Friday, May 31, 2013

Your Tax Dollars At Work, Part 546,232...

Forgive me...

Mind Blowing Science...

Here's one of those science and technology advances that just plain blows my mind: we can now image individual molecules and atoms as they participate in chemical reactions

When I was first learning about science, in the '50s and '60s, I'm sure most scientists would have flatly stated that such a thing was impossible.  Most likely they'd cite the fact that the atoms and (most) molecules were smaller than the wavelength of any conceivable radiation that might be used to image them (and certainly smaller than the wavelength of visible light).  Therefore imaging wasn't possible.  Simple!

But wrong.  The advent of atomic force microscopes (which don't use any radiation to create their images) completely changed the context – and the impossible became possible.  Now you can buy such a microscope, if you've got a few hundred thousand dollars to spare (though I did find a used one for just $32,500). 


War on Drugs...

Megan McArdle (on a roll yesterday) with a piece on the efficacy of the War on Drugs.  She's reacting to the graph at right, showing that despite all the costs of the War on Drugs, and despite the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of drug offenders...the price of illicit drugs just keeps on falling.

As usual, Ms. McArdle finds some unobvious angles to ponder...

About Those White House Visits...

Douglas Schulman, the former head of the IRS, visited the White House over a hundred times – more often than any other Obama administration official.  Why?  We're not being told, and this little factoid is causing a bit of a kerfuffle at the moment.  The best analysis I've seen is from the always-interesting Megan McArdle (the world's tallest female econo-blogger).

Peer-Review Effectiveness...

Traditional peer review is still an important part of most branches of science.  There are some branches where other mechanisms are advancing (especially in physics, where "crowd sourced" review is making big inroads).  The idea behind peer review is simple enough: anonymous, qualified reviewers analyze papers before they are published.  If a paper passes review (perhaps with changes or corrections), then it is published; otherwise, it isn't.

But the peer review process itself is obviously not perfect.  It has lots of room for bias and subjective decision-making, and a strong bias toward orthodoxy.  There have been some studies of the peer review process in the past, and they have shown some problems.  Now there's a new study, quite clever, that shows quite convincingly the existence of a bias favoring prestigious institutions and individuals – a very human bias, one we can all understand, but simultaneously one we'd hope science would be free of.

This study started with a group of papers published in prestigious journals, written by the psych departments of prestigious institutions.  These papers were modified to show them as coming from fictitious institutions and individuals.  No part of the substance of the study was changed, not a word.  Then these modified papers were submitted for publication to the same journal that had originally published them.

The first interesting result was that only 8% of the submissions were detected as duplicates.  The screening process obviously isn't very robust.

The second interesting result is that 89% of the resubmitted papers were rejected.  The primary reason given: “serious methodological flaws”.  The simplest explanation for this result is that the prestige of the original submitters affected the reviewer's judgment – exactly that bias that we'd wish wasn't there.

Scientists are humans, too.  And peer review isn't all that great a process...

The Real Cost of Easy Student Loans...

From Cato:
Federal aid for college students, it’s really no secret, is driven by what works politically, not what’s best for students. While logic and evidence strongly suggest that aid mainly enables colleges to raise their prices at breakneck speeds, politicians talk nonstop about aid making college “affordable.” Financial reality simply does not trump appearing to “care.” But on Friday, the Obama administration appears poised to take aid exploitation to a new level.
I've written before about the unintended consequences of easy-to-obtain student loans, but here it's been quantified.  Note how the costs of universities (both public and private) rises steadily as the amount of aid to students increases.  Numerous pieces of evidence (follow the links) provide a compelling case that the easy loans directly increase those education costs.  The main driver is simple marketplace economics: the universities compete with each other to attract students, who are, of course, the source of revenue for them.  The main way they attract students is to add amenities - and those cost money.  To pay for the amenities, they raise prices.  This is all basic capitalism, but the government has their thumb on the scale - by providing all that easy money, they've grossly distorted the “buying decision”.  Students and their parents don't have to make tough, financial-based decisions about where to go to school, as almost everyone can borrow enough money to go almost anywhere, if they can get accepted...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Fish Hook...

Via reader Jim M.:
A young guy from North Dakota moves to Florida and goes to a big "everything under one roof" department store looking for a job.

The Manager says, "Do you have any sales experience?" The kid says "Yeah. I was a vacuum salesman back in North Dakota ."

Well, the boss was unsure, but he liked the kid and figured he'd give him a shot, so he gave him the job.

"You start tomorrow. I'll come down after we close and see how you did.  His first day on the job was rough, but he got through it. After the store was locked up, the boss came down to the sales floor.

"How many customers bought something from you today son?"  The kid frowns and looks at the floor and mutters, "One".

The boss says "Just one?!!? Our sales people average sales to 20 to 30 customers a day.  That will have to change, and soon, if you'd like to continue your employment here. We have very strict standards for our sales force here in Florida.  One sale a day might have been acceptable in North Dakota, but you're not on the farm anymore, son."

The kid took his beating, but continued to look at his shoes, so the Boss felt kinda bad for chewing him out on his first day.  He asked (semi-sarcastically), "So, how much was your one sale for?"

The kid looks up at his boss and says "$101,237.65".

The boss, astonished, says $101,237.65?!?  What the heck did you sell?"

The kid says, "Well, first, I sold him some new fish hooks. Then I sold him a new fishing rod to go with his new hooks. Then I asked him where he was going fishing and he said down the coast, so I told him he was going to need a boat, so we went down to the boat department and I sold him a twin engine Chris Craft.  Then he said he didn't think His Honda Civic would pull it, so I took him
down to the automotive department and sold him that Ford 4x4 Expedition."

The boss said "A guy came in here to buy a fish hook and you sold him a boat  and a TRUCK!?"

The kid said "No, the guy came in here to buy tampons for his wife, and I said, 'Dude, your weekend's shot, you should go fishing...'"

It's Not About the Nail...

Via reader and friend Doug W.

Debbie left the room while it was playing, shaking her head and saying “She has to get that nail out!”

Flight Path Visualizations...

Via Idaho real estate mogul, reader, friend, and former colleague Doug S.:

The source...

Quote of the Day...

From Megan McArdle:
Rioting in Sweden is the sort of phrase that sounds as if it should be oxymoronic, like "Evil in Candyland" or "Violence among Episcopalians". And indeed, the rioting seems rather tame by American or British standards—cars set ablaze, stones hurled at first responders. In the New York of my childhood, not so far from where I grew up, there were neighborhoods that used to call this sort of thing "Saturday night."
Read the whole thing...

This is Mitch “Milquetoast” McConnell?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday Morning Link Dump...

Time is short today, so this is all you get...

Teacher tells students about their Constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment, gets in hot water with his school district.

Google is building a gigantic blimp-based network to connect billions of people to the Internet.

Global cooling has arrived.  Warmists horrified.

Was Obama high on cocaine on September 11 as our ambassador in Benghazi was killed?  Probably not, but just the fact that someone is wondering is depressing...

Union president earns $156,000 a year for...eating and sleeping two hours a day.

Examples illustrating why you should think before you talk.  My favorite:
This had most of the province of B.C. laughing for 2 days and a very embarrassed female news anchor who will, in the future, likely think before she speaks. What happens when you predict snow but don’t get any! We had a female news anchor that, the day after it was supposed to have snowed and didn’t, turned to the weatherman and asked: ‘So Bobby, where’s that 8 inches you promised me last night?’

Not only did HE have to leave the set, but half the crew did too they were laughing so hard!
Video taken from inside a tornado:

California is poised to say “no” to billions of dollars in taxes, and millions of jobs.  Seriously.  The drums of doom beat ever closer...

Fifteen famous living trees.  I've seen several of these.  I was disappointed that none of the magnificent trees of Estonia were included...

Don't miss this beautiful photo of NGC 6960 (the Witch's Broom nebula).  From APOD, of course...

Is coding (i.e., programming) the new “second language”?  I'd bet “yes” on that one...

Monday, May 27, 2013

For Memorial Day...

Via my mom:
He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion,
Telling stories of the past.

Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.

And 'tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew where of he spoke.

But we'll hear his tales no longer,
For ol' Joe has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer
For a Veteran died today.

He won't be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.

He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won't note his passing,
'Tho a Veteran died today.

When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell of their life stories
From the time that they were young
But the passing of a Veteran
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?

The politician's stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.

While the ordinary Veteran,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And perhaps a pension, small.

It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some cop-out,
With his ever waffling stand?

Or would you want a Veteran
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Veteran,
Who would fight until the end.

He was just a common Veteran,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his likes again.

For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Veteran's part
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor
While he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage
At the ending of his days.

Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:

Wyoming Cowboy...

Via reader Jim M.:
An 80-year-old rancher from Wyoming goes to the Mayo clinic in Rochester for a check-up.

The doctor is amazed at what good shape the guy is in and asks, 'How do you stay in such great physical condition?'

'I'm from Wyoming and in my spare time I like to hunt and fish' says the old guy, 'and that's why I'm in such good shape. I'm up well before daylight riding herd and mending fences and when I'm not doing that, I'm out hunting or fishing. In the evening, I have a beer, a shot of whiskey and all is well.'

'Well' says the doctor, 'I'm sure that helps, but there's got to be more to it. How old was your father when he died?'

'Who said my Father's dead?'

The doctor is amazed. 'You mean you're 80 years old and your father's still alive? How old is he?'

'He's 100 years old,' says the old cowboy. 'In fact he worked and hunted with me this morning, and then we went to the topless bar for a while and had a little beer and that's why he's still alive. He's a Wyoming rancher and he hunts and fishes too!'

'Well,' the doctor says, 'that's great, but I'm sure there's more to it than that. How about your father's father? How old was he when he died?'

'Who said my Grandpa's dead?'

Stunned, the doctor asks, 'you mean you're 80 years old and your grandfather's still alive?'

'He's 118 years old,' says the man.

The doctor is getting frustrated at this point, 'So, I guess he went hunting with you this morning too?'

'No, Grandpa couldn't go this morning because he's getting married today.'

At this point the doctor is close to losing it. 'Getting Married??? Why would a 118 year-old guy want to get married?'

'Who said he wanted to?'

The Path of the Warrior...

Reagan on the 40th Anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy...

Carbon-Free Sugar?

Domino is advertising a new kind of sugar: their “certified carbon-free sugar”, with which you can “go green” (for a hefty price premium, no doubt).  But what on earth does it mean for sugar to be “carbon-free”?

First I went to Wikipedia to make sure that sugar really was a carbohydrate, as I believed.  First sentences:
Sugar is the generalised name for a class of chemically-related sweet-flavored substances, most of which are used as food. They are carbohydrates, composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
Hard to get any more direct than that.  Sugar contains carbon, period, end of story. So what the heck is Domino talking about?  I found the explanation in their FAQ.  First, the sugar isn't really “carbon-free”:
CarbonFree® is the registered trademark of, a non-profit organization that certifies products as CarbonFree® following an extensive life cycle assessment to determine the product's carbon footprint and greenhouse gas reductions that in turn render the footprint neutral. Please note we use the trademark CarbonFree® not the phrase "carbon free". To learn more about the CarbonFree® certification, please visit their site at or visit us at
It's plain old sugar.  Nothing different about it at all!  So how did it come to be certified as CarbonFree?
In order to earn's CarbonFree® certification, Domino® Sugar products were put through a comprehensive, six-month certification process. Each product's life cycle assessment, from the primary inputs of farming, milling, refining and packaging the sugar, all the way to the product's final delivery to store shelves, was evaluated by The Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management, a noted expert on carbon management, policy issues and project development. After determining the product's footprint, Domino® Sugar's method of greenhouse gas reduction to render emissions net zero was through our production and supply of renewable energy. More than a decade ago, our agricultural operation in Florida that produces Domino® Sugar's CarbonFree® products built its own renewable energy facility, which is the largest of its kind in North America. The renewable energy facility is integral to our sugar process. We use our leftover sugar cane fiber and recycled urban wood waste to power our sugar operations as well as supply clean, renewable electricity for tens of thousands of homes.
I've actually read about this power plant (there used to be one on Hawai'i, too, before the unions killed the sugar cane business there).

This is wickedly good marketing on Domino's part.  The sugar they produce in Florida costs Domino less than their competitors cost, because Domino doesn't have to pay for fuel and electricity.  Then they certify it through this program, and charge more for it!  Brilliant!

Of course, all of this ignores one fact that most Americans are ignorant of: we pay more than other countries for our sugar because of an elaborate system that financially “protects” our domestic sugar farmers.  It protects them, but we all pay in the form of substantially higher sugar prices.  If it weren't for this system of protection, our sugar farmers (including Domino's Floridian operations) would either have to figure out how to reduce their costs to the global level, or those farmers would have to switch to more lucrative crops.  Bye, bye green sugar...


A tetrachromat is a person who has four kinds of cones in their retinas, instead of the three that the rest of us have.  Such a person would be able to see millions more colors than we could.  Scientists have long speculated that such people existed, but they've never actually found one.  Until now!

A Song for the Season...

Mark Steyn on the history of The Battle Hymn of the Republic...


Spain used the very best of the modern, computer-aided design systems to design it's new S-80 class of ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarine.  But something went wrong, and the weight of the completed submarine is 80 to 100 tons more than expected.  That means that the S-80 class boats, as designed, won't float.  They'd go straight to the bottom and stay there.


They're figuring out how to fix this...

Armeria welwitschii...

From BPOD, of course:

Quote of the Day...

From Dave Carter, writing at Ricochet:
We who remain have an obligation to honor the memory and sacrifice of our fallen, though I would respectfully submit that our obligation extends beyond a moment of silence before a barbecue, or even a solemn remembrance at a cemetery. Our obligation is no less than the continuation of their mission, to ensure that a nation conceived in liberty not only survives, but that it prevails. Brave men and women did not spill their blood and pour out every drop of fidelity to this country so that the IRS could badger and torment American citizens whose political beliefs are antithetical to a government whose prevailing ethos is antithetical to America's founding. The 2,000 men who died at Valley Forge (two thirds of whom died from disease alone), and those who died at Lexington, Bunker Hill, Trenton, Saratoga, and Brandywine, didn't give their lives so that their regretful progeny could stand on that holy ground today in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and surrender their sovereignty to a government that demands to know the content of their prayers! They didn't fight for centralized authority, but rather against it. And they sure as hell didn't scoff at the vigilance required to remain free from tyranny.
Read the whole thing.  I recommend having a Kleenex box handy...

Take a Moment Today...

Take a moment from today's burgers, friends, and family to think about, remember, and honor our fallen warriors...

A Memorial Day Story...

This is too short to excerpt, so I stole the whole thing.  I don't think the folks at Ace of Spades HQ will mind:
In 1983 I was sitting in the Airport in Atlanta Ga. waiting for my transfer plane to arrive. There were a lot of military people in uniform striding through the airport and I would read their ribbons as they passed.

A Red Headed Army Major in his dress greens came up to the seats where I was and I looked at his chest. I saw immediately that he had both Combat Infantry and Airborne Ranger badges and more than the usual one row of medals that all Vietnam vets had.

I saw an Army commendation medal with V for Valor device, a Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters - which meant that he had been wounded three times, and a Legion of Merit medal. I was very surprised to see that; mostly it is Generals who are awarded a legion of merit.

Then I saw that he had a seventh medal on a row all by itself, it was crepe blue with five little stars on it. My eyes got very big - I had never seen one before.

I walked over to where he was sitting and I said "Excuse me Major." to him. He stood up and I shook his hand and said "Thank you, Sir". He looked very confused and said with a puzzled look on his face "Thank me - what did I do?" I answered him "Sir I understand your confusion - its just that I know what that is" nodding toward that seventh ribbon "Thank you sir".

He started crying - no one had ever thanked him before. Here was a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who couldn't imagine why anyone would be thanking him for anything.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Debbie Liked This for Some Reason...

Modern Art is a Complete Mystery to Me...

Via Tim Blair:
Difficult territory is a cornerstone of the visual arts – so artist Mikala Dwyer knew it would be confronting last night when she invited Balletlab dancers to empty their bowels as part of a performance at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Australians pay for this, er, pile of feces.

I don't understand.  I must be an uncultured, gun-lovin' hillbilly.

I'm ok with that...

For Real...

Radicalized Islamic youths run through the streets, vandalizing dozens of cars, burning some of them.  The municipal police, operating under of policy of non-confrontation driven by multicultural precepts, stand by doing nothing.  The parking police then ticket the destroyed cars.

Sounds like something from the Onion, no?  But it's for real...

If the Progressives in America keep gaining power, you can look forward to this coming to an American city someday soon...

Grandma's Boyfriend...

Via my mom:
A 5-year-old boy went to visit his grandmother one day.  Playing with his toys in her bedroom while grandma was dusting, he looked up and said,

'Grandma, how come you don't have a boyfriend now that Grandpa went to heaven?'

Grandma replied, 'Honey, my TV is my boyfriend.  I can sit in my bedroom and watch it all day long.  The religious programs make me feel good and the comedies make me laugh.  I'm happy with my TV as my boyfriend.'

Grandma turned on the TV, and the reception was terrible.  She started adjusting the knobs, trying to get the picture in focus.  Frustrated, she started hitting the backside of the TV hoping to fix the problem.

The little boy heard the doorbell ring, so he hurried to open the door and there stood Grandma's minister.

The minister said, 'Hello son, is your Grandma home?'

The little boy replied, 'Yeah, she's in the bedroom bangin' her boyfriend.'

The minister fainted.
That minister must lead a very sheltered life :)

The Blonde and the Pilot...

Via reader Jim M.:
This is the story of the blonde flying in a two-seater airplane with just the pilot. The pilot has a heart attack and dies... She, frantic, calls out a May Day."May Day! May Day! Help me! Help me! My pilot had a heart attack and is dead. And I don't know how to fly. Help me! Oh my God, Please help me!"

She hears a voice over the radio saying:"This is Air Traffic Control and I have you loud and clear. I will talk you through this and get you back on the ground. I've had a lot of experience with this kind of problem. 'Now, just take a deep breath. Everything will be fine! Now give me your height and position." She says,

"I'm 5'4" and I support Obama.

"O.K." says the voice on the radio.  "Repeat after me: Our Father... Who art in Heaven..."

My Kind of Response...

From a location in Syria, an artillery piece fires three shots at an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) patrol.  Luckily there were no injuries and damage was slight.  Then the IDF immediately responded:

There was a time when the U.S. military had a similarly aggressive posture.  These days, multiple layers of politics, PowerPoint presentations, and battlefield lawyers would prevent any such timely response.  Perhaps a few days later, we'd lob a Tomahawk at a “training ground” or some other target that would make politically acceptable press.

The IDF stance seems to be more like “You shoot at me, asshole, and I'll take you out!”

I rather like that.

No Comment Required...

How a Civilization Commits Suicide...

The militant Islamists living in Europe (including the U.K.) long ago figured out that the European welfare states were wonderful sources of funding for jihad.  All a jihad supporter has to do is go live in one of these countries, and the government will pay them generously.  There's plenty of money to live on, and the excess can be sent back to the jihadists to fund terrorists, bombs, etc.  For years, radical imams have been urging their flocks to do just this – and they have.

Douglas Murray, writing at the Wall Street Journal, points out that in the U.K., these welfare payments to terrorism funders are more than what the U.K. pays its soldiers:
Most of the extremists who have repeatedly expressed their hatred of British soldiers are themselves supported by the British state. A prominent hate-preacher—Anjem Choudary, a leader of the disbanded al Muhajiroun—was even caught on video earlier this year extolling Britain's "jihad-seekers' allowance." As he explained to his followers, "The normal situation, really, is to take money from the kafir"—a slur for non-Muslims. "Allahu akbar. We take the money."

After the video showed up online, a BBC reporter asked Mr. Choudary to clarify how much he's taking—the press has long reported a sum of £25,000 ($37,770) per year. "It's irrelevant," Mr. Choudary replied.
This would not be the first time a country has paid both sides in a conflict. But if the reported figure is anywhere near accurate, it would surely be the first time in human history that a society has paid its opponents better than it pays its own. A British soldier can expect to start in the army on a salary of around £16,000 ($24,172).
That, dear readers, is how a civilization commits suicide: by paying its attackers more than it pays its defenders...

Steyn on the London Beheading...

Here an angry Steyn is laying into the British lamestream media's refusal to identify militant Islamism as the root of this attack:
In London as in Boston, the politico-media class immediately lapsed into the pneumatic multiculti Tourette’s that seems to be a chronic side effect of excess diversity-celebrating: No Islam to see here, nothing to do with Islam, all these body parts in the street are a deplorable misinterpretation of Islam. The BBC’s Nick Robinson accidentally described the men as being “of Muslim appearance,” but quickly walked it back lest impressionable types get the idea that there’s anything “of Muslim appearance” about a guy waving a machete and saying “Allahu akbar.” A man is on TV dripping blood in front of a dead British soldier and swearing “by Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you,” yet it’s the BBC reporter who’s apologizing for “causing offence.”
Read the whole thing...


Imagine that you run a big news organization, one that's attacked constantly by the President of the United States and his political allies.  Suppose further that investigations have uncovered the fact that one member your organization was subjected to illegal surveillance.  What do you say to the people who work for you?

Roger Ailes runs Fox News, and James Rosen is a Fox News reporter who was subjected to just such an illegal surveillance.  Here's how he responded, in a written memo to all Fox employees:
Dear colleagues,

The recent news about the FBI’s seizure of the phone and email records of Fox News employees, including James Rosen, calls into question whether the federal government is meeting its constitutional obligation to preserve and protect a free press in the United States. We reject the government’s efforts to criminalize the pursuit of investigative journalism and falsely characterize a Fox News reporter to a Federal judge as a “co-conspirator” in a crime. I know how concerned you are because so many of you have asked me: why should the government make me afraid to use a work phone or email account to gather news or even call a friend or family member? Well, they shouldn’t have done it. The administration’s attempt to intimidate Fox News and its employees will not succeed and their excuses will stand neither the test of law, the test of decency, nor the test of time. We will not allow a climate of press intimidation, unseen since the McCarthy era, to frighten any of us away from the truth.

I am proud of your tireless effort to report the news over the last 17 years. I stand with you, I support you and I thank you for your reporting with courageous optimism. Too many Americans fought and died to protect our unique American right of press freedom. We can’t and we won’t forget that. To be an American journalist is not only a great responsibility, but also a great honor. To be a Fox journalist is a high honor, not a high crime. Even this memo of support will cause some to demonize us and try to find irrelevant things to cause us to waver. We will not waver.

As Fox News employees, we sometimes are forced to stand alone, but even then when we know we are reporting what is true and what is right, we stand proud and fearless. Thank you for your hard work and all your efforts.


Roger Ailes

Thursday, May 23, 2013

FJ Cruiser: The Platform Begins...

My current effort on fixing up the FJ Cruiser is focused on building a platform where the back seats used to be.  This platform will serve two purposes.  First, it provides a level, flat, and elevated place for the dogs to sit behind us at the right height for them to see around.  Second, under the platform is a handy-dandy storage space for tools, winch supplies, etc.

The platform needs to be sturdy and rigid, and strong enough to handle any kind of stress we might put on it while offroading.  I came up with a design that relies on 1/2" thick marine-grade plywood (this means it has no voids on the internal plies) and 1" angle iron to join the pieces.  So far I've fabricated the fore and aft bulkheads, and a port and starboard rib – the basic strength components of the design.  All four of these pieces are bolted directly to factory threaded holes, the same places that the back seats and seat belts were attached.  The pictures below, with their captions, tell the story of what I've done so far (there's much more to go!)...

My "baby" drill press - primitive, but it works surprisingly well.  Curls are from drilling holes in steel angle irons; oil is used to lubricate the drill bit (to keep it from getting hot).

A cut, ground, wire-brushed, and drilled piece of angle iron, forming one "connector" between two pieces of plywood.

Four identical connectors (for connecting the aft bulkhead to the port and starboard ribs).

Two pieces cut from a 10' length of angle iron.

Rough-cut ends.

In the little "pony" vise, ready for grinding...

Yours truly, all gussied up with safety gear: face shield (I'm quite attached to my vision), hearing protectors (ditto), and gloves (those metal shaving and sparks can be very painful and hard to extract!).  The Australian bush hat is there to protect the top of my head from the sun!

The 4.5" angle grinder, armed with grinding wheel, ready to go to work.

What it looks like after grinding - flat end, chamfered edges.

After grinding, I degreased them with this magic stuff.  Probably should have done that before grinding!

Change over to the wire brush, which cleans all the non-grease gunk off the metal.  It also acts like fine emery paper, polishing off all the rough bits.

Quite a difference after being cleaned up!

All three parts completely cleaned up.

Next step is to mark where the holes are to be drilled.  The machinist's square does the measuring, the scribe (long pointy thing) scores lines in the metal, and the automatic center punch (short pointy thing) makes precise little dents in the metal, right where I want the center of the holes to be.

You can see two of the dents made by the center punch, and the scribed line they are on.

Connector ready for drilling, a drop of oil on the center punch dent.

First step is to very lightly "tap" the drill against the work, to check whether you've got the bit centered over the dent.  When you get it right, you can see a faint disk drilled out around the dent (as above).  Sometimes it takes me four or five tries to get the drill in the right place :)

We're at the right place, so it's time to start drilling.  The key with drilling into hard metal like steel is to go slow and let the tool do the work.  I just keep a steady pressure of a few pounds on the drill press handle.  The drill bit does the rest; takes about 60 seconds or so to drill the complete hole.  Above is what it looks like when the hole first gets started.

Here the entire width of the hole is started.  The little curls of steel are what it should look like if your bit is sharp and you have the right pressure on the drill bit.  Time for some more lubrication; don't want my bit to get hot...

The hole is finished, and you can see there are a number of quite large curls lying out.  That's what you want it to look like!  For a 5/16" hole (as above) through 1/8" steel (as above), I generally pause twice for additional lubrication.  For a bigger hole or thicker metal, I'd pause more.  It's all about keeping that drill bit cool, which will keep it sharp much longer (it gets softer when it gets hot).

Done, and degreased again!

Now I need to cut the port rib (the starboard rib is the piece with the angle iron bolted to it, lying down to the left of the router).  I use the router (upside down on the plywood) to do the cutting, not a saw - saws tend to splinter the top side of the wood, plus it's a challenge to make a perfectly square cut with them.  The router against a straight edge (like the big aluminum one above) makes a perfectly square cut every time, with no splinters.  It's a little tricky to control (and I screw up sometimes), but on the whole the result is superior to what I can do with a circular saw.

The router, close up, showing the milling bit (1/4" diameter).  Note the drill-like flutes to pull the wood chips up and out of the cut - key to this technique working.  The router is still upside-down, of course.

Here's my starting piece of wood, with the cuts I need to make marked on it in pencil.  There are five cuts altogether - three horizontal, one vertical, and one angled.

To make the first horizontal cut, first I set up (and clamp) the straight edge exactly 2 7/8" from where I want to cut.

All rigged for cutting.

The first horizontal cut.  Note I first cut through some waste wood to get there.

The second horizontal cut.

The third horizontal cut.

The angle cut (note some of the waste wood now fell off).

And the last cut, the vertical cut.  My piece is done.

And there it is!

Marking hole centers with a scratch awl.

These two holes are getting a counter-sunk bolt in them, so I drill them with the special counter-sink drill bit.

The trick is to counter sink them enough so that the head of the bolt projects ever-so-slightly (perhaps 1/32"), so that when you tighten the bolt, it pulls in flush with the wood.  There's a bit of art to this, as it depends on the size of the bolt and the kind of wood...

The rest of the holes are just 1/4" holes for bolts; there's steel on both sides so no counter-sinking is required.  To make a nice, clean, perfectly cylindrical hole I use a special kind of bit called a Fortsner bit - with a "backer board" so that the bottom of the hole doesn't splinter.  The backer board is just a piece of waste wood placed below the work piece when you're drilling.  The drill bit goes cleanly through the work piece and 1/8" or so into the backer board. 

The Fortsner bit.
Tah dah!  The perfect resulting holes...

The port and starboard ribs, with all their connectors installed.  The two long connectors tie into the fore and aft bulkheads; the short connector on the bottom ties directly into the FJ.

Lunch Yesterday...

Debbie and I went to lunch yesterday with a friend and former colleague, Aleck L. – at Sushi Ota in Pacific Beach.  It was make-your-brains-fall-out good, and it was even better to spend some time with Aleck.  This was my lunch, a daily special:

Debbie ordered several rolls and gobbled them down like Mo'i attacks dog food.  Then we had dessert – green tea creme brulee, also delicious.  After we ate, we sat and had a delightful conversation in which three hours went by without our noticing...

Murphy's Law...

Dave Carter, over at Ricochet, waxes poetic about his personal encounter with Murphy's Law the other day.  Here's one paragraph to whet your appetite:
As it turned out, the remainder of THAT day was filled with one human abnormality after another.  It began to wear on me, so that by the end of the day, I sought out a booth in the corner of the restaurant, as far away from everyone as possible.  That was when, predictably, a very large fellow and his wife arrived at the booth directly behind me.  When the big fellow -- we'll call him Jabba the Customer -- plopped down in the seat directly behind me, it had a seesaw effect that nearly launched me across the room.  I tried to make the best of it though, honestly I did.  When he decided to blow his nose loud and long in the restaurant, it sounded like the contents of his head were being spackled into his hanky.  I didn't say word, though my appetite was waning.  But when he followed up that little display of grace with a chunky, wide open-mouthed belch, I quite reflexively turned around and asked, "Would you like me to get a waitress to clean that up or do you want to barf first?"  His wife sat there wide-eyed and speechless, and Jabba the Customer didn't even acknowledge that I had said anything.  A few minutes later, they left. 
The rest is here...

Key Management Is the Problem...

In any system for transmitting messages using encryption, the security of the system boils down to the security of the encryption key.  This key security often isn't electronic at all – you need a secure way to distribute keys to authorized message senders and receivers.  If that key is stolen or misplaced, your key distribution process and ensure that no real messages are sent with that key – as the bad guys might have it.  This process is called “key management”, and it's hard.  Almost always there's a flaw in key management – anything from a minor and unlikely vulnerability to a gaping security hole you could drive an aircraft carrier through.  All of this is well understood by anyone designing a security messaging system. do you make a secure key management system?

Well, Roarke Horstmeyer at the California Institute of Technology and some others think they have an answer.  For their “key” they use a slab of special glass whose microscopic structure is random, unpredictable, and readable.  To set up a secure system, they make two slabs of glass – one for each side of the messaging system.  They then read the random data in each key and combine them to make a public key.  This public key can be safely published to the world, as it's contents can't be used for anything by itself – you have to possess one of the two glass slabs to make it useful.

Let's say we have two parties: the traditional Alice and Bob, each of whom have one of these special glass slabs.  The combination has been published.  Now Alice wants to send Bob an encrypted message.  She figures out how long her message is (“n” bits) and then takes the next “n” bits of her key (read from her glass slab) and uses them to encrypt her message.  She sends the message to Bob.  Bob takes the next “n” bits of his key (read from his glass slab) and subtracts it from the published combined key, yielding Alice's key – which he then uses to decrypt her message.  Straightforward and as secure as a one-time pad.

Really the glass slabs are just a memory – a very reliable, physical and tangible memory that (today at least) could not easily be copied.  Even just reading it would take a considerable amount of time, which means that security protocols (processes) could detect the fact that someone was reading it.  There's nothing special about the glass per se; it's this combination of characteristics that make it attractive.  A thumb drive could store data for a key, and be used the same way as the glass – but copying the thumb drive takes only a few seconds, and it's easy.  A thumb drive (or any other electronic store) would be vulnerable to any such attack.

The trouble with the glass, though, is that almost certainly there's a technical attack – some way that a bad guy could quickly read it.  Any conceivable storage mechanism for a key has this problem...

What a Great Idea!


When you distrust your government, you start looking at things in a different light. 

Consider this: on March 31st, 2010, Colleen Kelly visited with President Obama.  Kelly was the president of the National Treasury Employees Union – a virulently anti-Tea Party group that happens to represent most IRS employees.  Nothing suspicious about this visit; that's exactly the kind of friendly visitor you'd expect Obama to have.  But...the very next day IRS workers started targeting conservative and Tea Party groups.

Coincidence?  Hmmm...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Quote of the Day...

From a post by Neo-Neocon:
That has always been the danger of having a republic. Its success rests on the character and the understanding of its people, because if they stop learning and comprehending what makes us great and unique—are not taught it in the schools or in society at large, or lack the skills or the motivation to understand or to care—then we will lose it. And the funny thing about liberty is that it’s only then that people experience (up close and personal) how important it was, and how deeply they yearn for it.
Read the whole thing...

I yearn.

Hue Light Bulbs...

Former colleague, friend, and reader Doug S. says “Just got these and they are freakin (geekin) awesome!”  Yes, he really does talk that way :)  These Hue LED light bulbs (by Philips) can be set to any color in the spectrum and changed any time you'd like, through a smartphone app.  Awesome!  But a bit pricey – it helps to have a job in high tech and be a real estate mogul like Doug (he owns a significant fraction of Idaho)...

Red Sprite Lightning...

Red sprite lightning is a phenomenon that was long rumored, but only recently confirmed.  This is the only color photograph of it.  This sort of thing – phenomena hiding in plain sight – fascinate me.  There seems to be no end of unmade discoveries!  From APOD, of course...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Dog and the Tornado...

This is but one of many stories emerging from the Oklahoma tornado tragedy, but this one is of particular interest to dog lovers.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What If...We Never Run Out of Oil?

Ocean-bottom methane hydrates offer that possibility.  Researchers are working hard on practical ways to “mine” the stuff.

So think about it.  What would change if we knew that we had an essentially infinite supply of naturally renewed hydrocarbon fuel?
  • Environmentalists who are convinced that carbon dioxide is causing global warming will be horrified.
  • The economic incentives for switching away from hydrocarbon fuels (still by far the most efficient way, by volume or by weight, that we know how to store energy) will be greatly reduced.  Unless, that is, government decides to distort the market with “carbon taxes” or some such thing.
  • The oil-supported country economies (Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, etc.) will be sorely tested.
  • Prices for most goods and many services (especially transportation) will fall.
Most of that sounds pretty good to me!

Update and bump: reader and friend Doug W. points out this marvelous quote from the above-linked article:
To ask utilities to take in large amounts of solar power—electricity generated by hundreds or thousands of small installations, many on neighborhood roofs and lawns, whose output is affected by clouds—is like asking a shipping firm to replace its huge, professionally staffed container ships with squadrons of canoes paddled by random adolescents.
Hah! Squadrons of canoes paddled by random adolescents :)

Sounds pretty good compared with the Obama administration and Congress, though, doesn't it? 

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks...

Executive summary: excellent book; read it.

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman who died in 1951 – far too young, of cancer.  Her cells were sampled (without her knowledge or informed permission) and turned out to be immortal.  Such cells are incredibly useful for many different kinds of investigations and tests.  Researchers figured out how to grow her cells (dubbed “HeLa” cells) and soon they spread throughout the world of medical research.

That's an interesting bit of science history, and I can easily imagine someone writing a book about that.  That's not what Rebecca Skloot (the author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) did.  In fact, science's use of HeLa cells isn't really detailed much at all in her book.  Instead, her book is mainly about the impact of HeLa cells on Henrietta Lacks' family – and Rebecca Skloot becomes a part of that story herself as she researches her book. 

I picked up this book thinking that it was going to be a sort of standard history of science book; a genre that I particularly like.  But instead it was something else altogether, something unlike any other book I've ever read.  Part science history, part human interest, part philosophy, and in places it reads like a novel.  I couldn't put the book down, and found much in it that provoked thought about the conflicts between medical research and human rights.  Some of these conflicts are avoidable, but others are, I suspect, intrinsic to the field. 

One helluva read, and I highly recommend it – despite the New York Times also recommending it :)

Understand How It Works...

Martin Rue writes about this simple piece of advice he got from his grandfather: “Understand how it works.”  Instead of just understanding what something does, understand how it does it.

This resonates strongly with me.  I've written before about my surprise that many programmers working today really have no idea at all how a computer actually works, and yet they can still write good software.  Lots of people know how to drive a car, but they haven't a clue what actually happens when they press on the gas pedal, or the brake, or turn the steering wheel.

I've noted that it is quite powerful, sometimes, to actually understand how something works.  Martin makes this point better than I have:
If you simply remember how to do something, then all you can do is use it the same way over and over, but if you understand how it works, you can reason about it. Once you can reason about something in your mind you can contemplate why it is the way it is, you can apply your entire creative mind to making the most of it, and you can implement and question improvement – you own it intellectually.
What he said.

Good or Evil?

Here's a very compact collection of statistical formulae, nicely organized and with almost no explanation.  I can't decide whether this is a great thing (a sort of “cheat sheet” for statistics) or if it's an evil thing (encouraging programmers to misuse tools they don't understand)...

Dolphins Find Antique Torpedo Off San Diego's Coast...

Dolphins trained by the U.S. Navy to locate sea mines (at the Pt. Loma facility) have located a Howell torpedo from the late 1800s (the only other known example is at right).