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.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Message to Vegans

The great Terry Border (remember the zombie peanuts?) is now on GoComics and puts up new images once or twice a week. 

I refuse to say anything serious about the picture.  However, the mother carrot on her knees sheltering her baby carrot from the carnage keeps making me smile.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Palestinians are Revolting - So What Else is New?

You've heard that since President Trump decided to keep yet another campaign promise (as well as a promise apparently made by the last three presidents) and move our embassy to the capital of Israel, the Palestinians are revolting.  (Example)  Of course, it doesn't take much to make them riot.  Palestinians rioting are about as unusual as liberals calling everyone "Racist!" - after a while, you have to ignore them.  That threshold was about 20 years ago.  Unfortunately, it's not just them: much of the world seems to be upset about one country moving its embassy to the capital city of the country it's in. 

All of which makes me wonder.  Is Israel the only country in the world that's not allowed to declare their own capital?  Nobody cares if our embassy to the UK is in London, the embassy to France is in Paris, that the embassy to the Phillipines is in Manila or any other.  Those countries declare their capitals and we put our embassies there for efficiency.  (Obviously, this is by invitation with the approval of the hosting country.)  No, not Israel, though.  The world has decided to put their embassies about an hour away in Tel Aviv, so that if their ambassador has to visit anyone or anyplace in the capital, it requires a motorcade, moving security teams, and all that hassle. 

There seems to be an assumption that Jerusalem is just the small, walled portion called The Old City, about 0.3 square mile out of the 48.3 square miles of modern Jerusalem - 0.6% of the area of the modern city.  The Old City is well named; parts of it, though certainly not all, are nearly 3000 years old.  But that's not what we're talking about.  We're talking about the other 48 square miles - where the modern government buildings are, along with the parks, restaurants and nightlife you'd expect in any modern city.
View of Jerusalem, looking over the old city (the muslim "dome of the rock" temple is the gold dome on the right), but you get a small sense of how small the old city is inside the larger, modern city.  The same sort of view can be had in every cardinal direction.  (Source)

The whole thing strikes me as silly.  Why is it that every other sovereign country on the planet gets to decide what its capital is, but they don't?  For that matter, if their capital wasn't Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but we decided to put our embassy in Jerusalem, why should that matter? 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Coming Revolution in Medicine

The coming revolution that everybody has been talking about and everyone knows about is genome-based medicine.  Recently, I stumbled across a dramatic graph that throws some light on this.  It shows the decline in cost to sequence a human genome.
The first sequencing of a human DNA sequence was announced in 2001 and cost a team of scientists close to $100 million.  You can see by this plot that cost has dropped by five orders of magnitude in 15 years and continues to drop.  From 2001 to 2007, the speed and reduction in costs of genetic sequencing had been moving as fast as Moore’s Law – roughly doubling in speed and halving in cost every 18 months.  But something amazing happened in 2008… The cost of genetic sequencing began dropping at a speed five times that of Moore’s Law.   We see in the last year that at least one of the major providers, UnitedHealthcare, has decided to reimburse for DNA sequencing if the physician recommends it and in certain circumstances (pdf warning). 

Some of you may be thinking "$1000?  I know I can buy one from 23AndMe for $200.  What gives?"  I'm not sure, but I believe that 23AndMe doesn't do a complete sequencing, only decoding some percentage of the genome.  The company puts it this way:
The analysis we perform is called genotyping. Genotyping looks at specific locations in your DNA and identifies variations. These variations make you unique.

In choosing these specific locations, we focus on the variations that are known to be associated with important health conditions, ancestry and traits. Genotyping is a great way to start understanding how your genetics can impact your life.
At this point, this science is in its infancy.  There are some gene variants, called SNPs (snips), which are already known to be linked to higher chances of some diseases - I recall having written a somewhat philosophical piece on some of this, after hearing about actress Angelina Jolie's decision to have a double mastectomy after confirming she had the BRCA ("Brack-a") breast cancer genes, but my point was the deeper question:
If you could know what you were likely to die of and when you were likely to die, would you want to know?  Let's leave out Twilight Zone-style "seeing the future", and restrict ourselves to genetic things.  (The TZ did a story centered on a camera that could see five minutes into the future).  As the genomic research of the last 10 years progresses and grows, more of us will be faced with this question.  And the logical extension of knowing that you have a genetic tendency that will probably kill you is that you might want to do something about it. Would you want to know if there was nothing you could do about it?
Always into geeky self-experimentation, I signed up for the 23AndMe health and ancestry package back in September.  After they email your report, you have an option of downloading a text file of all your results; in my case, this file was 638,480 lines long.  Here's where it gets interesting: there are companies that have sprung up to help you interpret your results.  The one that hooked me is called Promethease.

According to the company
Promethease is a literature retrieval system that builds a personal DNA report based on connecting a file of DNA genotypes to the scientific findings cited in SNPedia.
SNPedia is worldwide central database of studies on the specific SNPs.  This personal report costs $5 and is mailed to you as an html file that opens in your browser and links to interpretations of everything in your (638,430 line) file.     

This information is interesting but interpretation is not as straightforward as you might think.  As an old guy, I might be interested in the chances of prostate cancer.  According to Promethease, there are 98 SNPs listed with an effect on the disease. They tell me I have 8 bad SNPs, 16 good ones, and the other 74 are unknown at this time.  Do I have more or less risk than any other old dude?  Beats me.  I don't have a clue.  They do tell me useful things, though, like I that have a gene that makes me a slow metabolizer of a handful of common drugs (which they list), that I'm more likely to have bad side effects from some other drugs by name, and that I'm 5x more likely to have side effects from statins. 

It's not uncommon to look at the Promethease report and find genes that say both a higher and a lower risk of some condition.   The only thing I know for sure is I'm too old to die young from anything - but I don't need 23AndMe to tell me that.  

As more and more people get sequenced and volunteer information on what diseases and conditions they suffer, the science will get better, and the information more useful.  We're already starting to see good things come out of the genome research. It's likely to get better. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Another CNC Mill Upgrade

Back in May, I told the story of adding the parts for a rotary (4th axis) to my CNC Grizzly G0704.  That piece concluded at the end of comments with this little statement:
Unfortunately, I didn't notice until yesterday that the Tee nuts and clamping hardware for the mill don't fit! I thought they did. That means I can't hold any work to the table and run [any accuracy/repeatability] tests, at least for now.
The "at least for now" part turned into a long period of inactivity, while I worked on other projects.  I had measured the Tee slot and it didn't seem to correspond to anything standard I could find.  I posted to a forum about it and someone said it was a "sloppy 8mm slot", while another said it was 3/8".  I couldn't get a definite answer so it kinda just sat.

With other projects moving along and the guitar getting close to done, I started looking into this some more.  I was going through the online catalog of a place that sold Tee-nuts in quantity and saw that they offered CAD models to download.  I downloaded the file for the 3/8" nut and imported it into a drawing I had made of the slot.  It fit perfectly!  So all I had to do was find a 3/8" clamping kit, like the 7/16" kit I have for the mill (do NOT mix up those parts!).  Found it, bought it, and it arrived Wednesday.

Naturally, I needed to try it out, and while it's possible to drill a pattern of holes in a circle without a fourth axis just by using a little high school trigonometry, I decided to mount the flywheel of my little wobbler engine to the rotary table, figure out how to zero it and drill the holes on the table.   What I planned to do was center the flywheel on the table, set the Y axis to the circle radius I wanted the bolt holes on and rotate the table 60 degrees at a time, drilling six holes.

My first effort was a mistake from not thinking it through enough. All I did was use my dial test indicator to find the middle of the flywheel, which I had eyeballed into the center of the table.  That was nowhere near close enough to work.  The center of the rotary axis has to be in line with the center of the spindle and the flywheel has to be centered on that.

If you look closely, you'll see some pecks that I made on 60 degree intervals by touching the wheel with the spotting drill bit and turning the drill by hand.  If you look closer than that, you can see they weren't centered.  

What I needed to do was center the table under the spindle then center the flywheel on the table.  For the first one, I took everything off the table and put my MT2 dead center into the matching taper in the rotary table, then used a countersink in the mill's headstock (with a drill chuck) and centered the rotary table axis under the countersink.  This was done visually with my 4x Optivisors on and the Rumblepad in my hands, The wobble (runout) in the drill chuck was larger than the error I could see.  Then I took out the dead center, put the flywheel back on the table with the clamps in place, but loose.  I took the countersink out of the drill and replaced it with a smaller, MT1 dead center from my Sherline; put the point of the MT1 center into the hole in the flywheel making sure the flywheel was centered and couldn't move before tightening the clamps down.

Success.  Six evenly spaced center drill/spotting drill holes (about 1/8" dia.) all on the same circle.

Once I had that, I just went back to all six spots, drilled them with 1/4" bit, then went around the circle the third time with a 3/8" drill.  As my French visitors would say, le voila!

I didn't give a link to the 3/8" clamping set from Little Machine Shop because I'm not really pleased with the quality.  That said, I don't have one to recommend over it.  I'll keep it because it's a convenient package of raw hardware in a plastic holder, but I think every threaded stud needs to have a die run over it, and every nut needs a tap run through it.  Six of six pieces of hardware I picked up needed attention like that.

So now the rotary table is usable for real work.  Running it in this configuration is rather unusual for a fourth axis; this is parallel to the Z axis, and most common is with it parallel to the X-axis, called an A axis.  (Parallel to the Y axis is a B axis)  Also, instead of clamping sets like this, it's more common to use a lathe chuck on the A-axis.  Things like fluted barrels or fluted rifle bolts are some examples of what they're used for, but they're also used for making some types of gears, rotationally symmetric parts of all sorts, and in some industries, they're used to increase the capacity of the CNC tooling.  A group of identical parts are made in regular 3D machining, and then the fixture they're mounted to, called a tombstone, is rotated to bring up another group.  There are three, four or more sets of parts on a tombstone.  Doubtful that I'll do that.
(A rotary tombstone fixture with three identical pieces per side and four sides.  Using this, a shop gets four times as many parts in one machine setup.  Pic from

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

It's hard to match the things that other writers have done.  This is just a simple suggestion to take a few seconds and think of  it.  Pay respect to the WWII vets who fought and died.  Pearl Harbor was 76 years ago today.

In the last two years, I've come to find out that my brother's Father-in-Law is a WWII vet.  He's 95.  Still drives all over, still has a sharp mind, still mows lawns.  For most of the time I've known him, he worked as a bag boy at a Publix grocery store, but that ended around five years ago.  He's the first WWII vet I've known in years.  I'll use the term, "tough old bird".  Maybe on Christmas, I can get a few stories out of him. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Net Neutrality Argument Goes 2010 SEIU

My reference is to a protest covered here in May of 2010 in which SEIU hired goons showed up at the home of a Bank of America executive to protest loudly outside his house.  There were reports that the thugs were escorted by police, or at a minimum, the police were not willing to do anything to stop them.
The banker whose home was attacked had been at his child's baseball game.  Another, older, child was at home terrified and had locked himself in the bathroom.  Picture yourself in this situation; your child is home afraid and needs to be protected.  You're with a child that you just can't leave to fend for himself either, what do you do?  You don't have backup.  You aren't  a professional security guy or special forces operator.  You're a dad with two scared kids, and you're probably pretty scared yourself.

Dad parked some distance away, left the younger kid in the car and managed to force his way into the house.  Got older kid and escaped.  All was well.
The Net Neutrality protests crossed this Rubicon last week when protesters showed up at the home of FCC Chairman Ajit Pay, calling out his children by name and threatening them all with injury or death.  Dollars to donuts nobody protesting understands net neutrality, which is too complicated to put in a five second chant. 
Pai is now flanked by a Homeland Security protective detail everywhere he goes because of a deluge of specific, credible threats of violence toward him and his young children. He's also facing an onslaught of racist smears and attacks too obscene to quote – including an image asserting that Pai is Osama bin Laden after shaving his beard.

Members of Congress are coming under similar attack for supporting Pai's signature proposal. The most outrageous example resulted in a criminal indictment after Congressman John Katko received a message threatening: "I will find you and your family and I will kill you all. Do you understand? I will literally find all of you and your progeny and just wipe you from the face of the earth."
Death threats over arcane FCC rules? I think it's time to say, "Srsly?  WTF?  Why the rage over some law that hasn't really been in place more than a couple of years and was illegally passed to start with?"  In addition to not bothering to follow the Administrative Procedures Act that they're required to follow, starting in 2010 the Congress told the FCC they didn't have the authority to pass these rules.  In true Obama administration fashion, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski did it anyway.

Look, the Internet has been around since the late '80s/early '90s.  In the intervening 27 years, I've gone from accessing with a 14.4 kbaud dial-up to a 50 Mbit/second cable rate with no federal intervention.  The number of people connected is probably 10 million times the number connected back then.  Sounds like the market is working pretty well.  I think I remember hearing about the Net Neutrality concept in the '90s.  Seems like we did OK without it.  Quoting from the Townhall article linked above:
Nonetheless, in 2015, ultraliberal advocacy groups (fueled by $196 million from the Soros and Ford Foundations) and Silicon Valley giants like Google (which cycled a shocking 250 personnel through the Obama administration and saw regulating ISPs as a way to guarantee themselves access to below-market-rate downstream bandwidth) succeeded in getting the FCC to reclassify ISPs as regulated public utilities.

This was done under a Depression-era law designed for the old Ma Bell telephone monopoly. Thousands of requests to micromanage every aspect of the Internet piled up at the FCC Enforcement Bureau and the commission was set to adopt a sweeping new broadband tax to replace the private investment it scared off – with strings attached of course – during a Hillary Clinton administration.

The liberal organizers of the phony scare campaign had even bigger plans; Robert McChesney, the founder of Free Press – the group that was cited 46 times in the Obama net neutrality order – openly bragged: "At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet.  But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control." [emphasis added - SiG]
"Free Press"?  Like most Marxist organizations, Free Press is dedicated to the exact opposite of what its name implies; they don't want a Free Press, or Free anything; they want government-run press.  Think Pravda and Izvestia of the old Soviet Union and you're right there. 

Somewhere else on line, I noticed a statement from Borepatch who I consider a pretty well-informed guy, saying that fully 50% of traffic on the 'net is from two services: Google (mostly YouTube) and Netflix.  The Foundation for Economic Education adds:
Net Neutrality had the backing of all the top names in content delivery, from Google to Yahoo to Netflix to Amazon. It’s had the quiet support of the leading Internet service providers Comcast and Verizon.  Both companies are on record in support of the principle, repeatedly and consistently, while opposing only Title II which makes them a public utility – a classic "have your cake and eat it" position.

The opposition, in contrast, had been represented by small players in the industry, hardware providers like Cisco, free-market think tanks and disinterested professors, and a small group of writers and pundits who know something about freedom and free-market economics.
Here’s what’s was really going on with net neutrality. The incumbent rulers of the world’s most exciting technology decided to lock down the prevailing market conditions to protect themselves against rising upstarts in a fast-changing market. The imposition of a rule against throttling content or using the market price system to allocate bandwidth resources protects against innovations that would disrupt the status quo.
I can hear some people saying they figured Netflix and Amazon would want Net Neutrality but why Comcast and Verizon?  The answer is what the FEE says in that third paragraph, the same answer whenever you see industries lobbying congress over rules that cost them money: they're big so they can afford the expense much better than a smaller startup so it prevents competitors coming up and challenging them.
For established firms, a rule like net neutrality can raise the costs of doing business, but there is a wonderful upside to this: your future potential competitors face the same costs. You are in a much better position to absorb higher costs than those barking at your heels. This means that you can slow down development, cool it on your investments in fiber optics, and generally rest on your laurels more.

But how can you sell such a nefarious plan? You get in good with the regulators. You support the idea in general, with some reservations, while tweaking the legislation in your favor. You know full well that this raises the costs to new competitors. When it passes, call it a vote for the “open internet” that will “preserve the right to communicate freely online.”
If you're Google, Amazon or Netflix, the last thing you want is some garage-based innovator to have a level playing field and become a threat.  Can't happen?  Remember MySpace?  Remember Archie, the first search engine?  Too far back?  Then do you remember Altavista?  Lycos?  Kids, ask your parents.  Google was a startup from a couple of precocious college kids; at some level they have to know that if they do get knocked off their throne it will be by a couple of kids like they were.  They want to prevent that and Net Neutrality may be a part of keeping their throne. 

Looked at this way, Net Neutrality is probably the ultimate bait and switch; the ultimate con game.  People think they're going to get ultimate streaming rates for everything every time, but nobody can do that without spending tons of money on infrastructure.  The big ISPs can do something but they don't have to knowing that startup technologies will never take their tidy little profit away if they managed the government well enough.  Marxists like Robert McChesney of Free Press, and George Soros will get their wish of destroying the "capitalist media", and the useful idiots protesting or threatening murder for net neutrality get their little government teat to suck on, since they think if the wise and wonderful gubmint is in charge everything will be wonderful.  Everybody's happy except for the people who understand and value free and open markets - meanwhile, development of the Internet slows and the expression "Internet Speed" goes away.  As Ajit Pai said in 2015 (quoting Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars universe), “Young fool … Only now, at the end, do you understand.”  At the moment, Pai is standing up for a return to free and open markets.  It is, after all, what voters seemed to vote for when they gave power to Trump and the Stupid Party.

(generic artsy picture of optical fibers - source)

As I've said before, you have to admire the way the left controls the message.  Ask any typical person and they'll reflexively say the idea is wonderful because the ISPs are screwing us and want to slow all our net feeds down because they're evil.  Pissing off your customers is such a successful business strategy.  I see similar arguments like this from people claiming to be in the industry, so they must not understand the business aspects.  There never seems to be the thought that the market brought them the continuously improving and faster computers, tablets or phones, and that the same market is also continuously trying to build out faster and faster internet infrastructure.  There never seems to be the realization that the heavy hand of government could grind that to a halt.  There never seems to be a realization that the reason they're pissed at their ISP is exactly because their ISP is a state-regulated utility.  No recognition of any of these at all.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Deal Alert - Sog Snarl Knives

The SOG Snarl, is a 4.3" LOA, 2.3" blade length, 1/4" thick stainless (9CR18MoV) steel knife  They sell it as neck or boot knife, a BUK (back-up knife), if you will.  Comes with a nice fitting plastic sheath and a blackened chain.  The sheath has a metal belt clip on it that fits 1-1/2" belts.  I just learned about these knives last week and after an hour or so of research ordered two: one for the Diminutive But Deadly one and one for me. 
Last week, I found prices in the $29 range at Midway, a little more at Brownell's, and bought the two for $23.38 (each) at Amazon.  Yesterday and today, Amazon has dropped the price to $16.89.  That's a deal! 

While I doubt it would affect cutting ability, I noticed that Mrs. Graybeard's knife (luck of the draw from our box of two) was ground asymmetrically.  The V was the right included angle but not centered on the blade.  The ground length on one side was half as long as the other.  The blades were sharp but still showed lots of marks from the grinding.  I sharpened both, and was able to easily reshape her knife, on the Work Sharp knife sharpener.  Even without putting on the finest belt, the Work Sharp puts a shiny edge on a blade and they just look sharper than one with grinding wheel marks.  

I think it's usable out of the box, though, so don't get wrapped up about my sharpening them (when you have sharpener, every problem looks like a dull edge, right?).  If you're looking for a small gift, or just watching prices to buy something for yourself, they're definitely worth considering. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Retro-Technical Buzz

This month featured a story making news about cassette tapes making a comeback.  Most people think of the cassette as obsolete technology, and the last month also brought this joke:
The comeback story is real.  This (self-starting) video tells the story of the National Audio Co. in Springfield, Mo., an American company at the heart of the story.  When music cassettes went away, they were largely producing voice tapes for the educational sector, and their business was steady.  Eventually, though, they noticed a problem.  Their sources were going away.
Experts from National Audio are developing new ways to make magnetic tape using rust and a 62-foot-long contraption that is normally used to create magnetic strips on credit cards, according to the Wall Street Journal story. [Note: paywall warning]

If production goes to plan, the machine should produce almost four miles of tape a minute by January.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Stepp, said: 'The best tape ever made'.

'People will hear a whole new product.'
It's not just tapes.  Vinyl records are making a comeback, too.  Digital Music News estimated the vinyl market at around $400 Million per year almost two years ago Accounting firm Deloitte says in a 2017 report that record manufacturers are set to generate $1 billion in revenue in 2017, a  growth rate over 100%.  Sales are mostly used albums because the record companies had stopped producing vinyl albums until a few years ago.  Today, smaller companies are looking at the technology again, and some are talking about extending it to "High Definition Vinyl".  The HD Vinyl developers talk about a vinyl record that has 30% more capacity, 30% greater volume, and double the audio fidelity of a typical LP sold today.
The ‘HD Vinyl’ name is a working title, though the basic idea is this: instead of the manual and time-consuming process currently used for creating vinyl LPs, the ‘HD Vinyl’ process involves 3D-based topographical mapping combined with laser inscription technology to more quickly generate a far superior product.  Not only will the end product be vastly improved, but the time required to produce the LPs will also be radically reduced.

“…you don’t need to buy a new system…”

The result is a record that looks like the LPs being sold today, and more importantly, plays like them.   According to the companies involved, the HD Vinyl disc will play on all currently manufactured turntables and high end record players, though enhanced features will be better realized on upcoming, HD-compatible turntables.  “This is a completely backwards-compatible technology,” said Guenter Loibl, Rebeat CEO.  “It will play on any existing turntable, you don’t need to buy a new system to enjoy the benefits.”
Of course, if you have vinyl, you need turntables, and the old giants of the field are still in the arena.  Witness the McIntosh MT5 turntable. 
In the Christmas season of '15, Amazon's top-selling home audio product was a $50 Jentzen turntable.

If that doesn't convince you this trend is real, what if I told you that in 2015, Vinyl generated more revenue than YouTube, Vevo, SoundCloud and all the ad-supported, on-demand streaming services combined ?  The only thing missing would be to hear Taylor Swift is moving everything she records to vinyl - and owns the record company. 

Remember Polaroid instant film cameras?  Polaroid has revived the idea with a digital camera that prints on paper, the Polaroid Snap.  According to Machine Design:
The Snap merges the digital age with the company’s classic instant dynamic. You can take a 10-megapixel full-color 2×3 image and save it internally, transfer it to PC, upload it to your social media platform of choice or print it out using Zink Holdings’ Zink Zero Ink Printing Technology (photo paper). The technology uses photo paper made from a composite material embedded with cyan, yellow, and magenta dye crystals. Printing the image is done by controlling a heat pulse, length, and intensity within the camera before it’s ejected.
Perhaps the strangest of these "rebirth of old technology" stories belongs to Kodak, who is bringing back the Super8 "home movie" camera of the '60s in a strange digital/film/video hybrid. 
Kodak designed the Super 8 as a traditional video recorder that looks similar to the original but has a flip-out video display to see what you’re filming. Images are transferred to an 8mm film cartridge you pop inside the camera while recording. Once done, you mail the cartridges in to Kodak, which transfers them to digital files that can then be downloaded from the company’s website.

The camera also comes equipped with an internal SD card for recording audio (using an internal mic), as well as an HDMI port you can use to see the action on larger displays.
With the exception of recording the video to film that you send off for developing, it seems like any other video camera, and a large percentage of Americans carry one of those with them every day.

Machine Design tells the stories as part of the emerging small manufacturing sector in the US, but I see it as more than that, too.  Unless Kodak sold all of their manufacturing capability and is contracting it out, there's no way they can be considered a small manufacturer.  Same with Polaroid.  Still, just a bunch of cool stories out there for the interested. 

Joining the Save the Service Dogs Effort

Miguel at Gun Free Zone ran a post this morning about a petition to save three military/police service dogs scheduled to be euthanized in days over in the UK.  I signed the petition.  Does it matter to the UK if Americans want the dogs to be spared?  I have no idea.  But I think the dogs deserve to live out a life in peace and quiet.  The petition was started by a military/SAS veteran in the UK
This is the text from the petition.
Plans to put down hero service dogs Kevin, Dazz and Driver are in place to happen next week.

Experienced handlers have come forward to say they want to house the much-loved dogs, who have helped save hundreds of lives.

Kevin and Dazz served in Afghanistan where they searched for explosives and Driver worked for the police force.

Service dogs have saved my life on numerous occasions. We have a duty to save them.

In Afghanistan when I was on a patrol the dogs found an IED in front of us, I was number three in line, I was very, very lucky to survive.

They also saved countless lives when I was in the Special Air Service sniffing out explosives.

Dogs like Kevin, Dazz and Driver are an asset when they are serving but they even more of an asset when they are retired.

We owe them every chance possible to be housed and not killed.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Followup On Soft Jaws for the Lathe

It seems hard for me to believe it has been almost five weeks since I posted (on Halloween) about a coming small project of making soft jaws for my lathe.  Particularly since I've been done with them since the middle of last month (16th) and never mentioned working on them.  Here they are mounted on my lathe's 4" chuck.
First off, none of the dimensions I'm going to talk about are critical and need to be within even 1/16".  These are made from a piece of 1-1/4" hex bar of 6061-T6 aluminum that I bought from an eBay seller.  I bought a foot long bar and cut off about 1-1/2" of it.  First, I put the cutoff piece on the lathe and drilled it down its axis with a couple of drill bits through my largest drill bit, 1/2".  The hole that clears the jaws needs to be close to 0.7", so I used a boring bar to open it the rest of the way.  Next came slicing it into three pieces about 3/8" thick, then I faced the saw cut sides, flipped them, and cut to final length right there on the lathe.

The original article showed tapped M8 (metric) holes on all six sides of each slice.  Mine are tapped 8-32 on three sides.  You can see the three screws each, so that they don't interfere with each other.  Drilling and tapping nine holes was an easy "drill, rotate, repeat" setup on the big mill using it as a very precise drill press. 

What I wanted to mention was that if you intend to make these, it might seem the idea is to put the aluminum slice on the chuck jaw and tighten the cap screws down.   Don't do it that way.  Leave them loose, tighten down on the stock you're going to machine first and then tighten the screws on the soft jaws.  It works better to use the chuck's own self-centering properties to reduce runout in the the piece you're working on.  That's a DAMHIK.

At least for a handful of test cuts, they work fine.  Non-marring on steel, yet hold well.  I haven't threaded anything, just used them to hold 1/4" steel round rods for test cuts. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

One of Those Guys We All Should Know, But Few Do

Have some USB connectors on your computer?  Of course you do.  They've become standard on just about every computer made in the last 15 years, and go back to the late 90s.  Meet the guy who was probably the most important co-inventor of the USB interface, Ajay Bhatt, now retired from Intel.
Do you remember the days before USB?  With serial ports you had to configure for your dial up modem before you could get online?  Before "Plug and Play"?
“When we started I don't think most people, including my colleagues at Intel, realized that USB was something that was needed,” Bhatt said. “I kept on saying that if you want to make computers useable to a common user then you have to make things easier to use. I always used my own family as an example. When my wife tried to use the PC at home she as always very frustrated even with basic things like printing or scanning. She always used to say, 'What good is this? Any time I need to do something it just doesn't work.' ”
Today Bhatt is using his retirement to experiment with the Internet of Things, building his own Smart Home (another undefined term), but trying to figure out how to make everything simpler and scalable.  Like most of the people I'd consider the great engineers, Bhatt has a relentless drive to make things simpler and better.

I was going to include some details from the original article on Design News, but I'll leave that for the history buffs to look up.  Suffice it to say they knew the connectors were going to be a PITA, but had to make them single polarity, non-reversible for cost reasons.  (You've heard about the so-called USB paradox that it takes three attempts to correctly plug in the connector that can only turn two ways and only connect one way.)  Remember, when a new technology is first introduced, it has to be better than the predecessor in the market, and if the new one can't beat the older one in cost, it's probably doomed.

No, instead of the facts, I want to point out this amazing video that Intel actually aired in a 2009 advertising campaign.

Intel hired an Indian actor to play Bhatt, and I have to assume that he just couldn't do that walk for the cameras.

In real life, this doesn't happen.  No, not the beautiful groupies and adoring fans for an engineer, don't be silly.  That's not happening given an infinite number of parallel universes.  I mean in real life companies like Intel don't do this.  Except that they did this time.

And now you'll remember Ajay Bhatt as a major inventor of the USB interface.

EDIT 2335 EST:  The gremlin that inserts nonsense sentences into my posts visited again.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Justice League - Best DC Comics Movie In a Long Time

Bottom line first: Justice League is thoroughly enjoyable fun and worth seeing.  It's the story of the formation of what DC Comics fans all know of as The Justice League of America.  As far as I can tell, it's about the tenth or 12th version of the story.  A month ago, I pretty much raved about Thor Ragnaraok, and if I had to see only one, I'd see Thor simply because it's more fun, and I like the characters more.  However (and you that was coming, right?) this is easily the best DC comics movie in a long time; possibly ever.  I recall the 1989 Batman movie, with Jack Nicholson as the Joker, had its dark side, but it also had music by Prince that gave it a light feeling, and I recall it as a lot of fun.  (disclaimer about DC movies: I didn't see Suicide Squad.  Never read the comics; don't know anything about it)

Ever since then, the DC movie folks have emphasized the dark side of their characters; for example that Batman is a "broken" man from losing his parents, and the costumes for all of them have gotten darker than the comic book version.  Like this comparison of new and old Superman colors.
In this promo photo, you can see how muted all the character costumes have become. 

Superman is central to the story, but the majority of screen time goes to the others.  The story centers on Batman (Ben Affleck) getting a group together to fight off a planetary invasion.  In the previous Batman movie, he meets Diana, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and the two of them are the team.  He first recruits Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) who initially rejects him until he realizes the seriousness of the problem.  Then he recruits Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) with varying degrees of ease.  The invasion begins almost immediately. 

Y'all know I'm a fan of these light, comic book movies, but if Thor: Ragnarok was a full five stars this one is four stars.  It simply wasn't as much fun of a romp as Thor was.  Both Mrs. Graybeard and I thought that Gal Godot pretty much owned the movie, but I also liked the baby-faced kid they got as the Flash.  He injected a few good pieces of light, comic relief into the movie.

Oh, and DC decided to pick up the Marvel habit of adding some teasers into the credits.  Stay for the whole thing.  If you're into that.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Today Ended the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Lately, I've been letting out a bit more of a sigh of relief when hurricane season is over.  It also usually coincides with a second "rainy season" here.  Unlike the summer rainy season, which is more predictable in hitting during the afternoon, and more like every day, the winter rainy season is rain that comes in advance of a cold front.  Winter rain can be any time of day and more like one or two days a week.   

So how did it stack up against NOAA predictions?  NOAA did pretty well this time in this regard:

They got in the right range in number of named storms, and both Hurricanes and Major Hurricanes are off by the same storm.
Based on the Accumulated Cyclone Energy index, which measures the combined intensity and duration of the storms during the season and is used to classify the strength of the entire hurricane season, 2017 was the seventh most active season in the historical record dating to 1851 and was the most active season since 2005.
A couple of milestones occurred this season: the almost-12 year stretch without a major hurricane making landfall in the US was broken by Harvey in Texas.  All in all, three major hurricanes made landfall in the US.  Besides Harvey there was Irma here in Florida; and Maria on Puerto Rico. 

Watts Up With That reports lots of interesting little details from NOAA, but I'll leave that to those  interested.  My main concern is the quality of the forecasting and I'm of the opinion that they aren't much better than they were five or ten years ago.  No, I can't quantify that.  I don't have metrics to do so.  I posted some of my discomfort with the way forecasts are made back after Irma.  A month before that I examined one potential storm in particular, and how bad the long range forecasts on it were.

There's a very tough reality here.  From everything I can see, the hurricane center simply is incapable of forecasting the path accurately enough for us to evaluate the risk a couple of days out of the storm.  In the case of a storm like Irma, they're incapable of forecasting the path accurately enough for someone to decide to get out of the Florida peninsula from Miami area when they still can (two days in advance)

The winds to be avoided in a hurricane are within the first few miles around the eyewall.  Even in the strongest storms, hurricane force winds don't cover 50 miles, it's more like 10-30 miles.  We have evidence that hurricane conditions in Irma, when she crossed the Keys as a Cat IV storm, were on the order of 20 miles wide, including the eye.  We have evidence that when Irma crossed Naples it wasn't even a hurricane.  Hurricanes are chaotic, though, and it's very common for them to cause tornadoes as the winds sweep onshore.  There are many aspects that appear to be fundamentally unpredictable.

To borrow a quote from myself back in this August:
Long time readers may recall that last October, within 24 hours of closest approach, the NHC forecast Hurricane Matthew to be over my head as a Cat IV storm. Actual closest approach was about 50 miles away and a much weaker cat II. We didn’t get hurricane force winds. That’s an enormous difference in the risk from the storm, since wind damage scales as velocity squared.  I'd like to see them more accurate at 24 hours, let alone at 10 days.
I'll go easy on them.  At 48 hours out, I want them to peg the center to within +/- 5 miles.  It's not like they don't have the most advanced supercomputers known to man at their request, right?  Do you think they can do that by 2050? 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why First World Countries Have Third World Cities

So goes the clickable title from the Foundation for Economic Education, FEE.

TL:DR version: it's what you think.  These places are run by corrupt leftist politicians.  There's too little freedom.  They enact laws to tax and control everything, hurting economic freedom. 
The FEE article does a more thorough analysis of the story relying heavily on research by an economist here in Florida, Dean Stansel, of Florida Gulf Coast University:
There is a wide consensus amongst economists that economic freedom largely determines the wealth of nations and metropolitan areas are no exception to this rule. As Economist Dean Stansel, in his paper, An Economic Freedom Index for U.S. Metropolitan Areas states, “higher levels of local economic freedom are found to be correlated with positive economic outcomes.”
Both Baltimore and Detroit make it into the top 5 cities with the highest tax burdens, according to the Office of Revenue Analysis. As for New Orleans, Louisianans face the third highest combined state and local sales taxes, as well as excessive levels of deficit spending. These three cities are also plagued by excessive and even bizarre occupational licensing laws. Louisiana licenses florists, Detroit licenses hair-braiders, and Maryland counties license fortune tellers. If only Maryland’s licensed fortune tellers could have predicted that big government would cause businesses to flee these cities.
The truth, of course, is that the US is sprinkled with third world cities. Remember the story about Seattle removing the laws against public defecation and the problems that caused?  It's going on in more places.

Of course, if you're a reader here, you just might be a firearms enthusiast and you know that Detroit, Baltimore, and New Orleans are rife with violence.
Per 100,000 people Detroit’s gun homicide rate (35.9) is just shy of El Salvador’s rate (39.9), Baltimore’s rate (29.7) nearly matches that of Guatemala (34.8), and if New Orleans were a country it would have the second highest homicide rate in the world (62.1) – behind Honduras (68.3) and well ahead of Venezuela 39.9. Incidentally, these three cities have some of the strictest gun laws in the country.
As you might expect, how economic freedom is measured is up for discussion and Stansel lists both the most and least free cities.  Of the ten most free cities, seven are in Florida; mostly smaller cities, not the big blue cities of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

This is Kinda Cool, But It Also Kinda Creeps Me Out

A couple of weeks ago, the FDA just approved the first medication with an embedded sensor to verify the pill was taken.
This week the FDA approved a new technology geared toward patient compliance in the form of a prescription pill with a digital sensor embedded in it that lets doctors digitally track just how often a patient is taking his or her medication. The sensor was developed by Proteus Digital Health, a technology company centered around developing what it called “digital medicines,” that combine sensor technology and pharmaceuticals to improve patient outcomes.
The system is being introduced in the drug Abilify, and antipsychotic drug.  This is the kind of drug that must be taken regardless of how good the patient feels, and I'm under the impression this might lead to poor compliance.  "They" say that getting patient compliance for people to take their medications is a significant problem for doctors.  This sensor is a simple integrated device that is powered when stomach acid provides the electrolyte to activate a microscopic battery in the pill.  It doesn't really transmit like a miniature radio, it turns the power on and off in a digital signal that's picked up like an EKG will pick up the electrical activity of the heart. The on/off code includes the medication and some
According to a study published in 2015 by Proteus engineers and researchers in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, Proteus' sensor, the IEM consists of three layers: an active layer, a 1 mm × 0.3 mm CMOS chip, and an insulation skirt layer, meaning the chip is sandwiched between a layer of magnesium on one side and copper on the other. Thompson reported the IEM silicon wafer as measuring 800 × 300-µm.

After it is swallowed, the sensor comes into contact with the patient's stomach fluid, creating an electrochemical reaction that powers the chip until the electrode materials are fully dissolved. The IEEE study estimated the power at about 1.85 V. Proteus engineers looked at other means for powering the device, such as using electrolyte fluids, however they found the magnesium/copper combination was optimal for biocompatibility (meaning it's safe to ingest), power output, cost, and compatibility with the manufacturing process.

In essence, the sensor is not a mini WIFI, Bluetooth, or radio antenna – it's a detectable power source. The electric signal transmits a binary number that represents the medication and its dosage. The code is stored in the integrated circuit, which modulates the current. The device's insulating skirt shapes the electric field produced by the electrochemical reaction and propagates it through the surrounding tissue, where it can be detected by a skin-worn patch (The MyCite Patch), which records the date and time of the ingestion as well some patient vitals it detects on its own, and can store them on the MyCite's accompanying smartphone app. Using the smartphone app patients can choose who has access to their records, allowing family members and doctors access to check in on them if need be. According to the IEEE study, the electric field emitted by the IEM is similar in nature to ones that occur naturally in the body in the brain, heart, and gastrointestinal tract.
Does it work?  Apparently well enough for the FDA to approve it.  They say the time delay between taking the pill and when it generates a signal isn't well controlled, and sometimes it never generates the signal the pill was taken. 
The IEEE study notes that the power and strength of the signal can depend on a number of factors such the amount of food or even other medications in the patient's stomach. According to Proteus it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after Abilify MyCite is ingested for the patch to record a signal. And the company admits it is possible that a signal won't be picked up at all.
The thing is, if the purpose is to ensure compliance and that patients take their meds, neither the FDA nor Proteus say that it has been demonstrated to do so.  Because of the long and apparently uncontrollable response time, the FDA specifically warns against using it in emergencies or when critical real-time tracking is required.  It seems to me that if the pill is to be taken with meals (or on an empty stomach) and the system can't tell that, it's not very useful.

So what's it good for?  That's the part I can't answer.  It seems to work in the sense of a statistical audit: a random sample to ensure the pills were taken at some point, but it can't tell for sure that Pill #36 was taken on day #36, if that matters.  When it works, it can tell that, but apparently the system working isn't something we can count on.

The the idea of ingesting a pill that can track you raises privacy and ethical concerns, particularly if the technology advances beyond the binary approach (took the pill/didn't take the pill) of the Abilify with MyCite .  The paranoid among us can easily envision being given drugs to modify behavior and the system monitoring us to ensure the pills aren't simply being flushed or dropped in the garbage. As Design News speculates, it's easy to envision a system like the MyCite sensor/patch being integrated with your smart home/Internet of Things That Don't Quite Work Right systems.  Your home would remind you it's time to take your medications and the MyCite would confirm you took them.   

The aspect that has always puzzled me is that no one seems to be asking why patients aren't taking their pills and addressing that root cause.  I've heard that an accepted reason is that patients are being given pills that cause memory issues and that's why they forget; if they're off those pills long enough, their memory improves enough to take those pills.  Perhaps they're skipping the drug because it gives them a terrible side effect they'd rather not endure, but they've never told the doctor or the doctor didn't address it to their satisfaction.  While I realize that some percentage of patients get side effects from any drug, there doesn't seem to be a concerted effort to produce drugs that have fewer side effects.  I'm sure designing drugs with fewer side effects is a difficult problem.  So was going to the moon and about a bazillion other engineering problems.  Among the most horrific things I can imagine is being given a drug that's supposed to help some issue and ruins my ability to think along with the intended change. 

Illustration from Proteus in Design News.  Note that the flow chart says "if the MYCITE APP does not indicate that the ABILIFY/MYCITE tablet was taken, do not repeat the dose."  That's tantamount to saying that the system is useless.  The article concludes with the statement that the drug company is doing a limited roll out of Abilify MyCite. The company said this is a deliberate move to allow it to focus on learning more about patients' experiences with the pill and to allow for ongoing feedback before a larger market release.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Your Feel Good Story of the Day

Story from WGN9 in Chicago by way of PJ Media.

Kate McClure, 27, of Bordentown, New Jersey, was driving into Philadelphia on Interstate 95 last month to visit a friend when her car ran out of gas.  McClure pulled over and got out of the vehicle to walk to the nearest gas station.  That's when she met Johnny Bobbit, Jr., a homeless ex-Marine who happened to stay near where she ran out of gas. 
Bobbit, however, was having none of it. He knew the neighborhood was a dangerous place for a woman to walk alone:
[Bobbit] told me to get back in the car and lock the doors. A few minutes later, he comes back with a red gas can (and) his last 20 dollars to make sure I could get home safe.
This is a serious act of generosity from anyone. But Johnny Bobbit is homeless, and that last $20 may have meant all sorts of important things to him. He gave it to someone in need, even though most of us would have seen Bobbit as the one in need.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bobbit is a former Marine.

He fell on hard times due to drug use and money problems, but he remembered how to act like a Marine.
The articles don't say how long it took for them to get to know each other, but it does say that McClure said she didn't have money to pay Bobbitt back on the night he helped her.  She returned to the spot where he sits several times offering him a few dollars or supplies each time.

At some point, McClure got the idea to put the story up on GoFundMe, hoping to help him over the rough patch in life he had been going through.  She originally wrote on the GoFundMe page:
I would like to get him first and last month’s rent at an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and 4-6 months worth of expenses. He is very interested in finding a job, and I believe that with a place to be able to clean up every night and get a good night’s rest, his life can get back to being normal.
And then Americans did what Americans do.  With a goal of raising $10,000 to help out Johnny Bobbit, so far the effort has raised $382,000.  It will probably gather more contributions.
Johnny Bobbit (L), Kate McClure and her boyfriend Mark D'Amico. 

Based on McClure saying that she didn't have $20 that night to repay Bobbit, I'm guessing she's not exactly "made out of money" either, but there's no indication she's doing anything other with the GoFundMe proceeds than do her best to help out the homeless Marine. 

Across the Northern Hemisphere we've begun the week having the earliest sunset of the year.  The longest night of the year is a few weeks away.  It can seem like a dark cold world.  This story is a little ray of sunshine and warmth that makes me feel good about people. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Autonomous Cars - Part 5

One of the obvious ways to ensure that cars on the road avoid each other and cooperate with each other is to have them communicate with each other.  This is an area that's getting a lot of attention among radio suppliers: Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to, well, just about anything: infrastructure, lights, traffic sensors and more.  Together, this all gets wrapped up in what's being called V2X.  There's just one problem: there's more than one way to do it and the industry hasn't chosen one.
The ITS-G5 technology, which is based on the modified IEEE 802.11p WiFi standard, is opposed to the C-V2X, which is based on the 3GPP standards. Although BMW, one of the “inventors” of the V2X technology, has already moved to the C-V2X camp and industry heavyweight Qualcomm recently launched a reference design that can be regarded as a clear commitment to C-V2X, the dispute has not yet been resolved. There are still good reasons for ITS-G5, as shows our interview with Onn Haran, co-founder and CTO of chip company Autotalks. The company is regarded as one of the pioneers of V2X technology.
As is often the case, these technologies aren't compatible and will interfere with each other.  That means there can be only one.  It becomes a high stakes game of each group developing their products and pushing to get their system mandated.  They push government agencies, not just here, but worldwide.  This interview is from EENewsAutomotive in Europe, but the same thing is going on here.

Commenter Dan, in response to the last post, voiced the idea:
And there has to be a motive behind the massive push to create driverless vehicles. It's not as if the technology is cheap, it's not. It's a very expensive bit of engineering to design, create and implement. It makes one ask why....why are they trying so hard to get this technology into the real world. The realist in me leads me to conclude that such technology will assist those in power with what they enjoy most. CONTROL. If left unfettered eventually autonomous vehicles will become practical ( a term that is subject to debate of course). Eventually the technology will become widespread.....and once it does the power mongers will do what they always do....legislate. They will seek to make it illegal to use a vehicle that is NOT autonomous....because "do it for the children" etc. Once they succeed in banning vehicles that humans can control they will essentially have TOTAL control over all transit and travel in America. And THAT is worth the cost....both in $$$ and in least to a politician.
I'm sure a lot of people think this, but I'm not sure I want to "go there".  While it's a possible motivation, that's playing a long game.  Many of us, perhaps curmudgeonly, think that this is not coming immediately; it's 25 or more years out.  With a few exceptions, government has shown over and over that they're really not capable of thinking for the long game.  "Long" means the next election cycle.  That said, there have been a few playing a conscious long game of slowly taking over.

I think the answer is more immediate and it's evident in the story about competing standards for the vehicle communications.  The "computer revolution" of the 80s and 90s made the electronics industry, especially the semiconductor side, extremely hype cycle driven.  The chip makers built infrastructure to supply parts for a demand like the computer sector had during those days.  Now that computer sales have dropped, they're constantly looking for the Next Big Thing. 

Today, the Next Big Thing seems to be "The Internet of Things That Don't Quite Work Right".  However autonomous cars are a gold mine of epic proportions for the chip makers.  I think they say the typical car has around 25 microprocessors in it now; that number will jump, and the number of sensors (like the radar or synthetic vision) will skyrocket.  The number of this kind of sensors now is essentially zero.

There are other factors, of course.  For one, the hype is creating interest among the buying public.  As the AAA study I wrote about months ago says, while the majority of people surveyed are afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, the survey also found that a bigger majority (59%) wants to have autonomous features in their next vehicle. For another, it's clear that agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants them, evidenced by them goosing the process to put a regulatory framework in place.

So I see this as sort of a Perfect Hype Storm: the semiconductor industry wants it to sell chips every year*, the auto industry wants to help flagging sales, the Feds probably want it because those deplorable people won't cause so many accidents (greased liberally with knowledge the industries involved will be spreading money around for influence in perpetuity), and finally, the people are intrigued by the idea of perhaps having the car handle some of the tedium of a daily chore.  
A look at the V2X communications space, illustration from reference PDF at Innovation Destination article.

* The largest sales volume single part that semiconductor giant Analog Devices sells is not an analog integrated circuit.  It's the deceleration sensor in your seat belts that locks them in event of an accident or other sudden jerk on the belt.  It's a MEMS device (Micro Electro Mechanical System).

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lightning Strikes Leave Behind Gamma Radioactivity

Back in 2013, I posted a story on the discovery of what was being called "Dark Lightning".  Lightning was found to be producing enough energy to produce gamma rays and antimatter.  The diffuse gamma radiation and the spotlight beam of antimatter were called Dark Lightning.  The main reason for posting this was that it was cool to find that lightning, which is an everyday occurrence around here for half the year, is producing gamma radiation, something which had been thought to be far too energetic for a thunderstorm.  (The secondary reason was that the researcher behind the paper was a professor from our local college, the Florida Institute of Technology; and the professor had been a faculty advisor to the young padawan engineer I was helping at the time. )

In the intervening years, researchers have continued to investigate the gamma ray production and this week ARS Technica reports that Japanese researchers have discovered lightning leaves behind a "radioactive cloud".
Gamma rays rays are primarily noted for their interaction with the electrons of any atoms they run into—it's why they're lumped in the category of ionizing radiation. But they can also interact with the nucleus of the atom. With sufficient energy, they can kick out a neutron from some atoms, transforming them into a different isotope. Some of the atoms this occurs with include the most abundant elements in our atmosphere, like nitrogen and oxygen. And, in fact, elevated neutron detections had been associated with thunderstorms in the past.

But a team in Japan managed to follow what happens with the transformed atomic nucleus. To do so, they set up a series of detectors on the site of a nuclear power plant and watched as thunderstorms rolled in from the Sea of Japan. As expected, these detectors picked up a flash of high-energy photons associated with a lightning strike, the product of accelerated electrons. These photons came in a variety of energies and faded back to background levels within a couple of hundred milliseconds.

But about 10 seconds later, the number of gamma rays started to go back up again, and this stayed elevated for about a minute. In contrast to the broad energy spectrum of the initial burst, these were primarily in the area of 500 kilo-electronVolts. That happens to be the value you'd get if you converted an electron's mass into energy.
The article goes into fair amount of detail, but one of the conclusions is that one of the gamma ray reactions in the storm acts to produce Carbon 14.  
The 500keV photons the authors were seeing weren't a direct product of the radioactive decay. Instead, 13N and 15O decay by releasing a neutrino and a positron, the antimatter equivalent of the electron. These positrons will then bump into an electron in the environment and annihilate it, converting each of the particles into a gamma ray with the energy equivalent of the electron's mass. That's exactly the energy the researchers were detecting.

(The neutrons that are kicked out typically recombine with other atoms.  For example, adding a neutron to 14N causes it to kick out a proton, which forms a hydrogen atom. The remaining nucleus is 14C, a relatively long-lived radioactive isotope of carbon.)
That means that not only is lightning producing gamma rays, the changes caused by the gamma rays are then producing the radioactive decay that they're observing. 

The ratio of 14C to 12C is how carbon dating is done, and Wikipedia says the conventional story on the ratio was that the amount of 14C was set by cosmic radiation changing Nitrogen to Carbon.  Now that we know it can happen due to thunderstorms that seems like it could conceivably change the dating methods.  If nothing else, the amount of 14C coming from thunderstorms could be higher in the tropics and lower near the poles, giving different ratios of the two isotopes that are dependent on latitude and not age.

It's interesting to watch this relatively new science being developed.  The ARS article concludes with the observation that "This doesn't mean that thunderstorms are major radiation risks." which seems to be overstating the obvious.  If the radiation from thunderstorms was high enough to be troublesome, it would have been detected ages ago - we can detect far smaller amounts of radioactivity than are dangerous.  It's cool, though, to see new phenomena being discovered in things that we've been seeing for as long as we've been aware.