Tuesday, June 27, 2017

LibertyCon, here we come!


Miss D. and I are heading for LibertyCon, to be held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, over the coming weekend.  We're both scheduled as speakers, and there'll be other activities to keep us busy.  It's the one convention we really make an effort to attend every year.  It's small enough to be manageable, and there's usually a great bunch of people in attendance.

We'll be driving there over the next few days, and heading home when the convention is over.  Blogging will, of course, be light while we're on the road, and probably while we're at the convention as well.  I'll post as and when I can, and I'll try to queue up a few posts in the evening to pop up during the following day or two, depending on my schedule.  Meanwhile, I'll be grateful if those of you so inclined will say a prayer or two for us, for traveling mercies, a safe arrival there, and a safe homecoming.

Peter

I'm so glad I'm not in the dating market any more . . .


Courtesy of Wirecutter:




Er . . . WTF???




Peter

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sounds like medical miracle goo to me!


I'm happy to read that an experimental treatment for victims of landmine blasts, that was still under development, has produced its first 'save'.

Vets and scientists successfully repaired the leg of a two-year-old Munsterlander named Eva who suffered a serious leg fracture of her right foreleg after being hit by a car last year.

Despite efforts of specialists the difficult 0.7 inch (2cm) wide break would not heal and Eva was left facing the prospect of life on three legs.

But fortunately for Eva she had been taken to the University of Glasgow’s Small Animal Hospital where vet William Marshal heard by chance about an experimental new treatment that colleagues were working on to help landmine or bomb victims.

A special putty made of bone flakes and a bone-growth protein was packed into the wound and within just seven weeks the fracture had completely healed.

“We are absolutely thrilled with Eva’s recovery,” said owner Fiona Kirkland, of Lenzie, near Glasgow.

“When we heard about an experimental treatment that might help her, we had no idea it was connected to such an important project.

“It is amazing to think that the treatment used to heal Eva’s leg will help researchers one day repair the bones of landmine blast survivors. I’m very grateful to everyone at the University of Glasgow.”

. . .

Trials on patients were not expected to start for a few more years, but Eva’s situation was desperate. If the new bone-growth treatment was not tried, the only other option was to amputate.

As a last resort before amputation, Mr Marshall took a mixture of bone chips and coated them with PEA and BMP-2 before placing the mixture in the 2cm gap in Eva’s front leg, the first time the mixture has ever been used in a treatment.



Although initially designed to help treat blast survivors, the technology has the potential to be used for anyone who needs new bone tissue.

There's more at the link.

Having seen at first hand, and rather too often for comfort, the effects of landmines on people who stumble across them, I really hope that this success spurs further - and faster - research to perfect the treatment.  It may alleviate the suffering of literally thousands of people every year, not just landmine victims, but anyone with similar bone injuries.

Peter

Doofus Of The Day #964


Today's award goes to an overenthusiastic tank driver in Belarus.

The city of Minsk — the capital of the Russia-aligned state of Belarus — was today preparing for an upcoming military parade.

Columns of military vehicles had taken up position and were practising rolling through the city’s street.

But one tank seems to have been somewhat out-of-place and behind in time.

So the driver poured on the gas and the tracked vehicle leapt down the slick, wet road in the city’s centre.

Social media posts of video and pictures show what happened next.

Hitting the brakes had little effect in slowing the 60-ton beast.

The heavy tank skidded, went sideways — and then demolished a streetside light pole.

Not to mention gouge up the pavement and gutter of the median strip.

There's more at the link.  A tip o' the hat to Australian reader Snoggeramus for sending it to me.

Here's footage of the accident.





That'll probably buff out of the tank . . . but I'm not so sure about the light post, the median strip or the road surface!

Peter

Our new, greatly enlarged back yard


Our contractor has been working hard for the past ten days or so, putting up a new privacy fence around our newly acquired property behind the house, knocking down and removing the old fence that separated it from our home, improving the drainage, and generally putting everything together.  (We're using the same contractor that enclosed our porch to form an office for me before we moved in.)  I've felt very sorry for him and his men, working hard in 100-degree-plus heat, but they seem to have survived it OK, with the help of copious quantities of water and soft drinks.

Here's how the back yard looked previously.  In this picture, the window nearest to the camera (with the air-conditioning unit) is my office.  For scale, the garden shed on the far side is about 7½ feet square.  (Click each image for a larger view.)




Here's the view from the other side of the house, between the corner and the garden shed, looking back towards my office.




Here's how the expanded yard looks.  It's almost three times larger than it was.  The first two pictures are taken from the same positions as the two above, but the expanded yard is too big for my cellphone camera to show it all;  so the third picture is taken from a central point, to show the part that doesn't fit into the previous shots.  You can see the strip of bare earth where the old fence used to stand.  (Most of the houses visible over the fence in the first image below are about 100 yards or more distant, on the far side of a street.  Only the one on the right, visible above the garden shed, adjoins ours.  We have open land to that side and far behind the house, making it feel more rural than suburbia from those perspectives, if you know what I mean.)








The last picture above shows, low center-left, the bare patch where the garden shed used to be.  We've moved it down to the bottom of the newly expanded yard.  It's a home-built unit, knocked together (rather poorly) by the previous owner.  In due course, we'll replace it with a larger, better-built shed, and perhaps also a writing hut for me on the other side of the yard.  Miss D. is also talking about a paved patio, with a fire-pit and pergola, and some raised beds for square foot gardening.  We'll put everything on the agenda for further down the road, when we can afford the next round of upgrades.

I'm very glad we got the opportunity to buy the extra land, particularly at so good a price.  It's transformed our back yard.  Once we've finished with it, it'll enhance the whole property - and it's probably already added three or four times more to our home's overall value than everything we've paid to buy it and fence it in.  It was a very good deal.

Peter

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday morning music


Here's a great rendition of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, recorded in 1990 at the Gasteig Philharmonic Hall in Munich, Germany.  The soloist is the then-sixteen-year-old Maxim Vengerov, and the conductor of the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra is Pavel Kogan.





I've always thought that Tchaikovsky, in particular, sounds best when played by a Russian orchestra, conductor and soloist.  There's something about his music that draws out the national character, I suspect.  At any rate, this was a rousing performance.

Peter

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Legalized narcotics and car accidents


I wasn't surprised to see a report this week that correlated the incidence of vehicle accidents with the legalization of formerly illicit narcotics.

According to the HLDI [Highway Loss Data Institute], past researchers haven't been able to "definitively connect marijuana use with real-world crashes," and even a federal study failed to find such a link. "Studies on the effects of legalizing marijuana for medical use have also been inconclusive," said the HLDI.

Instead, the group focused on three states -- Colorado, where legal marijuana retail sales started in 2014, as well as Oregon and Washington, where sales began in 2015 -- and compared them to the collision claims in neighboring states such as Nevada and Utah, parts of which now allow only medical marijuana. It also factored in statistics regarding the three states where recreational use is now legal from before it became available to the general public.



Colorado saw the largest estimated increase in claim frequency -- 14 percent more than its bordering states, while Washington state was 6 percent greater and Oregon had a 4 percent increase. Allowing for the total control group, "the combined effect for the three states was a smaller, but still significant at 3 percent," said HLDI Vice President Matt Moore.

There's more at the link.

So much for those who claim that the use of such narcotics is a 'victimless crime', affecting no-one but the consumer of the drugs.  Not so much.  We all pay for this in higher insurance premiums, and some of us pay in terms of injuries, pain and suffering, too - if not death, either our own or that of a loved one, killed by a hopped-up driver.

I know some will claim that the situation is no different with legalized narcotics than it is with alcohol.  Both cause the same problem.  Nevertheless, why add to the existing problem by legalizing new ways to become intoxicated?  That doesn't make much sense to me . . .

Peter

Thwarting data-miners and privacy-invading snoopers


I had to laugh at a recent post at Raconteur Report on how to frustrate, thwart and totally mess up those who are trying to mine every detail about you, whether for surveillance or profit.  Here's an excerpt.

Go by the local bookstore.
Collect 50 magazine blow-in subscription cards while you browse.
From political and religiously slanted periodicals, when possible.
Sign up for the magazines using your own name.
No middle initials.
At 17 real addresses you never lived at, all around the country.
Mail them in.
Next month, do the same thing for 5 people randomly selected.
Forward all your junk mail **** to those addresses.
Ideally, by responding to it using those addresses.
(And if you can’t figure out how to pull the same thing off online using dead end g-mail and yahoo addresses, you’re not tall enough for that ride.)

. . .

Send $5 to each of 13 religious organizations. All different than yours.
And three atheist organizations.
And the Flat Earth Society, and the Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster.
And the NRA, and the ACLU.

. . .

Get some cheap burner phones. (Quantity optional.)
Use them, and a prepaid cash gift card from Visa or MasterCard. Give one of the new phone number(s) out, with your name, every time you’re asked for a phone number that’s nobody’s goddam business, and order different inexpensive oddball crap to yourself.
At each of the 17 addresses you don’t live at.
Bonus: Use Amazon.
Send yourself Mein Kampf at one address, Mao’s Little Red Book at another, Shrillary’s It Takes a Village at a third, and Barry Goldwater’s Conscience Of A Conservative at a fourth address, and so on. Get the cheapest crappiest used copies listed.

. . .

For maybe 200 bucks, you can so **** up data miners, you’ll be listed at a dozen or more addresses you never lived at, and half a dozen phone numbers you won’t ever use, and be registered as belonging to every political and religious group on the planet. If 100 people did it, then did it to half a dozen random strangers, data mining them would be like looking for a needle in a wrecked auto junkyard, with a metal detector. Blindfolded.

. . .

And in case you never read Hayduke’s Revenge books, any time someone asks for a Social Security number that’s none of their goddam business, Richard Nixon’s number is 567-68-0515.

And there’s also a list of more Social Security numbers online, for Kurt Cobain, Walt Disney, etc.  Knock yourself out.

There's more at the link.  Go read the whole thing.

Evil, devilish and fiendish ideas . . . but I think all of them may be a lot of fun (from our point of view, that is).

Peter

Friday, June 23, 2017

America's most dangerous cities


Statista offers an interesting infographic, showing murder rates for various US cities per 100,000 residents over the past five years.  The top of the list doesn't surprise me at all.  (Click the image for a larger view, at Statista's Web site.)




Statista notes that the number of homicides in Chicago since 2001 surpassed total US war deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq by November last year.  They provided this infographic last year.




I'll do my best to stay clear of all those cities, thank you very much!

Peter

Why worry? It's just $14 billion of taxpayer's money . . .


. . . plus a few billion more to fix the problems.

The U.S. Navy has a major ship design disaster on its hands with the new EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) catapult that was installed in the latest aircraft carrier; the USS Ford (CVN 78). During sea trials the Ford used EMALS heavily, as would be the case in combat and training operations. Under intense use EMALS proved to be less reliable than the older steam catapult, more labor intensive to operate, put more stress on launched aircraft than expected and due to a basic design flaw if one EMALS catapult becomes inoperable, the other three catapults cannot be used in the meantime as was the case with steam catapults.



Some of the problems with EMALS were of the sort that could be fixed while the new ship was in service. That included tweaking EMALS operation to generate less stress on aircraft and modifying design of EMALS and reorganizing how sailors use the system to attain the smaller number of personnel required for catapult operations. But the fatal flaws involved reliability. An EMALS catapult was supposed to have a breakdown every 4,100 launches but in heavy use EMALS failed every 400 launches. The killer here was that when one EMALS catapult went down all four were inoperable. With steam catapults when one went down the other three could continue to operate.

Moreover it would cost over half a billion dollars to remove EMALS and install the older steam catapults. This would also take up to several years and lead to many other internal changes. The navy is now considering bringing a recently retired carrier back to active service as a stopgap because whatever the fix is it will not be quick or cheap.

This EMALS disaster was avoidable and the problems should have been detected and taken care of before the Ford was on sea trials.

. . .

The EMALS disaster calls into question the ability of the navy to handle new, untried, technologies. That is not a new problem and has been around since World War II. In retrospect not enough was done to test and address what are now obvious problems. The current solution is to delay the moment of truth as long as possible and then conclude that it was unclear exactly how it happened but that measures would be taken to see that it never happen again. That approach is wearing thin because more people are well aware that is just a cover for the corruption and mismanagement that has been developing within the industries that build warships.

There's more at the link.  What's more, EMALS isn't the only problem with the ship.  You'll find a list of some of the more important defects here.  Together, they'll probably cost billions to fix - billions of our taxpayer money.

I don't know what the heck is wrong with the US Navy's procurement process, but it's clearly in a mess.  The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has been derisively renamed 'Little Crappy Ships', in tribute to the endless problems that continue to plague it;  the San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ships took years to get right, particularly the lead ship;  and maintenance has been shelved or postponed for far too long due to budgetary pressures, resulting in a multi-year backlog.  These and other problems led to a recent headline claiming bluntly that 'The US Navy is screwed'.  The problems with USS Ford are merely another symptom of that reality.

Speaking as a taxpayer, I want to know why multiple heads responsible for these fiascos have not rolled.  If President Trump wants to 'drain the swamp', the Pentagon - and Navy procurement bureaucrats in particular - might be good places to begin.




Peter

Rappelling to get away from a high-rise fire?


I found an article over at FerFal's place, discussing rappelling (a.k.a. abseiling) as an escape technique from a fire in a high-rise building.  It's obviously prompted by the Grenfell tower fire in London earlier this month.  I visit Ferfal's blog regularly, and mostly like what he has to say;  but, in this case, I must respectfully disagree with his advice.

In the first place, here's what the tower looked like as it burned. Look at the flames spurting out of windows all around the building, and the burning insulation (cladding) around the concrete.





Now, imagine dropping a rappelling rope (usually of kernmantle design, made of nylon and/or other synthetic fibers that are flammable) down the side of that building.  What are your chances that the rope will not catch fire?  I'd say slim to none.  Even if it doesn't, what are your chances of rappelling down the side of the structure, safely and uninjured, with so many flames reaching out at you?  Again, I'd say slim to none.  Even if you start down a side of the building that isn't visibly on fire, what guarantee is there that it won't catch fire while you're on the way down?

There's also human nature.  If you're trapped in an apartment, and you suddenly see a rope dropped past your window or balcony, aren't you very likely to seize it and try to climb down it yourself?  Unfortunately, if you're not fit or strong enough, or adequately trained in rope climbing techniques, to take advantage of it, you're unlikely to reach safety by using it;  and, in the process, you're likely to overstress the rope's weight limit (remember, the person who dropped it will also be using it, higher up the building).  Put too much weight on the rope, and it'll probably snap.  Even if it doesn't, the point on the building to which it's anchored may not be able to take the added weight, and might give way.  I'd say many people trapped in a burning building will behave like that, making escape problematic, to say the least.

There's also the need, not just for training, but for ongoing familiarization.  Training in rappelling techniques is widely available, sure enough;  but like any specialized skill, it takes ongoing practice to remain useful.  If you learn how to rappel, but never practice it after that, how much good will that be in a building fire five years later?  Will you remember it well enough to get to the ground in safety?  More to the point, what about your kids?  You may have learned to rappel as a solo climber, or with your partner;  but if you now have one or two small children, have you ever practiced harnessing them to your body, so you can get them to safety as well?  I'd say the odds of that are vanishingly small.

Some (particularly after the 9/11 attacks) have spoken of using a parachute to escape a high-rise building.  They're available, but their use raises at least five issues.  The first is that parachutes, like rappelling, require training and ongoing practice to use effectively.  Next, there's the the proximity of other buildings.  If yours is in a cluster of them, such as a city center, there isn't going to be a lot of empty space for your jump.  The odds of colliding with another building, or getting your parachute caught on an obstruction like a protruding flagpole or fire escape, or hitting power lines or telephone wires on the way down, are pretty high.  Third, the wind in such an environment can be fluky.  It can vary in strength, direction, etc. as it's funneled between the buildings.  That's going to affect the behavior of your parachute.  So will the fourth issue;  updrafts caused by the heat of the fire.  They've been measured at over two thousand feet per minute - a nightmarish prospect.  Winds or updrafts may carry you back against - or even inside - the burning building from which you've just jumped.  Finally, parachutes, like climbing ropes, are made of synthetic materials.  They're not fireproof.  If you have to jump through or past flames to get off the building, and/or your parachute canopy happens to collide with a piece of burning debris, floating in the air (and there are usually a lot of them in a fire like that - just look at video clips to see them for yourself), it may catch fire.  If it does, you're going to drop like a stone.  On balance, I'd say that parachutes aren't a viable means of escape for anyone except trained, experienced sky-divers, and even they will have serious problems in such an environment.

On balance, I think the recommendations I gave in my first article on this tragedy still hold good.  Live as low in the building as you can arrange;  get out as fast as you can, as soon as the warning is received;  have flashlights, fire extinguishers, and other emergency equipment to hand, so that you can use them to aid in your escape;  and don't rely on emergency services to get you out.  They'll doubtless do their best . . . but they can't perform miracles.

At the time of writing, the death toll in the Grenfell fire stands at 79.  Many of them trusted 'official guidelines', and stayed put, waiting for a rescue that never came.  Don't make that mistake.

Peter