Monday, January 31, 2005

 

Cold War Manufacturing

Wanna get a good feel for the difference in manufacturing philosophy between the free world and the Communists during the Cold War? Just look at the battle rifles fielded by each side.

Probably the best-known military rifle is the AK-47, of which at least fifty million were built (some say closer to twice that many) since being invented by a survivor of Russia's struggle against the Nazis in WWII. And while never used by the United States and thus somewhat less familiar, the FN-FAL was the most proliferic rifle used in the free world in the 40 years following WWII.

Starting with the foundation of any rifle, the receiver also yields the most obvious clues as to the differences between these two weapons, and indeed, the cultures that produced them. While the first AKs used a milled receiver, a stamped-steel sheetmetal part was implemented relatively quickly, with small milled inserts ("trunnions") riveted-in to provide attachment for the barrel and stock. Even in the milled form, the receiver is exceedingly simple, consisting of relatively few features and certainly none that could be considered "delicate". The bolt rails are smaller stampings that are riveted in place. The bolt locks into the front trunnion, meaning that the receiver has no impact on headspacing, nor does it have to withstand the forces generated by the cartridge. The recoil spring loads are dumped into the rear trunnion, and from there directly into the stock and the shooter's shoulder. As such, the receiver does little except to roughly locate the barrel assembly, stock, and FCG in the same general vicinity.

On the other hand, the FAL employed a two-piece receiver. While the lower half is stamped from sheetmetal, it's of a considerably heavier gauge than that used for an AK, requiring disproportionally heavier machinery. The upper receiver was milled from a solid forged block for the first 20-some years of production, up until the substitution of an investment cast part near the end of the rifle's production run. DS Arms claims that their milled receivers start with a 19-lb block of billet. Compare that to the 4 ounces or so of sheetmetal used for a stamped AK receiver. The rails for the bolt and carrier are milled into the inner walls of the upper receiver. The bolt locks into the receiver, meaning that the loads caused by firing of a catridge (around 50,000 PSI in the 7.62x51 NATO, or about 12,500 pounds of force at the bolt face) are dumped into the receiver, which needless to say requires some considerable "beef" between the barrel and the locking lug. Since there's such a span between those two areas, the headspace must be set via locking lugs of varying thickness. Where as the magazine well on the AK receiver is nothing more than a hole and a couple of stamped bumps, it's an extension of the upper receiver forging on the FAL.

The AK uses a very simple bolt and bolt carrier. As mentioned before, they ride together on stamped rails, with relatively large clearances (a lateral clearance of 0.100" would not impair function). The rotary bolt generates substantial force via camming action to remove the spent cartridge casing, and the gas piston follows the bolt assembly all the way through the stroke to make sure the carrier completes its intended travel. The gas system is unadjustable, and presumably is set to operate with an absolute minimum of pressure.

The tilting-bolt action of the FAL requires that the gas system provide the extraction force directly, with no mechanical advantage (of course, with the 5,000 PSI or so acting on the piston, the job usually gets done). The bolt carrier rides in the aforementioned machined cuts, with clearances of perhaps 0.010" or so (certainly less than the typical grain of sand). The adjustable gas system is great for those using a variety of ammunition, but that's not all that likely in a combat situation, and thus simply adds additional complexity and yet another way for the operation to impair function.

The fire control group of both rifles is substationally different not in design, but rather in execution. The FAL FCG has a number of small features, providing relatively crisp feel but also increasing the difficulty of manufacture and additional susceptability to failure. On the other hand, the AK FCG has features perhaps 2-5x larger, and thus is not only less sensitive to manufacturing tolerances, but also to environmental contamination.

Springs are essential to the function of any firearm, and are certainly among the more difficult parts to control in even a modern manufacturing setting. The FAL uses 19 springs, many of which work through plungers and so on. The AK uses a total of six springs (seven if you count the plunger for the muzzle brake on some variants), and the design of the recoil and FCG springs show particularly exceptional simplicity.

So what's the result of all this? Well, if I had to go set up some in some third-world country a few decades ago, there's little doubt which one would be more feasible to produce - and if you haven't been paying much attention, that's the AK. But having built examples of both, I can safely say that the AK also takes far more time to assemble from individual components. If you've got more manpower than equipment, then the AK is the way to go. And if this rifle is going to be used in any environment, it's also a safe bet that the extremely loose tolerances of the AK will allow it to function where the "tighter" FAL simply will not. But the combination of those fine tolerances with a substationally more-powerful cartridge means that the FAL allows a rifleman to engage targets at a far longer range (the 7.62x39 cartridge of the AK is useful to perhaps 200 yards but not much further, where as the 7.62 NATO cartridge, with its heavier bullet and much higher muzzle velocity remains lethal out past 600 yards). That's a further clue to the doctrine of the two participants in the Cold War, and the relative value one can infer that each placed on its soldiers.

 

Accuracy In Labeling

So my wife opens up the package of Altoid's super-frickin'-insane sour apple gum yesterday, and as we're attempting to get past the first few seconds of battery-acid agony, she noticed the line on the front stating "Not a low-calorie food". So I flip over the container and check out the nutrition stats on the back. Looks like it's five calories per serving. Oh - and a serving is two pieces, as if I'd ever need two pieces of this stuff in one sitting for anything short of cleaning the garage floor. So that's 2.5 calories in one piece. If that's not "low calorie", what the heck is?

 

Pardon My Language, But the "War On Drugs" Can Kiss My Ass

Absolutely ri-fuckin'-diculous:

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's last bill to cut use of methamphetamines
was crushed by the drug lobby. Now she's back, championing a tougher bill and
wielding bipartisan support to force the issue.

Leading a dozen senators, Feinstein and Republican Jim Talent of
Missouri introduced legislation Wednesday that would put the primary chemical in
illegally produced meth - pseudoephedrine - behind the pharmacy counter. Their
bill also would place strict limits on its purchase by repeat customers.

Under the proposed law, no person could buy more than 9 grams of
pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period. This would limit purchases of remedies from
Sudafed to Tylenol flu medicine. By restricting pseudoephedrine use, the
senators hope to keep meth makers from clearing the shelves at local drug stores
to supply their operation.

And just how would repeat purchases be prevented? Oh, that's right - we're going to put buyers on a list:

Talent and Feinstein’s bill would classify pseudoephedrine as a Schedule V
drug, meaning products containing pseudoephedrine must be kept behind a pharmacy counter and sold only by a pharmacist or pharmacy technician.

They would be required to present proof of identification and sign for
the medicine upon purchase. In order to ensure that rural communities
without pharmacy access are not negatively impacted, the legislation provides
for the Director of the Federal Drug Administration to authorize others to sell
the medicines so long as they follow the same procedure.


So, how many allergy products contain pseudoephedrine? Just about any of them that aren't explicitly for "nighttime relief" (it's a simulant, so it's not the best thing to take before bed). How much is 6 grams? Well, that's about 200 standard tablets, which might seem like a lot. But one dose (2 tablets) of Tavist-D contains 60 mg, and up to 6 doses per day are recommended. That's only a 16-day supply for one person, or 4 days for a family of four. What complete and utter bullshit. You know, I don't see anyone limited folks to a four-day supply of beer or smokes.

I don't particularly care for drug users or pushers, and I think anyone who derives their primary source of pleasure from a pipe, joint, line of powder, or bottle is missing out on life. But make no mistake - this War On Drugs stuff is eroding our rights, and when it comes to regulating a very common and extremely useful over-the-counter drug, I'd hope some people start waking up and taking notice. After all, it's not like anyone really wants to do meth, and if other drugs were made available in a safe and legal manner, I highly doubt there would be a single user of that crap. But, noooo, the same folks who decry Feinstein's stance on guns (she's probably the most anti-gun person in Washington) will thump their chests and salute her "tough stance on drugs", and the cycle of stupidity will continue. Feinstein has been getting a lot of flak from the left wing lately for acting "too moderate", and by that they must assume that attacking liberty from both sides of the political spectrum somehow averages out towards the center. Eventually, I suspect that someone will figure out how to make a suitcase nuke from baked potatoes, or a biological weapon from cotton briefs, and we'll have to deal with restrictions on the purchase of those items as well.

UPDATE: My bad - seems that meth is becoming the drug of choice for some folks.

 

Gun Control And A Decade Of American Politics

National Review magazine has an interesting article on the NRA's influence on politics in the past 10 years. It's definitely an interesting read, regardless of your stance on the issue. Something I never knew:

From Clinton on down, Democratic politicians and commentators blamed
conservatives for inciting Timothy McVeigh’s terrorism with anti-government
rhetoric. An NRA fundraising letter quickly became Exhibit A: It had referred to
federal agents as “jack-booted government thugs.”

That provocative phrase owed its existence to Democratic
congressman John Dingell of Michigan, who had used the term “jack-booted group of fascists” to describe officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
in an NRA documentary some years earlier. Yet such details were lost in a maelstrom of controversy over the phrase.

Michigan has such a way of turning up in the events of the 1990s.

What's interesting to me is how big of an influence gun rights still play in polarizing one's political position, despite the fact that the left seems wholy uninterested (and unable) to legislate gun control, and the right's constant distancing of themselves from an outright position supporting gun rights.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

 

John Moses Browning

FN has a cool illustrated comic-strip-style biography of John M. Browning, who probably qualifies as the most brilliant firearms inventor in modern times, and certainly the man who brought gun technology into the 20th century. Regardless of how you feel about firearms, the man's engineering skills cannot be denied.

 

Gonzoles Supports Assault-Weapon Ban

What a shithead! I'm guessing this isn't what the left had in mind when they claimed that Alberto Gonzoles would be worse than Ashcroft, but hey, give them at least partial credit for accuracy.

 

Stupid lawsuits

Get mauled by a tiger after shooting it at a distance of 7 yards? Sue the ammo manufacturer!

I'm happy to see that the legal system seems to have worked correctly in this case.

 

Oops

Notable screw-ups.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

 

Covers

Need your fix of cover songs? Head over to Coverville. There's a lot of covers there that I didn't even know existed. I'm currently listening to Tom Jones (backed by New Model Army, probably the closest thing to Bad Religion that England has ever produced) covering the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter", which theoretically should be a disaster but isn't that bad; actually, it's pretty good.

UPDATE: Just finished listening to Richard Thomson covering "Oops I Did It Again" and Local H covering "Toxic". These two very different covers of Britney Spears are absolutely must-hears. That's something I thought I'd never type. Linkage here.

 

Gender And Science

So, while the president of Harvard gets ripped a new one for his comments relating to gender, discrimination, and the field of science, we hear this week that there's fundamental differences in the brains of males and females:

Researchers found major differences in the amount of gray and white matter
in the brains of men and women of the same intelligence, suggesting that men and
women may derive their intelligence in different ways.

...

Overall, the results showed that men had approximately 6.5 times the amount
of gray matter in areas related to general intelligence than women. Meanwhile,
women had nearly 10 times the amount of white matter in areas related to
intelligence than men.

They say the findings may help explain why men tend to excel at tasks
that require more local processing, such as mathematics, while women tend to
excel at integrating information, a skill used in language.

The study also showed differences in brain regions between men and
women related to intelligence. In particular, 84 percent of gray matter regions
and 86 percent of white matter regions involved in women’s intelligence were
found in their frontal lobes or front portion of the brain compared with 45
percent and 0 percent for men, respectively. Instead, regions throughout the
left side of the brain seems to drive male intelligence.

...

But despite these differences in brain pathways and activity centers,
researchers say men and women perform equally on broad measures of intelligence, such as IQ tests.


It would seem to me that this is obvious to anyone who's spent any amount of time with people of each gender - while there's little doubt that both genders have the potential for equal intelligence, there's also some substantial differences in the way that men and women think about things. I mean, really now - let's be honest with ourselves.

Concerning the specific topic of women in academia, I think that simply has to do with what's expected of a college professor nowadays. If the job was simply about possessing knowledge on the topic of interest and the ability to communicate that to others, then I think we'd see at least as many females as males, if not more. But that's no longer the primary purpose of a prof - they're there to do the sort of research that brings in the big bucks, and particularly in the field of math and science, I think that's a task that's generally more attractive to males. I certainly don't think it has anything to do with ability; rather, it's just an issue of what people want to do.

My wife's an engineer and a damn fine one at that, so let's not go making any assumptions about my viewpoints on the intelligence or ability of females. Rather, let's acknowledge and accept the fact that there's differences between the genders, which is something we can all benefit from if we choose not to ignore reality.

 

Body Of Song

According to Bob Mould's Boblog, work is progressing on his upcoming album Body of Song. He's also being doing some acoustic live shows.

It's almost enough to forgive him for buying a Honda Element.

 

Thirty Thousand

Wanna see more direct representation of the people? Would you like to get an electoral college that aligns itself better with the will of the voters? Check out Thirty-Thousand.org, which calls for a return to much smaller House districts:

In 1804, a member of the House of Representatives represented, on average, 40
thousand citizens. Today, each Representative “represents” over 660 thousand
people (on average).


I think the idea has a lot of merit, but we'll never see members of Congress voluntarily giving-up their power.



 

Corporate Partisanship

Interested to see where a corporation's money went during the last election cycle? Check out Choose The Blue. As one may (correctly) infer by the name of the site, there's obviously an agenda, but I see little reason to doubt their data at this point. To me, it's simply interesting to see which companies and industries lean one way, which ones lean the other, and how many of them decided to hedge their bets and split things pretty much evenly.

 

The Softer Side Of Engineering

First, news comes that inkjet printers may soon play a role in generating artificial skin grafts:

Vladimir Mironov, director of the Shared Tissue Engineering Laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina, is one of the scientists who has rigged
Hewlett-Packard and Canon inkjet printers to shoot out proteins instead of ink,
and to capture tissue on specialized gel instead of paper. Older printers work
well because their spray nozzles have larger holes and are less likely to damage
fragile cells.

Thomas Boland, an assistant bioengineering professor at Clemson University
and another researcher involved in the project, says he came up with the idea
one day when overseeing students who had become frustrated with earlier research
trying to "stamp" skin cells. "I went to the lab to look around and saw an
unused inkjet printer sitting there in the lab. I thought, 'Why not use that?'"


Now, that's some clever engineering. And how about solar power from spinach?

Inspired by the efficiency with which plants convert sunlight into sugar,
researchers have fabricated a solar cell that uses photosynthetic proteins to
convert light into electricity. Although the prototype device can't yet rival
commercial solar cells made of silicon, it demonstrates a new strategy for
making longer-lasting photovoltaic cells.

To make the solar cell, a team of biologists and engineers led by Marc
Baldo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) harvested
photosynthetic proteins from spinach and the bacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides
and deposited the proteins onto a glass support. Because the proteins naturally
reside in an aqueous environment inside a cell membrane, it took some creative
chemistry to keep the approximately 2 billion isolated proteins functional on a
solid surface.


Cool stuff. It's one of those solutions that should have been obvious, but with our current addiction to silicon, it took some out-of-the-box thinking to develop anything beyond a minor improvement on the current technology.

 

Pretty Difficult To Get Angry Over This

How about a little geek charity, in the form of Engineers Without Borders? I especially like the section "Tools and technology of the month". If I could somehow ween myself off rampant consumerism, it would be pretty cool to get involved with their efforts - I'm thinking this might be just the thing for disillusioned engineers who happen to have some practical hands-on skills and are looking to get out of the office.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

 

GM Ecotec Line-Up

The purpose of this post is simply to follow-up on a lunchtime discussion (or was it via e-mail?) from a couple of weeks ago, where we kicked around the different engine options for GM small cars; specifically, the Ecotec options in the Cobalt and Solstice.

One of the main questions was concerning the way GM achieved the displacement of the 2.0 L supercharged, 2.2 L, and 2.4 L VTT Ecotecs. Wonder no more:

2.0 L bore x stroke: 86 x 86 mm
2.2 L bore x stroke: 86 x 94.6 mm
2.4 L bore x stroke: 88 x 98 mm

It's interesting to me that all three have different stroke lengths, and that the 2.0 L didn't get another decrease in bore size to strengthen it for supercharging (presumably, the 2.4 L got more bore to improve breathing, as the 2.2 obviously stinks in that department given its 140 HP rating, compared to 170 HP for the 2.4). Myself, I don't care for the undersquare bore/stroke relationship, but Honda's been quite successful at it (the most-recent S2000 engine gets its 2.2 L from a 87 mm bore and 90.7 mm stroke; that's a mean piston speed of 4700 ft/min at its redline of 8000 RPM with a rod ratio of only 1.65:1).

Just to provide a point of reference, the original 2.3 L Quad4 had a bore and stroke of 92 and 85 mm, respectively, and provided 150 HP from a 10:1 compression ratio. Ignore the fact that this was happening 15 years ago (or that Honda was producing 160 HP from the B16 back in '88, or that GM managed 190 HP from the W41 Quad4 in '92).



 

4WD Hubris

After enjoying a mostly-sideways drive into work this morning in my pickup, I was feeling much too confident in my drifting abilities. Those that have played with a 4WD vehicle for any length of time quickly learn that it's not just about acceleration; when all four wheels are driven, the ability to control the vehicle via both the throttle and the steering is amazing (just don't touch the brakes).

So, after taking nearly every bend, curve, and turn at greater-than-prudent speeds and excessive yaw angles, I made a brief stop at McDonalds to pick up a couple breakfast burritoes. For some reason, I felt the need to make the 60 ft trip between the drive-thru speaker and the first window in a sideways fashion, and just about took out the big electrical box residing in-between. In the process of recovering from that, I made a real good attempt at parking it right about where the cash register sits inside the building. How I built up enough speed to pull this off, I'm not sure, but I think it involved a lot of throttle. Fortunately, a lot of quick steering input saved the day, the register operator missed the whole event, and I was able to hand over my $3.92 without much embarassment.

Upon reaching work, I found that a fair amount of the parking lot had yet to be plowed, and so I got a few good runs through some grill-deep stuff (which is fairly deep on a 3/4-ton truck) before shutting 'er down and trudging to the door. Unfortunately, manufacturing was running on this particular Saturday morning and so I didn't get to enjoy a unplowed lot, but I'll take what I can get.

 

Mandatory Comment On The Airbus A380

I'm not exactly an aviation buff, and certainly not of civilian aviation (at least not since sometime in junior high). As such, take what I'm about to say with a big grain of salt. The A380 is being portrayed as some sort of engineering breakthrough, and so I figured that a bit of investigation is due. Does this present a significant advancement in the art of aerospace engineering, and will it eventually result in the decreased operating costs that airlines crave?

My first thoughts on this aircraft is that it's little more than a scaled-up variation on the 747 theme, incorporating fly-by-wire technology (which is now well over 20 years old) and hopefully some material advancements. And that appears to be the case, at least with the data I've found.

The only noteworthy feature from a performance standpoint is the increased ratio of gross take-off weight to wingspan, which is driven by the need to accomodate ever-increasing average per-passenger weights (a result of longer flight distances and larger waistlines), and the limitations of most airports. What's the effect of this? Well, it would appear that one issue is an increase in drag (page 7). Uh-oh - a 22% increase in drag from the "optimal" configuration is not likely a step in the right direction. That's probably not going to help with reducing operating costs, although Airbus still claims a 13% improvement over similar aircraft.

In terms of the engineering itself, any improvements are likely to come in the form of advanced materials (the assumption being made here that fly-by-wire systems are developed to a mature state). Here, there does appear to be something of merit. The "wing box" structure, along with the entire tail assembly, is made of carbon-fiber composite (although not much information is given as to the resin used in this material). The wing leading edges are also a composite of some sort. The upper portion of the fuselage is constructed of an aluminum/composite lamination, yielding a weight savings of approximately 10% over standard aluminum, and an unspecified improvement in fatigue life. Where standard aluminum is used, laser welding is employed for attachment as opposed to standard riveting techniques. All in all, it's claimed that this material has resulted in a weight savings of 10-15 tons in the 240-ton aircraft. Impressive, but is a 4-6% improvement over the past 25 years really anything amazing? I feel somewhat underwhelmed by this pace of development.

Ultimately, though, the question will come down to passenger preferences, in terms of how they want to fly - from point-to-point between smaller airports, or hub-to-hub with commuter flights to the end destination. The head of Boeing has his own opinion on this (damn, everyone's blogging nowadays), and he backs it up with some data:

Consider that Airbus says London's Heathrow will use the most A380s during the
next two decades. Yet, the 747's share of departures at Heathrow hasn't changed
during the past twenty years. Airbus lists Tokyo's two airports and Hong Kong's
as major A380 hubs. But at those three airports, the 747 as a percentage of
departures is about half of what it was in the 1990s. If large airplanes solve
congestion, the 747 departures would have been going up.


Either Airbus knows for certain that the trends of the past 10 to 15 years are about to do an immediate U-turn, or it has misread the state of aviation as it really is today and where it's going in the future.



Interesting point.

Everything considered, I think the A380 is merely a minor improvement on the decades-old 747, and perhaps indicates that commercial aviation as we know it has stagnated, much as the ocean-liner industry had around the time of the Titanic, and will remain so until we see some sort of a push towards near-space hypersonic transport. Given the cost pressures currently exisiting in the industry, that's likely a long ways off, but maybe Burt Rutan's accomplishments with SpaceShipOne someday be viewed as the event that kicked into motion the next generation of transportation development. After all, it did take nearly 50 years for the Wright brother's flight to mature into something affordable for the masses. Or maybe instead we'll get affordable personal aviation, made possible by the technology employed in the automotive world.

Friday, January 21, 2005

 

For Those About To Rock...

...the President salutes you:



And Jenna, that dirty little girl:



 

Nice

So, for the most part, Democrats are willing to yip and yap and even nip at the ankles of Condoleeza Rice, but they're pretty much all going to vote to confirm her. Keep in mind that she will be the face of America to the rest of the world in her role as Secretary of State, and if someone has a problem with her ideology, perhaps it'd be smart to put up a real fight rather than a brief diplay of, er, slight disagreement.

But one man will stand in her path. Who? That's right - ex-KKK-member-turned-Senator Robert Byrd, an embarassment to everything this country stands for.

If I gave a shit about the Democratic Party, I'd be deeply outraged that they couldn't somehow find a better way to protest Rice's nomination without being accused of excessive obstructionism (and since when is that an universally bad thing for an opposition strategy anyways?). But, hey, if the best they can put up is a bit of sassy talk from Barbara Boxer and an ex-Klansman throwing around his racist old bones on the floor of the Senate while opposing the nomination of a black woman, then perhaps it's all too clear why they find themselves in an ever-increasing minority in DC.

Just days after celebrating the truly awesome life of MLK, let's relish the words of Mr. Byrd himself, on the issue of desegregating the military:

"I should rather die a thousand times and see old glory trampled in the dirt
never to rise again than see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race
mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen of the wilds."


Ah, yes - the sound of freedom and equality. I would someday like the opportunity to personally urinate on every single person who's ever cast a vote for this man. Hopefully, I can secure sponsorship from Gatorade for such an event.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

 

More On Hydrogen Power

Andrew Olmsted has a post on the merits of hydrogen-fueled cars. His main objections seem to be the lack of a "free" source of hydrogen, and the cost of infrastructure.

When it comes to a source of hydrogen fuel, it's obvious that it doesn't ocur naturally, and thus can only be considered as a storage and transportation media. But as such, we can use large power plants, which are far more efficient than small internal-combustion engines, to generate hydrogen. A modern coal-fired power plant runs at 42-45% efficiency, and electrolysis of hydrogen is theoretically about 92% efficient but more likely to be 80% at best. A gasoline internal-combustion engine can reach 32% efficiency (better with alcohol), but most of the figures I've seen are in the mid-20s, and considerably worse at part-throttle conditions (not to mention that they're essentially 0% efficient at idle). Fuel cells sit somewhere between the 40% value quoted by pessimists, and the 83% theoretical upper value. That places hydrogen via electrolysis at about 60% worse efficiency on the lower end, and perhaps 15% better on the upper end (yea, that's quite the range). We haven't factored in transportation and storage costs, or drivetrain efficiency; I suspect that a hub-motor electric design is far more efficient than a traditional drivetrain, but that's probably offset by the costs require to compress or liquify hydrogen.

More significantly, however, the US is far better positioned to produce coal than oil, and has abudant natural resources that provide a lot of opportunities for renewable energy generation. Current projections show significantly greater reserves for coal than oil, although I don't know what usage rate was assumed for each resource. Coal isn't easily processed in an IC engine in its raw form, but hydrogen electrolysis provides a means for its usage in personal transportation (even if fuel cells don't pan out, we can still use that hydrogen in internal combustion engines). Better yet is a scheme where electricity is generated via renewable resources, so hopefully coal may only provide the gateway between oil and wind or solar or hydro or whatever.

As far as infrastructure goes, no doubt it'll take a lot to make hydrogen energy transport into a reality. But this seems like a weak argument if one accepts that oil has a finite life as an energy source. So what if we've got a well-established petroleum infrastructure, if the resource disappears some years down the road? Interesting to me is the lack of investment in new petroleum infrastructure (especially gasoline refineries). That seems to indicate that Big Oil already considers this to be a dead-end path.

Andrew does link to a pretty cool site from Hydrogen Solar LTD, which is a company based in the UK that's developing a variety of hydrogen-via-solar technologies. Its Tandem Cell concept seems exactly like what I want on the roof of my home, as soon as it's practical. Energy independence would be a marvelous thing and would rank with the all-time greatest achievements of mankind.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

 

It's Still No Replacement For "Jackass"

In case you were looking for a TV show combining the talents of comedian Jim Breuer with those of guitarist Zakk Wylde, look no further.

Zakk's website just ain't the same since he took down that animation of pissing on Fred Durst.

 

Conspiracy Theories

Alex Jones of Infowars.com and Prisonplanet.com was on Alan Colme's Fox New radio broadcast this evening, turning this usually-normal show into something more like Art Bell's typical broadcast (odd, considering that most Clinton-era Democrats shy away from conspiracy theory, simply because so much of it over the past decade was aimed at their hero). The topic of discussion tonight was the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Prisonplanet.com has a series of links to articles related to the recent disaster in Asia, some of which cast doubt on just how "natural" it was, and others a bit more tame but still raising questions about how much was known about the event ahead of time. Jones was unwilling to state that he believes that the earthquake was anything but a natural event (usually, he's not quite so reserved, having gone on record saying that the US government was behind the Sept. 11th attacks). But he does believe that the US and other agencies in the area had advanced warning of the quake and resultant tidal wave, and that the lack of propagation of this knowledge cost thousands of lives.

Interesting stuff, but it would seem like there's more logical explanations for this than high-freq RF bounced off the ionosphere, or sonic testing for oil exploration.



Monday, January 17, 2005

 

The State Of The Police State

I'll present two viewpoints on this (normally I'd try to make sure that they're opposing viewpoints, but I take this to serious to present any facade of objectivity). First, from the wonderful Rep. Ron Paul, with "It Can't Happen Here":

In 2002 I asked my House colleagues a rhetorical question with regard to
the onslaught of government growth in the post-September 11th era: Is America
becoming a police state?

The question is no longer rhetorical. We are not yet living
in a total police state, but it is fast approaching. The seeds of future
tyranny have been sown, and many of our basic protections against government
have been undermined. The atmosphere since 2001 has permitted Congress to
create whole new departments and agencies that purport to make us safer- always
at the expense of our liberty. But security and liberty go
hand-in-hand. Members of Congress, like too many Americans, don’t
understand that a society with no constraints on its government cannot be
secure. History proves that societies crumble when their governments
become more powerful than the people and private institutions.

It may be true that average Americans do not feel intimidated by the
encroachment of the police state. Americans remain tolerant of what they
see as mere nuisances because they have been deluded into believing total
government supervision is necessary and helpful, and because they still enjoy a
high level of material comfort. That tolerance may wane, however, as our
standard of living falls due to spiraling debt, endless deficit spending at home
and abroad, a declining fiat dollar, inflation, higher interest rates, and
failing entitlement programs. At that point attitudes toward omnipotent
government may change, but the trend toward authoritarianism will be difficult
to reverse.

Those who believe a police state can't happen here are poor students of
history. Every government, democratic or not, is capable of tyranny.
We must understand this if we hope to remain a free people.


Next up, we've got Fred Reed, with "Be Good, Chillun - Gitmo Gonna Getcha":

The new America. No checks, no balance. There’s no restraint on the power
of these people, and they know it. If you suggest that it is none of their
business why an American citizen is going to his country’s capital, at the very
least you miss your flight. You could easily end up in jail, and nobody would
know where you were. So you knuckle under. In, say, 1985 the difference between
a cowed citizen of Russia and an American was that the American had some degree
of recourse. That was then.

But does it matter? Maybe there is less of a market for this
Bill-of-Rights stuff than we thought. Maybe nobody cares, except self-interested
journalists scuttling in the shadows like cockroaches carrying some vile
disease. Give the people Budweiser, give them Oprah, and they’ll finesse the
details.

There’s money enough in the country now that government is more about
power than lucre. Pretty much everybody can have 300 channels and a shot at home
theater. Beer, T-and-A, a warm place to sleep, all the golf you can watch.
Nobody is going to take it away. It keeps the lid on. Just keep your mouth shut
and don’t lose the remote….

In Houston the speech-major voice gurgled from above, “Certain…measures
have been taken for your security….” Don’t make jokes. Report each other.
Vigilance.

For opposing viewpoints to this, there's plenty of warbloggers out there that'll try to convince you that it's more important to give civil rights to Iraqis than it is to secure them here at home. You know - it's for our own good. Just take your tax cut and buy some more beer and pay-per-view sporting events with it...

By the way, this post looks like crap be Blogger screws up the intentation on the quoted material. I have no idea how to fix it and if it's bothersome, then you should be clicking on the links and reading the whole article instead of the 5% that I thought was more important than the rest.


 

In Case You Need To Transport A Replica Of An Atomic Bomb...

...fear not. Apparently, it's no big deal.

Seriously, that looks like one cool model-building project. I might have to pick up the dude's book.



 

Pictures From Saturn

NASA's web page for the Cassini-Huygens mission has some recently-posted pics returned from the Huygens probe's plunge into Titan's atmosphere. This mission doesn't seem to be getting the same attention as last year's mission to Mars, but is no less relevant - it's thought that Titan's surface conditions might be very much like Earth's, approximately 4 billion years ago (if maybe a bit colder).

And about that cold - it's something like -290 F. While the probe was built with its instruments within a protective outer shell, one can still imagine that it's no small feat to survive that sort of cold for any length of time, especially with electrochemical batteries (let's not forget the atmosphere, which with its methane gases and hydrocarbon rain probably resembles northern Indiana on a summer day). Yet, the probe survived the 2.5-hour descent and another 90 minutes on the surface before finally giving up the fight.

 

Rumblings In The Pacific

The Japanese Times is reporting that Japan is preparing to defend its southern islands against invasion by the Chinese:

The plan calls for a dispatch of 55,000 troops from the Ground Self-Defense Force as well as planes, warships and submarines from the main islands in the event the remote islands are attacked.

...

"China has been expanding its scope of activities as seen in the case of an incursion of Japanese territorial waters (by a Chinese nuclear submarine) in November. We need to monitor its moves," the official said.

Under what conditions China would invade these islands, I don't know - would this be something they'd look to take during an invasion of Taiwan, or would they be looking to launch an act of aggression directly against Japan?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

 

Fire! Fire!

Burn, baby, burn:

A magnesium recycling plant's sprinkler system helped turn a small fire in
a scrap bin into a toxic inferno that forced thousands of people from their
homes, fire investigators said. Officials are trying to determine why the
Advanced Magnesium Alloys Corp. plant had a working sprinkler system in the same area where the metal is stored. Water causes burning magnesium to flare up and
explode.

Connie Smith, a spokeswoman for Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith, said fire
officials told plant officials 18 months ago to cap the sprinklers.

Um, oops. Perhaps it's occassionally a good idea to listen to the fire inspector.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

 

Crimes Against Humanity

Ever wonder what the 12-worst album covers where? Wonder no more.

 

We Just Don't Learn

Our Pakistani ally Musharraf has declined to hang up his military uniform and rule as a civilian- surprise! And the US isn't exactly raising a stink about it:

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's potentially explosive announcement
last month that he would not step down as military chief and rule his country as
a civilian drew barely a whisper from the U.S. media and Washington officials.

The silence, say foreign policy analysts, reveals as much about U.S.
policy toward Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as any public
remarks could. While U.S. officials may not wish to criticize Musharraf,
analysts say it might be a mistake in the long term for the United States to
turn a blind eye to Pakistan's military ruler.


Might be a mistake? Perhaps. Our record of propping-up dictators in that region is somewhat less than perfect.

He had pledged to hang up his uniform at the end of 2004 in return for broader
constitutional powers allowing him to dissolve Parliament and the prime
minister's office at his discretion.


Ah - freedom is on the rise.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

 

Your Papers, Komrade

Get stopped by the police in Green Bay and you can now look forward to giving fingerprints:

If you're caught speeding or playing your music too loud, or other crimes
for which you might receive a citation, Green Bay police officers will ask for
your drivers license and your finger. You'll be fingerprinted right there on the
spot. The fingerprint appears right next to the amount of the fine.

Police say it's meant to protect you -- in case the person they're
citing isn't who they claim to be. But not everyone is sold on that
explanation.


Oh, thank goodness - it's for our protection.

Citizens do have the right to say no. "They could say no and not have to
worry about getting arrested," defense attorney Jackson Main said. "On the
other hand, I'm like everybody else. When a police officer tells me to do
something, I'm going to do it whether I have the right to say no or not."


Mr. Main need to read the 2nd post down from this one.


 

Lutz: Toyota To Capture Global #1 Spot?

From Autoweek:

General Motors Vice Chairman Robert Lutz admits it may be impossible from
preventing Toyota from becoming the No. 1 automaker in the world.

"Obviously, our goal is to stop that," Lutz said. "It may be impossible to
stop even if we gain market share in every one of our markets because Toyota is
so huge and expanding so fast in the Asian markets."If they only grow with the
market in those rapidly growing Asian markets, they risk knocking us off."


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

 

Your Next Director Of Homeland Security

Counterpunch has an informative article (at least compared to anything we're likely to see in the mainstream media) on Michael Chertoff, who is likely to be confirmed as our next Director of Homeland Security sometime soon - barring any last-minute news of extramarital affairs conducted practically on top of the WTC rubble, of course.

 

4th-Generation Warfare

Via The High Road, we get a truly thought-provoking essay on 4th-generation warfare (see here for a definition of each "generation" - it's good reading) that's written by a Marine Corps officer. It's interesting in so many ways - the relevance to today's situation, the year in which it was published (nearly 10 years ago!), but most significantly, the way the author reflects on the domestic aspects of this new warfare, and what it might mean to the military and the way it deals with Constitutional issues. In other words, it implicitly addresses the potential that the War on Terrorism may require that the military be called to enforce unconstitutional laws against the American public. It's spooky stuff, but Con. Wyly, I think, provides a very rational and sane viewpoint.

While on this topic, he takes a moment to make the argument that maybe the greatest threat to our freedom in 4th-gen warfare is, well, ourselves:

If this country is at risk of being undermined by fourth generation enemies, it
is because we have too long allowed people to be citizens without requiring them
to learn the precepts of our government. If Americans understood the
fundamentals presented here about our constitutional concept we would be a
stronger country.


 

The Aptly-Named GM Sequel

GM took the wraps off the Sequel this week at the North American International Auto Show, and boy, it might very well be the most important vehicle on display. Certainly, the HyWire broke far more ground, but precicely because of that it was overlooked (in my opinion) by the motoring press (on the other hand, it grabbed a lot of attention from the technology media, who typically ignore cars). But the Sequel wraps that innovative architecture in what appears to be a very user-friendly package - indeed, ignore what's under the skin, and it looks, well, not much different than a contemporary "tall wagon" SUV.

I have a feeling that the significance will, once again, be lost on people who think that it's more amazing if someone eeks-out another 1 or 2 HP/liter from an internal-combustion engine, or sticks yet another gear range into an automatic gearbox.

I do wonder if GM (perhaps the OEM least-able to significantly transform their manufacturing capacity to accommodate such a big tear-up of the architecture we've become so fond of in the last century) can actually bring this car to the market, and of course there's significant issue of developing generation and distribution methods for hydrogen. I'm still hopeful that we can implement localized generation, where communities or even individual households generate their own electricity using whatever method makes sense in that geographical region. But none of this matters much if the public still feels that the current vehicle architecture is the best way to serve our transportation needs. It often seems as if we evolve products at a rate inversely-related to the importance in ours lives. Odd, eh? It's enough to make one doubt the efficiency of the free market.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

 

Bring On The Death Squads

MSNBC and Newsweek report that the Pentagon is considering an approach in Iraq similar to that used in Southern American two decades ago. I'm not sure how this worked out for us in the previous instance, but I'm sure Oliver North got erect upon hearing this news. The following tidbit does worry me somewhat:

One Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support
and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga
fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their
sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military
insiders familiar with the discussions.

Two things. First, pitting one ethic group against another seems like a Bad Idea(tm) when the country is already showing some preliminary signs of erupting into a civil war. The second concern here is talk about heading off into Syria. Expanding the conflict into a soverign nation is not what we need to do when we've already got a bigger problem than we can handle.

So, is this Iraqi insurgency a political problem, or a military problem? And is it indeed the result of some significant foreign influence, or is it primarily a domestic problem? It'd be nice to know that the proper amount of thought has been put into both of those questions and the answer pointed towards the use of these small counterinsurgency squads, but if that pattern of problem-solving had been established earlier on, we likely would not be in the same situation today.

 

Awaiting Another Media Smear Job On Evil Guns

60 Minutes is, at the time of this writing, about four hours away from their report on .50 BMG sporting rifles. Great, more airtime for the shitheads at VPC:

"I think it's a great thing on the battlefield," says one of the weapon's chief
critics, Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "I just
think there are certain occasions when we say in our society, this product is
such a threat to our health and safety...our national security, we will not
allow it," he tells Bradley. "Thousands have been sold to civilians and, as far
as federal gun laws go, it is treated like any other hunting rifle."
Just make sure to read his rationale very, very carefully, and think about what activities you might enjoy that could constitute "a threat to our health and safety". Buy into that logic, and you won't be allowed to spread cheese on your crackers with a metal butter knife anymore.

Fortunately, we've got the well-spoken Ronnie Barrett on our side:

"Yes it could be [used in those terrorist scenarios], but it's also
seeming, begging someone to commit this crime. 'Somebody please commit this
crime so I can validate what I've been saying so long,'" says Ronnie Barrett of
Barrett Firearms Manufacturing.

"As far as the abuses with .50-caliber rifles, they are so few, if any,
that all other calibers ought to aspire to have as good a record as it has," he
tells Bradley. "It's a target rifle. It's a toy...a high-end adult recreational
toy." As for terrorism, Barrett says, "Any rifle in the hands of a terrorist is
a deadly weapon."


To the best of my knowledge, there has yet to be a shooting with a rifle chambered in .50 BMG. But don't go fessing-up that any rifle in the wrong hands is potentially dangerous - "they" will want to ban those, too. Back to Shithead for his closing remarks:

Diaz is hoping Congress will pass a law requiring that the names of owners of
.50-caliber rifles be kept on file. "No one in the U.S. government knows who has
these guns," he says.


Good - let's keep it that way. The 2nd Amendment is not there to keep the government comfortable.

I'm sure that by the end of this segment, I'll be ready to ventilate our TV from a distance of 1000 yards. If I had $8K sitting around, I'd love to kick it towards Barrett in exchange for one of his wonderful rifles. And then I'd spend a bunch of time poking holes in cement blocks, manhole covers, and safes, just because it's cool and scares pussies like Mr. Diaz.

UPDATE: Only one big surprise during the broadcast - 60 Minutes claims that fire from .50-cal rifles forced the FBI to bring Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and later tanks, into the Waco standoff in '93. Per at least one timeline, I cannot find any info that in any way substantiates this claim (other than in VPC "reports").

UPDATE: Thanks to someone over at The High Road who produced a list of the weapons (alternate source here) found at the Branch Davidian compound, we can see that there was no .50-cal rifle. Surprising, huh?

 

Undermining The Federal Reserve

Sick of inflation? Buy Liberty Dollars! This is, uh, interesting. I'll reserve (pun not intended) further comment until I do more investigation. It's anti-establishment, so I'm inclined to think it's pretty cool.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

 

Batteries Not Keeping Up With Technology

I've heard and read a few reports over the past week about the fact that batteries for mobile applications aren't keeping up with the rest of technology; MSNBC has such a report here. Inevitably, the comparison with Moore's Law comes up:

Moore’s Law states that the complexity of circuits doubles every 18 months,
while on average battery capacity increases only 5 percent to 10 percent a year.
Generally speaking, the more complex a circuit—specifically, the more
transistors on a microprocessor—the more current it will draw. Now add to that
the new demands of wireless computing, which uses additional power to transmit
and receive, and it’s pretty clear we’re approaching a major energy crisis in
the portable world.


The problem is that while current demands increase proportionally with transistor count and operating frequency, utility does not. We seem to have lost track of that fact in our frenzy to push technology to its limits, and while the cost of blindly increasing processor speed and transistor count has not yet caught the eye of consumers, battery life issues are kinda hard to ignore.

So what to do? Simple. Just determine how much computational horsepower one really needs to accomplish a given task. Maybe I'm missing out on an important aspect of life by not running the latest and greatest PDA, but I can get a few weeks of normal usage from my Palm V without recharging. What do average folks do on laptops that requires a monsterous screen, killer video processing, and a CPU in the multi-gig range? Yea, sure, that really helps surf the web faster over a typical wireless network. And maybe it's time to give up the monster color screens and polyphonic ring tones on our cell phones if we'd like to eek out a few more minutes of life away from a charger.

I'm not suggesting that we adopt a Luddite attitude towards improving mobile technology, but rather that we treat this technology like everything else in life - a series of compromises and trade-offs.

 

Armstrong Gets The Axe

Encouraging:

Tribune Media Services (TMS) tonight terminated its contract with columnist
Armstrong Williams, effective immediately. But Williams told E&P that he
plans to continue his feature via self-syndication.

...

John Twohey, vice president of editorial and operations at TMS, told
E&P tonight that terminating the contract "wasn't a close call" after he and
four other senior TMS executives discussed the matter.

"I understand the decision," Williams said when reached by E&P. He also
said he would not be returning the $240,000.


What a bitch. It'll be interesting to see him paraded around in the next few weeks as a victim of the "partisan media".

I don't think I spent enough time or energy in my previous post pointing out just how disguisted I am with the role of the government in this. It's one thing for a journalist to compromise his standards; that's just the fallibility of man showing through. But for the government to pay a journalist to support a particular position? I think that's downright terrible, and possibly a bit terrifying. I don't want to go overboard here, but isn't this just a wee bit fascist? It's one level of sliminess to dress up press releases as news features (as was done during the prescription drug bill debate), but an entirely 'nother to offer payment to a supposedly independant member of the free media. This may very well mark a new low point in government transparency and accountability.

Power Line finally made mention of this story, via a link to another blog (albeit a very good link that I'd recommend exploring) that was buried in one of their rants about bitchstick Nick Coleman. The topic of what would have Elvis's 70th birthday apparently deserved much more attention. Way to represent the New Media, guys. Still no mention at LGF as of 1:43PM on 8 Jan 2004.


Friday, January 07, 2005

 

Dan Rather Isn't The Only Partisan Hack

I drove to Detroit today for business, and that usually means lots of flipping through the radio dial. I stumbled across some top-o'-the-hour news, so I paused my use of the Seek button just long enough to hear that commentator Armstrong Williams accepted money from the Department of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind act. You know - the bill that created the largest increase in spending in the history of the DoE that was pushed forth by a Republican White House and approved in a Republican-controlled Congress. More on that towards the end of this post, because I first wish to address the significance behind Mr. William's actions.

First, why'd he accept nearly a quarter-million dollars to push forward the White House's agenda?



Williams said Thursday he understands that critics could find the arrangement
unethical, but "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe in."


Oh, that's nice. I'd think that, as a commentator in a free society, one would advocate all sorts of things that they believe in, especially if they're already getting paid by their publisher or broadcasting company. Shit, this blog is filled with commentary on all sorts of stuff that I believe in, and obviously there's no pay structure involved. So, yea, Mr. Williams had damn well better understand that "critics" might find his arrangement "unethical", and he needs to go a step further and realize for himself that it was unethical before anyone should even think about publishing his work again.

So, why did I feel the need to invoke the name of a tired Old Media slob who couldn't even be bothered to put on an appearance of fairness and accuracy? Because he became the whipping boy for everything that was perceived to be wrong with the mainstream media. The noises of the circle-jerk coming from the AM airwaves the partisan blogs this summer during Rathergate were simply overwhelming, and why? Because it demonstrated the outragous lengths at which the MSM will go to push forward their agenda, and because this convinced everyone involved (especially those in the "blogosphere") just how important of a role they play in providing "balance". Fair enough, but if that's going to happen, then I also want to see the same standard applied to anyone attempted to provide non-mainstream commentary on the basis that the "liberal media just doesn't get it"

I've often wondered if some of those guys on the radio are willing to sell their souls in order to promote the agenda of their prefered party or candidate. It's frankly painful to hear Hannity talk about "how often I critique the President" (certainly less-frequently than you pat yourself on the back for how often you do it), or Limbaugh discussing Michael Jackson's arrest for nearly a week instead of addressing the fact that Congress was passing the biggest increase in social welfare in four decades (the prescription drug plan passed the same week that Jackson found himself in an interview with his local DA). Now we know that they're not only willing to sell their souls, but a price has been established. And what about those bloggers? Big props to Glenn Reynolds who addresses this topic; Power Line has noticably ignored the whole issue, which unfortunately comes as no surprise.

At this point, I see two directions that we can take in establishing media outlets for the 21st century. First, the partisan radio shows and blogs can take their critique of the mainstream media, and start living up to the same standards they expect of Jennings, Brokaw, et al. As much as I'd like to see some basic journalistic standards applied to the radio shows that reach approximately 25% of the country and the blogs that reach who knows how many more, I don't think it's going to happen. The other option is for the radio jocks and the bloggers
to get off their high horses, and apply only the standards to the mainstream media that they wish to apply to themselves. Not going to happen, either. So it's basically going to come down to whatever's the easiest way for the average mouthbreather to obtain their "news".

Now, why was No Child Left Behind passed? Sure, the "neo" part of "neocon" implies a liberal background, but Bush and most of the Republicans in Congress don't really fit the definition. Maybe it was passed to irritate the NEA? Just a guess. We can probably place this one in the "two wrongs don't make a right" category.

EDIT - added the link for Instapundit above. I was thwarted in my attempts to do so last night while crafting this point; turns out that there was a DOS attack taking place on a few right-wing blogs.



 

MI UP Land Deals Reached

In the past decade or so, land development in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has been an increasing concern. In the days where mining and forestry companies like Lake Superior Land Co. controlled large chunks of the UP (at one point, LSLC owned over 90% of the Keweenaw Peninsula), public access to this land was, with a few exceptions, pretty well-protected. But as LSLC was bought by International Paper, its assets were quickly split-up and the sell-off started as developers came in and started offering attractive amounts of money for this highly-desirable land. Ironically enough, the cessation of logging and mining activities posed a threat to nature lovers.

This has triggered a series of land protection deals, big and small, between the State of Michigan, conservation groups, and International Paper (along with other holding groups). It's especially nice to hear that the Beta Gris area is getting some protection (I hadn't even heard that Hunter's Point was threatened, but it was clear even five years ago that Beta Gris was going to be destroyed if further development took place). At first glance, these deals appear to be very beneficial to those that enjoy the wonder that is the great outdoors of the Upper Peninsula.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

 

Asperger's Syndrome = Engineer?

Read the description:

By definition, those with AS have a normal IQ and many individuals (although not
all), exhibit exceptional skill or talent in a specific area. Because of their
high degree of functionality and their naiveté, those with AS are often viewed
as eccentric or odd and can easily become victims of teasing and bullying. While
language development seems, on the surface, normal, individuals with AS often
have deficits in pragmatics and prosody. Vocabularies may be extraordinarily
rich and some children sound like "little professors." However, persons with AS
can be extremely literal and have difficulty using language in a social context.


Now, take the test!

Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre have created the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, or AQ, as a measure of the
extent of autistic traits in adults. In the first major trial using the test,
the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those
diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher. The test is not
a means for making a diagnosis, however, and many who score above 32 and even
meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger's report no difficulty
functioning in their everyday lives.


And what did I manage to score? Yeah - 32 (out of a maximum of 50).

 

Size Of The Iraq Insurgency?

Rumsfeld and other members of the US military have previously stated that the Iraq insurgency involves perhaps 5,000-20,000 men.

But one of Iraq's generals now states that the insurgency is "stronger than the US military":

He estimated that 40,000 of the 200,000 were core fighters, while the remainder
were volunteers and part-timers.


Whoa.



 

Oklahoma City, 1000 Times Over?

Um, whoa:

Federal authorities searched Wednesday for a man using a Middle Eastern
name and possible bogus construction credentials to try to purchase large
quantities of the same explosive used by Timothy McVeigh to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said there is no
indication yet that terrorism is involved, but the agency is still checking
information that came from a company in Canada that reported the attempted
purchase as suspicious. ATF is asking the fertilizer and explosives industries
to help locate the man and to report any suspicious inquiries for the fertilizer
chemical ammonium nitrate, which is used to make so-called fertilizer bombs.

The suspect also made several Internet email inquiries to vendors seeking
to buy between 500 to 1,000 metric tons of the explosive a
quantity larger than McVeigh used to bomb the Oklahoma City federal building in
April 1995 but smaller than amounts companies typically might buy in bulk for
construction, explosives or farm work.

Bold emphasis mine.

OK, let's examine this more closely. Assuming that someone didn't get mis-quoted, or a decimal point didn't get moved or omitted, we're talking about at least 20+ loads in an average semi-truck, or a few hundred trips in a heavy-duty light truck, or several hundred times what was used in the OK City blast (McVeigh having used somewhere in the neighborhood of three tons of "energetic materials", including the initiating compounds). At a density of 50 lbs/ft^3 or less for explosive-grade AN (fertilizer-grade material is less porous and therefore more dense), that's at least 20,000 ft^3, which is a cube roughty 27 ft on each side.

If indeed these numbers are correct, than we're dealing with terrorists that are either blatantly stupid, or have far more ambition than I would have expected.

On the topic of OK City and McVeigh, was there a connection to the Middle East? I don't know, but it at least makes for interesting conversation. I think it's also yet another indictment against the practice of racial profiling, for what sort of racial profile covers this mix of participants? Seems like "activity profiling" perhaps is a better method, but then again that's not quite so easy as it is to put someone under suspecion for the color of their skin.

 

I Feel Better Now

Nominee for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "plans to promise to abide by the government’s non-torture policies and international treaties if he is confirmed by the Senate". Yep, that's reassuring.

So, just out of curiousity, will Sen. John McCain show the same concern for prisoner abuse that he did during the past summer's Al Gharaib scandal, or will he simply roll over and follow the party line when it's time to vote? Gonzales wrote memos advising the US that the Geneva conventions do not apply to War On Terror prisoners. McCain showed some level of outrage (real or fake?) when the photos of prisoner abuse broke into the mainstream media. I can't possible see how McCain can retain any sort of credibility by voting to confirm Gonzales. At the very least, he should be using the hearings to rip a new one in the AG nominee.

But my guess is that he won't, because that will upset the Powers That Be and negatively impact any chance that McCain has to run in 2008. For when it's come time to put his vote where his mouth is, we've seen McCain suckin' it up to the White House just about every time. Sad, so sad, especially seeing as how the man could grab 60%+ of the popular vote precisely because he's viewed as having integrity.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

 

A Big Pat On The Back For Congress

So, let me get things straight - after four consecutive years of budgetary bloating, we're supposed to be impressed by the fact that Congress is going to halt the increase in spending this year? Not decrease the amount of spending, not bring anything resembling balance to the budget - nope, we're simply going to stop increasing spending, at least for this one year. I was listening to Hannity on the way home yesterday evening, and Sen. Frist sounded like a boy who was proud of bringing hom a barely-passing report card while talking about this new era of fiscal responsibility. I'm trying to understand why this is anything worth congratulating, and I'm trying even harder to avoid using crude sexual metaphors to describe Hannity's, ah-hem, gentle treatment of Frist on this issue.

After seeing an increase of roughly 30% in discretionary spending over the past four years and without a corresponding increase in income (hell, we actually cut income!), we now have a weak promise to only increase it by 1%. That somehow has got a lot of folks thinking that this is the same as rolling-back spending, or at least they're celebrating like that's what's going on. If I stated that I was currently spending 50% more than I bring in, but I had a recovery plan that simply called for maintaining that level of spending over the next 12 months, would that get me high-fives all around? Then why are these bozos in Congress getting away with it?

Oh, but they're going to cut the deficit in half in the next five years. Yea! That only puts us in the hole by another $250 billion each year, and that doesn't include the costs of the War on Terror, prescription drug plans, or Social Security privitization. My head fuckin' hurts.

Oh, and for all that talk about military strength and so on, we're now staring-down a $55 billion cut in defense spending. Maybe it's the right thing to do. Maybe we're cutting programs that aren't needed now, but will be crucial in the future. But will we see any significant discussion on the impact that the war in Iraq might be having on our future military capabilities? Doubtful.

 

Let's Hope They Did A Better Job Than UL

Consumers Union has released the results of its condom testing. If your condom use involves blowing them up with compressed air, then this is the test for you:

"You end up with a balloon 3 feet tall and a foot wide. They can really stretch
an amazing amount," Metcalf said in a telephone interview.


Saddle up - it's party time!

 

Fraud At Underwriters Laboratories?

Maybe, maybe not. At any rate, it's a long and painful tale. The Cliff Notes version of the claims:

1) The UL was validating parts that did not meet the National Electric Code (NEC).
2) When a vendor submitted a part that met the NEC, UL petitioned the NEC to change the code.
3) UL also failed the vendor's part for minor reasons, and may have even altered a part so that it would fail.
4) UL refuses to acknowledge evidence showing that their testing was, at the least, not indicative of part performance.

Considering the importance of UL in validating the safety performance of so many household devices, this should be a pretty big story. It, of course, is not.

 

In Case You're Feeling Too Upbeat

Cheerful attitudes can be cured by reading The Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. It would appear that the interesting technical details are classified (per PDF page 57) - there's no detail of the potential effects of EMP - and frankly, it would appear that the members of the Commission don't really know how to deal with the threat much beyond "hope the backup systems work" (I wonder how the generator for the average cell-phone tower will work after getting hit with a fast-rising 100kV/m pulse) and "plan to bring the systems back up slowly". I think someone would be better-served by stocking up on surge protectors, because a sufficiently-sized pile of fried surge protectors can be burned for heat while waiting weeks, months, or years for power to be restored.

While we're on the topic of blast effects, check this out.

 

The Cost Of Doing Business The Wrong Way

John Henke of Planning Perspectives has issued a report stating that the Big Three pay 8% more than Honda or Toyota do for the identical part, even when it comes from the same supplier (sorry, no link to the story - it was something I was reading in Automotive News). I've got my own thoughts on this, and maybe I'll put them on the screen if I can craft something that's somewhat coherent. But for now, I'll let the Autoextremist do the talking:

But Detroit is continuing on its path of more and deeper cuts in its quest
to gain even more efficiencies, with little attempt at building partnerships
with suppliers except in the cases when they just can't get the job done without
them. And even then it's done with a grudging acknowledgment instead of a sense
of appreciation. In the midst of all of these maneuverings is the reality that
the manufacturers are looking to China as the Holy Grail for reduced supplier
costs, and they're willing to leave long-time contributors to their efforts
broke and busted at the side of the road if they have to. Executives in Detroit
continue to scratch their heads as to why Toyota is this seemingly unstoppable
juggernaut. They point to the obvious product and marketing successes, but they
never mention the fact that Toyota has developed a legion of loyal suppliers
based on a relationship of mutual respect - and not one of intimidation or
threats. And lo and behold, suppliers actually want to work for Toyota. They
want to give Toyota their best creative thinking because they enjoy a level of
trust in their professional relationship that Detroit can't match. (Rant 241)


Monday, January 03, 2005

 

Toyota To Overtake DCX For #3 Spot... Eventually

Contining its roll towards the top of the automotive foodchain, Toyota is currently projected to overtake DCX as the #3 car manufacturer in US sales by 2009. But what's even more interesting is that Toyota may challenge GM for the world's top spot as soon as 2006. Go take a look at a 20-year-old Corolla and honestly ask yourself if anyone in their right mind would have seen this coming a couple of decades ago.

GM and Ford, on the other hand, have a year of tightened profits (can they really get any tighter?) to look forward to, as well as a staggering $450 billion in shared debt. The article goes on to state that 2005 should represent the low point in GM's product cycle, with things picking up in the following year. But isn't GM supposedly right in the middle of a huge product roll-out? If so, one would think that they'd see the effects of that by this coming year. After all, it can probably be said that Ford entered their own crisis around the same time, and we've already seen signs of their turn-around in the F-150, the Mustang, in the Mazda and Volvo groups, and to a much lesser extent in the Five Hundred (which, if not for the 300C, would likely be the best American sedan in ages). It's now been 3+ years since Bob Lutz came on board - one would think that he'd be able to turn things around by now. Of course, it isn't Lutz's fault; we're likely seeing just how resistant to change the GM culture really is. Let's hope they can turn things around, and damn quickly.

 

No Link Between Laser "Attacks" On Airliners And Terrorism...

...says the FBI.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

 

Machine Guns And Drugs For All

It seems as if the issue of machine guns (the new manufacture of which was banned in 1986, sending the value of ones built prior to that through the roof) is coming up in the Supreme Court, as the relevant law (the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986) might be in violation of the Constitution, as perhaps the interstate commerce clause doesn't provide Congress with the power to regulate the manufacture, sale, and use of firearms (2nd Amendment notwithstanding). There's a good thread going on The High Road with a bunch of legal terminology I don't understand.

It also sounds like this is tied in with the issue of medicinal marijuana, which is also being contested in the Supreme Court in the well-known Ashscroft-vs.-Raich case.

The bottom line is this - if either firearm or drug regulation is found to not be covered under the interstate commerce clause, then the other will be as well. Either way this one goes down, it's likely to piss off just about everyone. Additionally, this could have far-reaching impact on the ability of the federal government to do anything from protecting the environment to levying taxes. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

 

Renewing My Faith In Music Magazines

During my trip to Barnes & Noble yesterday, the cover of AMP caught my eye due to a photo of Green Day, and some very large type below that proclaiming an interview with Hot Water Music. OK, it's obvious that this is already the best music magazine ever, and that doesn't even factor in the $1.99 price and the fact that two demo CDs were included.

Inside, I found coverage across the rock spectrum (including the death metal scene), some very messy but highly-entertaining interviews (seemingly the foundation of the magazine), and the most comprehensive round-up of reviews that I've seen in print. And very surprising for a magazine that's based around punk music, there's none of this usual exclusiveness (as I said, Green Day made the cover). Yea, it's printed on newsprint, there's no David Fricke, and quite frankly the writing and editing aren't much beyond the 'zines that TJ Doyle published during my senior year in high school, but it's worlds beyond any other consumer music mag that's available right now.

 

More On The Aviation Laser Incidents

A theory is floated that someone is performing rangefinding activities; some folks in the comments section disagree. A good read.

 

This Is Who's Supposed To Support Us In Our Old Age?

The rectangular cardboard milk carton is getting replaced by plastic bottles. Why?

''Those ... square containers are awfully hard for kids,'' says New Hampshire
Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor, who has watched the trend spread to some
320 schools in New England. ''Teachers say you can spend the whole lunch period
just walking around and opening those containers.''


Well, then, I guess we've got that to look forward to in the future of our country.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

 

There's A Reason Why That Quote Sits On The Masthead

I really have no idea where some folks might get the idea that the readers of Little Green Footballs are racist poster #23. I'm assuming that these folks would still be accommodating of racial profiling if, say, we suffer another attack by a Timothy McVeigh wanna-be - right?. I checked LGF's archives for October 2002 in hopes of catching something, anything, that I could use to hang them on this issue; ya know, maybe someone cried-out against the widely-accepted profile that described the sniper as a white Christian male loner. But interestingly enough, despite the impact of this story, I couldn't find a single post on the topic until it was determined that the snipers were followers of Islam. I think that says enough.

People seem to forget all too quickly about the failures of racial profiling in the Beltway sniper case, and that profiling might to partially to blame for the intelligence failures that led to the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Keep in mind that while Muslim extremists were setting up operations in the US, the FBI was still cracking-down on who it thought would be responsible for terrorist violence in the US - midwestern Christian white males. I think that perhaps profiling has its place when applied on a very short-term basis, but criminals will quickly adapt to and work around any narrow profile that is established by law enforcement. When applied over any considerable length of time (say, a decade), I just don't see them having any use against an enemy that's willing to adapt.

So, if profiling might not work, why not just move on to lockin' up the bastards? Both Power Line and Sisu made note of the Harvard Magazine article on conservative intellectual Daniel Pipes, which refers to him as being "gentle-voiced" and reminds readers that Pipes often claims "Militant Islam is the problem and moderate Islam the solution" to respond to critics who refer to him as an "Islamophobe" (that's the first time I've heard that term). Well, dang, the guy almost seems reasonable, right? It turns out that he's right alongside Michelle Malkin, making the case for the internment of Muslims. Or tries to, at least. He starts off somewhat reasonably:

For years, it has been my position that the threat of radical Islam implies an imperative to focus security measures on Muslims. If searching for rapists, one looks only at the male population. Similarly, if searching for Islamists (adherents of radical Islam), one looks at the Muslim population.

Fair enough (although last I checked, we don't lock up every male because rape still exists). But then he spends the next two paragraphs contradicting himself by stating:

Specifically, 44 percent of Americans believe that government authorities
should direct special attention toward Muslims living in the United States,
either by registering their whereabouts, profiling them, monitoring their
mosques or infiltrating their organizations.

That's the good news; the bad news is the near-universal disapproval of
this realism. Leftist and Islamist organizations have so successfully influenced
public opinion that polite society shies away from endorsing a focus on
Muslims.

Which is it - does 44 percent of the public support "special attention" towards Muslims, or is there "near-universal disapproval". Um, you can't have both. And last time I checked, it matters not a bit how much of the public supports such actions, as we are governed by the rights of individuals, not the opinion of the majority.

The rest of the article basically runs back through some filtered history of the Japanese internment during WWII, and the connection between then and now is never explictly spelled-out so the reader is left wondering exactly what this whole exercise was all about. But I think we can figure it out, and one has to wonder what we gain by locking up people from any one particular ethic group simply because some members of that group killed some people. I think it'd be relatively easy to prove that for most in the US, it's more likely that you'll be killed by a member of your own race than from another, and hopefully most people in the US would be smart enough not to call for mass internment of their own race. So then why call for the internment of any racial group?

UPDATE: The Thomas Paine quote I reference in the title of this post no longer sits on the masthead, so here it is: "He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself. "

 

Mark It On Your Calendar

Will the best album of this new year come before the end of its first month? There's a damn good chance of it. On January 25th, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead will release their new album, which will surely be loud and brilliant enough to single the start of the Apocalypse. We can only hope that this album builds on Source Tags and Codes' sonic range and seemingly constant threat of implosion.

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