Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

From David P. Goldman at PJ Media in his article, "The Triumph of Inequality" (hat tip to Sense of Events):
The great divide is not between black and white, or male and female. We are turning into two races: Eloi who play video games and Morlocks who program them. The July 3 New York Times reported, "By 2015, American men 31 to 55 were working about 163 fewer hours a year than that same age group did in 2000. Men 21 to 30 were working 203 fewer hours a games have been responsible for reducing the amount of work that young men do by 15 to 30 hours over the course of a year. Between 2004 and 2015, young men’s leisure time grew by 2.3 hours a week. A majority of that increase — 60 percent — was spent playing video games."
If you enlarge the definition of Morlocks from the people who program video games to the people who design the computers those games run on, and all the other engineers and technicians of all kinds: electrical, mechanical, aerospace, and more, I'm there with him.  I have as much respect for a mechanic who can keep a modern jet engine running optimally as the team who designed it.

Goldman goes on to draw a few contrasts.
Three hundred years ago, pretty much everyone knew how their technology worked. Europe had lived for a millennium on the innovations of the Carolingian Renaissance: the water wheel, the horse collar, and three-field crop rotation. Everyone knew how a water wheel worked. Water pushed the paddles and gears turned the millstones. Not everyone knew how a steam engine worked, but a lot of people did. The same applied to internal combustion engines.

Not only were those technologies easy to understand: They were easy to make. Any competent carpenter could build a water wheel. The Wright brothers built their first airplane in a bicycle shop. Henry Ford made his first internal combustion engine out of spare parts in a backroom at the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit.

How many people know how a computer works? Solid-state electronics depends on quantum theory, which is understood by one in 10,000 Americans at best. To build a competitive integrated circuit now requires a multi-billion-dollar plant. A numerically minuscule elite invents the technologies we use every day, and a handful of large corporations access the capital required to manufacture them.
He argues that today's technology is too complex.  It's true that as recently as the early 1960s, only a couple of guys were required to design a state of the art radio, (I've met some of them) while today's equivalent radios require a team of hardware and software engineers, with each of those broad categories having several specializations.  It's the rare engineer who can understand all of those domains and design every piece.  To do so is discouraged in the industry for the simple reason that the product gets on the market faster when a team works in parallel than if one guy does everything one subsection at a time.

To dwell on this is to miss the big point: it's that "numerically minuscule elite" that leads all progress in our world and for a nation to have real influence, they need to ruthlessly select for them in a free market of education and ideas.  To deny the opportunity to compete for that education to some portion of its citizens is likely self-defeating, but only the best should advance. Meritocracy, not equality.
Today there are two billion Asians whose parents were immured in utter backwardness who now have a chance at the brass ring. China graduates four times as many STEM bachelors as the United States and twice as many PhDs; a generation ago the Chinese university system had just begun to pick itself up out of the ruins of the Cultural Revolution
Part of the glue that held the Chinese imperial system together these past three thousand years is the chance that every Chinese has to get rich by passing what used to be the Mandarin examination.
The byword in American education is "No child left behind." In Singapore, it's "You must be exceptional to survive."
America is at a distinct disadvantage to Asia.  We are numerically quite a bit smaller than China or India.  That means fewer to choose from to find that minuscule fraction.  

While the idiots on the left are consumed with equality of outcomes for everyone, rather than the equality of opportunities, Goldman gives the simple, inescapably true message that we should ruthlessly search for excellence instead. 
If we focus on equality rather than excellence, we will be overwhelmed by the rest of the world.  A generation from now there will be a word for an American who works for an Asian: "Employed." Our future lies in the talented few, not the mediocre masses -- and if we repudiate them, the future will repudiate us.
Are we headed for another dark ages?  Cloistered in the future equivalents of monasteries may be the people who know how to do things: the Morlocks.

A commenter there retold a story that I know I've seen before, and I'll bet most of you have, too.
I remember a story about how some archeologists excavated a Roman villa in East Anglia and found that while it was occupied by Romans soon after the conquest of Brittania it had all the comforts of civilization including central heating. As they continued to excavate they found strange burn marks in what was the great room which were accurately dated to a time three or four generations after the Romans left. Why the burn marks? Campfires. Within 100 years the people living there had forgotten how to make central heating work. They had probably forgotten that it existed at all.

Similarly, records kept by the Romans showed agricultural productivity for the same area three times what it would be when the Domesday Book started keeping records again. The farmers after the fall of Rome not only COULDN'T achieve that productivity, they didn't know it existed in the first place.
A modern generation Digital Signal Processor chip.  It takes the industrial might of billion dollar companies along with teams of engineers to design and make these.  If society collapses, I can easily see us losing the knowledge of how to make these.  I can see after a generation without them, people not being able to imagine they existed at all. 

More Joys of Home Ownership

Yesterday evening, as I was gathering thoughts to put together a post, I got to hear one of those things that every homeowner knows and dreads, "there's water coming out of the air conditioner in the garage". 

Thankfully it was fairly routine, but it did suck up the few hours of evening. 

By nature, central air conditioners suck in air that's warmer and damper than the air they condition and exhaust.  The humidity condenses on the cooling coils, then drains down to a trough where it's routed to a PVC pipe and outside.  If you've ever had or seen a window-mounted air conditioner, you know they just dripped the water outside.  A central system is usually located somewhere more like a living space, garage or attic or something else like that, so they pipe the water out of the house.  Since those pipes are carrying water, it's common for them to fill up with algae and cleaning them out is routine maintenance.  We pour some bleach into that pipe and clean it out about every 90 days.  Less frequently, the water trough below the coils needs to be cleaned out, and that's what was overflowing and dripping on the floor.  Some disassembly, some time with the wet/dry shop vac, and it's cleaned out. 

I found this picture online - it looks like a brand new set of evaporator coils, but it shows the design of the water collection.  Put that in a metal box the size of the bottom tray and that's the space to work in.
The air flow is from the bottom up, through the inclined evaporator coils that look like car radiators, and the water that condenses on the radiator fins drips down into that tray at the bottom. 

And by the way, there may be exceptions but I say don't buy a house with the air conditioner indoor unit in the attic, because someday it will drip water, and having that water coming through your ceiling is a worse thing than having it drip onto an unsealed concrete floor, where it absorbs into the floor and drains through it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Resurrecting an Old Technology

A friend sent me this interesting video of a guy from the Czech Republic recreating the process to build Nixie Tubes.  Nixie tubes are vacuum tubes that were used most often in the late 60s to early 70s as a numeric display.  They used separate elements shaped like the numbers 0-9, each element switched on when desired.  They were largely replaced by seven-segment LED displays by the mid-70s; seven segment LEDs only needed seven control wires vs. the nine wires for a Nixie. 

I recommend watching in full screen, but it's  almost 40 minutes long and I know that's "TL:DW" for many.

I find the story fascinating.  Dalibor Farny, ran across a Nixie tube in 2011.  He became enchanted by the technology and decided he needed to learn how to make them.  He built a garden shed and started adding machines.  Eventually he had to rent space in a nearby castle.  Along the way, he found that most of the secrets to successfully making Nixie tubes had been lost to time, having passed away with the engineers and technicians that built them.  That knowledge had to be recreated.

Today, his business is expanding and a success story.  The story of his road from interest to production is at his website.

Edit at 1922 EDT: the old Typo monster

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Manufacturing in the US

Long time readers may have noticed that I've often said that I worked in electronics manufacturing in Florida for my entire career - since the mid '70s - and the only constant has been people telling me that we don't manufacture anything in the US.  In the 70s, most of the TV stereo and other consumer electronics pretty much vanished in the US, with Japan being the place everyone talked about.

What happened, though, wasn't that manufacturing shut down; it shifted to higher margin products.  TVs and mass-production stereos are low margin products.  Amateur gear, for example, was higher end.  It came under intense price competition from the Japanese companies, the so-called Big Three of Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu, but high end ham gear from RL Drake, Rockwell Collins, and others continued to be made in the US long after most consumer electronics was overseas.  There are still a host of smaller companies in America making and selling ham radio gear  - along with high end audio gear, commercial radios, and all sorts of products that aren't amenable to turning on a production line and shipping millions of units.  

I started my career at a company that made measurement and control peripherals for other manufacturing companies.  They eventually sold these peripherals into the nuclear power industry.  As such, they stressed ultimate reliability, and high-end, high-reliability electronics is the backbone of American manufacturing.  I worked there six years.  After that, I worked in DOD aerospace systems for a contractor for 13 years, followed with 20 at Major Avionics Corporation.

The point of this isn't to show off my 40 years in electronics; it's to point out how, despite the constant claims of the death of manufacturing America, there's a healthy electronics manufacturing sector in the US that's doing fine.  There always has been and always will be a constant struggle to increase productivity - to always do more with less - but the sector is fine.  Taken by itself, US manufacturing is the 9th largest economy in the world.  That is, the manufacturing sector in the US produces more than the GDP of all but eight countries in the world (one of which is the rest of the US). 

We're hearing a lot about this on the news these days, as an undercurrent to the chatter about North Korea.  We can't put a pressure on China, the pundits say, what if they start a trade war?  We'll have nothing in the stores!  There would be a period of adaptation, but the profit motive is strong and I have no doubt things could start flowing. 

The National Association of Manufacturers is the trade organization that gathers data on the manufacturing sector.  Let me share a few bullet points.  There are more on the NAM website - and I've edited these to try for a little brevity.
  • In the most recent data, manufacturers contributed $2.18 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2016. This figure has risen since the second quarter of 2009, when manufacturers contributed $1.70 trillion.
  • The vast majority of manufacturing firms in the United States are quite small. In 2014, there were 251,901 firms in the manufacturing sector, with all but 3,749 firms considered to be small (i.e., having fewer than 500 employees). In fact, three-quarters of these firms have fewer than 20 employees.
  • There are 12.3 million manufacturing workers in the United States, accounting for 9 percent of the workforce. Since the end of the Great Recession, manufacturers have hired more than 800,000 workers.
  • In 2015, the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned $81,289 annually, including pay and benefits.  The ... average manufacturing worker earned nearly $26.00 per hour, according to the latest figures, not including benefits.
  • Over the past 25 years, U.S.-manufactured goods exports have quadrupled.
  • Manufacturers have experienced tremendous growth over the past couple decades, making them more “lean” and helping them become more competitive globally.  Output per hour for all workers in the manufacturing sector has increased by more than 2.5 times since 1987. ... Note that durable goods manufacturers have seen even greater growth, almost tripling its labor productivity over that time frame.
  • Over the next decade, nearly 3½ million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap.  Moreover, according to a recent report, 80 percent of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly-skilled production positions.
  • Manufactured goods exports have grown substantially to our largest trading partners since 1990, including to Canada, Mexico and even China.  .. The United States enjoyed a $12.7 billion manufacturing trade surplus with its trade agreement partners in 2015, compared with a $639.6 billion deficit with other countries.  
  • World trade in manufactured goods has more than doubled between 2000 and 2014—from $4.8 trillion to $12.2 trillion.  ... U.S. consumption of manufactured goods (domestic shipments and imports) equaled $4.1 trillion in 2014, equaling about 34 percent of global trade in manufactured goods.
  • The cost of federal regulations fall disproportionately on manufacturers, particularly those that are smaller. Manufacturers pay $19,564 per employee on average to comply with federal regulations, or nearly double the $9,991 per employee costs borne by all firms as a whole. In addition, small manufacturers with less than 50 employees spend 2.5 times the amount of large manufacturers. Environmental regulations account for 90 percent of the difference in compliance costs between manufacturers and the average firm.
  • Manufacturers in the United States perform more than three-quarters of all private-sector research and development (R&D) in the nation, driving more innovation than any other sector. R&D in the manufacturing sector has risen from $126.2 billion in 2000 to $229.9 billion in 2014. In the most recent data, pharmaceuticals accounted for nearly one-third of all manufacturing R&D, spending $74.9 billion in 2014. Aerospace, chemicals, computers, electronics and motor vehicles and parts were also significant contributors to R&D spending in that year. 
I think that the revolution in small scale manufacturing that I've talked about many times is going to play a part in the growth of manufacturing over the coming years.  It's the new industrial revolution.  Interpreting the second bullet point that, "The vast majority of manufacturing firms are quite small," works out to almost 189,000 manufacturing firms with fewer than 20 employees.  That number of firms is going to skyrocket as people who might never think of having a product find ways to develop and make things that others want.   

I think that the most common manufacturing facility is going to look a lot less like a big car assembly line and a lot more like a Makerspace.  Or hobby machine shop.
(Rockford Makerspace).

Saturday, August 12, 2017

I Got Nothing

I got friends in sandy places
from Pinterest.

WWII training graphic, from the emails this week.
Just one of those days that it gets to be 9 and I can't figure out where the day went, so I'm channeling my inner Art Metrano

Friday, August 11, 2017

It's Time to Rename the Grail Gun

It's time to rename the Grail Gun (references and stuff) and do an official Christening.  I'm thinking its name should be "The Precious".  I suppose I'm open to better ideas.

We had planned on getting up a little before 6AM, which gets us to our club range with enough time before it opens to let us get some targets placed and be ready at the appointed hour.  When we got out of bed it was overcast and had been raining off and on all night.  The forecast was for the rain to be ending and stay offshore all day.  So we went anyway and it stayed (blessedly, gloriously) cloudy all morning.  The sun didn't come out and it didn't even get above 90 until after we left around 10:30.

In the intervening two weeks since my last report, I had decided to re-zero the scope at 100 yards instead of 25 so I started at 100 yards.  Everything went exactly the same as last time.  With the cross hairs at the very bottom of the target, the POI was about 8" above that.  My Nikon says "1 click = 1/8" at 100 yds" so with 8 clicks to the inch, I counted 48 clicks and lowered my point of impact by 6".  As a long-former coworker used to say, "prediction is the essence of science".  Then I put the crosshairs on the center of the target and watched the shot come in about an inch high.  No mysteries.  Clicked it down another eight or 10 clicks and again, it moved as expected.  I was finishing a box of Hornady Precision Hunter, and grabbed two shots carefully placed.  My SubMOA phone app tells me they were 0.31 MOA; just barely touching holes.

Precision Hunter uses a 143 Grain Hornady ELD-X bullet, but it's not "match grade" ammo.  I had half a box of 140 gr Hornady ELD Match and switched to it for this
That's a three shot group.  Marginally better than the Precision Hunter.  I expected it to be better, but "more better" than that.  (Strangely, I don't see the exact box I have to show you; it's a white box while this one isn't - but it has the same description)

I decided to stretch it to 200 yards.  With the rifle zeroed at 100 yards, the Ballistics App says that 100 is the peak of the parabola and the round will drop 2.77" by 200 yards.  Reality agrees.  This is a real series of three shots at 200 yards, after a couple of rounds to get a feel for the distance.
The target is kind of messy.  That group at the bottom is a set of three shots in sequence.  The hole just above those three at about 1:00 was before that string and the one a diameter farther above at 11:00 was a few minutes later, after helping Mrs. Graybeard with something.  If I include those two separated shots, I get this
It opens up to half an MOA.  The hole to the left of the 11:00 round, crossing the yellow ring around the 2" red center, and the other hole down on the bottom of the picture are a totally different ammo with a totally different point of aim: Hornady American Whitetail 129 grain soft point, a while later.

Truly awful, isn't it?  ;-)

The American Whitetail 129 grain soft point was very disappointing.  I shot a box of it.  It fell more than the heavier bullets and didn't pattern anywhere near as well.  I don't have a good picture (switched to the iPhone through the spotting scope), but it filled 1-1/2 to 2 MOA.   Also used a handful of rounds to ring a steel plate at 200 yards. 

All in all, a fun couple of hours with The Precious.  Learning new skills is always fun, and I'm sure I have more learning ahead. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Look at How Bad Hurricane Forecasting Is

Six days ago, Watts Up With That had post with a fascinating title:  "Hurricane drought to end? Models show Hurricane on track for East Coast".  Naturally, I had to look.  To my surprise, the intro to the post was a Tweet from Dr. Ryan Maue, a hurricane researcher I respect and have been following on these pages, since he was a student at Florida State University (earliest post?).  Naturally, I had to read it.
Hurricane season may ramp up a bit over the next 7-10 days w/action in southern Gulf of Mexico and in the far Atlantic w/Cape Verde system.

A 10-12 day forecast of a developing tropical storm off the coast of Africa is the next frontier of tropical weather forecasting in 2020s.

Both mesoscale hurricane models HMON and HWRF develop wave off Africa (Invest 99L) into a powerful hurricane in 5-days in open Atlantic.
The 8/5 WUWT post includes impressive simulated pictures of this tropical wave as a monster hurricane.  That peaked my interest, so I've been keeping on eye on it.   Here's the 2:00 PM update of the National Hurricane Center's Tropical Weather Outlook.  This storm is the yellow X on the right - the notation "1 (20%)" refers to this storm. 
What I find interesting here is just how spectacularly wrong the model was.  Dr. Maue’s August 4th tweet said that two of the leading edge models, "HMON and HWRF develop wave off Africa (Invest 99L) into a powerful hurricane in 5-days in open Atlantic."  How well did they predict?  It’s six days later and 99L never became a powerful hurricane; it never even became a tropical storm.  It’s still a disorganized tropical wave with the NHC giving it a 20% chance of development in the next 48 hours, up to 40% chance within 5 days. The spaghetti runs show it re-curving out to the North Atlantic, staying a few hundred miles offshore.

It's hard to imagine how the models could be more wrong.  I suppose it could have dissipated, but that’s not much worse. 

Remember Dr. Maue said A 10-12 day forecast of a developing tropical storm off the coast of Africa is the next frontier of tropical weather forecasting in 2020s.  I suppose this means we have to wait for the 2020s – maybe the late 2020s – because these results sure aren’t there, yet.  This is not to imply the models are hopeless, only that they're not done.  The only way they'll get better is if the model writers keep relentlessly looking at why they got things wrong and trying to improve them. 
Long time readers may recall that last October, within 24 hours of closest approach, the NHC forecast Hurricane Matthew to be over my head as a Cat IV storm. Actual closest approach was about 50 miles away and a much weaker cat II. We didn’t get hurricane force winds. That’s an enormous difference in the risk from the storm, since wind damage scales as velocity squared.  I'd like to see them more accurate at 24 hours, let alone at 10 days. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Are We Going to War With North Korea?

That's a trick question.  We're already at war with North Korea and have been since the early '50s.  The 1953 Korean War was ended with a ceasefire, the 1953 armistice, not a surrender and declaration of the end of the war.

A lot of good ink has been spilled over this in the last few weeks (well, good bits on your screen).  Some of the best are LL's at Virtual Mirage today, especially related to the Norks' recent threat to Guam.  Within the last hour, the DPRK state press dismissed President Trump's remarks yesterday as a "load of nonsense".
The communist nation also said it would complete its strategy to attack the waters near the U.S. territory of Guam by mid-August.

North Korea would then wait for its leader Kim Jong Un's order to strike, with its military stating that “only absolute force” would work on Trump.
This strikes me as a bad sign because it's continuing the continuous escalation we've been watching for months now, but I don't have a scale that reads how bad it is.  Considering what appears to be their cultural predilection to bombastic hyperbole, I don't know how worked up we should get.  As LL says, though, threatening Guam "... takes the situation to another level - where it didn't need to go. But it's what the Norks want to do, and they've been wanting it for a long time. The mouse will get one last roar off."

Nuclear weapons are an odd thing.  It seems that with the exception of the two times that we used them (including 72 years ago today) the principle use for having nuclear weapons is as a deterrent.  Essentially, the lesson I see in the 20th century is that if you have nuclear weapons, nobody messes with you.  It's a Mutual Assured Destruction club that everyone with enough nuclear weapons joins.  No one without nukes would start a war with the superpowers that would justify a nuclear response because they'd be utterly destroyed.  But the doctrine of MAD essentially said countries wouldn't protect their citizens so that the other guys' missiles were still a deterrent.  After all, if you can swat away their warheads with no damage, and they have to absorb your hits, there's nothing "mutual" about that.  Many found MAD to be morally abhorrent, but there has never been a nuclear exchange or use of nuclear weapons since Nagasaki, 72 years ago. 

Virtual Mirage quotes a statement from the DPRK saying that the moment they see something that looks like we're planning a preemptive strike, they'll pre-preemptively strike us first.
“The US should remember, however, that once there is observed a sign of action for ‘preventive war’ from the US, the army of the DPRK will turn the US mainland into the theatre of a nuclear war before the inviolable land of the DPRK turns into the one.”
Do they honestly think they can defeat the US?  (By the way, that paragraph includes some impossible physics as a bonus) 
“The DPRK is an invincible ideological power in which all the service personnel and people are united around their leader in single mind and a country of an impregnable fortress in which all the people are armed and the whole country has been fortified.”
An invincible ideological power?  A country of an impregnable fortress?  See my previous references to "what appears to be their cultural predilection to bombastic hyperbole".  The first paragraph, though, is fraught with problems.  The Norks aren't an experienced military.  It's entirely possible fighting could break out by their simple misinterpretation of something innocent our forces are doing. 

LL says he personally thinks, "the Norks themselves are past the point of no-return" and active fighting is on the way.  It looks like it.  If this 60 year armistice breaks and goes kinetic, it's going to be very, very bad.  It's going to make bad days in the Sandbox look good (and the anniversary of the worst was a couple of days ago, too).  There are over 20 million people in Seoul, South Korea, and it has long been said the North has enough conventional artillery aimed at the city to level it.  Millions dead?  Could be.

The hurricane warnings from the National Hurricane Center have a pretty good phrase they use.  The warnings are the final notice that the storm is expected to hit, and they include the advice, "all preparations should be rushed to completion".  It looks like a storm is coming.  Pay heed.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Coming Revolution in Micro Robotics

While Artificial Intelligence gets a lot of press and is probably the most talked about coming technology.  You've probably heard the story about Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Steven Hawking all warning of the dangers of "strong AI".  Escaping from an AI that goes all Skynet on our primitive asses is one reason that Musk wants to colonize Mars.

A technology that's advancing arguably faster than AI is micro robotics, or microbotics; robots that are around a millimeter long (~.040") or smaller.  Did you ever see the 1966 SciFi movie "Fantastic Voyage"?  An important scientist suffers an assassination attempt.  In a bold move to rescue him, a submarine and its crew is shrunk with a secret ray and injected into him.  The miniature submarine will navigate through his body until it comes to the damage and repair it from the inside.  With suitable dramatics and heroics involved. 

While neither submarines or Raquel Welch in a white wetsuit are mentioned in anyone's plans, the idea being widely discussed is to use miniature robots in place of our cruder tools for micro-surgical repairs or to deliver chemotherapy more precisely:
[Researcher Bradley] Nelson wants to load tiny robots with drugs and manoeuvre them to the precise location in the human body where treatment is needed, for instance to the site of a cancer tumour. Alternatively, the tiny creatures could also be fitted with instruments, allowing operations to be performed without surgical intervention. The advantages compared with conventional treatments with drugs are clear: far more targeted therapy, and as a result, fewer side effects.
Many of the elements of microbotic tech have already made it into our lives, they're just a few generations away from the right size.  Our smartphones and tablets almost all have a gyroscope that operates on MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical Systems) principles.  Hundreds of millions of MEMS accelerometers are used in automatically-retracting seat belts in hundreds of millions of cars around the world.  It's the continued advancement of MEMS and nanoscale machinery that will bring us micro- and eventually nano-sized robotics.
The revolution will come when these devices reach a sufficiently low cost and a high level of sophistication—i.e., when sensors, processing power, a mode of locomotion, and a method of storing or harvesting energy are combined. As research in MEMS and nanotechnology inexorably progresses, this will happen, and micro-sized robots will make the transition from conceptual curiosities to fully realized parts of our lives.
(Robo Bees from Harvard University)

In addition to the medical uses already talked about, we can expect to see medical robots that will map our unique physiologies, clean the plaque out of arteries, and destroy kidney stones. They will help diagnose and combat disease and be used to fight cancer.  I believe that before they're injected into people on a large scale, microbots will monitor and perhaps repair machinery and infrastructure. They will also become another tool for manufacturing.

As with AI, there's a darker side to microbotics.
What effect will legions of nearly invisible robots have on our privacy? Will they close the gap between the part of our lives that is logged and recorded and that final bit left to us? They may be exactly what our neighbors, or employers, or the powers-that-be use to take the last of our privacy. Every time you leave work, you could be carrying an army of microscopic voyeurs.

Microbots will change warfare. They can be used to attack an enemy’s weapons and equipment and the manufacturing facilities that produce munitions. They will almost certainly be used to attack the enemies themselves in some capacity. Even if they aren’t used to kill, they may be used to disrupt an enemy’s biology enough to reduce their effectiveness. Microbotics used for warfare may end up being classified as a kind of weapon of mass destruction.
It should come as no surprise that SciFi writers have already gone here, too.  Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age  explores the concept of well-resourced groups fighting each other with clouds of microbots.  Who launched the attack against a nation may never be known, and the only clue would be clumps of the microbots littering the ground - looking like dumped printer toner. 
(ViRob - a robot currently undergoing tests for treating Hydrocephalus, also known as “water in the brain,” in both infants and the elderly.  It would be left in place permanently, or long term.)

It can be effectively argued that all technologies bring aspects that are scary, regardless of all the good they might bring; and virtually all technologies can go through a period of waiting for consumer acceptance.  In this case, microbotics and AI both share scary dark sides.  It's also the case that technologies look less scary "in the daylight"; once we see them and get familiar with them. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

A New Frontier for The Small Shop

A year ago, I wrote about a Kickstarter campaign for a small-shop waterjet cutting machine called the Wazer.  They're still not on the market (their web site talks about pre-ordering), so they're still not quite vaporware and not quite product.  While the Wazer is a CNC-based cutter, it might be useful to have the technnology for other sorts of cuts.

This month's Make magazine features an out-of-the-box development: a waterjet cutter for a couple of hundred bucks.  The Wazer is a $4500 machine.  Author Ben Krasnow looked around at what he could easily get and started figuring out how to create a waterjet cutter.
Ben does something truly noteworthy. He creates a usable waterjet cutter, capable of cutting through metal, wood, and other material. He accomplishes this using a rig he put together for only a few hundred dollars. The heart of the system is a Sun Joe pressure washer that he bought for $150 on Amazon.
Without buying the magazine, the best source of information on how to replicate his cutter is his 22 minute long video on YouTube.  Information on sources and how to get everything is in the "Show More" tab on YouTube, so you need to go there for that information, but he got most of these parts from two places: AccuStream (a waterjet parts supplier) and McMaster-Carr.

Ben’s cobbled-together rig might not look like much, but it does get the job done. In the video, you see him cutting through 1/16″ aluminum (at ~2″/min with .4 lbs/min of abrasive @3200psi), 1/8″ aluminum (at about 1/2 the cutting speed, abrasive and psi values the same), 3/8″ hardwood, styrofoam (in water-only/no abrasive mode), and bread (yes, bread).
He cuts the styrofoam and bread with only water, but water isn't very useful for cutting.  The agent used is coarse garnet abrasive grains, and the purpose of the water is to accelerate the abrasive to speeds that allow it to work.  It also probably cools the work area, too. Garnet is a moderately hard stone that has historically been used as an abrasive - you can still buy garnet paper.  It's a non-toxic, safe abrasive, just a harder version of the silicon dioxide sand in sandpaper.  The source he links to sells it at about 50cents/lb, so when you look at the 0.4 lbs/minute cuts they describe, you can think 20 cents/minute to cut the aluminum he demonstrated.   
 For the abrasives hopper, after doing research into commercial hoppers, he realized that they’re basically just a gravity-fed tub with a hole in the bottom (and a means of adjusting the amount of abrasive). So, he made his own.
Now, cool as it is to develop a usable waterjet cutter that can cost the builder under $500, I'm not sure where this fits in.  The attraction of a waterjet is that it cuts materials that are difficult to precisely machine: things like carbon fiber or fiberglass laid up panels, or glass.  Industrially, they're also used to cut steel and other hard metals, not just the aluminum he cuts.  I don't think this one has the horsepower to cut harder metals.  Cutting freehand is probably not any more dangerous than cutting with a moving saw blade.  Water at the pressures he's talking about will cut off a finger just as easily as a saw.  At the very end of the video, he suggests turning it into something like a CNC machine that moves the work into the waterjet, something like the way large X/Y Plotters roll paper under the pen, or some wood carving machines will roll a board back and forth while the carving tool moves in the other two axes. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Enemies Inside the Gates

If you tend to assign credibility to Daniel Greenfield ("Sultan Knish") you'll find his article in Friday's Front Page Magazine disturbing.  I might dismiss a lesser investigator, but not Greenfield.  Hat tip to Mike Miles at  90 Miles From Tyranny for pointing this story out. 

The point of the article?  That National Security Council head General H.R. McMaster is running an inside coup against President Trump.  Considering supporting reports today that he has "purged key Trump allies" inside the NSC, it appears true.

President Trump or General Kelly needs to get him out of there.

Greenfield begins:
Derek Harvey was a man who saw things coming. He had warned of Al Qaeda when most chose to ignore it. He had seen the Sunni insurgency rising when most chose to deny it.

The former Army colonel had made his reputation by learning the lay of the land. In Iraq that meant sleeping on mud floors and digging into documents to figure out where the threat was coming from.

It was hard to imagine anyone better qualified to serve as President Trump’s top Middle East adviser at the National Security Council than a man who had been on the ground in Iraq and who had seen it all.

Just like in Iraq, Harvey began digging at the NSC. He came up with a list of Obama holdovers who were leaking to the press. McMaster, the new head of the NSC, refused to fire any of them.

McMaster had a different list of people he wanted to fire. It was easy to make the list. Harvey was on it.
Derek Harvey was fired in July, apparently for not being adamantly pro-Muslim brotherhood, and pro-Obama.  Harvey wasn't alone.  McMaster also purged Ezra Watnick-Cohen, who had exposed the eavesdropping on Trump officials by Obama personnel and provided proof to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.  Watnick-Cohen's replacement?  Linda Weisgold, Obama's Director of the CIA Office of Terrorism Analysis, who helped draft the Benghazi talking points which blamed the Islamic terrorist attack on a video protest.
According to the media, Watnick-Cohen was guilty of “anti-Muslim fervor” and “hardline views.” And there’s no room for anyone telling the truth about Islamic terrorism at McMaster’s NSC.

McMaster had even demanded that President Trump refrain from telling the truth about Islamic terrorism.
Another of his targets was Rich Higgins, who had written a memo warning of the role of the left in undermining counterterrorism.  Higgins had served as a director for strategic planning at the NSC and had warned in plain language about the threats of Islamic terrorism, of Sharia law, of the Hijrah colonization by Islamic migrants, of the Muslim Brotherhood, and of its alliance with the left as strategic threats.  He was fired for identifying a security threat to the US.  Kinda sounds like the whole point of the NSC, doesn't it?

McMaster forced K.T. McFarland out of her role as Deputy National Security Advisor.  If you've watched Fox News in the last 20 years, you'll recognize K.T..  She was an Oxford and Cambridge grad, worked on a Ph.D. at MIT, and had worked at the Pentagon for the Reagan administration.  Her replacement?  Dina Habib-Powell, an Egyptian-American immigrant and former Bush gatekeeper whose pals included Huma Abedin and Valerie Jarrett.
Habib-Powell had attended the Iftar dinner with members of Muslim Brotherhood front groups. You can see her photographed at the American Task Force of Palestine gala. The ATFP was originally Rashid Khalidi’s American Committee on Jerusalem. She was there as a presenter at the Middle East Institute after a speech by Hanan Ashrawi. Her achievements under Bush included cultural exchanges with Iran, as well as cash for the Palestinian Authority and for Lebanon after the Hezbollah war with Israel.
Cash for the Palestinian Authority, also known as "Pay to Slay" is one of her achievements?  That would be your tax money that they use to kill families celebrating the birth of a child or otherwise threatening no one.   
As Caroline Glick has pointed out, the personnel being purged in the McMaster coup “are pro-Israel and oppose the Iran nuclear deal.”

When Adam Lovinger urged that “more attention be given to the threat of Iran and Islamic extremism,” his security clearance was revoked.  Robin Townley was forced out in the same way.
You probably noticed the story go by this week that:
McMaster sent a letter to Susan Rice, Obama’s former National Security Adviser, assuring her that the NSC would work with her to “allow you access to classified information.” He claimed that Rice's continued access to classified information is "consistent with the national security interests of the United States."

Why does Susan Rice, who is alleged to have participated in the Obama eavesdropping on Trump people, need access to classified information? What national security purpose is served by it?
Nothing good can come from this.  "In my days", clearances were only granted on a basis of "Need to know".  According to that link and journalist Sara Carter, McMaster specifically said, “I hereby waive the requirement that you must have a ‘need-to-know’ to access any classified information contained in items you 'originated, reviewed, signed or received while serving,' as National Security Adviser,”.  In my book that's a big red warning flag emblazoned "WTF?".  Why should she need that clearance?   The best place for Susan Rice is far, far from anywhere important.  

The purge of "America First" ideology is only starting.  Rumor is McMaster has a hit list.  You can bet that under his remodeling the NSC will be more like the way Obama would like it than what Trump supporters would like to see.  You can be sure that will include that the Iran Deal must stay, that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism, that we need to find ways to work with the aspirations of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that Israel must make concessions to terrorists.

I think of myself as a reasonable guy.  I'd like to hear "the other side".  In a situation like this, where none of us can see the inside, there's always a risk that these events are being interpreted the wrong way.  On the other hand, there's a strong circumstantial case that Daniel Greenfield is right and this is the inside-the-beltway swamp fighting back and removing everyone that agrees with Trump and his supporters.  By coincidence, Derek Hunter at Town Hall had a column today "We’re Witnessing A Slow-Rolling Coup" about the media/Democratic Party complex in an active attempt to destroy the president and the results of the last election.  

All of this goes together.  It's all the same story. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Daddy, Where Do Nails Come From?

Did you ever get that question?  Got an answer?

Just a fun little story from Fine Woodworking's weekly newsletter.  The kind of story I find almost infinitely cool.
Originally located in Wareham, Massachusetts, Tremont Nail Company has been making cut nails since 1819. Gary Franklin’s great-great-grandfather started working at Tremont as a nailer in the 1850’s, and since then five generations of Franklins have worked as nailers at Tremont. It’s all part of a heritage that Tremont is very proud of.
The machines themselves haven't been in the factory since 1819, but the company web page says many of them are 125 years old, making steel nails the same way they were made in the 1890s.  The video (you've got to spend the 3-1/2 minutes to see the machines making nails) speaks of the very first nail-making machines being invented by Ezekiel Reed in the late 1700s and the company speaks about them being used at Tremont from their founding in 1819. 
Gary Franklin taking a quick inspection of a nail.  A few years after joining Tremont Nail Company in the 1850s, Gary's great-great-grandfather was drafted to go fight in the civil war.  When he got out, he went back to work there.   He says, "my dad actually worked with his grandfather and his great-grandfather for a short spell".  For his part, Gary says he started working there in 1981, so he has been making nails for over 35 years.  He has a 13 year old son, who may some day join the long lines of his family. 

I'll bet that, like me, most of you dear readers wouldn't think that nails are still made in America, and that maybe one or two people knows about Tremont nail. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

$1500 Smart Gun Hacked with $15 Worth of Hardware

This is my surprised face.

In the never-ending search to suck up money from gullible states, Armatix GmbH introduced the iP1 "Smart Pistol".  Am I being too harsh on them?  When there are states (the Peoples' Republic of New Jersey for one) which have laws saying that once "Smart Guns" are on the market, they will be mandatory in the state - that's potentially a lot of captive sales.  The iP1 is .22 semiautomatic pistol that will only fire if the owner's watch is present and within near field distances of the gun.  At least that's their selling story.   
Captive sales?  Considering you can buy a "dumb" 22 semiautomatic for under $300, and this one is $1500, if PRNJ mandated no .22 handguns can be sold in state except for their product, that's a huge windfall for the manufacturers.

The problem is that like a lot of smart appliances, TVs and IOT devices, it's not that smart.  In the run-up to this week's DefCon security conference, The Hacker News is reporting that a security researcher who goes by the alias "Plore" has found several ways to hack the gun and make it usable by people other than the watch wearer or prevent its use by the wearer.  None of the advantages of a smart gun the owner is paying $1500 for.  The simplest hack doesn't require much in the way of user intelligence, just a few rare earth magnets and knowledge of where to put them.
However, Plore found three ways to hack into the Armatix IP1 smart gun, and even demonstrated (the video is given below) that he could make the smart gun fire without the security smartwatch anywhere near it.

Plore placed $15 [worth of] magnets near the barrel of the gun, doing this made him bypass the security watch, thereby defeating the Armatix IP1’s electromagnetic locking system altogether. [text added - SiG]
There's more at the article, but they're discouraging embedding the video.

When the user tries to fire the gun, a transmitter inside it sends a signal to the watch and listens for a reply.  Plore was able to add an amplifier to the watch so the gun could be quite a bit farther from the watch (although I don't think you see him fire from more than 10 feet from the watch).  Perhaps more handy for the nefarious to know, he was able to set a jammer on the frequency they communicated over (916.5 MHz) and jam the gun so that it would not fire even with the watch present.  (This seems like a classic "near/far" problem - to keep anyone in a good-sized area from using their iP1 would require substantial transmitter power).  Again, perhaps the most interesting hack was that by holding some rare earth magnets in the right spot on the pistol's slide, he made the gun work with no watch present at all.

In the tradition of "white hat hackers", Plore notified Armatix of the vulnerabilities he found.  They didn't say they were going to do something right away but said something like, "lessons learned on the iP1 will flow into the next generations of the smart gun system".  Maybe not the best response in the history of the world, but better than having him arrested for finding the problem.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What To Do When Your Sailboat Can't Go Any Faster

While I'm not as big a fan of America's Cup-level yacht racing as Zendo Deb at 357 Magnum, I really appreciate watching it and I'm especially appreciative of the technology.  See, there's a hidden problem that they all fight against - the physics of going fast in water, about 800 times denser than air.  While there are ways to gain small bits of advantage, the speed of a hull in the water is limited by the waves it creates passing through that water.  There's a well-defined speed that the boat can't go above.

For a displacement hull - one in which the entire water line of the boat is in the water - the hull speed is mathematically related to the hull length.  The exact shape of the hull matters for the exact number, but you can get within an engineer's rule of thumb by remembering Speed = SQRT (1.8 * waterline length).  (Where SQRT is the square root of the term in parentheses).  Waterline length in feet gives the speed in knots.  This quickly tells you the longer the boat, the faster it can go.  For example, the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford was just launched, and while the Wikipedia page doesn't specify the length along the waterline, they give the overall length as 1106 feet.  Based on some photographs on that page, let's guess the waterline length is closer to 1000 feet.  That immediately tells us that the maximum speed for the Ford is around 42.4 knots - or about 48.8 statute mph. 

You've probably seen racing powerboats.  These boats are tiny in comparison to the Gerald R Ford, one class is 30' feet long, but they can do 70 mph on the ocean.  They hydroplane, where the power of the engine and shape of the hull work to push most of the hull out of and on top of the water.  Because most of the hull is out of the water, drag is reduced and they're not limited by the physics of waves that sets the displacement hull speed.  Most "bass boats" and other outboard fishing boats also hydroplane, so you're probably used to seeing that.   

Getting back to the racing sailboats, if they want to go faster, and they're tightly crimped by the laws of physics, what can they do?  How about getting the boat out of the water?  About five years ago, the yachts shifted from using their keel to counterbalance the forces on the sale to putting a lifting foil onto the horizontal portion of the keel.
When just one of these L-shaped components are in the water, the 3-to-6 ft. airfoil on the bottom creates enough lift as it is pulled through the water to lift the entire boat (about a 3-ton load). The daggerboards also convert side forces into driving or forward-pointing forces. With the boat “flying” above the surface of the water, drag is substantially reduced and the boat’s speed increases dramatically. American Cup Class yachts now sail at up to 60 mph, four times faster than the single-hulled boats in the 2007 race.
If you look carefully, you can see the entire boat is in the air except for one foil in the water, on the right hull of the catamaran.  The crew is huddled on the left hull to counterbalance it.

With the entire race (lots and lots of bucks) riding on the daggerboard, not to mention the three tons of boat and lives of the crew, they gets a lot of attention in design.  No amount of computer simulation and analysis is too much - Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) are contracted to partner companies.  Before that can start, though, strategic design decisions need to be made by informed crew.
The choice of which approach to take—one or two sets of daggerboards—is not driven by FEA or optimization. It’s a strategic choice on the part of the teams. “Two boards might give you an advantage against a team with an all-weather board,” says David Durocher, an Altair engineer who worked with Team Artemis. “However this comes at the risk and cost of building backups for both boards.”

FEA does play a role, mainly to evaluate specific design ideas. Simulation is what allows Altair to come up with the final design quicker and more economically. “It is faster and much less expensive to build and run a simulation than to build and run tests on physical prototypes,” says Durocher. “And we can dramatically improve on this by automatically finding the best design idea using computational optimization tools.”
With their extreme demands for strength at light weight, the daggerboards tend to be made from laminated carbon fiber, just as used in high performance aircraft.  The designed board is then put through CFD simulations to determine lift and sideways forces it can provide.
A CFD simulation image shows particle velocity vectors of the water passing over the daggerboard.  Note the speed up over the top of the foil where the vectors go red. 

Exactly when and how to use the daggerboards is a tactical decision made by the yacht's captain. 
“The boards are fully raised or fully lowered every time the boat tacks or jibes, maybe about 20 to 30 times per race,” says Durocher. “And it takes five to 10 seconds to do this.”
Race series rules say that no power machinery is allowed, so several of the crew—usually large, muscular sailors referred to as grinders—spend most of their time turning cranks that power a hydraulic pump. Hydraulic power is then used to move various components, including raising and lowering the daggerboards. 

The last 35 years has seen a series of advances in the design of these racing sailboats, starting with the Australians' winged keel in 1983, and the changes to wing sail designs in the last 10 years that now allow the boats to go faster than the wind pushing them. 

It has become a high tech race between groups of sailors backed by groups of engineers.  It's long past being a group of yacht boys out for a friendly sailboat race. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Midweek Diversion

The internet is abuzz about a couple of books from the 1890s that were recently discovered by some Reddit posters.  Apparently because they tell the story of a time traveler named Baron Trump.
The book, "Baron Trump's Marvelous Underground Journey", by Ingersoll Lockwood, came out in 1893. It's about a boy named Baron Trump who can time travel. His next book was called "The Last President", of which the president had a cabinet member named Pence. The entire text of both booths are posted in the two links below.
The weirdness doesn't stop there.  The narrator, the “master of all masters,” of the book is named… Don.  In the second book, “1900, Or The Last President,” the election of the new president immediately leads to street protests and violent demonstrations.
In New York City, when the results were announced, swaths of the city were placed on lockdown due to masses of violent protesters storming the area.
“Strange to say, the people in the upper portion of the city made no movement to rush out of their houses and collect in the public squares, although the night was clear and beautiful. They sat as if paralyzed with a nameless dread, and when they conversed it was with bated breath and throbbing hearts.

In less than half an hour, mounted policemen dashed through the streets calling out : “ Keep within your houses ; close your doors and barricade them. The entire East side is in a state of uproar. Mobs of vast size are organizing under the lead of Anarchists and Socialists, and threaten to plunder and despoil the houses of the rich who have wronged and oppressed them for so many years. Keep within doors. Extinguish all lights.
And their rallying cry?
Our day has come at last. Down with our oppressors! Death to the rich man! Death to the gold bugs! Death to the capitalists! Give us back the money you have ground out of us. Give us back the marrow of our bones which you have used to grease the wheels of your chariots.
Which really sounds like it could be an Antifa rally today.  Just shows you that those sentiments never change.  Well, maybe not the part about chariots.
Another strange reference is the “Fifth Avenue Hotel. As Newsweek notes, the address in the original book is now where Trump Tower stands on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.  [Bold added throughout - SiG]
The Fifth Avenue Hotel will be the first to feel the fury of the mob. Would the troops be in time to save it?
Right now, lots of people are saying, “but what does it mean??” and I say, “absolutely nothing”.  None of the names everyone is all wrapped up about are an unusual name, and it's not like the books are predicting “President Donald J Trump” in 2017.  It's not predicting the future in any way.  It's all just a wonderful, fun bunch of coincidences like the Kennedy-Lincoln coincidences - only not as many. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

New Discovery From the American Institute for Privilege Studies

According to the Daily Caller, exciting news comes to us from the Iowa chapter of the American Institute for Privilege Studies, more commonly known as the American college and university system.  In this case, the advance comes from the location known as Iowa State University.

From here on, intelligent people are not to be described as intelligent.  The new term is to be Cognitive Privileged.  I'm not making this up.
Privilege in general is “the receipt of certain benefits wholly through accident of birth and it is “undeniable that privilege itself is a reality,” the student newspaper explains.

As with skin color and much else, Daily Iowan author Dan Williams argues, people have no control over how smart they are. Life is a huge cosmic lottery full of winners and losers.

Cognitive privilege is one of “many kinds of privilege besides white privilege.”
(Illustration that leads the Daily Caller piece)

It's always hard to know if you're being punked in a situation like this.  We have a student writing for the student newspaper, and I have to consider it might just be an attempt at satire, but I also have to consider that given all the other stuff coming out of the colleges he's deadly serious. 

The author falls into the trap of saying robots are going to take the jobs of all the those that don't have cognitive privilege (which we've written about here several times) and the real privilege of those with cognitive privilege will be to work and pay taxes to support those who don't have cognitive privilege.  What an exciting deal!  Well, he doesn't put it exactly like that.
Also, Williams declares, robots will wipe out manual labor jobs but will somehow not affect jobs available to members of a special cognitive elite.

“Thus, the accident of having been born smart enough to be able to be successful is a great benefit that you did absolutely nothing to earn. Consequently, you have nothing to be proud of for being smart.”
He also tries to demonstrate his SJW chops by saying if America is able to accept the idea of cognitive privilege, it will be better equipped to discuss “white privilege” and the “temperature-rising topic of racial privilege”.

I believe it was in the short-lived TV series spinoff from Animal House, called Delta House, where they told one of the pledges if he wanted to get some girls, he just needed to quote some Lawrence Ferlinghetti poetry.  Today they say crap like this.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Trying to Make Sense of The Opioid "Epidemic" - Part II

I spent a really long time writing the first part of this, first intending to put it up Saturday, but giving up after a little over two hours.  Yesterday I spent more time, perhaps another four hours.

Why?  After a while researching, I started feeling like I was being played.  Like the whole thing was a scam designed by someone for some unknown purpose (but that probably involved getting lots of government money).  It wasn't until I found that graph from the CDC data that I started to think maybe something really is there and there really is an increase in overdose deaths.

I find that getting away from the computer, picking up a guitar and playing some scales and mindless exercises will allow my mind to wander in more productive ways than sitting here.  Blogging isn't exactly a high-stress life, but I find that my brain will follow more idea trails when I'm not trying to put together a post.  It wasn't until after I posted it and sat down to play that the realization occurred to me that just because there really may be more heroin overdose deaths, that doesn't mean we're not being played.  Someone could be taking advantage of a situation that developed on its own. 

Cui bono?  Who benefits?  As always, start by asking that.

Thankfully, while I was playing guitar, Mrs. Graybeard (who can be a much better search engine weenie than me) started asking some questions.  It starts with a simple observation: have you noticed the push for every cop, every paramedic and every rescue group in the country to carry naloxone?  There was even a story about librarians administering it to addicts to save their lives.  Have you heard that the price of naloxone has gone up at least 17 fold in the last few years?  And isn't it interesting how everyone has heard the complaints that the makers of (epinephrine) epi pens, Mylan, hiked their prices 4x but no one seems to complain that naloxone has gone up 17x?

Going down that rabbit hole leads directly to Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration.  This is according to the Wikileaks emails found here.  You should read the whole thing.  Someone sleuthing around in the Wikileaks archive posted this (there are grammatical and other errors in here, but I've left the author's words as found):
There seems to be money flowing into the Clinton Foundation from big pharma. The CEOs are donating to Hillary's campaign. On the campaign trail I've seen Bill Clinton name drop the drug naloxone. The recent emails on wikileaks confirms that the one of the goals of the Clinton Foundation is to make this drug be everywhere. One of the manufactures of this drug is Hospira, a company recently bought by Pfizer. 
There seems to be serious conflicts on interest. been the campaign and the companies. For example Clinton wants to give these campaigns 7.5 billion dollars through federal programs. This is an OP-Ed from Hillary from last year:

Today I’m releasing a strategy to confront the drug and alcohol addiction crisis. My plan sets five goals: empower communities to prevent drug use among teenagers; ensure every person suffering from addiction can obtain comprehensive treatment; ensure that all first responders carry naloxone, which can stop overdoses from becoming fatal; require health care providers to receive training in recognizing substance use disorders and to consult a prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing controlled substances; and prioritize treatment over prison for low-level and nonviolent drug offenders, so we can end the era of mass incarceration.
The call for Naloxone by name was echoed by Tim Kaine - before he became her running mate in the last election - and by John Podesta.  Call it crony capitalism or crony socialism, either way it's corrupt to the core.

The drug isn't under patent, so there can be generics.  Hospira/Pfizer is one of only a few manufacturers and they've all jacked their prices up.  The defense seems to be "but we don't charge as much as the other guys".  Are the prices a function of supply and demand or "get it while the gettin's good"?

The states are jumping on the bandwagon, too - along with first aid instructors and even gun bloggers.  Everybody is trying to get first responders to carry naloxone or the narcan nasal spray.

Conspicuous in its absence is that none of the governments seem to be pushing anti-addiction treatments and therapies, just the drugs.  Admittedly when someone is comatose and ready to die from their OD, they don't benefit from counseling, but without breaking the addiction cycle they're probably going to need more of the drug someday.

It could be that the cartels are supplying heroin more cheaply than before and usage patterns are shifting to the cheaper heroin.  When the cartels cut their heroin with cheaper fentanyl, it's easier for addicts to overdose and die.  But the heroin overdose problem is not the myth that it's prescription drugs and it's entirely possible that a bump in heroin deaths is being exploited all the way around.

Invoking the specter of prescription drugs being used improperly appears to be an attempt to lump heroin and prescription drugs together as one massive problem which makes people who are taking prescription drugs for post-surgery pain afraid of becoming addicts or overdosing.  They're different problems.  There was a National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)  run by the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that said: 
According to NSDUH, only a quarter of people who take opioids for nonmedical reasons get them by obtaining a doctor's prescription. Hence the sequence that many people imagine -- a patient takes narcotics for pain, gets hooked, and eventually dies of an overdose -- is far from typical of opioid-related deaths.
According to that linked article, opioid-related deaths are rare even for patients who take narcotics every day for years. The CDC cites "a recent study of patients aged 15-64 years receiving opioids for chronic noncancer pain" who were followed for up to 13 years. The researchers found that "one in 550 patients died from opioid-related overdose," which is a risk of less than 0.2 percent. (I would assume from how that's worded that the study was not just on 550 patients, but on a bigger number.  A study of 550 people would be too small). 

So what do I think is going on?  First the disclaimer: bear in mind that I'm a paranoid old man (although not as paranoid as some of y'all!).   Conclusion, we are being played.  We're being played by the makers of naloxone, and those few drugs used to treat addicts and ODs.  We're also being played by the "addiction treatment industry" and recreational drug lobby that want to normalize heroin (like these folks, I think).  They're  scaremongering.  If they can convince Soccer Mom Suzy that heroin from the Mexican cartels is like the pain pills that she gets when she gets a wisdom tooth pulled, they can scare her.  They can use a death from a heroin overdose to get Suzy to advocate more money for addiction and overdose treatments.  I wouldn't hesitate too much to say we're being played by the CDC, as part of the general thing we see in every agency, loosely translated as "Don't cut us! We're valuable!"

That entire paragraph seems to describe byproducts of the WoD, so completely tossing our WoD and all its infrastructure would profoundly change all of it.  But like I said yesterday, that's just not gonna happen.  Far too many cronies and Deep State swamp creatures make a living off the WoD.  They will protect that turf and I don't see much chance that the WoD goes away.  If the country economically collapses and has to reset, maybe it will be too low priority to worry about the WoD.  For a while.  
Another way of visualizing what all the noise is about, again from the CDC.  Between 2006 and 2014, deaths from "opioid analgesics" went from 4 to 6 people per 100,000.  That's .0006 %.  Are we making mountains out of statistical molehills?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Trying to Make Sense of The Opioid "Epidemic"

A couple of days ago, I sat down to collect my thoughts on the so-called "Opioid Epidemic" in the US.  I found it a lot harder to make sense of it than I would have thought. 

Let me backup for a minute and tell you where I'm starting from.  Borepatch had a great article on the big picture; as has Bayou Renaissance Man.  One of the aspects frequently talked about is how high the addiction and death numbers are in places like Ohio and West Virginia.  The Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail wrote (last December) writes:
In six years, drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, while 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers, a Sunday Gazette-Mail investigation found.

The unfettered shipments amount to 433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in West Virginia.
This doesn't begin to tally up the damages, not to mention the lives of the addicts that OD.  What about the crime committed trying to steal drugs?  What about armed robbery of medical clinics, drugstores, veterinarians and even robbery of people followed home from those places?  Exactly who the villains are depends on who's telling the story.  To the writers at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, it appears to be that the drug companies are the villain.  Liberal media sure hates them some big business!  To the determined libertarians, it's the government and the War on Drugs - and there's tons of collateral damage there.  To the CDC and some doctors I've read online, it's the doctors and especially "pill mills" writing the prescriptions.

That summary started to bother me.  When the Gazette-Mail said the drug companies shipped in "433 pain pills for every man, woman and child", it sure sounds like too many, but when you think about it, well, what does that mean?  That number was obtained by dividing the number of pills sent into the state by the number of residents over six years.  Looked at as pills/person in 2191 days (six years), that's less than 0.2 pills/person per day.  Now nobody takes 1/5 of a pill per day, so you're talking 1 person in 5 is taking one pill a day.  Only opioids aren't typically one pill once a day.  If those are prescription pills, the person is probably going to get four or five a day for a week or two.  That also cuts the number of people.  Now you have one person in 20 or 25 taking pills every day.  You're talking that statewide, 5% of the people may be recovering from an injury or surgery or something.  Some of the people are getting those strong pain pills daily, and they skew the numbers even more.  Maybe it's 4% or less of the population getting those pills.

I think "less than 4% of the population being treated for an injury or recovering from surgery" on any given day sounds pretty normal.  It sounds rather different than "433 pain pills for every man, woman and child", doesn't it?

What's a normal rate for the prescription of these drugs?  There have been heroin overdoses and deaths for as long as I can remember - and centuries before that, too.  So what's new here?  How do I know if something is really going on and it's not just the media being pushed by the people who hate "big pharma" or it's not just a push to get this covered by what certainly seems like the coming single-payer, socialized medicine fuster cluck we're heading for?  Are we really seeing something different? 

I can't answer what's normal, but if you can trust the Centers for Disease Control, they present data that appears to show that after a long period of low, but steady number of overdose deaths, starting in 2013 or '14, the rate began to really climb.  (looking at the blue numbers in this graph, 2012 is up less over 2011 than 2013 is over 2012).  This plot goes back to 1999, but I saw an extension to 1990 and it didn't look very different than the first few years of this plot. 
So if there's really a problem, and it really seems to be bad in West Virginia and Ohio, what's really going on?  

I got a new perspective from a seemingly unrelated article I read last week.  I get the weekly newsletter/ad, and they linked to this long but haunting piece on the Bitter Southerner.  I'm absolutely a Southerner, but bitter isn't in my makeup.  Still, the phrase that hooked me into reading was something like, "how do you have a dialog with people who automatically add the word 'trash' whenever they hear the word 'trailer'?"  While I've never lived in a trailer, I've visited many, had family that lived in one, and partied in a few more.  The expression they refer to, though, seems to be a stereotypical elitist phrase - a disparaging term the "northern and coastal elites" use against the southerners in flyover country.

After describing a world more like the one I grew up in than not, author David Joy threw in this paragraph.   
I get the same kind of questions about addiction. People don’t understand what would push someone to drugs like methamphetamine or heroin. They don’t understand what would make a man drink like my grandfather. The reason they can’t understand it is because they’ve never been that low. When all you’ve got is a twenty-dollar bill, twenty dollars doesn’t ward off eviction notices. Twenty dollars doesn’t get you health insurance. Twenty dollars doesn’t make a car payment. Twenty dollars doesn’t even keep the lights on. But twenty dollars can take you right out of this world for just a little while. Just a minute. Just long enough to breathe. That’s what every single addict I’ve ever known really wanted: just a second to breathe.
I have never reached that level of desperation in life, and for that I'm incredibly thankful.  And it is true that some of the worst death rates in West Virginia come from coal mining counties where EPA policies caused shutdowns of various mines.  The thing is, I don't think that sort of reaction to desperation - doing meth or heroin - is or could be widespread in a population. 
Red Kool-Aid in an old pickle jar (note to coastal elites: the jar is recycled!) - pure southern.  From Bitter Southerner.

The problem with this explanation is that the "epidemic" isn't just among the trailer population in the rural south.  The death rate is the same ballpark in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and nine other states as it is in Ohio and West Virginia.  The epidemic affects bored kids from "good backgrounds" with not enough to keep them occupied and all sorts of "good kids", not just unemployed rural southerners with no economic future.   Yes, some people get prescribed narcotics for chronic pain and get addicted, too.

On the other hand, I believe there's evidence that there are such things as addictive personalities and some people are more inclined to those behaviors than the majority.  Not everyone can go the route that Bitter Southerner describes.  I know that's not a "politically correct" view, but I often wonder if our modern, "everyone can get addicted to something" mindset is just a way to get addiction treatment added to the "universal health care roster" that everyone pays for - just like getting retired widowers to pay for maternity coverage they'd never buy. 
(source: HHS Opioid Factsheet - pdf warning)

Ultimately, though, the soul-searching and navel-gazing does nothing about the problem.  The War on Drugs is no solution.  First off, if it was doing anything worthwhile the price of those drugs would be too high for the desperate people who only have $20.  Condemning the pharmaceutical companies doesn't do any good, either.  The couple of groups in the few companies that sold their pain pills as not being addictive when they're really very addictive should be investigated for fraud or improper practices and charged where appropriate (whatever the charges should be).  Locking up doctors for prescribing pain medication for patients doesn't help doctors and it doesn't help patients.  Shutting down pill mills dispensing "narcotics by the bag" has been blamed for forcing users to heroin (these guys make my head hurt).  Living in pain is bad for your health, too.  All of medicine is a compromise, just like all of engineering. 

Although it's painful to say it and I'm sure there will be objections, the people responsible for the opioid addicts are the opioid addicts.  If the libertarian creed is "don't hurt people and don't take their stuff", the opioid addicts are the ones violating that.  They're the ones raiding our wallets.  With the WoD, we pay in money and loss of freedoms.  In the case of doing a Portugal and going full legalization, we pay in money.  In both cases, we pay any other social costs. Without the WoD, perhaps we recoup some of the billions poured into that bottomless pit. 

Wait.  If we go full legalization it still costs us?  Who do you think pays for those detox programs we hear about working in Portugal?  Likewise, I really doubt that there are no health care costs at all for drug addicts even if it is legal.  Will it be cheaper than the WoD?  More than likely.  Even if we do the most heartless stuff you can read online and either just let the addicts die or do like the did during prohibition and actively try to kill them, it's still going to cost us.  If nothing else, someone has to pay to bury or otherwise handle the bodies.   

I don't see any way to handle the opioid problem that's a Good Solution.  The best we seem to be able to find is coming up with the least awful option: minimizing bad, not maximizing good.  More freedom is always better, but there's still a Shop Vac attached to your wallet even if there is no WoD. 

The desire to get high seems to be a fundamental human drive.  Judging by the cats' reactions to catnip, it's not limited to humans.  There will always be some percentage that become addicts.  Given that, it seems like the least awful solution is full legalization.  I don't have an estimate for what all the other costs of that will really be. I am, however, opposed to the "legalize it and tax it" mantra.  Ask Eric Garner how that "just tax it" thing worked out on cigarettes, which have been legalized but taxed forever. 

And none of this is going to happen.  If we have a senate that can't get rid of clearly unconstitutional meddling by the hydra taking over 1/5 of the economy, the entrenched deep state will never allow legalization.  The law enforcement industry, the civil asset forfeiture industry and all the other pieces of gravy train that keeps them sucking on our wallets is simply incapable of thinking they should give it up.

The title of this piece, "Trying to Make Sense of the Opioid Epidemic" is what this is all about.  I don't pretend to have any answers.  I'm just simply trying to make sense of it.