Friday, December 9, 2016

Creating DNA That Assembles Wires for Microcircuits

While the electronics trade press generally focuses on the "glamor" side of the industry: the continually shrinking device geometries, we've already talked about how the majority of integrated devices use older larger processes.  Working with those smaller geometries is simply much harder than working with geometries that are bigger than 50 nm.  
[We present data] showing that 43% of worldwide semiconductor production is in the five largest geometries: from 65nm up to the largest sizes used.  Further, the graph on the right shows that 85% of new designs are 65nm and larger, up to even 500 nanometer geometries.   
The difficulties with the single-digit nanometer geometries don't stop with simply producing them photographically via the still exotic and expensive extreme ultraviolet lithography. The difficulties include connecting the transistors to the outside world.

In November, Design News highlighted the use of DNA molecules to self-assemble wires for this use.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and Paderborn University have conducted a current through gold-plated nanowires that independently assembled themselves from single DNA strands.

The research paves the way for new methods to devise even smaller wires, circuits, and other electronic components, which traditionally have led to innovation in technology design and development, said Artur Erbe, research leaders at HZDR’s Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research. [Note: all the universities in this article are from Germany -  SiG]
In order to produce the nanowires, the team combined a long single strand of genetic material with shorter DNA segments through the base pairs to form a stable double strand. The DNA had gold-plated nanoparticles bonded to the individual nucleic acids in the strand, so that when the DNA assembled itself as it was programmed to do, the gold particles formed a continuous string of gold - a gold wire.  Using this method, the structures independently took on the form desired by researchers, Erbe said.
“With the help of this approach, which resembles the Japanese paper folding technique origami and is therefore referred to as ‘DNA origami,’ we can create tiny patterns," he said. “Extremely small circuits made of molecules and atoms are also conceivable here.”
I want to caution you that the extremely highly magnified images of this assembly don't look pretty, but the results function well as wires.  Have a look:
The wire looks more like a string of beads than a wire.  This is preliminary work, but these researchers are developing almost everything they do.  The paper focuses on exactly how they prove that these things are really wires; that there's really continuity and electron conduction through the obviously lumpy structures.  The authors say the structures they've created act like wires at room temperatures, but at low temperatures they can behave differently:
The room temperature charge transport measurements exhibit ohmic behavior, whereas at lower temperatures, multiple charge transport mechanisms such as tunneling and thermally assisted transport start to dominate. Our results confirm that charge transport along metallized DNA origami nanostructures may deviate from pure metallic behavior due to several factors including partial metallization, seed inhomogeneities, impurities, and weak electronic coupling among AuNPs.  [Note: AuNP = Gold NanoParticles  - SiG]
Again, this is preliminary work, but it's pretty interesting.  DNA is unique in its ability to self-assemble, and researchers have developed ways of getting DNA to produce the shapes they want through this so-called DNA origami.   It seems natural to combine them into folded structures that do the things we want them to do, and not just make cool pictures.  Making faster/better processors and digital circuits seems like a good use.
DNA Origami: from the plans to electron microscope photos, top to bottom.  (Source)


Exclusive Photo

Amy Schumer (left) and Lena Dunham (right) preparing for their move to Canada after the Trumpening.
from the emails...


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Looks Like The Russians Are Back

Привет  I was taking a look at my blog stats today for a totally unrelated reason and noticed a large spike in visitors from Russia, similar to what a few of us saw when I wrote about this last August.  The #2 country visiting my blog is Russia this week.  It's not as big as that week, when Russia actually took the #1 spot, but check this from about two hours ago:
If I look at the numbers for last month, that number of Russian visits go up only by about 60, so all of those 5294 are within the last week.  I can tell from Blogger that they're all not today but no more details.

The makeup of page views is unremarkable in that the most viewed post is last week's post on Employment vs. Robots, which didn't mention Russia in any way.  It's hard for me to see anything unusual here, and I have to wonder if it's a Google artifact.  If any visitors from Russia would care to leave a comment on what they came to read about, I'd appreciate it.  Or, as the translator in the Bing search engine says:
Если посетителей из России позаботили бы оставить комментарий на то, что они пришли, чтобы прочитать о, я ценю это.
Last August, both Sense of Events and Abode of McThag reported the same thing, then several people said they were seeing a spike from Russia in the comments.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pearl Harbor Day - 75th Anniversary

Steven Breen at Townhall.com.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest telling WWII survivors to "get over" being bombed at Pearl Harbor may be more than the Obama's typical tone deafness.  It may be the typical Obama administration response that America must have deserved to be bombed.  It was said in the context of some Americans saying that since Obama apologized for Hiroshima, Shinzo Abe should apologize for Pearl Harbor, which he refuses to do. 
Abe announced Monday that he would become the first Japanese leader to visit the Hawaiian naval station since it was bombed by Imperial Japan on Dec. 7, 1941. The visit is in response to Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, the site of the first atomic bomb drop.
Personally, I'm more OK with Abe not apologizing than Earnest telling people to "get over it".  I don't care if Abe is visiting Pearl Harbor and I didn't care when Obama was visiting Hiroshima, although his apologizing for the bombing irked me.  "Symbolic visits" mean nothing to me.  Shinzo Abe is no more responsible for bombing Pearl Harbor than Obama is responsible for nuking Hiroshima.  I believe in individual action, individual freedom and its concomitant responsibility.  Neither of these guys was alive in those days and played no part.

It's the same logic that says there's not a single person alive today that owned slaves in 1860s or that was a slave in the 1860s so no one deserves reparations and no one is responsible for providing them.

As I write this, it's about 12:30 PM, EST.  75 years ago at this time, 7:30 AM Honolulu time, the radar operators outside Pearl Harbor were seeing the first returns of the massive air invasion about to happen.  The first wave of the attack hit at 7:55 AM. 

I find it interesting that the current search radar there is still one of the most powerful search radars in the world. 


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Do It Yourself Extortion - BLM Activists Setup Monthly Payments for Whites to Pay Blacks

Back in the first season of Saturday Night Live, '75, they did a parody piece where Garrett Morris had a charity called the White Guilt Relief Fund which really asked for money to be sent directly to him.  Life imitates art, as they say.  Today, the Daily Caller's DC Morning carried the story,
Liberal black activists have launched a monthly “subscription box” designed for white people “to not only financially support Black femme freedom fighters, but also complete measurable tasks in the fight against white supremacy.”

The subscription service is called Safety Pin Box and was launched last week.
...
The group is headed by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson. Johnson is one of the Black Lives Matter protesters who interrupted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during a speech in Seattle last year.
Safety pins, or if you'll permit me to say diaper pins, have become the symbol of the butthurt Social Justice Worker in the aftermath of the Trumpening, supposedly to show solidarity with other Clinton supporters aggrieved minorities.

How it works is simple: it's a subscription service.  No, really. White people send in a set amount of money every month, and in reply are sent a series of tasks to perform as penance for their sin of being born white. 
There are four different types of subscriptions offered by the group. The “e-ally box” is $25 a month and is “an electronic form of solidarity.” It comes with “exclusive ‘calls to action’ when urgent ally services are needed in times of crisis.” Ally is a term used by Black Lives Matter activists to describe white comrades.

There is then the “pin pals box” which is a box shared by two white people for $100 total. Lucky subscribers get a “physical ‘safety pin’ box shipped to one address with guided two-person tasks for the month.”

There is then the “premiere” box subscription which costs $100 a month. This includes a “physical ‘safety pin’ box shipped to you with guided ally tasks for the month. Tasks will vary in scope from individual to group assignments, and task categories include data collection, personal development, influencing your networks, and showing radical compassion.”
41 Years ago, Garrett Morris put it this way:
Hi. I'm Garrett Morris, talkin' to all you white Americans about the way black people have been treated in America. Now, I know a lot of you feel guilty -- and you should. My great-great-grandmother was brought over here on a slave ship and was raped by her white master. And my grandfather was lynched by a mob for not tippin' his hat to a white lady. Now, they're dead now and there's nothing you can do to erase their suffering. However, if you would like to relieve your guilt, I am willing to accept money as a representative victim of four hundred years of repression. Send your check or money order to White Guilt Relief Fund, care of Garrett Morris, 870 West 127th Street, New York, New York 10089
Self-service extortion by mail.  The remarkable part, though, is that it's not the first time something like this has been tried.  In August, Natasha Marin (a black woman) started a website for voluntary reparations payments.  Reparations.me has a Craigslist-like layout where non-white people post their requests for reparations from white people. White people can fulfill requests as well as post their own offers of reparations.  Requests run from specific amounts of money to things like cars or to help with various things. 

There's no word on how well that worked out for them, but the website seems to alive and in use.  
 

From the SNL website, just enlarged.

They say that PT Barnum didn't really say, "there's a sucker born every minute", but somebody did.  That quote fits well right about here.


Movie Time


On a completely different note, we took a few hours Monday afternoon and went to see the big budget sci-fi movie Arrival.  Longtime readers probably know that my preference in movies is the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Ant Man, the whole bunch.  Yeah, we caught Dr. Strange on the first weekend, too.  I will go to see occasional others, but they are largely comic book movies, or action movies like the Bond universe, Mission Impossible, and that sort.   

Arrival is not that kind of movie.  It's definitely not your typical alien or first contact movie; there were giant spaceships, but there were no explosions.  New York City wasn't pulverized, nor was Tokyo, London or other world capitals.  Instead, it ends up being well done sci fi that gives you something to think about.  It goes after some traditional sci fi questions like the nature of time and reality, but looks at the role of language in how we experience those.  After we left, Mrs. Graybeard and I both said it wasn't what we were expecting, but it also wasn't what we were afraid it might be.  We had heard that the main message of the movie was communications and how if we could communicate better, we'd all get along, and have world peace because kumbaya or something.  That message was sort of in there, but so was the message that, historically speaking, primitive societies meeting much more advanced ones don't do very well.  Neither was a hyped, main message.

The movie stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, but it really is the Amy Adams show.  I only know her from playing Lois Lane in the latest re-telling of Superman, "Man of Steel", but she does well.  I like Jeremy Renner, but his character is supporting to hers and Forest Whitaker is almost non-existent as a character.

In the interest of not doing spoilers, I'll leave it there.  On 1-10 scale, I'd give it an 8 to 9.  There were some things that seemed out of place or silly, but not much.  
Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams, as they're trying to understand the symbols the aliens use to communicate.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday, Monday

Not so much a bad Monday, but an unusual Monday.  Let me recap a little. 

I wrote last Tuesday about finding issues with my Sherline CNC system losing motion on its X-axis.  I ordered replacement parts from an online seller I've bought from in the past: two of the couplers, two of the preload nuts, and two packs of two of the 5-40 screws, on Wednesday.  Those parts arrived on Friday and the company royally screwed up the order.  I received four of the couplers instead of two, none of the preload nuts, and one of the packets of 5-40 screws instead of two.  Contacted the company.  "No problem, we'll fix it".  The replacement parts arrived today, and once again, they completely screwed up the order.  This time I received another two couplers, none of the preload nuts, and one single 5-40 screw.  I'm at a loss for what to do here.  I have six couplers (I needed one, but ordered two), no pre-load nuts and three 5-40 screws. 

Before that, I took some photos of the way the leadscrew and 5-40 screws appeared damaged.  The leadscrew's end, before:
and the 5-40:
I ran a die over the 1/4-20 threads and they look much better.  A new nut from the hardware parts box fits much better than before.  I don't have a die for the 5-40 threads, and the screws are cheap enough that I figured I could buy some easily enough, since I needed to order those other parts. 

Meanwhile, over the weekend, I broke out my Hornady ultrasonic cleaner to clean both the existing pre-load nut and the end of the leadscrew.  It was sounding like things were rattling too much, so I put in a bag of .223 brass that needed cleaning.  After a couple of long soaks, I took them both out.  The pre-load nut was clean even in the tight internal corners.  I ran a toothpick into the leadscrew and pulled out some black goop - probably old grease.  Did that a few times.

I received the 5-40 tap I ordered last weekend on Saturday and immediately put it to use.  It only had to cut a little at the very start of the threads, but then screwed in easily over the full length.  It also pulled out some more grease with metal flakes when I removed it, so I did that a few more times until it came out clean.  Now, one of the two new 5-40 screws fits like it should. 

At this point, I'd think I could assemble the whole thing and try to find if I fixed my X-axis, but I'd still like those pre-load nuts.  The difference between a pre-load nut and a standard issue 1/4-20 hardware store nut is that one face is milled flat and then recessed for the diameter of the end of the coupler to fit into the nut, to maybe 0.1" deep.   



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Watching Italy

Today's the day to be watching Italy for the next major populist vote.  Polls are still open in Italy as I write this, and we may know the outcome by evening east coast time.  If everything goes according to the prevailing opinion, Italy will vote it's own Brexit or Trumpening, and that will lead to the end of the European Union.  A little refresher from my October 9th piece
Like most of the Western world, Italy is going through a period of anger with their elected leaders, thinking them a corrupt, venal, criminal ruling class interested only in their own betterment at the expense of taxpayers.  In 2007, Beppe Grillo, an Italian actor and comedian, launched Vaffanculo Day to register that disgust with politics.  Those of us not from areas where Italian is spoken every day are probably not aware that “vaffanculo” is Italian for “f*** you” (you'll also see that interpreted as “f*** off”).

What began as a joke morphed into a political party which took the more publicly acceptable name of the 5 Star Movement or M5S.  M5S then morphed into one of the most popular parties in Italy, winning mayoral elections in Rome and Turin earlier this year.  Italy has had virtually no productive growth since it joined the euro in 1999.  M5S blames Italy’s chronic lack of growth on the euro and it appears a large plurality of Italians agree.

M5S has promised to hold a vote to leave the euro and return to Italy’s old currency, the lira, as soon as they’re in power. Under these circumstances it would probably pass.

Meanwhile, the current pro-EU Italian government of Matteo Renzi is holding a referendum on changing the Italian constitution later this year.
Remember Brexit?  How about calling this iExit?  Leaving the EU and government reform have become the central theme of a referendum coming on December 4th, which CITI bank is calling a bigger risk to the EU than Brexit.  Renzi has offered to take power from the senate because Italians think the senate is a useless, obstructionist debating club.  (Sound familiar?)  Renzi's proposal doesn't seem to be widely popular because Italians also don't seem to trust transferring the power to the Prime Minister.  They have a well-kept memory of a too-powerful executive (can you say Benito Mussolini?). 
Zerohedge is predicting a Vaffanculo Day, and the M5S sweeping into control and the beginning of the end for the European Union. 

In a possibly unrelated story, they also report on Non Governmental Organizations smuggling "immigrants" into Europe on an industrial scale.  Directly into Italy.  If there's going to be one thing that increases the chances of the population giving the elitists the finger, this is could do it.  If not, it will add more pressure to split the EU as the "African immigrants" spread their campaign of rape and murder across the continent. 
Beppe Grillo, who started it going.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

It's The Time of Year To Talk About the C Word

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 do love Christmas.

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 even total strangers.  I love the old favorite songs and the whole feeling of this time.  People in retail will tell you that Christmas often determines whether or not they stay in business.  I'm sure you've noticed that news outlets report sales from the Friday after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) as if they're reporting scores from a bowl game.  Another part 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'm putting on a public display and among all other other Winter Holiday symbols I have three reindeer on display, it's secular; if everything else is the same but it's only two reindeer and package of reindeer sausage, I'm obviously trying to convert you!  Does it get more stupid than that?  On second thought, don't answer that.   
A 2006 Zogby poll showed that 95 percent of folks are NOT offended when they hear the words “Merry Christmas.”  The real kicker is that 1 in 3 are actually very offended when the words “Happy Holidays” push out the phrase “Merry Christmas.”  This should not come as a big surprise because another poll by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics showed that 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas
Other than the perpetually aggrieved people who protest everything, who's offended by someone wishing them happiness?  For years, I used to run this video by Jackie Mason saying as "The Ultimate Jew" he wasn't remotely offended by people wishing him a Merry Christmas.

Some time ago, I must have filled out a survey or signed some stupid online petition or something, because I get junk mail from the American Family Association.  A few years ago, I got an email asking me to boycott Dick's Sporting Goods because they won't prominently display "Merry Christmas".  I'm not really offended by a store not having prominent "Merry Christmas" displays.  People shouldn't go to stores for spiritual displays. 

See, the reason I would go to Dick's is if they happen to have something I'm looking for as a gift and it's a great price.  This is purely the secular celebration of Christmas; I'm not going there for spiritual reasons.  I would prefer they used the phrase Merry Christmas, but I'm not offended if they don't.  If they told me to "eat sh*t and die", they'd offend me and you can bet I wouldn't go back, but if they're neutral about "Merry Christmas", I don't really care that much. 

Here's where it gets a little dicey.  We have a Bass Pro in town (who got an "A+" rating from the AFA for saying Merry Christmas a lot) and a Dick's Sporting Goods.  I would go to Bass Pro because I'd prefer to go to someone with comparable merchandise and comparable price that was friendlier to my spiritual side.  It creates a more cozy environment and a smart retailer doesn't run off customers.  But life in 21st century America is plenty hostile to Christianity and a "happy holidays" from a store just isn't worth getting all worked up over.

By the way, a mere five hours after the AFA email asking me to boycott Dick's, I got a second email canceling the boycott.  They swear they're going to say Merry Christmas all the time. 

As we plunge further into 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 the 45% who recently said 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.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Employment vs. Robots - It's Not as Straightforward as You Think

When the story broke early this week that McDonald's was planning on more automation in their restaurants nationwide, the inevitable response was "when people are demanding $15 an hour to flip burgers, what do they expect McDonald's to do?"  The story was reported almost exclusively as robots, but the story concerned self-service kiosks where customers could order and pay for their meals.  While it certainly looks like it will replace some of the kids taking orders at the front counter, it's not the hamburger making robots reported on here since 2012.  These Mickey Ds' will still need workers to deliver the food to the tables, but that's already happening in China, where supposedly every one goes for the low-wage workers.  It's only a matter of time before the robots will do the cooking in McDonald's, as they do in that restaurant in China.

Pretty straightforward, right?  Robots displace workers.  I bet if you plotted the number of robots vs the number of workers, you'd see the curves going in opposite directions; the more robots, the fewer workers.  Machine Design has done the work for us, and this is the plot you get for Robot Shipments vs. Non-farm employment for the last 20 years, (well, 1996-2014).  
Wait... whut?   Although it's a busy plot, the most important parts are the two lines: linearized (smoothed) trends in both US nonfarm employment  (orange) and robot shipments (green).  They're not crossing at all; in fact, they're almost parallel, with a weak tendency to converge.  As employment goes up, robot sales go up.  The irregular red curve and the gray bars represent the raw data series, without smoothing.  When looked at that way, there only seems to be only one period when employment behaved the way we thought, robot sales went up as jobs went down, (2003) but the rest of the time, robot sales go up as employment goes up. 

So what's going on here?
“The real threat to jobs is the inability to remain competitive.” Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) explains, “If you can’t compete, you only have a few choices—you send it overseas, you shut down, or layoff.” Automation can keep jobs from ever moving overseas, and often, new technology wins new business, too. 
In the McDonald's, they have to stay competitive, and since the other options aren't available, they have to automate.  Not only can automation streamline production to help companies stay in business and even expand, but for manufacturers it can bring new talent to the table as well.  Robot designers are concentrating on developing user-friendly robots that are less hazardous to work around, and that can help the human operators with, for example, lifting heavy or fragile (or both) parts.  The buzzword is collaborative robots, which we reported on a year ago. 

According to Deloitte—the audit, consulting, and financial advisory company—there will be 3.5 million available manufacturing jobs from 2015 to 2025, and about 2 million of them will go unfilled due to a skills gap.  In 2011, 600,000 jobs went unfilled due to the skills gap.  Faced with a shortfall of almost 60% of the amount of workers they need, manufacturers will have to automate.  They need to use robots and automation to survive. 
The Machine Design article continues:
Much of our [the US'] competitive advantage comes from the technicians and engineers who have years of experience. However, economicmodeling.com wrote in 2014: “Yet if demand for workers [engineers] continues and if a good-sized segment of that workforce is poised to retire, skills gaps are likely to become a real issue—especially at senior- or management-level positions that are hard to recruit for.” If engineers are retiring faster than students are entering the field, and potentially missing the opportunity to learn from them, we might lose valuable knowledge as time progresses.
The issue then becomes that if we need robotics and automation to make up for the lack of skilled workers, and the most skilled workers are retiring, then who programs the robotics and automation? 

To me that says the real issue that infographic relays is that there is a burning shortage of skilled workers.  It seems that probably that means we have too many unskilled workers.
If our world’s population continues to grow, and overall world jobs shrink, how much longer can reshoring sustain a world economy? Manufacturing can reshore by replacing 10,000 workers overseas with 1,500 workers in the U.S., but this seems to all lean toward one direction—the end of unskilled labor while the unskilled laborer workforce grows worldwide.
The unskilled worker is where we started, and that's where the coming crunch is going to be.  The next wave of manufacturing revolution that's growing now has the potential to remove many of the outsourced jobs in the third world.
A study conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that 88% of Cambodia’s textile, clothing, and footwear workers were at a high risk of being replaced with automated machinery. In addition, some countries, like Cambodia, will feel a stronger impact where textile, clothing, and footwear production dominates an undiversified manufacturing sector and makes up around 60% of manufacturing employment.
In the end, we see a picture that's more complex than the first impression.  For the skilled worker and the fast learner, there's no reason to fear anything we see coming.  That robot is more likely to help you in your job than replace you.  For the unskilled worker who can't - or won't - learn the necessary skills, the future does look bleaker.  Just as the industrialized world started depending on them for "cheap labor", the industrialized world started to figure out how to get by with its own labor costs.    It's easy to say we need to convey more skills, but there are always some people on the margin.  These are the people that are most likely to be replaced by some sort of technology.
William Bossert, legendary Harvard professor, summed it up by saying, “If you’re afraid that you might be replaced by a computer, you probably can be—and probably should be.” While it may not be comforting, it could be a wakeup call for continued education.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Little Encouraging News

Ever get tired of hearing of our "throwaway society", where everything is "use until it breaks" then throw it away?  I've seen it said that one of the problems with modern electronics is that it's too reliable; that it works long after a new, better version is out.  Enter the Repair Café:
Repair Café is a non-profit organization that aims to inspire sustainability at the local level by encouraging people to organize Repair Café events in their area. In more than 29 countries, over 1,150 cafes offer free services to residents that want to fix their broken belongings, including electronics, bicycles, clothing, and housekeeping devices. This not only reduces waste in landfills, but builds a healthy sense of community that allows participants to learn new skills, build their resourcefulness, and make new friends.
The name is the property of a seven year old European company headquartered in Amsterdam, but they're pushing the idea as something akin to Makerspaces.  A Makerspace is a place where people gather to share tools, teach each other, learn from each other, and generally learn how to build things as their hobby.  Sometimes, it's to start a business.  In a repair cafe', people get together with folks who help them repair things; sew clothes, fix electronics, make jewelry, a whole host of things.  Unlike the Makerspace, the Repair Café emphasis is for specialists and resident repair experts to volunteer their time and skills so they can fix things that fit their skill sets and available resources.  It seems to be all about getting things fixed more than learning how to fix things, but it seems that the nature of fixing things is that they break unexpectedly and when you need it, you need it.  You don't think very much about your coffee maker when it's working, but when it stops, you want coffee.  Perhaps that's the reasonable way to approach this.
To encourage new launches across the world, Repair Café offers a starter pack, which includes a manual with the plans for organizing Repair Cafés from the ground up. The content is based on tactics used by Café founders in the past, and discusses ways to find local repair experts, book locations for events, determine which tools to supply, and find funding. The starter pack also guarantees that the organization will contact other interested parties in the area so that communities can work together to curate events. It will also advertise the initiative through the Repair Café network. Donations to support local groups and to fund missions abroad can be submitted through the Repair Café’s website for any specified area.
Scene from a Repair Café in Charlotteville, Virginia, from Machine Design

In places as different as Portland, Oregon, the Netherlands, Ghana, Belgium, and more these Repair Cafes are starting up.   An interesting development.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I'm Starting to Have a Bad Feeling About This

I'm starting to have a bad feeling about the Trump administration, that is.

What started out as "drain the swamp" is looking more and more like a crew of alligators.  I see more political veterans than political outsiders. 

Yesterday, Trump chose Steve Mnuchin, a Goldman guy, as his Treasury secretary.  He will be the third U.S. Treasury secretary from Goldman, following Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson. But Mnuchin is probably more Goldman than any of them. His father worked there. So did his brother.  Mnuchin is as close to pure blood Goldman Sachs as you get. 

Can he even see the problems in our monetary system?  Can he even see that there's something fundamentally wrong with leaving interest rates unnaturally low, so perversely low that the lack of interest on savings is hurting people, or is he so tightly bound to the Goldman world that it's normal and natural for he and his friends to take free money and make profits while ordinary Americans suffer?

Can he see that decoupling the dollar from gold and turning it into a debt instrument is the root cause of so many of our problems; not the least of which is the 40 year stagnation of American wages?  

It's not that long ago, just the end of August, when the media was all pearl clutching because a Trump advisor, Dr. Judy Shelton, had implied a return to a gold standard has merit.  She advocated for issuing bonds that are convertible to gold.  We had hopes this sort of view might spread in the Trump administration. 

Instead, it looks like we're getting someone as far from that viewpoint as, well, as the Fed.gov ruling class are now.  You might want to go long on defense stocks or on real estate in the DC corridor.  It might be a good time to open a bar outside Alexandria, say, or some other sort of service business in the beltway area. 
Obligatory Steven Mnuchin photo (CNN). 

Although I'm obviously a little bummed by the apparent conventionality of this appointment, but I'll give the guy some slack to see what he wants to do.  Maybe he's been disgruntled with the failed monetary and fiscal policy all these years and really isn't that bad himself.  


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

After last Sunday's post, I spent some time considering how to drill the 4" long hole and finally bought a special drill bit.  Not content to go with a simple, cheapo drill bit with a long flute length, I went and researched the proper angle for the cutting point on the bit, found that "bigger numbers are better", and then found an exotic, 6" long, cobalt steel bit with a 135 degree angle.  I had to order that because it's not a big box store kind of bit.  Standard drill bits tend to have 118 degree angles, which is a good compromise, but I figured I wanted every possible advantage I could get.

Still, how do you drill a 4" long, 1/8" diameter hole without snapping the drill bit, or having it wander into the next county?  I think a proper fixture and then doing my best to not exert any sideways forces onto the bit are the ticket.  No handheld drill; use the Grizzly mill, taken apart as it is, as a drill press.  Like this:
The cross slide is clamped to a fixture that holds it at 90 degrees to vertical.  Use a center drill to spot a hole where the 1/8" hole goes.  Perhaps (I'm not decided) drill a preliminary hole with a smaller bit, like 1/16".  Then drill the long hole without moving anything except the mill's head stock. 

The fixture is a piece of scrap aluminum Mrs. Graybeard gifted me back in '04 or so, when I first started metalworking as a hobby.  It's actually a waveguide switch and probably a military or space program surplus switch at that since it's (get this, cognoscenti) an S-band waveguide switch.  It's built the way you'd expect Milspec hardware to be built: seems to have redundant switches in it to let "the system" know if it switched or not; all of the hardware is stainless on aluminum, and it's just built like a tank.  I'm sure the angles on this are going to be pretty close to the accuracy I'd get from an angle plate because the dimensional accuracy required out of a waveguide system is pretty high.  

With that step forward finished, I thought it was time to cut the oil grooves.  I drew a set of curves I'd like the groove to look like and wrote a CNC file to cut the grooves on my Sherline-based system, then moved the cross slide over to the table on it.  While setting up the cross slide to be worked on, I noticed that the X-axis had changed from the place I initially set it.  Having that happen while working on the cross slide would be disastrous, so I started double checking to make sure I could see what was going on.  Sure enough, I found that my X-axis was losing motion.  The motor kept turning and seemed normal, but the leadscrew would stop turning.  At one point, I wrote a little "torture test" file that just moved the table back and forth 8 inches.  After about half an hour, the left end of the motion had drifted right half an inch.  That would have made a mess out of the oiling grooves. 

Then the troubleshooting began.  I don't want to get into too much detail here, but Sherline uses a funky system in their motor mounts.  Still, it may be odd, but the Y and Z axes use the same system and are both fine.  The leadscrew for the X-axis ends in a small (half inch long?) portion that's threaded 1/4-20 and ends in a small, conical taper that engages the matching taper on a coupler that couples the motor to the leadscrew.   The coupler is attached to the lead screw with a 5-40 screw down the axis of the leadscrew, and a 1/4-20 nut pulls the coupler tight against ball bearings on one side and pulls itself tight against the ball bearings on the other side. 

When I first started troubleshooting this problem, I could stick a hex key into that hole on the bottom near the right end (in this picture) to immobilize the coupler, but keep turning the lead screw (and moving the table) by turning another hex key in the 5-40 screw.   The two systems that are supposed to snug everything together were working separately. 

Both the 5-40 and 1/4-20 screw threads looked a little damaged.   I ran a die over the 1/4-20 threads on the leadscrew and returned them to normal-looking threads.  Both the preload nut and one out of my hardware box ran much better on the leadscrew 1/4-20 threads.  The small screw, #5-40, is an odd size and while I had some spares, putting one into the end of the leadscrew made the new one look as damaged as the old one.  I bought a tap to clean up those threads, too.  Along with several pieces of spare hardware. 

Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the parts I ordered and working on other things that need to get done. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Kasich On Ohio State Attack, "We May Never Know..."

As details started coming in, I was leaving a comment at No Lawyers Guns and Money saying I thought it could be a coordinated terror attack. At that time, the Columbus Dispatch was still calling it a shooting.  The reason I said "terror attack" was there was an report that someone called in a report of a fluorine leak and students evacuated to a patio where they were then attacked by someone in a car.  Could it be the report was called in by the Sudden Jihadi or an accomplice to get the students into a place where he knew he could attack? 
Peter Anderson, chairman of the department of materials science and engineering, said he arrived at Watts Hall after the attack was over.

He said students told him that someone called in a fluorine leak in the building, which has lab facilities. As required during emergencies, the students congregated in the courtyard outside the building.

He said the attacker drove a car into the courtyard. “It’s where we hold our ice cream socials and when something like this happens,”Anderson said.
By the time I was reading this, 12:30-ish, there were reports of people being slashed and taken to the hospital for injuries from being hit by a car, but no reports of anyone being shot.  As the events started to be reported more accurately, it sounded more and more like the sort of "open source terror" that Isis was encouraging just last month.  Since we know he was interviewed in the campus newspaper complaining about a lack of prayer rooms on campus, I'm going with "Sudden Jihadi Syndrome" for $500, John Kasich. 

After June's Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, officials were quick to say "we may never know why the killer did this", all the time sitting on 911 audio of the killer saying he was doing it for Isis and their leader. 

In the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the leadership of a couple of Florida Sheriff's Departments got together about the message that has been preached about mass shootings: Run, Hide, Fight.  Like so many of these glib solutions, it became something that was easily memorized and so became the default response of many in the Pulse nightclub.  What they did was hide in places of light concealment, like in bathroom stalls, and not cover.  The killer reloaded time after time and not once did anyone attack him.  He took his time methodically killing the victims hiding, as they were told.  Those poor folks ended up simply waiting to die and were executed for their trouble.  In its place the department came up with the "Four As":  Awareness, Avoidance, Arm, Attack. 
  • Awareness means situational awareness, as pretty much all self-defense training emphasizes
  • Avoidance means that if something is starting to go down and you can avoid it by running away, run away! 
  • Arm means that if you can carry one, carry your gun all the time, everywhere it's permitted
  • Attack means that if you must attack, attack like crazy.  If you're armed, make the shot; if you're not armed and you have to resort to impromptu weapons like a fire extinguisher, do all you can do.  
I find it hard to find fault with any of this.  If students were allowed to carry on campus, it might have gone better, but to be honest, it went pretty well.  If the jihadi really did call in a false report on a fluorine leak to get people out where he could kill them, he screwed up by not realizing there would be OSU police at the scene.  One of those officers, Alan Horujko, put down the attacker within a minute. 

OSU officer Horujko, top center, and jihadi, prone.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Whaddya Know? Twitter Has A Good Side

I never signed up for Twitter, but I don't subscribe to any social media sites (well, technically I think blogging is considered social media), so no Twitter or Gab for me yet.  Even though I'm not a Twitter user, I've heard of Twitter treating users with conservative viewpoints as second class citizens.

Today I see in the news that the dependably pompous liberal a**hole Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, released a statement expressing "deepest condolences" at the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, calling him a "remarkable leader".  Elsewhere, he called Castro "a legendary revolutionary and orator" who "made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation."

Twitter then erupted in #TrudeauEulogy, making fun of it.
Being somewhat fond of puns, I enjoyed this:

and nerd points for this one...

There are more at the Blaze and the Week.   I'm sure there's more elsewhere, especially if you're on Twitter and look for the #TrudeauEulogy hashtag.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Another Tesla Autopilot Crash

Taking a look back at my archives, it seems I didn't mention the first Tesla autopilot crash on May 7 of this year, which claimed the life of the car's ... driver? no, ...  supervisor? , not that's not right either... the car's controller?  What do you call the guy in the driver's seat of a self-driving car?  The accident focused a lot attention, necessarily IMO, on the self-driving car hype that seems to me to be causing companies like Tesla and Google to rush very immature software and systems to market.  In that collision, which occurred at about 4:30 in the afternoon on a clear day, a truck turned left in front of the Tesla which didn't brake or attempt to slow down.  This is the kind of thing that happens every day to most drivers, right?  Should be a priority to program cars to not kill people in this sort of scenario.  The Tesla's optical sensors didn't detect the white truck against the bright sky, and its radar didn't react to it either.
Vision Systems Intelligence’s Magney made it clear, “The radar did recognize the truck as a threat. Radar generally does not know what the object is but radar does have the ability to distinguish certain profiles as a threat or not, and filter other objects out.”

If so, what was radar thinking?

Tesla’s blog post followed by Elon Musk’s tweet give us a few clues as to what Tesla believes the radar saw. Tesla understands that vision system was blinded (the CMOS image sensor was seeing “the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky”). Although the radar shouldn’t have had any problems detecting the trailer, Musk tweeted, “Radar tunes out what looks like an overhead road sign to avoid false braking events.'"
Here's a diagram of the accident from the Florida Highway Patrol's report.  The accident occurred a few miles northeast of Williston, Florida, and about 25 miles SW of Gainesville, Florida:
The truck, vehicle 1 (V01), turned in front of the Tesla which did not slow down.  Instead, V02 went (mostly) under the truck, decapitating the driver, 45-year-old Joshua Brown, and then traveling off the road into a nearby field.  It eventually came to rest in a field.  Looking at that area on the Bing maps, it could have well run over someone in that field; there are houses there. 

This is a worst case accident.  The driver should have been paying attention and taken control back from the car.  The car was clearly not slowing down so it chose not to react to the threat.  The car impacted at a very weak spot on most cars; the windshield and roof over the driver's head.  Most of the typical accident mitigation schemes that deploy airbags and so on focus on front end or rear end collisions, even door collisions, and it's arguable that if the car had smashed into the truck's rear end or front end that the normal collision safety features would have helped the driver survive. 

In light of that collision and the attention that it received from Federal regulators, a reasonable person might think that Tesla had removed the autopilot option or made it require constant input from the driver (a control movement or something to indicate "I'm here and awake").  Apparently not.  EE Times reports on this story from the Tesla owner's forums about a collision of a Tesla Model S running the latest software early this month.
I was on the last day of my 7-day deposit period. I was really excited about the car. So I took my friend to a local Tesla store and we went for a drive. AP was engaged. As we went up a hill, the car was NOT slowing down approaching a red light at 50 mph. The salesperson suggested that my friend not brake, letting the system do the work. It didn't. The car in front of us had come to a complete stop. The salesperson then said, "brake!". Full braking didn't stop the car in time and we rear-ended the car in front of us HARD. All airbags deployed. The car was totaled. I have heard from a number of AP owners that there are limitations to the system (of course) but, wow! The purpose of this post isn't to assign blame, but I mention this for the obvious reason that AP isn't autonomous and it makes sense to have new drivers use this system in very restricted circumstances before activating it in a busy urban area.

Last, but not least. I cancelled my order until I know more about what happened.
I'd be inclined to blame this on the car salesman, since he's the one who suggested they not brake in order to demo the autopilot system, but that belies the fact that it's ultimately the autopilot that failed to do its job.  Yes, again, the driver should have intervened, but the Tesla autopilot is looking less and less "ready for prime time". 
For their part, Tesla said their autopilot should not have been used in this "city traffic" scenario.  They maintain that even under this misuse of their car, the system did what it was supposed to and the problem that caused the accident was poor communications among the occupants in the car. 
The company told us that the AutoPilot operated exactly as designed in this situation by alerting the driver to brake and asking him to take control. Tesla says the driver failed to do so because of a miscommunication inside the car.
The EE Times article shows some of the software screens that Tesla drivers are prompted with, and it seems to this old guy that the approach Tesla is taking is the Silicon Valley Software Startup approach: they present the users with a screen that tells them specific things they're responsible for knowing - much like the EULA you get on a software package.   Hopefully it's not 9000 pages long like a software EULA.  You know, you're just itching to open that new software package you just shelled out for, but they want you to read the massive EULA that tells you if you complain you'll be Bill Gates' towel boy.

There's a clash of cultures going on here.  The big automakers are used to long development cycles and a burning need to prove high levels of reliability and performance before they put something on the market.  Tesla and Google are more like Silicon Valley Startups: let's get something on the market and we'll keep tweaking it.  Reading the comments on that Tesla owner's blog, it's clear that the Model S fanboys have the same mindset.  It's a cliche among electronics hardware engineers that if we did the same sorts of things that software companies do we'd be doing hard time in prison.  Release a box that doesn't really meet its promises, then sell an upgrade to it that makes it do what it was supposed to in the first place?  That's the standard approach to software.  I find it hard to imagine that Tesla fanboys would be making excuses for Tesla if the hardware engineers delivered a car that traveled half as far on a charge as it was sold as capable of going, or that didn't run at all under some circumstances.  That's essentially what the autopilot software/systems engineers are doing.  


Adios, Fidel

How's hell treating you?  You've got all of eternity to spend there.  And it wouldn't be hell if you got used to it, so it's going to hurt like the first time forever.

The worst mass murderer in the western hemisphere is gone.  At long last.  Good riddance. 

The Cuban friends I grew up with down in Carol City are probably doing a little celebration now.  Enjoy!


Friday, November 25, 2016

Our New American Holiday

When did "black Friday" become a national holiday?  When did it go from a semi-official start of the Serious Christmas Shopping Season and turn into a Competitive Shopping Event? 

Black Friday was supposed to be called that because it was the day where businesses turned their annual ledgers from red ink to black ink, but in the last few years, and especially this year, it seems to have morphed into something else.  I think I started getting email ads touting black Friday back in July.  Amazon did some sort of promotion like that, for sure.  (Prime Days?)  The term Black Friday started getting saturated toward the end of last month and since the start of November, just about every ad has been headlined that way.  It has been reported for years that the big deals aren't necessarily really deals at all, or that some companies raise their prices in the weeks (months?) before the day so that what would have been a normal, small discount from MSRP suddenly seems like a deal.  It's being reported that more and more people are carrying their smartphone into the stores to price check things, check for price and availability at other stores, or get coupons. 

But shoppers like to think they're getting big deals, and there are stores that put one or two items on a massive discount to get some people to line up the night before.  Maybe they can get some buzz on the news.  Of course, now that stores are opening on Thanksgiving itself, that loses some drawing power.  Still, every year there's some incident where people get violent over something stupid.

It always pays to know what going prices are.  I've heard that generally speaking, the best time for deals is closer to Christmas, especially right before Christmas.  You're betting that the stores will be stuck with some of an item you want and would rather discount it than not sell it.  If they sell out you lose.  If they don't sell out and don't cut the price you lose.  It has worked out for me in the past. 

Retail is rough.  Do you ever find yourself looking at the milk or eggs or something and reaching for the back to see if you can find one with an expiration date that's farther out?  What if stores could, in real time, lower the prices on the ones with the closer expiration date?  Would you buy it despite the closer expiration date if it was cheaper?  What if they could adjust prices on the fly based on demand?  Nobody's buying the chicken pieces with tomorrow as the expiration date, so drop the price in half?  Conversely, more people are buying the Kerry Gold butter than expected, so raise the price a little?   That's risky behavior for stores, and (AFAIK) they're simply not set up to do such things, but it seems like a possible future direction.

As for me, I've never gotten up early to go do a black Friday shopping expedition, and it's doubtful I ever will. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

For the first time in I-can't-recall years, we're having Thanksgiving at home this year, instead of with my brother who's about a 300 mile round trip from here.  My sister-in-law wasn't feeling up to having their usual big get together, (which, unfortunately, has tended to get smaller over the years).  Instead, we're smoking a turkey with a recipe I've never tried before

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends, readers, and folks who just stopped by!  And a picture I shamelessly stole from Miguel at Gun Free Zone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hamilton on Hamilton

(Michael P. Ramirez cartoons, but you knew that.)  Years ago, I heard that there's a saying in show business that goes, "make 'em love you or make 'em hate you, but make sure they never forget your name".  I suppose I don't know whether that's true or not, but it affected how I think of the business. 

That's why I won't use the names of the cast member from Hamilton who came out and lectured the vice-president-elect.  I don't want to increase their fame by the tiniest amount.  If this was done as a publicity stunt, it certainly has gotten them tons of publicity.  By that quote, it doesn't matter to them that there might be negative publicity.  I'm sure that to them the right people were pleased and the right people were angered.  What's next?  Do we get lectured at grocery stores?  Car washes?  A guy had the crap beaten out of him, was carjacked and dragged a mile because they thought he voted improperly.  (I'll note that these attackers were not charged with a hate crime).

No one doubts that these actors have the right to express themselves; it's the situation.  A guy takes a break after a grueling several months of nonstop work and goes to take in a play, only to get lectured to by a group of Speshul Snowflakez (tm) who are upset because the candidate they wanted (but apparently couldn't be bothered to vote for) didn't win. 

It's just plain rude.  You're the stars: send Mr. Pence a note saying you'd love to see him backstage after the show.  It's called manners, actors.  You should look it up.  Show some class for once. 


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Clever Second Use for A Radar

In May of 2015, Google introduced a miniature radar chip called Soli to it's developer's conference.  Soli is a specially designed system that's intended to allow gesture controlled interfaces to the computer.  There are a few of these ideas being pushed to enable this technology.  We talked about one in this space back in July, a wearable armband called Myo that embodied accelerometers to sense the user's movement.  Other approaches appear to be based on cameras.

Soli departs from those approaches and goes to radar.  Conventional radars don't have the time/space resolution to detect subtle movements, but Soli does. 
Imagining gesture interfaces on everyday objects is particularly intriguing: ATAP used the example of an analog radio where gestures control the volume and station. But it could be applied to any number of use cases. Soli's sensors can detect motion at a range of about two to three feet, Schwesig says, so any device you use within that range stands to benefit. Imagine dismissing smartphone notification with the wave of a hand or pressing your fingers together to play music from a bluetooth speaker.
Soli isn't real hardware yet, but Infineon, the semiconductor manufacturer that partnered with Google to build the chip, has said that it expects samples to be available in the first half of 2017 and production devices to go on sale in the second half.

This, as they say, is just about the end of the beginning.  Prototype hardware has been available for a while, and goup of experimenters at St. Andrews University in Scotland have almost stumbled into some interesting and unanticipated uses for Soli. They've found ways to use it to instantly recognize objects like metals or peoples' body parts and distinguish between them, according to a paper presented last month at the Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology.
The system, also known as Radar Categorization for Input & Interaction or RadarCat, trains itself with machine learning algorithms to read those signatures and assign them to an object. It has been shown to instantly identify things like sponges and smartphones, differentiate between copper and steel, and tell if a glass of water is empty.
What's going on here?  I have no details, but just based on what I know about radars, here's a couple of guesses.  There are two ways to get finer position resolution with a radar: use of higher frequencies for their shorter wavelengths and use of shorter pulses.   Higher frequencies have only gotten easier every year since just about forever.  There's a WiFi protocol called WiGig or 802.11ad that uses frequencies around 60 GHz for ultrabroadband WiFi.  Conventional WiFi is at either 2.4 or 5 GHz.  You might get bit rates around 100 Megabits/second with your WiFi network.  WiGig offers a couple of channels available at 6-8 Gigabits/second. 

Back in 2014, my mind was blown by finding that over a million WiGig modems had shipped (mostly in Dell laptops) in their first year of production.  Today, projections are for a billion WiGig chipsets to ship in 2021, not by 2021, just five years from now.  I had worked on a 60 GHz modem at Major Southeastern Defense Contractor before I left in '96; probably in the '94 time frame, and it was exotic, excruciatingly expensive technology (although kind of fun to work with!).

WiGig chipsets, if flexible in how they work, could fit into the range where the wavelength is small enough to see individual fingertips with adequate resolution.  A quarter wavelength at 60.0 GHz is .047", so it's very easy to get many wavelengths over a finger's width.  The other way of increasing resolution is by using shorter pulses, or pulse compression in the radar.  Shorter pulses are probably accommodated by WiGig frequency range hardware, too.  They offer just short of 10 GBPS data, so let's say a pulse is just one-ten billionth of a second long. That's 100 picoseconds and 6 full cycles of the 60GHz RF.  In 100 picseconds, the radar pulse travels 3 mm, 0.118". 

This is not to say they're using the WiGig band, I don't even know if they'd be allowed, but the point is that the hardware isn't that excruciatingly expensive and exotic technology any more.

As they say in the video, the reflection from various objects is different, and they let the system self-program to learn things (machine learning).  The more objects it's exposed to, the more it will be able to identify.   A really interesting side application of something never intended for that use.


Monday, November 21, 2016

A Little Reloading 101

I know some number of my readers will see a post about the CNC conversion and say, "never mind... I'll see what's here tomorrow".  I hope this is interesting. 

I got an email today from the fine folks at Widener's today; if you don't know them, you should.  Reloading and shooting supplies and accessories; powders, primers, bullets, and some more.  They're a good supplier to keep in your "check these guys" file. 

Widener's wrote to let me know they posted a Guide to Smokeless Powders.  I know a lot of you black powder guys think that smokeless powder is a passing fad and the world will return to the sanity of large clouds of smoke, but it's the mainstay of reloading and worth learning about. 

Those who reload probably have their favorite powders for their applications, but beginners may think "powder is powder".  There are many, many kinds of powder available.  The main sources in the US are Hodgdon, probably the number 1 supplier in the US; Alliant Powder, which may be the oldest company, dating back to 1872 as Laflin & Rand, then later as Hercules Powders; and Western Powders, makers of the Accurate and Ramshot brands of powders.  Chemically, some of a manufacturers product line may be identical, but physically, they will vary. 

Powders are broadly divided by application: pistol, rifle and shotgun.  Pistol powders need to burn fast because of the short barrels, which means a short time in the barrel while the bullet is being accelerated.  Rifle powders can have a more gradual buildup of pressure due to the longer time under pressure; they also can be formulated to deliver more power.  Shotguns can vary more than either pistols or centerfire rifles.  Depending on the load; heavier shot loads will require a slower burn rate, as it takes longer to sufficiently accelerate a heavy shot. At the other end of the spectrum, a slow burning powder behind a light load, such as a bird shot, may not give enough power for sufficient energy and velocity.

You will see some powders listed as for both pistol and shotgun. 

I hinted that different powders may be chemically the same but behave differently.  One of the main ways the powders are varied is by the shapes and sizes of the particles.  You'll need a microscope, or good magnifiers to see this detail, but this photo shows a stripe of spherical ball-powder flanked on the left by flattened ball powder and on the right by flake powder.  
Ball powder consists of tiny spheres that can generally be manufactured more rapidly, often reducing the cost of the final product. It meters better, resulting in more accurate loads and can have a greater shelf life compared to other powders. 

Flattened ball powder is known to deliver similar results to spherical ball powder. To create this shape, ball powder is run through rollers, resulting in the flattened ball product. Flattened powder is generally preferred in shotgun shells.

Flake powder is essentially powder that is extended into a tube shape and cut into tiny sections, almost like cutting a very tiny summer sausage.  Flakes are used mostly in handgun and shotgun cartridges. Because of their shape, they can stack up when measuring, making it difficult to meter with precision.

Not shown in the picture is stick powder.  Shaped like small cylinders, this is the type of powder that is most popular for rifle cartridges. While highly-effective in rifle ammunition, stick powder is difficult to meter accurately and can lead to inconsistencies in the measurements. While stick powder is often considered the most difficult to meter, reducing the length of the “sticks” can make for more consistent loading. 

My experience reloading has been for a few rifle calibers, .223, .308 and .30-06, and while I'm set to reload .45ACP, I sill have enough commercial ammo available that I haven't gotten around to it.  My preferred powder for those rifle rounds is Hodgdon Varget.  How did I decide to use that one brand out of all the powders on the market?  Reading online.  It might have even been a commenter here years ago.  RegT? 

Obviously there's lots more to know than this.  How do you even start learning?  All of the powder companies produce loading books with tables of different loads for their powders.  Much of their data is online for free, too, along with reloaders' forums.  Here's Hodgdon's web version.   Hornady produces a manual based on their bullets, as do Speer and Barnes Bullets; perhaps others that I don't think of. 

In addition to the information, you'll need a supply of primers for the calibers you're reloading (the required primers will be specified in those manuals), and bullets.  The only reusable thing about a cartridge is the brass.   Of course, you'll also need a reloading press and the hardware to get started. In the description of the various powders, reference was made to being easy or difficult to meter.  That refers to the powder dispensers most reloaders use; these dispense powder based on volume rather than weight, and this is the calibration that the refer to as being difficult. 

Aside from the hardware, it doesn't hurt to be very meticulous and detail oriented; anal-retentiveness is probably a survival skill.  I have my own name for that condition, the complete opposite of Attention Deficit Disorder.   

Sunday, November 20, 2016

How I Spent My Sunday

I've been saying throughout my big project of converting my Grizzly G0704 milling machine to computer control that "every part is a puzzle".  That has taken on whole new meanings as I try to figure out how to add the powered oiling system that Hoss uses on the DVD I bought.  Now it's not a part I'm making that's the puzzle, it's the modification itself.  Hoss chose to put the oiling system on his publicly readable webpage, under the projects tab - conveniently here

I wrote about some of the work I was doing and what was coming soon behind it just a few days ago, and said, "It looks like the biggest task is to cut some channels on the surface of the cross slide that holds the table for the oil to flow between them.".   Since I successfully milled out the area where the ballnut for the X-axis goes on my micro mill, the channels aren't looking so scary right now. 
The cross slide in place on my Sherline mill for a test fit of the ballnut.  Milling the cast iron was tedious and the chips it produces are nasty, but it wasn't really difficult and I never heard the motors bogging down or anything.  (On the other hand, I have a better appreciation for where the saying "a cast iron bitch" comes from!)

This makes the long oil channels seem less scary, and the scary part becomes something that only shows up briefly in the top left video, "Oiling system passages".  Hoss marks off a spot to drill, looking freehand, and then drills a 1/8" diameter hole 4" deep into the cross slide from the one end.  Take a look at this picture I posted a few days ago:
While the hole doesn't go in the end closest to the camera in this picture, look at the marked lines on the right dovetail.  Looks like crosshairs or a target indicator.  Hoss drills the hole 4" into that piece, parallel to the table. 

One of the things I learned very early in my hobby machining is that drill bits can wander and not produce straight holes.  This is why standard drill bit sets have shorter bits for smaller diameters and longer bits for larger diameters.  The ratio of length to diameter is set to reduce the chance of wandering.  Most 1/8" bits have a fluted length of around an inch to 1 1/2.  This one needs over 4" fluted length.  I needed to order a 1/4" ball end cutter for the channels (coulda sworn I had one), so I ordered an exotic drill bit to drill the long hole, too.

As a result, I spent a lot of today trying to figure how to drill this with the best chance of success; going through the shop trying to find something I could rig up to hold the cross slide perfectly vertical for the drill press - or use the G0704 itself.  I could try to do it like Hoss does and just chuck up a long drill bit in my cordless drill and start drilling, or I could try to set the cross slide up with some sort of fixture that improves my chances.  And I swapped messages with Hoss.  He said, "you're over engineering this.  Just drill the hole".  Yeah, I can tend to do that. 


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Calvin and Hobbes

The day kinda got away from me, with a few hours out in the afternoon and another couple in the evening, so one of my all time favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.
Maybe the only time in the life of the strip where dad isn't being sarcastic or otherwise not being serious with him, and it blows Calvin's mind so badly he can't sleep.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Is It By Fire or Ice? (Cont'd)


(continued from a piece three years ago)  The question is whether the coming economic crisis is inflationary or deflationary.  Does the economy go out in a raging fire or freeze to death?  I've been reading everything I can access on this for about 15 years, and have written on it here many times in the six + years I've been blogging.

I still don't know for sure.

Today, we get input from David Stockman, host of Contra Corner, Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, and economic iconoclast.

David doesn't give a "take-it-to-the-bank" prediction either although he is clear in what he thinks is going to happen.  He outlines two possible paths and what he predicts in an interview with Bill Bonner.  To set the stage a little, let me give a couple of reminders for regular readers and pieces of information for newbies.

In 1971, when Nixon closed the gold window, he didn't simply make the currency in circulation not redeemable in gold (if you're old enough, you'll remember money marked "silver certificate" or "gold certificate"; the currency actually said you could redeem the bill for silver or gold as appropriate).  Nixon's move made our currency worth simply what traders agree it's worth.  If I offer you a dollar for some fruit from your tree and you agree, that's what a dollar is worth.

In the place of the precious metal backing, the dollar came to be defined as a debt obligation.  Banks loan new money into the world ex nihilo – they create it out of thin air to lend out. Without those new loans, the money supply falls as old debts are settled, so lending more becomes the only way to keep the economy appearing to grow.  It has been estimated that debt must increase by at least 2% a year or the economy will fall into recession.  For the last 35 years, the trend in interest rates has been to come down… in order to make borrowing easier.  Now, there is plenty of debt in the system – $85 trillion in the U.S. alone when we combine personal debt with government debt – but not much room left for interest rates to go down.  In some countries, interest rates have gone negative, essentially a fee for not spending money.  In the US, rates are negative in real terms (the interest rate is lower than inflation) but they haven't taken the extra step of showing a negative sign on the federal funds rate. 

The central banks have responded with massive monetary policy; quantitative easing rounds QE1 through QE4 and all sorts of other tricks (QE "to infinity and beyond!").  Now it's time to give David Stockman's observation:
“Monetary policy is exhausted,” says David. “Everybody knows that. What they don’t know is that fiscal policy is exhausted too.” 

[Note: Monetary policy attempts to stimulate the economy by setting the price of credit. Fiscal policy attempts to stimulate growth by increasing government spending.]
You may have noticed that since Trump's win that 10 year bond yields have suddenly shot up:
Since bond yields (the interest they pay) are inversely related to the price, that means bond prices are falling.  They're falling because demand is falling: buyers are putting money into equities - the stock market and not bonds.  Why?  They're betting on inflation.  Bond yields have to go up to try to tempt those buyers back. 
The “reflation trade” – betting on rising stock and commodities prices and falling bond prices – is a gamble on inflation; it is a bet that Mr. Trump will rotate from monetary stimulus to fiscal stimulus.  Long term, we think it’s a good bet.
Stockman seems to think it's going to end in deflationary death spiral.  Instead of "draining the swamp", Trump's going to get eaten by the gators in that swamp. 
Either Congress goes along with Mr. Trump and the credit bubble ends in an inflationary blow-up…

…or it holds the line – refusing further fiscal stimulus – and the result will be a deflationary disaster. 

There are, of course, more twists, turns, and nuances in this plot. But that is the basic storyline.

Stockman believes the swamp will swallow up Mr. Trump, his army, and his big budget plans.

“I’ve seen it happen. There are alligators in that swamp,” says David, showing his scars.
In more succinct terms, Stockman believes the establishment will beat Trump back and we'll fall into deflationary collapse.  Remember, he recalls, “Ronald Reagan’s program didn’t survive. Neither will Mr. Trump’s.”  I'm not as pessimistic.  Trump has routinely beaten all prognosticators in the last year or 18 months.  I'm not willing to bet everything the system will beat him.  He might just eat those alligators! 
For those who never saw one, a US $50 gold certificate from 1928, "Fifty Dollars in gold coin payable to the bearer on demand" along the bottom.