Sunday, March 18, 2018

Two Words to Ensure School Safety

Home.  School. 

Get out of the public school system until it can be shown it behaves reasonably.  You'll be your own security, but you won't need security because no psycho like the school shooters will be there.

Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire has the story of emails he's received from students being forced to walk out last week.
Advocates for this new march say that there is an agenda: gun control. But that’s not the real heart of the march. Students feel compelled to walk out by peer pressure, lest they be labeled uncaring about their fellow students. I’ve received dozens of letters from students expressing exactly this concern, and wondering why only one side of the political agenda is being handed credibility by the media.
You may have heard of Rocklin, California history teacher Julianne Benzel who was suspended with pay for asking students to think about whether it’s appropriate for a school to support a protest against gun violence if they’re not willing to support all protests.
“And so I just kind of used the example which I know it’s really controversial, but I know it was the best example I thought of at the time—a group of students nationwide, or even locally, decided ‘I want to walk out of school for 17 minutes’ and go in the quad area and protest abortion, would that be allowed by our administration?” she said.
In suspending her for two days, although with pay, I suppose the school is answering her question very clearly as well as answering the students writing Ben Shapiro about "why only one side of the political agenda is being handed credibility by the media"; only one side is considered valid by the schools.

Ben Shapiro uses the analogy of the Women's March - many of the organizers of which were involved in organizing the Student Walk Out last Wednesday and are involved in organizing the wider student protest being set up in  DC.
This walkout is all about posturing. It’s not about change any more than the Women’s March was about change. Attendees at the Women’s March had a bevy of clashing agendas, none of which materialized into a program for change; the only point of the Women’s March was to label those who didn’t support the march enemies of women. Now it’s the Children’s March, designed toward the same end.
Furthermore, Ben says he has received dozens of emails like this:
  • From a 17-year-old high school student: “tomorrow my school is having a walkout at 10:00 ‘for the 17 students who were killed in the Parkland, Fl shooting.’ The walkout, however, here at my school, is not really about that. It is being promoted by an anti-gun/leftist political agenda that I just don’t and can’t support, especially using the 17 kids that were MY AGE as a platform. I was wondering what you would say to people who want to call me ‘insensitive’ and ‘a terrible person.’”
  • From another 17-year-old high school student: “The reason I am emailing is because my school is having a walkout on March 14th. They say in an email that this walkout is to advocate for gun reform but they also say that we are walking to honor the victims of the parkland massacre. I am in favor of walking to honor the victims, but not in favor of promoting gun reform. I feel like I have to choose between going against my political values or looking like a bad person. I need help. What do I do?”
  • From another high schooler: “My high school is participating in the walkout on Wednesday, and I am unsure what to do. I am very against gun control and don't want to protest congress for something they are doing right, if that makes sense. However, I don't want to be singled out by students as someone who ‘doesn't care about the students who died.’ Should I participate and conform to avoid humiliation and honor the students or should I remain in class alone? I don’t know if the walkout is more about gun control or honoring the students.”
  • From a 16-year-old high schooler today: “It is ignoring the fact that most gun violence is against blacks with handguns. Ignoring that fact is by definition racist. A nation-wide walk out for a majority white 1 percent is real white privilege and ignorant of the real problem, most gun violence is against blacks with handguns, not assault weapons, and ignoring that would from its core be racist and ignorant."
  • From a high school senior: “Please let me start by saying that I respect the Left's position on the walkout tomorrow, but I do not agree with their solution. I have decided to organize my own walk out to push Right wing beliefs on how to stop school violence…Respect other's opinions and others will respect yours. ‘Here to save lives. Pro-Second amendment.’”
It's bad enough that children are indoctrinated more than educated; taught what to think instead of how to think.  It's bad enough that they increasingly shoved onto a path into (student) debt with little prospect for work (with few exceptions) because everyone has to go to college.  They're increasingly being used as pawns; useful idiots to causes and organizers they likely know nothing about. 

(Getty Images photo from the White House on Walk Out Day, from the Daily Wire)

Final words to Ben Shapiro about the letters quoted above:
These students will not be featured by the media. I’ve recommended that they walk out alongside their classmates, but carry signs reading, “Protect My Life — Arm Law-Abiding Citizens!” Presumably, they’d be ignored even if they did. But like the Women’s March, this walkout is a form of social pressure designed for a photo-op. And that’s too bad. If its advocates want gun control, they ought to call it a gun control march. To suggest that anyone who doesn’t support gun control doesn’t support children — even pro-Second Amendment children themselves, who choose not to support the agenda — is vile bullying.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Almost Definitely Not Due to Trump, Nope Nope

I see this week that a company called Nucor has announced it's going to open a steel processing plant in Frostproof, FloridaFrostproof is a small town in the middle of the state, south of Orlando and closer to "old Florida" places like Cypress Gardens and Lake Wales, which was famous for "The Singing Tower".
The Nucor “micro mill” will make steel rebar from scrap metal, according to the company, which expects construction to take two years after obtaining required regulatory approvals.
Making rebar from scrap metal is going to require melting the stock and turning it into new bar, which is going to need lots of power, which says a reliable link to a nearby electric plant.
Nucor officials were looking for a site of more than 300 acres with railroad access near a major electricity substation that could provide enough power to operate the facility, Malott said. The Frostproof site fit the bill.
This is not due to Trump's tariffs, as the county (Polk County) has been trying to lure Nucor to build in their city since last summer.
[Sean Malott, executive director of the Central Florida Development Council, which helped recruit the company] said he had worked to recruit Nucor since June but the breakthrough didn’t happen until last month, when the Polk County Commission approved property-tax and impact-fee breaks worth about $1.5 million.

The 25 percent tariff on imported steel announced last week by President Donald Trump might have helped seal the deal on the Frostproof plant, Malott said. Although he couldn’t say how much of a factor it played in Nucor’s decision, “I think it helped, and it’s one of the reasons the company is looking at expansion opportunities,” he said. “This would be a good thing for U.S. steel.”

Florida isn't known for much in the way of industry, except for the tourist industry and theme parks.  In reality, we have quite a bit; I've worked in the electronics industry here in central Florida and in south Florida, and I know of electronics manufacturers scattered in other parts of the state, too.  Major defense contractors are spread around the state.  There's mining primarily for phosphate used in fertilizers,  but also other minerals.   I don't know of another steel manufacturing or recycling plant, though. There are steel fabrication companies but I don't see another doing this sort of work.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Story of the Week So Far

Circa News reports that over in Siberia, an airplane's cargo door became unlatched causing it to drop $368 Million worth gold, platinum and gems on the airfield.
An An-12 plane operated by the airline Nimbus took off for Krasnoyarsk carrying 9.3 tons of gold and other precious metals, according to a statement from the state Investigative Committee quoted by Tass. Damage to a door handle caused it to fly open and spill some of the metal.

Authorities recovered 172 gold bars weighing 3.4 tons, Tass quoted Interior Ministry officials as saying.
Other photos and info at the Circa article seem to show that the entire 9.3 tons didn't fall out of the aircraft, so we have no way of knowing if everything that was dumped has been recovered.  It's odd that they specify they recovered 3.4 tons of gold and don't mention recovering anything else, though.  If you go to the original articles, there are pictures of bars of a white metal on the ground, and the article does mention platinum being among the "droppings", so gold clearly isn't all that fell out of the plane.  
(From The Siberian Times Twitter feed)

-21C is about -6 F, which I suspect is pretty balmy in Siberia, depending on lots of things.  It's probably not the worst weather the search and recovery teams have worked in. 

An important story?  No.  But after a week like this, we could use some humor in our worlds; at least, I can!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Oleg Volk and Our New Florida Law

VolkStudio, the home of photographer Oleg Volk in the blogosphere these days has several great pictures created to haunt our Florida legislators.  I'm going to post small versions that link to bigger versions on his web page.  If you believe in the meme war concept, it might be good for us Florida gun bloggers to spread these around.

 Full sized version.
Full sized version.
Full sized version.
Full sized version.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Sublime and the Ridiculous

"Life", friends and I used to say in about 1980; when we were late twenty-somethings full of ourselves approaching the peaks of our lives, "is a game that should be called 'Gems and Turds'; Every day we reach into the bag and see what we pull out". 

The news today is gems and turds.  On one hand we have the simply horrific, disgusting speech the Hildebeest made - in a foreign country no less - depicting everyone who didn't vote for her as the most vile, despicable, racist, misogynistic, disgusting people she could imagine.  She has gone so far beyond calling us deplorable she can't see it in the rear view mirror.  So I will give the decrepit old hag and her speech every bit of recognition they deserve and not waste another pixel on them.

The gem, though is the life of Stephen Hawking, who passed away this morning on a doubly significant day.  First, today is Albert Einstein's birthday, and nobody in the current generation of scientists has been compared to Einstein as much as Hawking was.  Secondly, it's pi day: 3.14.  There's hardly a symbol more recognizable as math to the general population.

When Stephen was diagnosed with ALS - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease - in 1963, he was given a few years to live.  I don't think anyone would have him expected to live another 55 years to 76.  His biography is worthy of a good story.  He married, had children, divorced, remarried, and divorced again, all the while sliding further into his isolation from the rest of world. 

Yes, I read his most famous book, "A Brief History of Time" along with most of the rest of the planet, but his book was so successful that it had an unexpected side effect: it made him wealthy enough to be sure he'd be able to provide for his children after his disease took him. 

His fame and life story earned him guest spots on Star Trek The Next Generation, The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons.  He celebrated his 60th birthday by taking a ride in a hot-air balloon. The same week, he also crashed his electric-powered wheelchair while speeding around a corner in Cambridge, breaking his leg.  Five years later, he took a ride with Go Zero G, riding in a specially modified Boeing 727 that flies a roller coaster course allowing short periods of weightlessness.  It was a prelude to a hoped-for trip to space with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company aboard SpaceShipTwo.  He said he does these things partly as a message: “I want to show that people need not be limited by physical handicaps as long as they are not disabled in spirit.”

A fairly well done obituary is in the NY Times

Credit Zero Gravity Corp., via Associated Press 

In his later years, Hawking became more anti-faith, changing from talking about “knowing the mind of God” to “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the ... ”, firecracker of the Big Bang. 

Rest well, Dr. Hawking.  For your sake, I truly hope you're right in your beliefs that “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”  I think Blaise Pascal would have liked to talk with you about that. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

On Tariffs

Since Trump's announcement intending to institute tariffs on steel and aluminum hit the news last week, the media has been full of bloviating on the subject.  Whatever you believe you'll be sure to find someone to advance that idea.  As a "live and let live" kind of guy, my default is that there shouldn't be tariffs, that trade should be fair and open.  At this point in time, that's so far away from the reality we live in that making the world's markets fair and open makes returning to a liberty-oriented, self-determining society with a tiny Federal government seem like a trivially easy task.

The reality of the world in 2018 is that every nation drives everything they can possibly drive to favor themselves: they manipulate currency, they protect their industries, and they tax to try to create advantage.  Not that it's a particularly new condition in 2018.

The Woodpile Report (yes, I skim it, though usually over my wife's shoulder) had a link to an interesting blog I've never been to, Don Surber with the provocatively named post, "We Already Have 12,000 Tariffs".  It's a good start.
To hear Never Trumpers (and a few Trumpkins) tell the story, Donald Trump is the first president since Hoover to impose a tariff on imported products.

But Gus Lubin of Business Insider in 2010 reported, "The International Trade Commission lists over 12,000 specific tariffs on imports to America. Hundreds of agricultural, textile, and manufacturing items are highly protected. So are obscure items like live foxes."
From a 4.8% tariff on live foxes to a 350% tariff on tobacco, America protected its industries in 2010. ... We slap a 131.8% tariff on unshelled peanuts. With shells, the tariff is 163.8%. Imported French jam, chocolate, ham, European meats, truffles, and Roquefort cheese ...come with a 100% tariff. [Note:  I played a little loose with his quotes here.  When it doubt, RTWT - SiG]
Whenever I look at the New York Times, and especially economics writers like Thomas L. Friedman, I refuse to automatically grant them any credibility that I wouldn't grant anyone else just because it's the Times.  It's like reverse Gell-Mann amnesia; I remember all the crap they've spread before and automatically consider them less credible.  But from the "if it happens less than 5% of the time it's probably a random event" category, Friedman seems to be right in this piece from today, "Some Things Are True Even if Trump Believes Them".  Friedman reluctantly, even backhandedly, opens with this paragraph:
One of the hardest things to accept for all of us who want Donald Trump to be a one-term president is the fact that some things are true even if Donald Trump believes them! And one of those things is that we have a real trade problem with China. Imports of Chinese goods alone equal two-thirds of the global U.S. trade deficit today.
You can sense it's painful for him to admit Trump might be right about anything, but it's true.  In the game of international trade and tariffs, the US has been a patsy.  For instance, an American car imported into the EU pays a 29% tax (19% VAT + 10%) ; the same American car going to China pays 25% import duty, but a car from the EU or China coming to the US only pays 2.5%, a minimum of a tenfold difference.  Is that fair trade/free trade?  It certainly favors the other countries.  Add to that this tweet from Elon Musk, who also points out,
Also, no US auto company is allowed to own even 50% of their own factory in China, but there are five 100% China-owned EV auto companies in the US.
Friedman talks about a conversation with David Autor, an M.I.T. economist who’s done some of the most compelling research on the impacts of China trade.
Autor and his colleagues David Dorn and Gordon Hanson found in a 2016 study that roughly 40 percent of the decline in U.S. manufacturing between 2000 and 2007 was due to a surge in imports from China primarily after it joined the W.T.O. And it led to the sudden loss of about one million factory jobs in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump won all of those states.

This “China shock,” said Autor, led not only to mass unemployment but also to social disintegration, less marriage, more opioid abuse and more people dropping out of the labor market and requiring government aid. “International trade creates diffuse benefits and concentrated costs,” he added. “China’s rapid rise, while enormously positive for world welfare, has created identifiable losers in trade-impacted industries and the labor markets in which they are located.”
While I respect National Review, their headline screamed "600 Non-Steel Jobs at Risk for Every Steel Job"last week.  That means for the 90,300 jobs in the steel industry, tariffs put 54.18 Million people at risk.  Along with Don Surber, I question their algorithm.  They don't seem to give any thought to people whose employment status is dependent on a nearby steel production facility.  There is a multiplier effect.
Steel jobs bring more jobs in other businesses. The Wall Street Journal had an old school story about Granite City, Illinois, where the U.S. Steel plant is re-opening.

"Not only were hundreds of steelworkers left jobless when United States Steel Corp. scaled down its operations in Granite City, Ill., in 2015, but lunch deliveries to the plant vanished for a local diner while a shoe store’s work-boot sales plummeted. At least 26 businesses closed within a year, according to an area chamber of commerce," the Journal reported.  [Note: Paywall]
It's important to underline that this isn't all about cars, because steel and aluminum are used in so many things besides them, from furniture to houses to beer cans and disposable cooking pans.  Are tariffs on aluminum and steel a good thing?  In a perfect world, no.  But this is far, far from a perfect world.  Trump campaigned on how badly current trade conditions (and formal agreements like NAFTA) have put us at tremendous disadvantages.  I'm under no belief that trade wars are "easy to win", but I don't think it's Armageddon, either.  There will be bad impacts and there will be people who lose jobs, but the question is really if it's a net positive for the country and how big a positive it is.  The final results will be known by doing it and measuring the results afterward. 

(Generic manly-men working with steel picture from the El Lay Times credited to Natalie Behring / Getty Images)

Monday, March 12, 2018


At the last minute, something broke and I spent time trying to figure out what it was/how to fix it, so no content tonight.  Instead, a funny which may or may not have been used elsewhere.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Florida's "Other Weird Law"

Getting nowhere near enough attention from the media in the aftermath of the Democrats getting the Republicans to enact their gun control proposals for them, is that the State passed a law making Daylight Savings Time permanent, all year round.
By overwhelming, bipartisan majorities, the normally fractious Senate and House agreed this week to make Florida the first in the nation to adopt year-round daylight saving time statewide. It would mean later sunrises and sunsets from November to March, peak tourist season for many beach cities.
I've searched for news of whether or not Governor Voldemort has signed this into law, but haven't found any indication.   All reports say that after his signing, we would require permission from the to enact it.  Assuming the Fed level at this time is inclined toward letting states do what they want in such minor things, the bill is supposed to take effect this summer, meaning this morning's clock resetting will be the last of those.

Not really.  Staying on DST forever makes me wonder if I'm going to have to go around the house un-setting all the things that automatically set themselves.

Most of the clocks in the house are self-adjusting.  The PCs, phones and tablets get the correct time from a server.  Just three or four clocks require manual intervention.  Several clocks, including the watches Mrs. Graybeard and I both wear, are so-called "atomic clocks": they synchronize to the NIST radio station WWVB between midnight and dawn (when conditions are the best for radio propagation for them).  Those all auto-update for the daylight/standard time transitions.   

We have one clock, now banished to the bathroom, that's sort of a "short bus"/"special needs" clock.  It routinely thinks it got its radio sync from WWVB and is within milliseconds of the right time, yet it's anywhere from minutes to months from the correct time and/or date.  We have a couple of things that used to "automatically" set to DST by using a perpetual calendar, but since the extended  the start and stop dates, we have to change them manually four times a year: once to start DST early, once when it adds another "spring forward", and a similar two times when DST ends late.

I actually wrote a piece about this idea last October when DST ended - although it was about some New England states and not Florida. 
It's unavoidable that we'll face longer days in the summer and shorter in the winter.  That change in sunlight hours is part of the change of seasons  caused by the 23.5 degree inclination of Earth's orbit.  I'd guess that most of us have traveled enough to notice that day and night length vary with latitude at any time of year, and it gets more extreme the farther toward the poles you go.  Here in the southernmost reaches of the US, (I'm not in the tropics - none of Florida is) we have less variation.  On the summer solstice, our day is just short of 14 hours long - 13:55:30.  On the winter solstice, our daylight is 3 hours 34 minutes shorter, 10:21:43. (source)  In Minneapolis, MN, the longest day lengthens to 15:36:48, and the shortest day shortens down to 8:46:12, virtually seven hours shorter than their longest day.  Nothing can be done about that.  All DST does is change what we call those hours.
 (Day length vs. Latitude for the year.  Source)

I've got to say that if I wrote such ninny legislation, I would have made Standard Time the standard time.  Solar noon is when the sun is on the meridian, that line that goes from north to south passing directly overhead.  With DST, solar noon occurs at 1PM, not 12.  Maybe I'm anal-retentive, but having solar noon at 1PM forever is just wrong.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Speaking of Stinkin' Thinkin' and Stinkin' Laws...

The US DOJ today submitted a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to classify bump stocks as machine guns and illegal under the NFA of 1934.
Today the Department of Justice submitted to the Office of Management and Budget a notice of a proposed regulation to clarify that the definition of “machinegun” in the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act includes bump stock type devices, and that federal law accordingly prohibits the possession, sale, or manufacture of such devices.

"President Trump is absolutely committed to ensuring the safety and security of every American and he has directed us to propose a regulation addressing bump stocks,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “To that end, the Department of Justice has submitted to the Office of Management and Budget a notice of a proposed regulation to clarify that the National Firearms and Gun Control Act defines ‘machinegun’ to include bump stock type devices.”
As I said yesterday, to the best of my knowledge, ONE crime in the history of the world was committed with a bump stock, but I'm not 100% sure that's even true.  The Las Vega shooting investigation has shut up tighter than a sealed drum, and all I've seen is reports the shooter had bump stocks in his room.  Since no one witnessed the shooting, I don't think it's necessarily a conclusion that he used them.

The Trump/Sessions DOJ seems to be following the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, so there will be a period to comment on the proposal, then probably a period of replies to proposals, and finally the issuance of the regulation.  That all appears to be a "done deal", but it sets a timeline of perhaps 180 days over which I expect a lot of people will buy bump stocks so that they can have them when the price goes up. 

With one crime in all of history involving a bump stock, call it statistically impossible to show that this ban does anything, except that I suspect the biggest impact of this law will be to drive Slide Fire out of business.

Slide Fire AR-10 Bump Stock, the SBS-308.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Stinkin' Thinkin' Leads to Stinkin' Laws

Florida Governor Rick "Voldemort" Scott signed the mess formerly known as SB7026 into law today.  The law, now officially known as the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act" embeds the classic observation that laws passed as emotional reactions tend to be bad laws.  Like virtually all laws, it contains both good and bad features.  There are ways around the good features but there are no ways around the bad features.  The worst part is that any reduction of rights is never reversed. 

The bill is being celebrated as "gun control" by Democrats and the mainstream media (pardon my repetition), and they should celebrate it.  With one mass shooting, a mere 17 kids, they got the Republicans to enact their policies for them. The Dems don’t have to worry about not getting votes next time, the Republicans do; in fact, judging by the anger at Republicans, I wouldn't be surprised if not one that voted it for it was re-elected. 

As always, the Republicans are beaten badly because the Dems have a strategy and work it relentlessly.  While Republicans go along complacently, the Dems hire organizers who work for years in preparation for the times they can push their agenda, and in this case, they don't even need to push their agenda.  They didn't have to do a thing except propose amendments that make them look good to their base. 

I’m not saying Bloomberg and his minions killed the kids themselves, or arranged the shooting, but the response to the shooting was clearly planned and executed like a military operation.  Far too many moving pieces dropped into place far too quickly for me to believe it’s just a reaction.  Florida is late to the show; new laws have already been passed in other states. Do you honestly think the kids had a list of companies to boycott? I doubt half of them even knew who the NRA is, let alone sporting goods companies that don’t have stores in South Florida. Wasn't the girl with the Sinead O'Connor hair talking about boycotting Cabela’s?  The nearest Cabela’s is close to Atlanta.  How many of the aggrieved students even know who they are?

"Wait a minute, SiG. What do you mean there are ways around the good features, but not the bad?" 

Glad you asked.  The strongest feature is the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which allows people who work on school property to carry concealed.  As bonus, the volunteers get to take 132 hours of classroom and range training to get better at their new role as marshals.  How much would you expect to pay at Gunsite or Thunder Ranch for 16 days of training?  Comparing some courses at Gunsite (finding one that sounds close), it would be over $6000 not including air fare, lodging and all the rest.  If you accept the responsibility of carrying, the taxpayers foot the bill.  The bad part of this is that a late compromise took teachers out of eligibility for the program, so in effort to say, "we're not arming teachers", they took away the teachers' right to defend themselves. 

The way around it, though, is that the local school district and sheriff's department can decide not to allow the program.  In a county as sapphire blue as Broward, what do you think the chances are the Sheriff Israel will allow it?  A sheriff known for chumming around with Hillary and Obama - before he was known for assigning responding officers to "wait outside while students died".  You know how it goes, there's two chances: slim and none, and slim already left town. 

The bad features are all the gun control provisions and I don't see anyway around those. 

The most useless is the 3 day waiting period, which is waived for holders of a state concealed carry permit (technically called the CWFL) for handguns and for those who completed a hunter safety course for the long guns.   I haven't found a single study that says those are useful at all, and especially not for school shooters, who plan these things for years.  A 3 day waiting period is "cooling off period" to prevent crimes of passion - as if they're even good for that. 

Next most useless is raising the age to purchase long guns to 21, the same age as to buy a handgun.  Again, all they're doing is denying civil rights to people for something that has never been shown to matter.  Today's fun fact: do you know how many mass murders in the last five years have been committed by someone under 21 years of age?  Two: this cretin and the one in Sandy Hook.   

The last gun control provision is not only useless but pointless: banning bump stocks.  All that a prohibition on bump stocks will do is reduce the sales of a couple of small companies, maybe push them out of business.  After the first reports that the Las Vegas shooter had bump stocks, I haven't heard of a single crime that involved them - and you know how first reports are always wrong.  You've also got to know someone's been looking for more crimes to blame on them.  The final law left the definition of a bump stock vague enough to ensure lots of prosecutorial discretion:
As used in this section, the term “bump fire stock” means a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device used to alter the rate of fire of a firearm to mimic automatic weapon fire or which is used to increase the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire such semiautomatic firearm unassisted by a kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device.
Real quick: does this outlaw trigger jobs?  What about drop-in triggers from your favorite race gun trigger company?  If the prosecutor is trying to run up a laundry list of charges against someone, I bet they go there.  What about shoe laces or rubber bands? 

There are worse provisions, including creating Risk Protection Orders that allow confiscation of guns without due process.  I will need to look at the law in more detail. 

Look, none of the gun control measures in this thing affect me.  I'm so far over 21 I barely remember even being 21, I have a CC permit so no waiting periods, and I couldn't care less about bump stocks.  What I have against those three things is they're meaningless if not counterproductive and they take away human rights.  Those gun control proposals will have no effect on the next psychotic killer - who probably already has his guns and is already known to various government agencies.  Bad laws reduce respect for all laws, and liberties lost in the heat of the moment, when "we've got to do something" never come back.  Florida has gone from being a friendly environment for gun owners to one less friendly.  You can blame it on whoever you want, but things are changing and not in a good way.  This has been going on for the last few years. 

(photo from Tampa Bay Times, Scott Keeler)

A Small Project Update

Last Saturday, I mentioned that Mrs. Graybeard and I were in the process of experimenting with alternatives to Cable TV, or "cutting the cord" as it's widely known these days.  We had several catches, and in the comments to that post I noted that the approach I was taking ended up getting thrown out.  Instead of piggybacking on the existing cable from our CATV provider, we needed to run a new cable all the way from the antenna to the TV.

Our initial experiments were successful; in fact wildly successful compared to expectations.  TVFool said I should get on the order of 20 channels.  When an antenna is connected, you tell the TV to scan for every channel and it tells you how many it found.  It found 60. 

The real surprise here is that the antenna says we should use a preamplifier with the antenna, and we don't need it.  I initially hooked it up incorrectly and we got nothing (my excuse: it was upside and backwards, so impossible to read the labeling).  While troubleshooting the problem we took the amplifier out and we went from two unusable channels to 60 excellent ones.  I'm going to try the amplifier again in a few minutes and see if we get more channels. 

We get the major networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, a bunch of shopping channels, a bunch of old TV show/movie channels, and lots more.   Far more than we're likely to watch because the reason we started this effort was that we watch two hours a week of TV in a typical week, and we're paying far too much for two hours.  The local news is good for "boil water" or "road washed out" news, but I sure don't trust those national networks for news.
For the next few hours, maybe the weekend, we'll do some more research into streaming services for the few other things we actually would like to watch: Outdoor Channel, and handful of channels like SyFy, FX (movies), Fox News or OAN, and so on.  All of that is available, it's just a matter of finding the best "bang for the buck".  We'll get the DVR ready to return to the cable company and officially cut the cord. 

One of the engineers' life mottos is, "The world is a collection of under-optimized toys".  This is one step in optimizing our video toys. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

In Honor of Peter Wang

I don't recall where I saw the link to this story, so my apologies for not crediting you, but the story concerns 15 year old Peter Wang.  On the worst day imaginable for a 15 year old in school, he rose up, put aside his fear, put self-imposed duty ahead of his personal safety to save fellow students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 

Story to Marcus Wynne at Mindful Thoughts:
Peter Wang was a proud member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training program at his high school. He dreamed of attending West Point and serving his country in the military. As an ROTC cadet, he received firearms training and was reportedly an accomplished marksman.

He knew how to shoot a rifle and he knew what one can do.

He knew exactly what he was facing when he stood, in his grey and black uniform, in the line of fire and held open the door to his study hall. He herded dozens of his terrified classmates through to safety. He stood there protecting his classmates and saved all that he could till he was shot down.

He died where he stood.
When I first heard the story about Peter, it was in connection with a petition at Whitehouse.Gov asking he be buried with full military honors.  We both signed.  The required 100,000 signatures were gathered with plenty of time to spare.  It turns out that the story reached a lot of hearts and the US Military Academy at West Point, the school he dreamed, of attending did something no one asked.
On Tuesday, West Point tweeted, “One of USMA’s priorities is to develop leaders of character who are committed to the values of Duty, Honor & Country. Peter Wang’s actions on February 14 are an example of those principles & the academy honors his dream of being a West Point cadet with a 2025 letter of acceptance.” [Note: Tuesday, February 20th - SiG]
At 15, I'm guessing he would have been applying to West Point in 2021; 2025 would be his graduating class.  In addition, the US Army awarded Wang the JROTC Medal of Heroism. Peter Wang wasn't the only JROTC cadet who distinguished themself by quick thinking and proper actions.  Zackary Walls and Colton Haab were not mentioned in this article, but were widely reported to have protected fellow Stoneman Douglas students with Kevlar curtains originally bought for the JROTC rifle team.  Cadets Alaina Petty and Martin Duque also received the JROTC Medal of Heroism; both were killed during the attack.  A statement from the Army says:
The Army hopes to recognize other students but in the wake of the tragedy “the immediate focus right now is on supporting the funerals with dignity and honor, so deserved by these Cadets and their families.”
I believe that most of you are as old fashioned as I am in celebrating old cultural values such as the exceptional heroism young Cadet Wang displayed.  I'm sure he was terrified, I know I would be, but he stood his ground and did his best to protect a room full of students that weren't really his responsibility.  In a time in our nation when we can't go an hour without hearing the phrase "toxic masculinity", a 15 year old young man showed us a standard of behavior we can do nothing but admire.  Countries that lose masculine, protective men are soon no longer countries.

God bless you, Peter Wang.  America needs more men like you.   

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Florida Gun Owners - the Day of Reckoning Has Been Postponed

I've been following the awful legacy of the Parkland media stars teens as the bills wind their way through the state legislature.  One piece of concentrated awfulness is still alive, and both the Governor and the state GOP Establishment have been pushing different parts of it.

Let me be the first to say that Miguel down at Gun Free Zone has been doing Yeoman's work on this; and he's my go to guy for what's actually going on in that "wretched hive of scum and villainy", Tallahassee.  The updated content is here.

At the time of this writing, there are 231 amendments to the bill.  Every anti-gun idiot in the state has proposed amendments to this.  Miguel lists some important highlights (lowlights?)  F means failed to pass the vote to include.  W means have been withdrawn.
-Universal Background Checks. F
-16 hours of training for CWP. W
-Universal Background Checks part 2. W
-Banning Hollow Points. W (There is another similar amendment still in place)
-Large-capacity magazine. W (There is another similar amendment still in place)
-Manufacturing of weapons by citizens. W
-Risk protection Order, “Allege” that the respondent poses a significant danger. W
-Risk protection Order, “Allege” that the respondent poses a significant danger (part 2). W
– Tax on firearms and ammunition. W
Using simple text searches on that state web page, I see 42 amendments were withdrawn, and another 31 failed.  There were two ruled out of order, and curious to see what out of order meant, found they were particularly egregious (pdf); these attempted to define and outlaw page upon page of "assault weapons" by manufacturer's name/model number and it's simply stunning; pump action shotguns like a Remington TAC-2 or Keltec KSG, pistols, and all sorts of parts.  Forget that "nobody wants to take your guns" bullcrap; those few lines could be interpreted to outlaw virtually everything. 

I've done the emails to the representatives just as I did the senators yesterday, and over the weekend.  I have to say that I was feeling like this was a giant BOHICA and we were going to get shafted again. I'm a bit less fatalistic about it, but they still have plenty of time to screw us over.  The legislative leaders want to do things to get armed staff or teachers in the schools and this is in the senate bill that passed (although badly watered down); the governor has publicly said he's against it.

I don't know what to tell you except that the legislative suggestion is supposed to end the 10th.  The best thing that could happen is for the bill to just die, but my gut feel is that something bad is going to be done to us.

You know, when the frenzy started after Parkland, I just chalked it up to the usual Bloomberg minions dancing in the blood of the victims. As time went by, though, and we saw just how organized this was, everything from busing the kids to Tallahassee within a day or two to beg for gun control, to the CNN Town "Two Hour Hate", to the virtually simultaneous introduction of gun control bills in a bunch of state legislatures, it just seems too organized.

I'm not big on conspiracy theories for the simple reason that everything can't be a conspiracy. Generally, "three men can keep a secret if two of them are dead" as the saying goes.

But this looks and smells like the research was done, the script of what to do was planned, the list of companies to attack was drawn up, and every single step we've witnessed was an operation planned well in advance and waiting for the "GO" command along with a list of things that would trigger a go command.  Does anyone honestly believe those kids just came up with a list of companies to boycott and their demands?  I betcha at least half of them never even heard of the NRA before they started saying they wanted us dead.  This assault on us was an operation that was planned top to bottom.

I'm not ready to go all the way to say our enemies arranging the school shooting, but I can see why people think that.  And they are our enemies. They want us to bow to them and the state. As many, many people have said, they don't hate our guns, they hate us.

Florida Senate - stock photo

Monday, March 5, 2018

It Pays to Read the Fine Print

Inc. Magazine brings the story of a couple from Michigan who read the rules from the Michigan lottery and realized that the way it was structured created a situation where a $1 ticket was going to be worth more than $1 statistically.  It still required "work" on their parts, to manage the huge number of tickets they bought, but over nine years it almost grossed them $27 million.
Meet Marge and Jerry Selbee, owners of a "party store" in Evart, Michigan that sold cigarettes, liquor, and lottery tickets. After watching thousands of customers, Jerry figured out how to hack the odds in a certain type of lottery: called Winfall in Michigan, and later Cash WinFall in Massachusetts.
We all know that the chances of winning the lottery are less than getting hit by lightning; around 1 in 20 million (depending on the numbers you choose from).  Furthermore, the way they're structured, it's typically not a good investment to be guaranteed to win.  In Florida, for instance, the lotto is based on getting 6 numbers right out of 53. That means there are about 23 million combinations, so to ensure you'd get a winner, you'd have to buy all 23 million of them at $1 a piece.  Most lotto jackpots are under half of that, but when it goes above that, it would be profitable to spend $23M on tickets - as long as you're the only winner, which is never a sure thing.  A lottery is just not a smart investment.

What they discovered was that the structure of one particular game was different from others.  It was possible to get more than you spent predictably.

Here, Inc links to Highline by the Huffington Post, but it's a long (10,000 word) article and Newser's Kate Seamons writes an excellent summary for  Their story starts with a pamphlet they got from the Michigan lottery at their store.
[T]hat pamphlet, ... advertised a new state lottery game called Winfall. Players paid $1 a ticket and picked six numbers 1 to 49.

Those who got all six correct won a jackpot of at least $2 million, but the "roll-down" structure provided a loophole, Jerry realized.

If the jackpot exceeded $5 million, a roll-down was triggered, something that happened about every six weeks: On the next drawing, if no one guessed all six numbers right, the jackpot "rolled down" to winners who had two, three, four, or five of the numbers right.

And Jerry realized that on those occasions, the odds were in your favor, in that a $1 ticket was worth more than $1. And so he started buying tickets, and lots of them, for those roll-down jackpots, ultimately creating GS Investment Strategies LLC, which allowed 25 friends and family members to pool money to fund ticket buys as large as $720,000.
The work part was that Jerry had to physically go to stores and spend hours buying tickets, one at a time.  He didn't tell Marge, who was more risk-averse, for a couple of weeks while he ran trials.  After two weeks, during which he made $6,300 after buying $3,400 worth of tickets--and then $15,700 after buying $8,000 worth of tickets, he brought the idea to his wife.
Then, Michigan closed down the game they were playing, and they focused on Massachusetts, where the stakes were higher. This also required a 12-hour drive each way to play--standing in convenience stores, for days at a time.

The Selbees took on investors, and then faced another challenge: a group of students from MIT who had also figured out the odds, formed an organization, attracted investors, and started making millions.
Like big bettors at Las Vegas or a horse race, their actions started to affect each other.  Ultimately, instead, it was the Boston Globe that ended up shutting down their tidy little "pension plan".
There was nothing illegal about what the Selbees or the MIT group were doing, but there was a perception that they were juicing the odds in their favor--and away from the "little guy" player, who might picking up a couple of lottery tickets on the way home from work.

It didn't matter, as the Selbees would later argue, that their out-of-state money was pumping millions of dollars into the Massachusetts lottery's coffers--and was ultimately distributed to the state's cities, towns, and schools.

It just didn't look right.
The state of Massachusetts did just what you'd expect a state to do when they realized that the Selbees and the MIT group had discovered a flaw in their rules.  Nothing.  At least at first, they did nothing to change the rules of the lottery that enabled this little side business.  Eventually, though, the Massachusetts Lottery shut down the game. And the Selbees made their final trip back to Michigan, after their 55th week of playing.

Predictably, the Selbees were vilified in the media despite having done nothing against any rule or law.  Inc. reports that between the two states' lotteries they grossed $27 Million and netted $7.75 M so they paid confiscatory taxes on their winnings (71.3%).  These days, they're back home in Michigan and I'm pretty sure they're facing fewer retirement financial worries than most (all) of us.  As Jerry said,
"If you figured it out and you could do this, would you do it?" Jerry Selbee said in the Huffington Post article, "I'm just asking. Would you?"
Hell, yeah. 

EDIT 2116 EST 030518:  The typo monster inserted one after I posted.  I swear.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Fed is Data Driven

The Federal Reserve has said many times that their decisions are "data driven" and they don't just implement policies without regard to how the economy is actually performing.  Of course, they have to say that.  It's not like they could say, “We’ve already proven we don’t know any more of what's going on than you do. The biggest financial disaster of the century, the housing bubble, hit us like it hit you – as a total freaking surprise.”

As a confirmed skeptic, a natural question might be “'is the data that's driving you any good?”  You're not going to reach correct decisions of the data is garbage, right?  Fundamentally, Garbage In Garbage Out.  It turns out, it's hard to answer.

Right now, there's a general optimism about the economy that we haven't seen in years.  It's widely being reported that consumers are getting more money in their paychecks so that they have some money that they didn't have before and they're opening their wallets.  There's talk that new unemployment claims are at their lowest levels since 1969, and that we're at full employment.  At the same time, there's some belief that the economy is reaching maximum potential Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Are these reasonable?

How do we even define full employment?  The Labor Force Participation Rate hasn't visibly improved since about 2014, when we routinely remarked that while Obama's administration continually plugged their improving unemployment number, the labor participation rate was as bad as it was in 1978; as bad as back in the the Jimmy Carter days.  You'll note the right end of this plot, from 2014 to now, is flat - unchanged.   

Have that many people left the labor force permanently?  It was always explained those were people who had "quit looking" for work. Are we suddenly saying that roughly 3 to 5% of the adults in the country, people who were working in the '90s and up until 2008, retired or went on some form of assistance?  John Mauldin points out
In any given month, we have only a rough approximation of how many people are unemployed and an even rougher idea of how many might become employed but are currently not even looking.
Washington Post columnist Jared Bernstein offers this "sanity check"; Economists Don't Know When We're At Full Employment.  Here's Why That's Important Right Now.
Recent events have exposed a hole in the middle of economists’ knowledge of key economic parameters: We know neither the unemployment rate at full employment nor the potential level of gross domestic product (GDP).

That hole is particularly important right now. The combination of the deficit-financed tax cut and the new spending bill are pumping hundreds of billions into an economy that many argue is already at full employment. If so, then much of this extra spending won’t lead to new investment, jobs or higher real pay. When the economy’s human and capital resources are fully utilized (meaning actual GDP is equal to potential GDP), fiscal stimulus just generates inflation and higher interest rates. Even if the extra demand might create some wage pressure, it will be met with higher inflation, so real wages – the paycheck’s actual buying power – won’t change at all.

The problem is that those making that argument are implicitly asserting that they know that the “natural rate of unemployment” – the lowest rate consistent with stable inflation – is roughly equal to the current unemployment rate. That is, they believe we’re at full employment. But the truth is they have no way of knowing that, and one key indicator – inflation – suggests they may be wrong.
Notice that this is in the WaPo?  Chances are Jared Bernstein and I aren't likely to agree on what economic policies we should follow – but we can’t even have that conversation until we can agree on what the data says and means.  And we can’t.

It's even more unsettling once you start thinking about it. Economists are reaching conclusions and policymakers are making decisions based on derivatives of invisible derivatives. 

If we were truly at full employment, we would expect wages to be getting pushed up by supply and demand; indeed fear of rising wages has seemed to immobilize the Federal Reserve for years (if not decades).  But wages haven't been increasing for most workers, they've been declining, as Real Investment Advice graphs here.
It shows the bottom 80% of workers' pay has been in decline since 2008 while supervisory pay, the top 20% of workers, has been on the rise.   Neither of those trends has appeared to change in the year since the Trumpening, but real competition for the lower 80% of workers would raise their pay. 

The guys at 720 Global do some regression analysis (pdf warning) to say that wages are not changing in accordance with the claimed unemployment rates.  They argue that unemployment is closer to 9% than the widely cited 4%.

If you think that's messy, don't even start on GDP.  GDP isn't an easily determined number and yet it's treated as if it's handed down by God himself rather than a "concatenation of approximations".  A useful comparison to GDP measures is that it's less like your GPS telling you "turn right in 250 yards" and more like "it's somewhere north of here".  Here’s Jared Bernstein again:
It’s true that influential institutions such as the Federal Reserve and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) believe that the “natural” unemployment rate is above the current one, meaning our labor force is beyond fully employed. Their estimates are 4.6 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, while the actual rate is 4.1 percent. The CBO also asserts that our current level of GDP – $19.7 trillion – represents full capacity.

But the evidence undermines much confidence in these authoritative-sounding point estimates. First, understand that neither of these measures – the natural rate or potential GDP – can be observed. They must be estimated based on the movements of other variables. For example, the key relationship underlying the natural rate is the one between unemployment and inflation, with the basic insight being that once economic capacity is exhausted, any more demand just shows up as more inflation (note the link between the debate over fiscal spending right now).
Economics is frequently called the Dismal Science.  I think the word "science" is too flattering for the field.  There's simply not enough hard, trustworthy information in use.  Here, I'm going to hand off to John Mauldin for a well-worded conclusion:
All this is very obvious to people who lack graduate degrees, yet for some reason the economics profession persists in thinking it knows things it simply does not. Economists have physics envy. They want their profession to be a hard science, when it is probably one of the softer of the soft sciences.

Believing that the data they have is precisely meaningful gives people like Federal Reserve governors the mistaken impression that they have what they need to manage the economy successfully. They don’t. They have lots of data and not so much information.

Hence, to my great surprise, I find myself 100% agreeing with Jared Bernstein’s conclusion:
Our best move is thus to admit the uncertainty, toss the point estimates, and follow the data, particularly inflation. Recognize that we’re driving a car with no reliable indicators of engine overheating, so we’ve got to use our eyes and ears to gauge the heat. That doesn’t call for recklessly pumping the gas or the brakes. It does call for more humility about the limits of our knowledge.
Think about this: 12 people sit around a table, chew the fat over masses of data and metadata, and then set the price for the most important commodity in the world: the US dollar, the world’s reserve currency. How do they know they’re right? Well, they tell us confidently, it’s all in the data.
How do they know they're right?  They don't.  They just think they do.  Doesn't that inspire confidence in central banks and central planning?

Yeah, me neither.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Different Sort of Project

Any cord cutters visitors here?  In the sense of ditching cable TV and moving to over the air and streaming services?  I'd be interested in your feedback if you see I'm getting ready to do something wrong. 

I'm in the process of joining the "movement".  I've gotta say, though, that there's far much more to learn to do this than I would have thought before I started. Especially for a career radio frequency circuit designer, who got started in high-end satellite TV receivers for cable TV companies.   This was long before the birth of DirectTV and small aperture satellite receivers at home.  It was also well before the Digital TV "revolution".  TV is different and there's a ton of small details to learn and understand. 

Let me back up for a second.  We've been cable TV subscribers since around the time we moved here into central Florida in '82.  There was broadcast (OTA) TV available, but a few networks and all of the transmitters were far enough away that we were considered fringe or beyond fringe for reception: not very good quality without a fairly serious outside antenna.  To get a good picture, and then for the larger variety of choices, we started cable.  Our provider was bought up a series of times and in the course of the last six months has gone up twice.  It has finally gotten to the point where we just think it's far too much for the little we watch.  

So the process should be simple enough.  First and foremost, we need an outside antenna.  In the intervening 36 years we've been here, the transmitters haven't gotten closer, so we still need something better than a window antenna - not to mention we don't have a window pointing at the transmitters.  A popular website called TV Fool will help you find what signals you should be able to get and the distances to the transmitters.  Another site that does the same basic service is Antennaweb.  The HDTV industry has adopted color codes to help you choose the antennas you need and they classify them into ranges by mileage they should work over.  We chose an antenna.  We'll mount it on the west side of the house, about 15' up and manually point it at the transmitters to the northwest. 

We want to keep the cable company as our ISP - we have nothing against their service, it's just the cost for the few things we watch that's bothering me. That means we have a cable coming to a junction box on the side of the house; we have underground utilities so it runs the roughly 40 feet from the corner of the lot to where it comes out of the ground.  That cable goes into the attic where it goes through a little signal splitter which sends one branch to the TV and the other (marked "Tap") here to the modem for the internet connection. 

Closest to the camera is the power tap just described.  Behind that is another splitter, which apparently was a different cable installation (we've had a couple over the years).  I don't believe it's connected to anything else, but haven't tested it. 

The point of mentioning this is that we have all the cabling we need already in place, so I don't see a need to go up into the crawlspace.  I just need to couple the antenna signals onto the coax to the attic, and that calls for a signal splitter/combiner.  This is a very common component in the radio/microwave world I come from; so common that there's a small industry providing components like that optimized for particular applications.  It turns out yet another part of the industry provides combiners and splitters for the TV industry and the TV world is different from the rest of the industry. 

A different concern for TV splitter/combiners is that some of them need to pass DC voltage to power a low noise amplifier at the antenna.  This introduces complications.  Do you need the DC on both legs of the splitter/both inputs of the combiner or just one leg? Does the voltage go through either way you configure the splitter/combiner or just one way?  The first one I got, at Lowe's, had markings I misinterpreted, and only routed power from the dual connector side to the single connector side, while I need it to go the other way.  I picked another combiner

Given all that, this is what my hookup diagram looks like:

On the left, the new antenna (and low noise amplifier - LNA) feed the new power combiner.  I remove the cable on the lower left from the surge protector and put the combiner between them.  Antenna on one port, existing cable on the other.  Now the antenna is connected all the way to the TV but there's no power for the LNA.  That runs from a little box that blocks its DC from going into the TV and applies power to the coax that runs back to the LNA. 

The DC Blocks are "just in case I need them", to keep the power going to the LNA from going back into the cable company's circuitry and to keep it from going into our cable modem.  I don't know that there's DC on those lines to block, but I think there will be.  Everything I've had to buy says "new"; the rest is existing infrastructure.  I consider myself both too old and too fat to crawl around in the crawlspace running new cables, and that's not even including the possibility of falling through the ceiling (happened to a friend once while not even fully in the attic; it was an awful spinal injury that was very hard to recover from).  With this approach, I won't need to go up there. 

If you've done this sort of conversion, any input would be appreciated. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

All of my Tech Sources Are Going Away

I've run a lot of stories in the years of this blog that started out as small articles in the electronics or mechanical engineering trade magazines.  In the last few weeks, those sources are drying up and going away and I'm losing the ability to get the news.

Here's what's going on.

Many, or even most of you, run an ad blocker or some other software in attempt to keep your machine safe and secure - or maybe just less annoying.  My wife runs Adblock Plus - ABP.  Instead of that, I've been running an MVPS hosts file since the early '00s.  Let me clip their explanation, for those unfamiliar with the concept.
The Hosts file is loaded into memory (cache) at startup, so there is no need to turn on, adjust or change any settings with the exception of the DNS Client service (see below). Windows automatically looks for the existence of a HOSTS file and if found, checks the HOSTS file first for entries to the web page you just requested. The (prefix) is considered the location of your computer, so when an entry listed in the MVPS HOSTS file is requested on a page you are viewing, your computer thinks is the location of the file. When this file is not located it skips onto the next file and thus the ad server is blocked from loading the banner, Cookie, or some unscrupulous tracker, or javascript file.

Example - the following entry blocks all files supplied by that DoubleClick Server to the web page you are viewing. This also prevents the server from tracking your movements. Why? ... because in certain cases "Ad Servers" like Doubleclick (and many others) will try silently to open a separate connection on the webpage you are viewing, record your movements then yes ... follow you to additional sites you may visit.
Like all security, including ad blockers, this is sometimes inconvenient.  I get emails regularly that come from companies I have experience and history with, and clicking on their link fires a 404 Not Found error.  I have commented out lines in the hosts file for specific companies I know.  I'll let the MVPS Hosts folks tell you how to install it and modify it and all, because it depends on what OS you're running.  I'm not aware of an equivalent file in Mac OS or any flavor of *nix.  

In the last few weeks, I started to notice that the links that are sent in the daily or weekly newsletters don't work - the pages won't load.  It started out with just those news site, but now I find virtually every magazine/trade site I go to won't load.
  • Microwaves and RF Magazine - 
  • Electronic Design -
  • Machine Design - 
  • EETimes -
  • Design News - 
Articles I've been to in the last month won't load properly.   While troubleshooting, it was an obvious test to rename the hosts file so that my machine was wide open.  A few test pages loaded normally.  I emailed tech support at the magazines and they (predictably) said "they work for me".  I tried to get the list of places I might "white list" and allow, but they either don't know or won't reveal that.

Lacking their help, I asked the MVPS Hosts file guys if there was software I could run that would tell me what the magazines are doing.  We exchanged details including some sites I sent them to try.  I got this reply:
After visiting those sites ... what a (coding) mess!

Even after renaming the HOSTS file ... the site failed to load properly ... seems I had to turn off my ad blocker too just to get the page to load.

Here is the list of the 3rd party trackers/advertisers:

If you disable all those ... they are disabled on all sites ... I would recommend renaming the HOSTS file instead ...
They also recommended a free program they use to track these things, Fiddler

Naturally, I commented out all of those sites and tried to load the pages.  That didn't work either. 

What to do?  Disabling the hosts file by renaming it, or having different versions for more safe/less safe browsing, is just that: less safe.  On the other hand, I've been reading these magazines for years - decades in most cases - and I tend to trust them.  I don't care if they serve me an ad for the latest silicon from Analog Devices or the latest amplifier from Mini Circuits.  I don't, however, tend to trust that list of 13 ad servers (or trackers), and I especially don't trust their security.  It seems to me that an effective way to target the magazine's readers would be through those ad companies.

I'll keep poking away at it, but that's why the latest post I had about some new technology was February 11th. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Formal Portrait

It's like a graduation portrait; being done with development. It has graduated to sitting on a shelf and being used to entertain guests - whether they like it or not!

Of course, it's my Little Machine Shop 2594 steam engine, mounted to an oak board with contrasting brass screws to highlight it. 

If you recall my post back in early February, the flywheel I mounted permanently is the one that was the worst performer but that I thought was best looking.  Which might be influenced by having used it as my first project on my rotary axis. 

Interested beginners, this is essentially a lathe project, and while that flywheel is 2-1/2" OD, it's within the work envelope of a Sherline or Taig micro lathe, both of which are smaller than a 7x10.  A milling machine is handy, but really only as a drill press for locating the holes precisely.  Yes, you could use a drill press for this, if you don't have a milling machine.  I used my mill (the table it's sitting on in that photo) to cut that 4x4" aluminum base square, but that's cosmetic and doesn't affect operation. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

School Shootings are Not Getting More Common

An interesting study out of Northeastern University made little news today because it flies in the face of the common narrative.  The study was entitled, "Schools are safer than they were in the 90s, and school shootings are not more common than they used to be, researchers say".

While I always look for things that contradict what I think, or contradict the accepted wisdom, the mainstream media only wants to reinforce their narratives.  The work was done by James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern, and assistant Emma E. Fridel also of Northeastern University.

According to the study, mass school shootings were more common in the 1990s than this decade.
Four times the number of children were killed in schools in the early 1990s than today, Fox said.

“There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” he said, adding that more kids are killed each year from pool drownings or bicycle accidents. There are around 55 million school children in the United States, and on average over the past 25 years, about 10 students per year were killed by gunfire at school, according to Fox and Fridel’s research.
On a per capita basis, over the past 25 years, "about 10 students per year" works out to 0.18 deaths per million students per year.  Looked at that way, it really is rather safe in schools.   

You know that often-repeated lie that there have been 18 school shootings so far this year?  Dr. Fox brings the truth:
Since 1996, there have been 16 multiple victim shootings in schools, or incidents involving 4 or more victims and at least 2 deaths by firearms, excluding the assailant.

Of these, 8 are mass shootings, or incidents involving 4 or more deaths, excluding the assailant.
16 shootings in just over 21 years is a long way from 18 this year alone. 

This graphic, from the article, is a little tough to read, but each darker dot shows one person killed and each lighter dot shows one person injured.  Columbine stands out in 1999.  Sandy Hook in 2012 stands out for its extreme ratio of dark to light color.  The Stoneman Douglas shooting is on the far right (below the less-awful Kentucky school shooting).  Unfortunately, this graphic doesn't go to 1990, so that we could visually compare the early '90s to today. 

It's not just school shootings, which are the classic example of the kind of extreme story the media loves: bleeding children sell (Dana was right).  Mass murders as a general class have also been declining since the 1990s, just has violent crime in general has been declining.  

This graph is a little tougher to read because the vertical color bands are too similar, and it's a small dataset in time, but the bottom gray color shows non-shooting mass murders; at least 4 murder victims, excluding the assailant (all of these exclude the assailant).  The lightest "brick" color (on my monitor) represents a mass shooting; again, at least 4 killed.  The middle color is public mass shooting; with at least 4 victims - places like malls or transportation.  The darkest red is a mass school shooting with at least 4 killed.

I should point out that Dr. Fox is not a fan of the almost universally recommended approaches to fix the problem (which he doesn't see as a crisis).  He's opposed to hardening access control:
In addition to being ineffective, Fox said increased security measures of these kinds can do more harm than good. He called the suggestion to arm teachers “absurd” and “over the top.”“I’m not a big fan of making schools look like fortresses, because they send a message to kids that the bad guy is coming for you—if we’re surrounding you with security, you must have a bull’s-eye on your back,” Fox said. “That can actually instill fear, not relieve it.”
His co-author, Emma Fridel, said she's opposed to obviously armed guards (I am as well, but for different reasons; I think a random number of concealed carriers makes it harder than "just shoot the guard first").
After the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, schools across the country began holding active shooter drills in which they huddled together in a corner or hid under their desks. Such exercises—which may include someone walking around pretending to shoot students—can be very traumatic, Fridel said, and there is no evidence that they help protect students. “These measures just serve to alarm students and make them think it’s something that’s common,” she said.
Dr. Fox said that while he likes gun control he thinks nothing proposed will affect school shootings.
Banning bump stocks and raising the age of purchase for assault rifles from 18 to 21 are good ideas, and may lead to a decrease in overall gun violence, he said. But he doesn’t believe these measures will prevent school shootings. “The thing to remember is that these are extremely rare events, and no matter what you can come up with to prevent it, the shooter will have a workaround,” Fox said, adding that over the past 35 years, there have been only five cases in which someone ages 18 to 20 used an assault rifle in a mass shooting.
I heard of this study on Glen Beck's radio program today and searching for it tonight I can only find it in smaller and "new media" outlets.  We can take odds on whether a study like this would make it onto CBS/ABC/NBC/CNN/MSNBC/Fox and so on.  For now, we should spread it ourselves. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Meet The King of Junk Food Science

Ever get overwhelmed by the "he-who" studies about food that make the news all the time?  People who eat red meat X times a week are more likely to get Y; that sort of thing?  Meet the reigning king of junk science: Buzz Feed presents the story of Brian Wansink, the head of Cornell’s prestigious food psychology research unit, the Food and Brand Lab. If any one person could be responsible for so many of us saying, "Wait!... Didn't they say that was good (or bad) for us last week?", it's Brian Wansink.
As the head of Cornell’s prestigious food psychology research unit, the Food and Brand Lab, Wansink was a social science star. His dozens of studies about why and how we eat received mainstream attention everywhere from O, the Oprah Magazine to the Today show to the New York Times. At the heart of his work was an accessible, inspiring message: Weight loss is possible for anyone willing to make a few small changes to their environment, without need for strict diets or intense exercise.
To show an example, Buzz Feed leads with a story about a young scientist from Turkey, Özge Siğirci, and the task Wansink gave her.  Earlier, Wansink's lab had performed an experiment at an all-you-can-eat buffet in an Italian restaurant.  Some customers paid $8 for the buffet, others paid half price. After their meal, they all filled out a questionnaire about who they were and how they felt about what they’d eaten.
Somewhere in those survey results, the professor was convinced, there had to be a meaningful relationship between the discount and the diners. But he wasn’t satisfied by Siğirci’s initial review of the data.

“I don’t think I’ve ever done an interesting study where the data ‘came out’ the first time I looked at it,” he told her over email.
The problem is, that's not how the statistical techniques of science work.  You don't sift through tons of data trying to find a hypothesis to publish, you have a hypothesis and then set up an experiment to try to prove or disprove it.  More specifically, you try to disprove the Null Hypothesis; which says that your experiment made no difference and any differences you found are a random event.  Disproving the null hypothesis means your experiment worked.  Wansink is going about things completely backwards: he's looking at results and trying to generate a hypothesis that matches them.  

For example, he gave Siğirci  suggestions for how to massage the data, and would later publicly praise her on his blog for being “the grad student who never said ‘no.’”
First, he wrote, she should break up the diners into all kinds of groups: “males, females, lunch goers, dinner goers, people sitting alone, people eating with groups of 2, people eating in groups of 2+, people who order alcohol, people who order soft drinks, people who sit close to buffet, people who sit far away, and so on...”

Then she should dig for statistical relationships between those groups and the rest of the data: “# pieces of pizza, # trips, fill level of plate, did they get dessert, did they order a drink, and so on...”
Eventually, four papers were published about the pizza study.  All four have been corrected or retracted.  It might be catching up with him.
Wansink couldn’t have known that his blog post would ignite a firestorm of criticism that now threatens the future of his three-decade career. Over the last 14 months, critics the world over have pored through more than 50 of his old studies and compiled “the Wansink Dossier,” a list of errors and inconsistencies that suggests he aggressively manipulated data. Cornell, after initially clearing him of misconduct, has opened an investigation. And he’s had five papers retracted and 14 corrected, the latest just this month.

Now, interviews with a former lab member and a trove of previously undisclosed emails show that, year after year, Wansink and his collaborators at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab have turned shoddy data into headline-friendly eating lessons that they could feed to the masses.

In correspondence between 2008 and 2016, the renowned Cornell scientist and his team discussed and even joked about exhaustively mining datasets for impressive-looking results. They strategized how to publish subpar studies, sometimes targeting journals with low standards. And they often framed their findings in the hopes of stirring up media coverage to, as Wansink once put it, “go virally big time.”
As Susan Wei, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Minnesota interviewed for the article says, it's hard to tell if Wansink is stupid or corrupt.  Well, she was more polite than I am and didn't put it exactly that way:
Wei added. “He’s so brazen about it, I can’t tell if he’s just bad at statistical thinking, or he knows that what he’s doing is scientifically unsound but he goes ahead anyway.”
Longtime readers know that junk science is one of those things that really gets me mad; it's also something I've written about several times (example).  In a way, Wansink is just another example of the replication crisis hitting science, mentioned in that link.

A lot of people in the country really pay attention to these junk studies and try to adjust their life to improve their health and their family's.  There appears to be no attention in Wansink's lab to how good the science is, just that it gets lots of publicity and goes viral. 

It's a long article, but quite an interesting read if you're interested in the "replication crisis" in science, and some of the problems.  It looks closely at some studies Wansink's group is famous for and their problems, and it has interviews with some former students. 

Brian Wansink - AP Photo by Mike Groll - from Buzz Feed