Great Year

99 Reasons 2017 Was A Great Year is the provocative title of an article linked to by economics writer John Mauldin, available on his website.

Before I go much farther, I have to say that I don't think much of this.  There's too much odor of Hippy to it - celebrating some bad fortunes in the fossil fuel industry for one, and they seem to be completely in favor of big government interventions that always seem to bring more unintended consequences than actual improvement.  On the other hand, they point out some real contributions to making the world a better place, mostly brought to you as usual by doctors, research scientists, and, yes, engineers.  Some of the things they list:
1. This year, the World Health Organization unveiled a new vaccine that’s cheap and effective enough to end cholera, one of humanity’s greatest ever killers. New York Times

2. Cancer deaths have dropped by 25% in the United States since 1991, saving more than 2 million lives. Breast cancer deaths have fallen by 39%, saving the lives of 322,600 women. Time

3. Zika all but disappeared in 2017. Cases plummeted in Latin America and the Caribbean, and most people in those places are now immune. Science Mag
8. Premature deaths for the world’s four biggest noncommunicable diseases­ — cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory — have declined by 16% since 2000. World Bank

9. Global abortion rates have fallen from around 40 procedures per 1,000 women in the early 1990s, to 35 procedures per 1,000 women today. In the United States, abortion rates have reached their lowest level since 1973. Vox
12. The United Kingdom announced a 20% fall in the incidence of dementia over the past two decades, meaning 40,000 fewer people are being affected every year. iNews

13. Thanks to better access to clean water and sanitation, the number of children around the world who are dying from diarrhoea has fallen by a third since 2005. BBC
Add to that impressive list (largely) from the Evil Devil Big Pharma industry, that Leprosy has almost been wiped out, with cases down by 97% since 1985.  Other infectious diseases for which there are successful vaccines are also being reduced to much lower rates of infection.

Mauldin chimes in with this shocker:
I read last week that there are 2,049 different types of cancer trials being run all over the world. The one I am most focused on is being conducted by a company called Bexion in Cincinnati/West Covington, Kentucky. They are engaged in a phase I trial and are seeing truly remarkable results with late-stage brain gliomas and pancreatic cancer. Essentially, the patients involved in the trial were the walking dead. The team has treated another person with a type of brain cancer for which there is not even a recognized protocol. This type of tumor is completely inoperable: You just die within a year. A thousand people a year get this type of cancer, and there are usually a number of pediatric cases. It is too soon to know the final outcome, but the person treated has gone from being mostly paralyzed on his right side to being up and walking around, and the tumor has shrunk by 59% in just a few months.. All involved are still shaking their heads. But the researchers know the mechanism of action and are ultimately hoping it works on all mass tumors.
The world dedicated more space to parks and conservation
17. Chile set aside 11 million acres of land for national parks in Patagonia, following the largest-ever private land donation from a private entity to a country. Smithsonian

21. A province in Pakistan announced it has planted one billion trees in two years, in response to the terrible floods of 2015. Independent

28. Cameroon committed to restoring over 12 million hectares of forest in the Congo Basin, and Brazil started a project to plant 73 million trees, the largest tropical reforestation project in history. Fast Co.
And it goes on (there are 99 on the list, after all)
31. The International Energy Agency announced that nearly 1.2 billion people around the world have gained access to electricity in the last 16 years.
34. In the last three years, the number of people in China living below the poverty line decreased from 99 million to 43.4 million. And since 2010, Chinese income inequality has been falling steadily. Quartz
Gaining access to electricity is a big one.  That’s one of the first steps out of poverty. All the modern technologies that enrich our lives and wallets need electricity to work. Gaining it is truly a life-changer.  For an example, look no farther than Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria's aftermath still has 50% of the island without electricity and back to literal dark ages.

The list, though, doesn't cover this shocker that John Mauldin put in his newsletter.
We are using roughly the same amount of water in the US as we did back in 1970, but the population has grown by almost 50%. We are producing vastly more food, generating more hydroelectric energy, and doing more of all the other things that can only be done with water. The chart below is from the USGS Water Science School. Other charts on that page indicate that the largest use of water is for the generation of thermoelectric power. And this is the trend all over the developed world: more efficient use and better conservation of water.
Using the same amount of water as we did in 1970 with 50% more population is really an important thing.  It's a jarring reality that as soon as you run clean, treated tap water down your sink, it becomes sewage.

Again, I might quibble with the authors on some items.  They clearly think global warming is a real problem, and they are anti-fossil fuels which, with no real alternative in many places, is immoral. No other commodity in history has helped advance the quality of life for more people.  As I said above, they seem to love big government interventions.  Still, most of the 99 items represent welcome progress.

Friday, December 29, 2017

I Wonder How The New Tax Law Affects This?

Interstate population migration.  A while back, I found this graphic from Business Insider:
While other factors are involved, it's pretty clear that states with high tax rates like New York, Illinois, and New Jersey for instance were subject to a lot of movement into states with lower tax rates like Florida (no income tax, at least), Tennessee, Arizona and South Carolina, but there's other stuff going on here as well.  The entire Midwest had net outward migration, but so did New Mexico and the old deep south: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  California only losing 2.8 people per thousand residents (PPT) surprised me. 

This map was only for the period of July 1, '15 to July 1, '16, though.  Virginia lost 3 PPT but after Virginia (and the DC suburbs) already had become one of the richest areas in the country and before the Trumpening so probably not related to government.  North Dakota lost 8.27 PPT, which is a lot, but late 2015 was the time of the North Dakota oil bust.  In the broader sense the pattern of tracking highest tax rate states holds, though.  Between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, nearly 450,000 people moved out of New York, Illinois and California.  That said, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado and and a few others surprise me.  Perhaps it's Californians moving someplace more like home than others, but

Hearing talk about the new Trump Tax Plan has gotten me thinking if we're likely to see more movement between states to reflect capping the tax deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000.  The lower cap will have the effect of making it mean more to middle income than high income taxpayers.  Obviously, if a family's SALT (State And Local Taxes) are under that limit, they have less incentive to move to escape the burden than a family that might owe quite a bit more than $20,000 in SALT.

Of course, something you'll never hear Chuckie Schumer, Nancy Peloski, Andrew Cujo or any other politician from a high tax state is that the rest of the country's taxpayers are subsidizing their spending by paying for the SALT deductions.  Florida and Texas taxpayers are paying for the mortgage interest deductions of people living in $750,000 dollar homes in California counties where that's the median house price.  We're all paying each other's taxes and not just our own.  There's no better argument for a flat tax/fair tax approach.

I have yet to come across anything of sufficient detail on the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that I feel comfortable commenting on it.  I've seen several apparently-trustworthy pieces that list "typical families' tax situations", but those are hard to digest.   See the Tax Foundation's analysis and another version from the Heritage Foundation.  It seems to me that cutting taxes while not creating "tax cuts for the rich", which is going to be the cry no matter the reality, is a tough needle to thread.  It seems like they did a pretty decent job of threading that needle.  Let's face it, the lowest 50% of incomes pay about 3% of federal income tax.  The rich pay the lion’s share of the tax burden, so they will see the largest dollar value in benefits.   I think the Heritage Foundation has a pretty good look at the truth in a piece on 5 Myths About Tax Reform and Why They're Wrong:
Myth 1: This is just a tax cut for the rich, and it will actually raise taxes for everyone else.

The truth is in fact the opposite. The Senate tax bill increases the amount of taxes paid by the rich and, according to the liberal Tax Policy Center, 93 percent of taxpayers would see a tax cut or no change in 2019. They found similar results for the House bill.

Both tax bills would actually increase the progressivity of the U.S. tax code. That means fewer people at the bottom will pay income taxes, and people at the top will see their share of taxes paid increase.

The Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards notes that the Senate tax bill cuts income taxes for people making $40,000 to $75,000 a year by about 37 percent. People making over a million dollars see a cut of only 6 percent.

In two recent Daily Signal pieces, we calculated how 12 different taxpayers would fare under each of the tax plans. The results show that almost everyone will see a tax cut, and only the wealthiest families are at risk of their taxes going up.

Under the current tax code, the top 10 percent of income earners earn about 45 percent of all income and pay 70 percent of all federal income taxes. The U.S. tax code is already highly progressive, and these tax reforms will only increase the trend of the wealthy paying more than their share of income earned.
It seems to me this will lead to some movement across state lines, but it's hard to know if it will have the effect of making mass movements.  There could be an uptick in housing sales because of this law, though.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

One Hundred Racist Things

While Fox news host Tucker Carlson is enjoying time off the air, presumably back after New Year's, last week he provided his Twitter followers with a list of One Hundred Racist Things.  If it ever appears to you that every day some idiot spokesperson somewhere comes forth with a declaration of something innocuous being racist, it's worth looking at this list.  We know it's an incomplete list because that link is to something racist that's not in the 100.  From a link to Vanderleun, who linked to Waka Waka Waka, which I must say is a place I've never seen before.  For your amusement, some of them...
17. Mathematics. (See also here.)
18. Science.
19. Yale requiring English students to study Chaucer and Shakespeare.
20. All white people.
21. Proper English grammar.

36. Apu from The Simpsons.
37. The white nuclear family.
38. Algorithms.
39. Artificial intelligence.
40. “Jingle Bells.”
49. Expecting people to show up on time for things.
50. Cartoons of frogs.
51. Nostalgia.
52. Soda taxes.
90. Diabetes.
91. Climate change.
92. Accurately describing criminal suspects.
93. Pollution.
About 1990, my project leader at Major Southeastern US Defense Contractor had a saying that has stuck with me.  When faced with illogic like this, he'd say, "there's just no arguing with that kind of logic".   Anyone who would think like that is immune to logic.  Which must mean I'm racist.

I got this graphic from a commenter to Tucker Carlson's original feed for the article. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Imagine an Airplane With No Control Surfaces

That's the tantalizing idea now moving into real world testing at the University of Manchester in the UK.  The research is being backed by BAE Systems, the UK Defense company.

Let's back up for a moment.  Aircraft change their position in flight by changing the positions of various small surfaces primarily on the wings and the vertical stabilizer.  A "typical" configuration looks like this:
During the majority of the flight, the main things moving are the ailerons out on the wings and the rudder on the vertical stabilizer (what most people call the tail).  The flaps or slats extend backward and down or forward and down for additional lift at low speed, but the extra lift comes with the penalty of more drag at cruising speed - which is why they extend and retract - so they're used only during takeoff and landing.

The main drawback to all this is mechanical (or electrical) complexity which in turn brings maintenance and weight issues.  "Fly by wire", followed by "fly by light", are terms that come from replacing mechanical linkages; that is, cables on pulleys, first with electrically controlled activation of the surface, then with fiber optic command activation.  Instead, these researchers intend to control the aircraft by blowing air from the engine in the right directions and places
Magma Aviation Project is a new concept that will remove the complex moving parts, and reduce the weight and maintenance costs needed for aircraft to manipulate the air. As a result, aircraft will be able to travel quieter and more efficient. The project looks to accomplish this feat without any control surfaces—no ailerons, flaps, or tails.

Two key technologies allow the aircraft to manipulate air differently. First, the aircraft will have wing circulation control. This siphons the air from the aircraft’s jet engine and dispels it at supersonic speed through the trailing edge over the back of the wing, proving lift control. It eliminates the need for any mechanical moving surfaces. The second technological advantage is fluidic thrust vectoring. By using jets of air, the aircraft can deflect the exhaust and change the aircraft’s direction.
The test vehicle, the Magma drone, flew its first successful test flight on December 13.
Clyde Warsop, Engineering Fellow here at BAE Systems, said: “The technologies we are developing with The University of Manchester will make it possible to design cheaper, higher performance, next generation aircraft.”
I was unable to find a better (bigger, more legible) version of the graphic from the original source Machine Design article  which describes what the system does.
At this point, I can hear the pilots in our group saying "what happens if the engine dies?  Then you can't steer, you can't change attitude, you can't do anything".  That has to be a concern.  Mechanical control systems had redundant cables in case one broke.  Fly by wire systems are designed with redundancy and emergency back up systems to keep them available in case the power dies.  You'll rarely run across a group of people more interested in system integrity and redundancy hardware than pilots.  In this case, it looks like the aircraft designers and airframe owners might be really happy to save the size, weight, power and cost (SWAPC) of the current systems to go to this approach, but they aren't going to give up safety and redundancy. 

It occurs to me that flaps are most needed during takeoff and landing, but during takeoff is a bad time to take some of the engine thrust to do anything else.  While commercial aircraft are rated to perform a safe takeoff and landing if one of their two engines dies at the worst moment, adding more thrust requirements for the tiny amount of time of takeoff might be the point of diminishing returns.

File this away as something to keep an eye on.  Flapless demo aircraft have flown before, I just don't find evidence that aircraft without ailerons have flown before.  It seems revolutionary. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Happy Kwanzaa to Idiot Liberals

I think the best stuff I've read on the made-up holiday of Kwanzaa comes from the acerbic wit of Ann Coulter.  I've linked to a piece from 2013, but she re-uses most of it often because the facts don't change.  You should RTWT, but I'll lift some of it here to tease your appetite.
It is a fact that Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 by a black radical FBI stooge, Ron Karenga -- aka Dr. Maulana Karenga -- founder of United Slaves, a violent nationalist rival to the Black Panthers. He was also a dupe of the FBI.
Despite modern perceptions that blend all the black activists of the '60s, the Black Panthers did not hate whites. They did not seek armed revolution (although some of their most high-profile leaders were drug dealers and murderers). Those were the precepts of Karenga's United Slaves.

United Slaves were proto-fascists, walking around in dashikis, gunning down Black Panthers and adopting invented "African" names. (That was a huge help to the black community: Three of the four suspects recently arrested for the fatal carjacking at the Short Hills, N.J., mall were named Basim, Hanif and Karif.)

It's as if David Duke invented a holiday called "Anglika," which he based on the philosophy of Mein Kampf -- and clueless public school teachers began celebrating the made-up, racist holiday.
Karenga's invented holiday is a nutty blend of schmaltzy '60s rhetoric, black racism and Marxism. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are the very same seven principles of the Symbionese Liberation Army, another innovation of the Worst Generation.

In 1974, Patricia Hearst, kidnap victim-cum-SLA revolutionary, posed next to the banner of her alleged captors, a seven-headed cobra. Each snake head stood for one of the SLA's revolutionary principles: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani -- the exact same seven "principles" of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa praises collectivism in every possible area of life -- economics, work, personality, even litter removal. ("Kuumba: Everyone should strive to improve the community and make it more beautiful.") It takes a village to raise a police snitch.
Go read.  Is there any other holiday that was created by FBI COINTELPRO

I'm sure most of you have seen the Western Rifle Shooters Association link  to a piece on Gab by John Rivers making up a White Kwanzaa like Ann Coulter describes.  (Can't you hear old Bing Crosby singing "I'm dreaming... of a White Kwanzaa"?)  If not: here it is:

Here's a sure sign you're dealing with an idiot: if you hear someone talk about the "country of Africa", or about Africa as some sort of homogeneous culture, instead of hundreds of cultures at war with each other for hundreds - or thousands - of years.  That's the mindset that, aided by mid-60s tax dollars, created Kwanzaa. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas

It's sort of annual tradition on my part to put up this post, or at least the essence of it, since I revise it regularly.

Tonight, December 24 in the US marks another occasion.  On this night 49 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 most people say we have no real idea when Jesus was born and 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 entire 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.

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." -- Dr. Seuss

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.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Little Ham Radio Side Project

With the solar cycle at near minimum levels, propagation on the higher ham bands (roughly above 14 MHz) has been mostly the Miss portion of hit or miss.  That leads to an emphasis on the lower bands, 3.5, 7, 10, and 14 MHz - there's also a band at 1.8MHz that I've never been that interested in for some reason.  I think I've said here before that all my antenna projects begin with "when it cools off", so now's the time for messing around with antennas.

One of the characteristics of the lower bands is the higher noise levels, and the old ham axiom "if you can't hear 'em, you can't work 'em" is as true now as it was a hundred years ago.  The noise levels, especially 10 MHz and below are far higher (over 1 Million times higher) than the weakest signals the radios can demodulate, which means the radios don't usually determine what you can hear; the local noise does.  This is a plot from  "Reference Data for Engineers".
The vertical scale is how much higher the noise is at some frequency, compared to than the normal noise in the receiver bandwidth. Note that just below 10 MHz, the largest noise source by far is the "atmospheric night" noise level; at 1MHz, it looks to be over 100 dB higher than the radio's noise (10 billion times higher).  The diagonal lines show some measurements of noise in business areas, residential areas, rural and "Quiet rural" areas.  The noise at a quiet rural location, perhaps a deserted island, is the only place you can go where the noise approaches being below sky sources (besides the sun). 

One of the tricks that hams do to try to reduce the noise level is to use a small, steerable antenna; they receive less signal as well as less noise, but the signal is not always as reduced as the noise is.  This sounds odd, but often the noise is coming from a different direction than the signal is, and by steering the antenna, the noise can be lowered more than the signal.  Loops tend to be sensitive edge on, so pointing the edges at the desired signal peaks it, and turning the loop broadside to the signal decreases it.  With luck the noise might be coming from a different enough direction that the antenna reduces it even a little bit.  Every little dB helps.

Most ham antennas are generally sized to be 1/4 to 1/2 wavelength at the operating frequency, so a small antenna would be under a quarter wave.* 

One of the most popular loop antennas was designed by an engineer and publisher named Gary Breed, K9AY, and his antenna is generally called a "K9AY Loop".  Gary designed his antenna for the 1.8 MHz (160 meter) amateur band, finding it useful for 3.5-4.0 (80 meter) and 7.0-7.35 (40 meter) bands.  A typical installation uses two loops set up at right angles to each other, with each loop looking like this:
The three corners are supported by handy trees or posts, and the little "matching transformer" on the left becomes a relay box for switching between the two loops.  Why two loops?  It electrically steers the antenna so that the peak and null directions are different. 

My main interest is an antenna for the 10 MHz ham band (30 meters), so I thought about scaling this down by 10/1.8 or shrinking by a factor 5.6.  After some pondering, I decided to try for the 40m band and scaled it by 3.9.  The important part is the loop length, so I made that 21.8' around.  I don't have handy trees and I don't intend to make it a permanent installation.  Yet.  I'm gathering the parts to make an antenna to play experiment with out of PVC pipe and fittings.  Naturally, I modeled it in 3D CAD (Rhino3d). 
The dimensions aren't readable when scaled out this far, but the center is an 8' tall piece of 2" schedule 40 PVC pipe.  The cross members are 1" PVC, which may sag given that they're 4'4" long. Since the loop is going to be #22 wire, it's not like there's much weight out there, but they may sag under their own weight. The base it stands on is all 2' sections of PVC with some Tees joining them.

This is going to be carried out into the yard for experimenting and then stuck on the back porch when not in use.  Gary's original design is permanent and the ends of the loop terminate in a ground rod, so I'm going to terminate them in a quarter wavelength wire that will stretch out along the grass while it's in use and just be rolled up into a handful of wire when it's on the back porch.

Given the nature of the next couple of days, it will be Tuesday or later before I start building it.

* A couple of nearly indispensable things to memorize: a quarter wave in feet is 234/f with f in MHz.  A half wave is twice that, 468/f.   If you try to derive that from the speed of light you'll get confused because you'll come up with different numbers.   These are about 5% short because lengths of wiring have an "end effect" that makes them behave a little differently.  Besides; 234 and 468 are easy numbers to remember!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Looks Like Concealed Carry Reciprocity is Dead

With the senate on the verge of going home for the year and ending the session, it looks like the Concealed Carry Reciprocity bill has successfully been killed off by the swamp.  The last I heard, mid-afternoon, was that the House was going to pass a "continuing resolution" to stave off the imaginary debt ceiling and then go home.

The House's version, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, HR38 (pdf version) and the Senate version, S446 are both left hanging.  The Senate version was pigeonholed last January, and the House Bill had the "Fix NICs" bill, HR 4477 stuck onto it a few weeks ago.

Gun writer Alan Korwin, who writes under the name "the Uninvited Ombudsman" takes a look at the monstrosity the House bill was turned into in his weekly Page Nine mailing.  As you'd expect, when you don't watch every step of how the sausage is being made, the unscrupulous are sure to mix some turds into the law to make sure it's ineffective or just not passed.  Add to that the appalling lack of knowledge of firearms we typically see elected officials displaying and you can imagine the bill can get messed up.  Korwin lists a lot of things that might make you say "is that the best you can do?" For starters:
  • The House bill makes LOCAL or STATE “gun-free zones” into federal gun-free zones.
  • The House bill makes PRIVATE “gun-free zones” into federal gun-free zones.
  • "The term ‘handgun’ includes any magazine for use in a handgun and any ammunition loaded into the handgun or its magazine."  [Direct text copy from the pdf - SiG]
Korwin argues that the last sentence there is changing the definition of handgun. Not only is a magazine a handgun, but the ammunition is a handgun.  That could argue a loaded 15-round magazine would be 16 handguns under the House bill.  I think they were trying to say that a magazine loaded into a handgun is just part of the handgun, but that doesn't look like what they actually say.  If you carry a spare magazine with 15 rounds in it, are you carrying one gun or 17? 

He also posits that the first sentence means the STATE (think New York or California) could say its roads are state property and gun-free zones.  That would elevate violating those laws to federal offenses. Any state is free to establish any gun-free zones they'd like to have, and now those are federal gun-free zones. 

It seems to be a giant escape clause for the anti-gun states.

What seems to be clear is that all Federal lands will be covered by reciprocity.  From the text of HR 38, the following are covered by this law.  As long as you can get to them on state roads:
(A)  A unit of the National Park System.
(B)  A unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
(C)  Public land under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management.
(D)  Land administered and managed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
(E)  Land administered and managed by the Bureau of Reclamation.
(F)  Land administered and managed by the Forest Service.’’.
In overview, there's a lot to like about the law. It's intended for just what it says: concealed carry permits recognized like drivers' licenses are.  If you carry a concealed weapon and have a photo ID, that's all you need.  Constitutional carry is supported.  Freedom from spurious search by LEO, including fines for departments that don't obey, is also in there.  If they could clean up some of this confusion about guns, magazines and ammunition, that would be better.  If they could ensure that states can't declare every road in the state a gun free zone it would be fantastic

The Fix NICS provisions appear to be aimed at causing more false positives in the NICS system so that more purchasers are denied (John Lott estimates they're running at 99% false positives).  (That was sarcarm)  Other than that, there doesn't appear to be new things, just efforts to get more people put into the NICS system.  Korwin points out a scary line:
Every two years the AG must assess whether Fix NICS has “resulted in improvements in the system established under this section.” Improvements measured how? It’s not defined.
Of course the AG will say they're doing great!  As long as there are no standards to define "improvement", they're always getting better.  I don't know, maybe not if they can request more money to get more better.

As I started out saying, it appears the bill is dead. With congress gone for the year, it looks like it's moot to talk about.  Just like the hearing protection act, and the other gun laws that were eagerly looked forward to, it's dead.  Better luck next year.
(image from my homies at Springfield Armory.  I figure with all the SA guns around the house, the least they can do for me is let me use this picture)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

My Favorite Christmas Song

Regulars here know that I'm somewhat of a blues fan.  I've introduced the outrageously talented Joanne Shaw Taylor,  the late country blues master (and songwriting partner to Eric Clapton) JJ Cale, and even mentioned my own meager study of the art.

So it might not come as a surprise that my favorite Christmas song is the bluesy, melancholy, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".  The song dates from 1944, is credited to Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine for Judy Garland's 1944 movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, but it's generally acknowledged to be Martin's writing.  The somber tone is understandable; Christmas of 1944 was three years into World War II, and many people had undergone the hardship of long separations from or the loss of family members. The war was wearing on the national psyche; the death toll was the highest seen since the Civil War.  They were dark days. 

It's interesting, then, that Martin has said he wasn’t consciously writing about wartime separations. 

In a 1989 NPR program, the authors spoke of having written the first drafts of the song and Judy Garland objected to the lyrics, saying they were too sad.  According to Hugh Martin's book:
Some of the original lyrics ... were rejected before filming began. They were: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past / Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Pop that champagne cork / Next year we may all be living in New York."
Martin revised the lyrics, getting approvals from Judy and the rest of the production staff.  Eventually, Judy Garland made this recording:

You'll note that at the end of the song, the line isn't "hang a shining star upon the highest bough", it's the more subdued "until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow".  Much more fitting to a sadder song written during WWII.   That change (which seems to be the last) was prompted by Frank Sinatra in 1957.  According to Entertainment Weekly,
Among the never-recorded couplets — which he [Martin] now describes as ''hysterically lugubrious'' — were lines like: ''Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last.... Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more.''
Then, in 1957, Frank Sinatra — who'd already cut a lovely version with the movie's bittersweet lyrics in 1947 — came to Martin with a request for yet another pick-me-up. ''He called to ask if I would rewrite the 'muddle through somehow' line,'' says the songwriter. ''He said, 'The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?'''
That request led to the line we hear most often, although Martin says he thinks the original line is more "down-to-earth".  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has become one of the most popular songs year after year.  EW says it's second only to the Nat King Cole-popularized "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)".  It has been covered by a gamut of artists from Sinatra to Connie Stephens, to James Taylor (who sings something closer to the '40s, Judy Garland version) to '80s metal band Twisted Sister", and many, many more.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Coolest Appliance You Won't Have Under Your Tree

A little over three years ago, the electronics trade magazines ran some some articles saying that one of the last domains of power vacuum tubes, microwave ovens, were set to be invaded by power transistors.  Of course, I ran the story, too.

There's an unfortunate reality about microwave ovens and the magnetron tubes they use;  Microwave ovens pretty much suck and it's largely because of that magnetron.  OK, maybe suck is a strong word, but other than popping popcorn, heating soup, coffee and some foods cooked in sauces, they just don't do a lot well.  Microwaves and RF magazine's Barry Manz puts it this way:
Today even a high-end microwave oven complete with fan-forced convection for crispy skin and assorted features like multiple cooking settings and a humidity sensor costs less than $500. The microwave oven state-of-the-art is exemplified by products like some from KitchenAid that also steam food based on its type and desired “doneness,” and use the steam to help remove stains from the oven as well. They even have an acoustic sensor that listens to the sound of popping corn and turns off the magnetron when its fully popped.

But they still can’t replace every type of cooking appliance, are too small to cook a turkey, heat unevenly, thaw foods disastrously, can cause a miniature firework display when a fork is left inside, steal moisture from food, and remove some of its original nutrients. In short, they don’t do a great job of either defrosting or cooking.
Thankfully, a lot of research has been going on for the last few years to address the problems.  The research seems to have started with the reasonable question of how to improve the microwave oven but has branched out into the broader question: if you approach cooking more generally, what could you do technologically that would improve everything, not just the microwave oven?

Let's back up for a moment.  The basic problem with a microwave oven is that it uses a magnetron.  Maggies are power oscillators not amplifiers; that is, you feed them DC power and they produce microwave power.  They're free-running oscillators and share the unstable phase and amplitude control of other free-running oscillators.  Because they don't have adjustable power output, they're limited to using simple on/off power controls, and simple waveguides that dump the RF power into the oven's cooking space. To defrost frozen food, for example, the oven will cycle between power on and off at a duty cycle determined by either its programming or the user's commands.  The food is usually rotated, and most ovens have moving metal paddles like a fan as a "mode stirrer" to move hot spots around in the oven.  I don't know about your experiences, but even with those things to even out the hot spots/cold spots, I've found that defrosting something in the microwave oven is most likely going to produce hot spots, cold spots and maybe cooked spots.  I still see frozen vegetables that get burned in small spots.

The future looks rather different.  Having a modern radio frequency deck in the microwave allows possibilities like setting exactly the power desired and leaving it at that level.  Having variable phases across a small antenna array allows forming different power beams and directing the energy around the food in new ways.  Combined with feedback from sensors - receivers - in the chamber, the new appliance isn't very similar to the familiar microwave oven. 
Israeli company Goji Food Solutions has made huge strides in creating the basis for a modern cooking appliance based on solid-state power sources, with a portfolio of hundreds of patented techniques, including software and solid-state heating modules. The environment within an oven is extremely complex with millions of points representing an entire oven and food, and varies with what’s being cooked. This is why it’s necessary to assess this environment in real time as the process unfolds, something a magnetron-based microwave oven cannot do.

A Goji-based oven uses a proprietary software tool it calls SARA that combines information about RF parameters is collects every 2 s with a priori data about food characteristics, in order to make decisions. There are no limitations on what can be placed in a Goji-based oven, such as utensils like forks and other metal items as well as metallic-coated cups.

The oven can cook an entire meal, such as a steak, vegetables, a potato, and a dinner roll photo. As Goji has frequently demonstrated, it can cook a frozen fish embedded in a block of ice with precision—without melting the ice. The company hopes to have its first product for commercial applications this year, with consumer versions to follow, and it licenses the technology as well. While the company has not yet introduced the product itself, it is licensing it to appliance manufacturers for use in their own products. [Bold added - SiG]
The metal tray containing two cuts of beef, two cuts of fish, two rolls and a mix of vegetables would be challenging to put into any oven and have them all turn out ideally. 

Goji is licensing the technology and early models of ovens have started to hit the industrial trade shows.  German high-end appliance manufacturer Miele demonstrated what it calls the Dialog oven (it communicates with the food) with huge fanfare at IFA, Europe’s largest trade show, in August. It will reach the German and Austrian markets in April, followed by the U.S. later in the year.  Current price is $10,000, so it's not aimed at the home/small user, but it seems to offer features that are hard to match anywhere.
Miele says the Dialog oven reduces cooking time compared to conventional methods by up to 70%, and for example can cook pulled pork in 2.5 hr. versus 8 hr. for a conventional oven. As an example of what the Dialog can do, Miele suggests placing a leg of lamb on a bed of vegetables consisting of red peppers and green asparagus, with any remaining space consumed by potato wedges. After about 45 min., all the food will be evenly cooked to its different requirements, with the vegetables “slightly al dente” and the potatoes soft. This obviously couldn’t be achieved in a microwave oven or even a conventional oven. When roasting is required, the oven automatically applies radiant heat.
This is just the leading edge of the oncoming wave.  The Microwaves and RF article mentions an oven called IBEX One from Illinois Tool Works that is clearly aimed at industrial users.  It's list price is $18,000; it's big and feature laden.
It measures 26.6 in. high × 32 in. wide × 29 in. deep, and uses a real-time, adaptive, heat-sensing system that uses heating algorithms designed for custom menus and common kitchen operations. Programming and uploading of recipes and unique cooking functions is available via a USB port to expand menu offerings.
They also mention  what appears to be the first of these new RF ovens aimed at consumers: Chinese appliance company Midea has announced a 300W desktop oven called its Semiconductor Heating Magic Cube

You just know this is going to have to start a whole new generation of cookbooks, because nobody knows how to cook platters like the one Miele describes or Goji pictured above.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

About the C-Word

We're only six days away from Christmas!  Ordinarily, I put up a holiday post early in the season, within a few days after Thanksgiving.   Somehow, although I regularly sit down and have an "Oh, God!  What do I write about?!?!?" block, I didn't think about posting about Christmas.  

You see, I love Christmas.  I mean, I've run across people in my life who decorate for Christmas way more than I do, and I've known people who plan their Christmas six months in advance, way before I do.  I know a guy whose house decorations for Christmas put the local shopping centers to shame, and focused his whole year around Christmas.  Maybe if you saw me, or saw my barely decorated little house, you wouldn't think so, but I love Christmas.

This year, we broke with a lifetime of tradition in two ways.

First, we got an artificial tree; a friend uses the term petrochemical tree, but since plastics are made from fossil fuels, I think I'm going to call it a fossil tree.  Except that it's not ancient tech at all.  The latest generation trees have gotten away from looking like, well, green toilet brushes and they use molded branch ends that look remarkably like a real pine.  The tree has built in LED strings in four colors, so we put the sections together, stood it up, plugged it in and started decorating the rest of the house.

The other way we broke with tradition was in putting up the fossil tree on December 2nd.  Previously, we'd put up a tree on the Saturday before Christmas - as long as it's a week to 10 days or so.  This year we would have done it last Saturday, the 16th.  This was followed by decking the rest of the house in holiday decorations.

Christmas is unique among holidays in America.  It has a very strong Christian tradition (well, duh!) as well as very strong secular traditions, and I love them both.  I love giving gifts to loved ones and friends.  I love the old favorite songs and the whole feeling of this time.  The gift-giving secular tradition is so big that people in retail will tell you that Christmas often determines whether or not they stay in business.  Getting back to the Christian traditions, another aspect of the holiday is the annual struggle to "keep Christ in Christmas" and not overlook the spiritual side of the holiday.  Did you know there is actually a court ruling that tells you how many reindeer (three) a holiday display must have to remain "sufficiently secular" to be legal to display on public property?  If I have three or more reindeer on display, it's secular, but if it's only two reindeer, I'm obviously trying to convert you!  Even two and half, say two reindeer and a package of reindeer sausage, won't make it secular enough.  You've just got to know that when lawyers are deciding that "three is the number and the number shall be three", someone had to suggest two and a half. 

Every year you hear about overzealous morons somewhere deciding that the most innocuous secular symbols are too Christian.  This year, the ubiquitous charge of racism joined the party as we learned that "Jingle Bells" is racist, joining "White Christmas" which was first singled out in 2014.  Colleges are at the heart of this fake diversity fest.  Take this 2014 notice from the University of Maine (emphasis in the original - as well as the two spelling errors in one sentence):
“Just wanted to remind everyone that Aux Services is not to decorate any public areas with Christmas or any other religious themed decorations,” the email states. “Winter holiday decorations are fine but we need to not display any decoration that could be perceived as religious.”

“This includes xmas trees, wreaths, xmas presents, menorahs, candy canes, etc.,” the email says. “What is allowed our [sic] winter themes, snowmen, plain trees without presents underneath, decorative lights, but not on trees, snow flakes, [sic] etc.”

“[T]he university makes every effort to ensure that all members – students, employees, alumni and the public–feel included and welcome on campus. Decorations on the UMaine campus are therefore reflective of the diversity found in our community,”
Hate to break it to them, but candy canes are nowhere to be found in Christian scriptures; nor are wreaths, trees, or decorative lights on those trees.  And even if they were, an absence of religious symbols isn't a diversity of views, it's presenting only one view: the atheistic view.  Diversity would be to allow other faiths to participate in the displays.  

As we go through the last days of the Christmas season, take time to enjoy it and your loved ones.  If you feel a need to get some perfunctory gift for someone you'd really rather not give to, I say don't.  That's some sort of bizarre social ritual, not Christmas.  Don't put yourself in debt for Christmas; even if it means the kids get a "meager" holiday.  It won't hurt them and may just help them.  If you're one of those who say they'd just as soon skip the whole thing - I say skip it.  It's still a federal holiday, so you have that going for you.

Monday, December 18, 2017

New Zealand's Upstart Private Rocket Company

While American news naturally seems to focus on the American private space companies: SpaceX, and Blue Origin are probably the first thought of, but industry giant Boeing and the smaller Orbital ATK have had successful launches as well.

The majority of folks in the US who aren't space geeks probably haven't heard of New Zealand's Rocket Lab, a company with an aggressive plan to lower launch costs, and increase access to orbit with some advanced design concepts (in the space business, whenever they read "advanced concept", they substitute the phrase "high risk").  The body of the their featured booster, the Electron, is carbon fiber, and the engine is a break from the history of liquid fueled engines.
(Rocket Lab's launch complex, on a scenic cliff in Mahia, about 350 miles southeast of Auckland.  Image source.) 

Much as SpaceX's Falcon 9 is powered by 9 Merlin engines, the Electron is powered by 9 engines they call the Rutherford.  Part of Rocket Lab's approach to lowering cost is to 3D print the engine in metal printers; the really new concept in their engine is to replace alternate pumps and tubing on the engine with batter powered pumps.  They claim the print time for an entire engine is 24 hours.  Although that article from Popular Science give me a case of Forest Whitaker eye, they explain:
Rocket engines today more or less follow the same formula. Liquid fuel and a liquid oxidizer combine within a combustion chamber and ignite. Ultimately, it’s this combustion that thrusts the rocket forward. However, feeding the propellants into the chamber is a complicated process, requiring separate turbopumps to transport the liquids at super-high speeds into a high-pressure area. Typically, another engine is needed just to operate these pumps, requiring extra hardware and additional fuel.

But with Rutherford, the engine’s turbopumps get a much more condensed energy source. Instead of running on liquid propellant, the pumps are powered by electric motors with lithium polymer batteries. This eliminates the need for extra spaghetti tubes and valves, which add weight to the engine and are frequently the source of engine failure. The electric pumps then easily combine the oxygen and hydrocarbon fuel into the combustion chamber.

“It’s really only the advancement in battery technology that has enabled us to go to electric turbopumps,” Beck says. “Even three or four years ago, the technology wouldn’t have been sufficient. But there have been enormous advances in a short time period, and now the electric motor is about 95 percent efficient, versus the 60 percent efficiency of the gas motor.”
My main issue with this is that anyone who refers to batteries as "much more condensed energy source" than refined kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen has never heard of the concept of  Specific Energy, the amount of energy in a given weight of fuel.  Since space flight is all about that weight, I'd think batteries are a bad choice.  The best lithium polymer batteries still don't get 1000W*hours/kg; while RP-1/Lox is over 10 times that.  That said, an engine is a system of parts, each with their own design trades and I won't say it's not possible they came up with a way to run the pumps that works for their design. 

The Rutherford engine, courtesy Rocket Lab. 

Unlike Blue Origin and SpaceX, their approach to lowering costs doesn't appear to center on reusing the boosters and more components.  In other words, their batteries and pumps only have to work once, for a few minutes ... with nearly 100% reliability. 

Right now, Rocket Lab seems to be several years behind the better known competitors.  They have had one test flight, appropriately enough called "It's A Test", and that rocket was destroyed by range safety once it was about 224 km up (140 miles), which certainly qualifies as being in space.  They say, however, it was due to a radio data link error with one of their contractors and not the rocket itself.
Rocket Lab’s investigation team determined the launch, named ‘It’s a Test’, was terminated due to a data loss time out, which was caused by misconfiguration of telemetry equipment owned and operated by a third-party contractor who was supporting the launch from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1.
This past week was reserved for a second test flight, called "Still Testing".  There were three launch scrubs in the week: an unspecified problem with the booster, one due to weather, and one due to a power fault.  Rocket Lab announced they would not try again until next month, after the start of 2018.  

The spread of launch technology to companies like Rocket Lab is one of the great movements of our time.  I'm glad to see it.  Whether or not their plan makes sense is up to the market to decide.  They talk about payloads under 220 pounds into low Earth orbit for $4.9 Million.  You can book a ride on their web page.  Whether or not the market is there is something we'll learn, however my guess is that the lower the cost, the bigger the market.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

First Ever Video - Giant Robot Fights

Back in October, I posted an article about a giant robot fight that was being staged for TV, and how it was getting close to the premise of the movie Real Steel.

If you'll recall, the fight had already happened and was going to be aired for the first time within days of that article.  Over a million viewers watched the live stream of the fight.  It has since been released to YouTube video (embedding disabled) mercifully with commercials edited out.  The whole video is 26:42 long, but has a few minutes of fight in it.  Fights start around the 7:15 and 13 minute marks respectively if you want to avoid a bit of the TV drama.  You should watch it in HD or fullscreen modes on YouTube.

Design News presents the video and some details from it.
The affair, which featured a few moments that felt scripted, was nothing even approaching the intensity of Voltron, Gundam, Robotech, or any other popular anime and cartoons that inspired the giant robot craze. It didn't even match the speed and pace of the average BattleBots match. It was certainly no Robot Sumo in terms of pacing. But let's be realistic, it probably was never meant to. And despite all of this there were still some entertaining moments to be found. They even got Mike Goldberg a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) commentator to lend color commentary to the matchup.
The American team, Megabots, fielded two robots, Iron Glory and Eagle Prime.  Stats here.

The Japanese team, Suidobashi Heavy Industries, fielded one robot, Kuratas:
There are two fights, Kuratas against each American Robot.

Final words to Design News (editor Chris Wiltz)
MegaBots Inc. has always stated that its larger goal is to establish giant robot combat as a legitimate sports league. And while in part this battle with Suidobashi Heavy Industries showed that giant robot combat would definitely benefit from some rules and regulations (weight classes come to mind immediately) it also demonstrated there is a certain viability to the idea, provided the resources and budget are there. But who knows, if enough other groups get into the DIY giant robot game the tiny combatants on BattleBots could be facing some very large competition for the eyeballs of robot fight fans.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Volcanoes Can Be Beautiful - From a Respectful Distance.

Today's emails brought a "year in review"-type article from a friend, but this one was a photo essay on "The Year in Volcanic Activity" over at The Atlantic.
While this has been a relatively average year for the world's active volcanoes, the activity that did take place was spectacular. Out of an estimated 1,500 active volcanoes, 50 or so erupt every year, spewing steam, ash, toxic gases, and lava. In 2017, erupting volcanoes included Shiveluch in Russia, Villarrica in Chile, Mount Sinabung and Mount Agung in Indonesia, Turrialba in Costa Rica, Piton de la Fournaise on Réunion Island, Kilauea on Hawaii, Popocatepetl and Volcán de Colima in Mexico, Bogoslof Volcano in Alaska, Manaro Voui in Vanuatu, Mount Etna in Sicily, and more.
Piton de la Fournaise on Réunion Island, an "overseas department" of France in the Indian Ocean.  The long-time exposure shows both a lightning storm and the orange glow of molten lava from the volcano.  February 3, 2017.

Two views of Mt. Etna in Sicily, both are dated last February 28.
Daytime view from up close.
Nighttime view from a saner distance. You can see from the angle of the lava stream that the viewing angle isn't exactly the same, but it's the volcano and the cooling lava seen in the daytime shot. 

There's a total of 40 photos.  Well worth your while if you like this topic.

Friday, December 15, 2017

@*($&%#! Computers! - Part 3 - Windows Update Problems Again

I thought I had some sort of "stupid @*$&%#! Computers!" post within the last year, but I guess I've gotten off easily. Part 2 was in October of '16.

I have one of those little problems that ends up being an expanding PITA.  I have a cheap dial indicator, 0-1" in .001 increments, 10 rotations.  Mine doesn't have a brand name on it, but it looks more or less like this one.  Some time ago, I noticed that only one of the tiny screws holding the back on was there, and I took it off the bench before the last screw went to a parallel universe.  I went through every small screw I have and nothing fits. 

I want to put it back together.  Trying to get accurate measurements on a screw that measures across the threads at .076" and is .150 long is difficult for me, even under magnification.  Then I remembered we have a USB microscope that I got some time ago.  I could measure the pitch by counting thread turns under the microscope.  I'll just plug it in right here...

And it won't work on my computer.  Go to Windows Update and get the latest driver version.  Then I find Windows Update isn't working.  So the troubleshooting begins.  Microsoft has a support page for troubleshooting failures in Windows Update.  It had me type about 80 lines of commands into a Command (DOS) window and I found about 15 .dll files that are bad or missing.

So since I need Windows update running more than the microscope itself, I need to go troubleshoot that.

Then I can get back to the problem that started this cascade.  Measuring across the peaks of the thread, the screw looks really close to the M2x0.25, but the pitch is wrong.  By the pitch it looks more like a #1-72.  Neither of those are common screws that I could just find locally and try. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Done Done

It has been a long time getting here, but the guitar project I've been calling "Son of Side Project" is done.  (You know, I don't have the slightest memory of why I came up with that name).  Since the last update, there have been hours spent in "fiddly bits" of the job, trying to come up with a match for the abalone inlay, three coats of stain, 15 coats of varnish, and today's visit to my friend to use his really large polishing system designed for guitar polishing.

Here's a look at some of the fiddly stuff.  All of those white and black strips get glued up separately, some are first glued to each other then into place.  This is before some light sanding, staining and varnishing.

A little detail in the corner that I'll see the most, after the staining and polyurethane.

Finished on the bench today.

This has been an interesting and very challenging project.  Machining is typically letting the machine do the work, with the occasional hand file work; most of this it was meticulous hand work.  Obviously, this isn't a normal guitar, and there's really no way I could have made it one without spending more money, time, and effort than it would take to buy all the same woods and make a guitar from bare wood.  This seems like a good compromise. 

I told the luthier who helped me out on the project that it had dampened my interest in making an acoustic guitar from scratch for myself.  He laughed and said this was nothing at all like building a guitar.  It's like a repair project that no sane guitar tech would ever do.  Building a guitar from flat pieces of wood would be easy in comparison. 

I'm still not looking to jump into doing one soon. 

Thanks again to Raven, who donated the wood for the side, and practice pieces.  From his own tree, no less!  The quilted figuring in maple is said to occur only in Western Big Leaf Maples and is truly beautiful.  It's really reminiscent of the look of the gemstone called tiger's eye (or tiger eye). 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Alabama and Two Cents Worth

We'll know soon (possibly by the time I finish writing this!) what becomes of the Alabama special election for senate.  The talking head consensus is that Moore would be 10 to 20 points ahead of the Evil Party guy if it weren't for the last minute allegations of sexual impropriety.  I haven't been completely quiet on this topic, but what I have written has been in comments to other people's blogs.  It doesn't matter.  I don't live in Alabama.  I don't even live in the Florida Panhandle, a placed called "LA" for Lower Alabama.  It's just part of my approach to politics.  I don't claim the ability to see the future. 

Years ago, I made the conscious decision to ignore political advertising within the last month or two before the election.  It might have been 2004 but it might have been before that.  Remember the Dan Rather report on the W in the closing months of the 2004 campaign?  Briefly, Dan Rather did an expose' on the time George W Bush spent in the Air National Guard.  The problem was that it was made up, mainly by a Democrat activist blogger.  It was supposed to destroy W's credibility, but there were multiple problems with the story that came to light.  The scandal concluded Rather's career on CBS and forced him into retirement (although he still has small gigs in other places).

Last minute attempts to nuke one's opponent have become known as an October Surprise, although that one started in September.  There simply isn't enough time available to reach a conclusion on the allegations, and that applies here in the case of Roy Moore.  Because of that, in my mind the burden of proof is entirely on the person or group that makes the allegation.  It shouldn't be the duty of the accused to prove their innocence.  An October Surprise is a political strategy for the same reason attack ads are: they get candidate to stop talking about their message and address the attacks. 

We're on a dangerously slippery slope here.  When allegations came out about Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood reporters could almost instantly call up videos of award shows with actors and actresses joking about Weinstein's behavior.  There were police recordings where a young actress was wearing a wire and we could hear him.  When allegations came up about Al Franken, it was easy to find the photographic evidence of him grabbing Leeann Tweeden while she slept during an airplane flight.  Those lines of evidence are more solid than anything I know about Roy Moore.

Call me old fashioned, but in serious accusation like pedophilia, I believe "innocent until proven guilty".  I use italics because that's a legal standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt in a jury of peers".  It has been explained to me as "over 90%" sure.  (Caught in the act is justifiable homicide in my book).  In civil cases, we often hear of "preponderance of evidence", which means 51% sure.  We have nothing but hearsay in this case; all that's needed for that to happen is that the campaign finds an "actress" or someone willing to make the claims for enough money.

Why should I believe that someone bringing up something like this 40 years after the fact is credible at all?  This guy has been in public life almost 40 years and the biggest objection to him has been that he has too Biblical a worldview. Supposedly he did all this crap 40 years ago and no one anywhere had heard of it?  It never came up in another election?
Then one of his accusers forges a copy of Moore’s secretary’s signature on some document into a yearbook, where she undersigned her initials (DA) to show it wasn’t him and some idiot thought it was Moore signing it as District Attorney.  Even though he wasn't even the District Attorney at the alleged time.  This is an stunningly stupid forgery; it's like being offered a Roman coin marked "100 BC", but it is Gloria Allred, so not surprising. 

Sorry, my bullcrap filter is clogged and has to be cleaned out.

There is a frequently rumored tape in circulation of a Democratic Strategist offering $200,000 to women to make up charges against Trump.  It's said that Trump has been given a copy of the tape.  If the standard isn't proof, and isn't even "preponderance of evidence", it's simply "she said", do you have any doubt "pay for say" is going to happen?  If Jones wins, it only gets worse. 

October Surprises work for the same reason attack ads work:  stupid voters.  First off, they force the candidate to get off their message and address the accusations.  In effect, these attacks force them to advertise for their opponent.   Second off, if you hear "where there's smoke there's fire" remind them that the military uses smokescreens all the time to hide things, and there's no fire.  Simply, if October Surprises work, you'll see them every election cycle everywhere.  We'll eventually see the most outlandish accusations you can imagine. 

At least tangentially related: no one called Trump a racist until he ran against the Evil Party for national office.  I don't believe anyone ever called Moore a pervert until he ran against the Evil Party for national office.