The Big Think

November 19, 2015

Why is English so weirdly different from other langu…

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 9:42 pm

Why is English so weirdly different from other langu…: “Even in English, native roots do more than we always recognise. We will only ever know so much about the richness of even Old English’s vocabulary because the amount of writing that has survived is very limited. It’s easy to say that comprehend in French gave us a new formal way to say understand – but then, in Old English itself, there were words that, when rendered in Modern English, would look something like ‘forstand’, ‘underget’, and ‘undergrasp’. They all appear to mean ‘understand’, but surely they had different connotations, and it is likely that those distinctions involved different degrees of formality.”

Anodizing Successful!

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 10:26 am

The company said 10 days for the anodizing but the employees were so excited about having an R2 frame to work on that they put me at the front of the line. The big boss at the shop told me that they all took special care walking the parts through the 20 (!) tanks required for the whole anodizing process.

So today, after less than 48 hours in the shop, they called and told me that R2 was done! I was thrilled to go pick it up (and took them some pizza as a lunchtime thank you as well). Then I spent some time doing a tolerance check (that is: I assembled it!). The glossy finish I gave the parts was totally worth all the work. It looks amazing.
Here are some pics of the frame with all of my current pieces in place. I still have to design and laser etch the circuitry patterns but I’m thrilled that this part is done. Also, much relieved.

I had to get the dome out of its box and do a test fit, of course. It drew all kinds of attention at Techshop. People love R2.

Long, long way to go but this was a major milestone. Great to see it coming together.




Proud R2 papa

IMG_3985 copy.jpg

November 16, 2015

Polishing Pics

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 2:06 pm

So I just realized that I haven’t posted any pics of the polishing process (say that five times fast). I’ll update you a bit.

Since finishing the frame a few months ago I got online and researched sanding and polishing aluminum. There’s a TON to learn when you prep for anodizing. I opted to go the cheap and easy route.

Hahahah, but seriously folks. I had you there, didn’t I?

Instead of using the TechShop buffing wheels that may have been corrupted with steel (a deadly combination when you’re anodizing aluminum), I bought several different brand new buffing wheels. I also got two different types of aluminum polish (Mother’s Aluminum polish and Mother’s Billet polish). But before I even got to that point I had to sand.

And sand. And sand.

Here are two pics of a part when it’s ready for sanding;



You can see the milling marks, scratches, dings, crud, and ink from the plant. The aluminum feels rough and the edges are sharp. Yes, it’s a completed part but it’s still a visual mess.

The vertical rods (3/4″ solid aluminum) are about the same:


Yuck. The aluminum gets beaten up and scratched during the milling, forming, and tapping process, and it doesn’t start in a very good condition when you buy it anyway.

So I bought a set (which ended up being two sets) of wet/dry aluminum sandpaper. I also got a cheap pneumatic sander. Using the sander I hit the aluminum with 400 grit w/d sandpaper until I removed all of the basic scratches. If I had to do it again I’d have probably started at 200 grit. 400 took forever to remove the scratches. This is metal, after all. I’d work on a little 6×6 section for probably ten minutes before the big dings had been replaced by 400 grit sanding marks.

Next, I repeated the process with 800 grit, then 1000, then 1500, then 2000, then finished off with a 3000 grit wet/dry pad. For all 38 pieces of the frame. Total time spent sanding was about 20 hours over several weeks. It was also a mess with wet dirty aluminum “sawdust” flying everywhere. Even wearing an air mask, shop apron, gloves, and goggle/faceshield, I still ended up coming home looking like a coal miner.

2015-09-26 15.57.27.jpg

For the aluminum rods I had to first use a hard wheel to remove the worst of the scratches:

(Thanks to Sean for filming)

Once I had the parts sanded up to 3000 grit I installed a Sisal buffing wheel onto the new grinder/polisher/sander at TS. It’s a great tool! Big enough to do a project like this.

I’m simulating this pic with a non-spinning wheel:

I then put white polish on the sisal wheel and made a pass over each part to start to bring out the shine. Once all 38 parts were done I installed a soft cotton polishing wheel, put red jeweler’s rouge on it (the kind that you use on fine silver and gold), then started over and polished each piece until they sparkled. But I wasn’t done yet!

I then put the pieces into my storage box that I’d made at TechShop on the laser cutter (the box is in the “Because-I-Can” category). Then, one by one, I took each piece out and put a coating of Mother’s aluminum polish on them, followed by a final coat of Mother’s Billet Polish. These last two use a chemical reaction to get any surface oxidation off and give it a final, final polish.



If you’re keeping track, all of the above means that each coat gets ten different passes of progressively higher grits. The first grit, 400, is usually my final grit when I’m woodworking. For R2, that was the starting grit. By the end of the process I’ve polished the 6061 aircraft aluminum up to a chrome-like shine.

After a total of over 600 hours of work, here is the final result. Aluminum ain’t supposed to look like this, folks:



Finally, I brought the parts home and wiped them down with a soft rag to get any little bit of polish remaining off of them before I took them to the anodizers.

The anodizing company is doing the job for an extremely inexpensive rate. When the plant manager saw that it was an R2 frame he was really excited about it. The normal charge from another company is $500 but he’s doing it for $70 (basically cost, I think). I told him that all of his employees would get their names etched into the frame as thanks. Might even buy them pizza when I pick it up. It’s a really screamingly great price for a job like this. They even agreed to mask and plug any questionable holes that might interfere with the process. They’re going above and beyond since it’s a nice change from the generic metal unidentifiable parts that they usually do.

Why go to all that work to polish up to such a ridiculous shine if the parts are only going to be anodized black, you ask? Well, the final color will be black, but the final finish takes on the finish of whatever the unanodized surface looks like. If it’s bead-blasted then the finish is matte. A brushed aluminum finish will give you a brushed anodized look. And a stupidly-polished aluminum will look something like this:


So thats where the project stands right now! I have to admit that I’m a little nervous knowing that the box of parts is sitting in the anodizing warehouse. I’ll be glad when I get it back.

Frame Away!

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 1:00 pm

Just dropped it off at Brooks industrial coatings here in North Austin. The plant manager could see how nervous I was at turning it over. When I showed him a picture of the whole frame assembled he gestured me over to where his four employees were racking parts.

“Okay, guys, group meeting. We got a fun one here. This is Jason. Jason, take it away.”

So I took three minutes to tell the guys about the 600 hours of work, learning to machine, 20+ hours of wet sanding and polishing, etc. When I said “I’m building an aluminum R2D2 their eyes lit up and they all went “coooool”. Then Bob (the manager) said, “alright guys, treat this one like a fine lady”. So I still feel nervous but pretty good. He told me to call in a few days to see if he has any questions. Otherwise it should be ready in about 10 days.

Off to the Anodizers

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 11:31 am

I’m taking my box of R2 frame parts to be anodized today. Fingers crossed hard. I just want to make sure nothing happens that could ruin almost 600 hours and over a year of work. I’ll know in a week or so.

November 15, 2015

Circuit Patterns

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 11:19 pm

Erin wants to stage an intervention.

I’m going to take R2’s frame to the anodizer this week (I need to write up a whole post on that with pics, actually). After it’s anodized I wanted to laser etch a cool circuitry pattern into the black anodization layer. After some extensive checking around online for cool scalable vector circuit patterns, the best I could come up with was this:


Unfortunately, when you blow it up to the 18×18″ diameter of R2’s main rings you get this:

Screen shot 2015-11-15 at 11.15.09 PM.jpg

Way too fuzzy and indistinct for a good quality etch, especially considering the amount of time and work I’m putting into the frame.

So I’ve decided that I need to zoom way into that top picture in Illustrator and recreate it by hand on a separate layer. Only then can I get a really great scalable jpg. Erin couldn’t believe that I was going to do it (hence the intervention comment). Fortunately, though, it’s not all that bad. the pattern above is a 9×9 tiled image. So if I isolate the center 1/9th section and recreate it I can easily tile it. It should only take a week or so working about 30 minutes per day. No problem.

November 10, 2015

Where Are The Adults at Yale?

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:42 pm

Where Are The Adults at Yale? – Tablet Magazine: “…going to college is a challenging experience. And I don’t mean to downplay the difficulties that some students from historically disadvantaged communities may encounter at an institution like Yale, which for most of its history was not a friendly place for minorities of any sort, never mind people of color. But when I hear, in 2015, students complain about feeling ‘marginalized’ at Yale due to their racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, or any other identity—and, on top of this, demanding institutional retribution against those who mildly express viewpoints they don’t agree with and sartorial injunctions on pagan bacchanal holiday garb—I can’t help but think of James Meredith. Meredith was the first black student to attend the segregated University of Mississippi and had to do so under the cover of heavily armed federal marshals. When I see photographs of Meredith and other black students of the civil rights era staring down state-sanctioned American racism—not the rumored antics of inebriated frat boys or emails from well-meaning child developmental psychologists about the propriety of certain Halloween costumes—I don’t see people pleading for Dean’s Excuses so they can huddle in a ‘safe space’ to recover from ‘traumatic racial events.’ I see unbelievably courageous young men and women who, by keeping their heads high, exposed their spittle-flecked antagonists as the bigoted Neanderthals they were and changed this country for the better.”

Compared to the turmoil of the 60’s, the bar for courageous behavior has certainly reached a new low.

November 9, 2015

Health Care

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:42 pm

New Yorkers Face Hard Decisions After Collapse of Health Republic Insurance – The New York Times:

“If anyone could manage to obtain treatment under the Affordable Care Act, it should have been Liz Jackson.

With a severe nerve condition that forced her out of a job, Ms. Jackson did not just qualify for a government-subsidized plan, but she also knew her way around the new system, having been trained as a volunteer ‘health care navigator’ to help others sign up.

Yet the collapse of her insurer, Health Republic Insurance of New York — the largest of 12 health care co-ops nationwide set to close this year — has left her and more than 200,000 others in a panic over medical coverage after their plan ceases on Nov. 30.

Health Republic lived a short and difficult existence, squeezed by premiums that were low by design and cut off by Republicans in Congress from government subsidies promised along with the federal health care law.

Ms. Jackson, 33, is in a situation more grim than most of those losing coverage. She said she was told by state health care officials this week that she no longer qualified for subsidies promised under the federal law. Without them, she does not know if she will be able to afford insurance after her Health Republic policy ends.

‘I’m an advocate for the health care law,’ said Ms. Jackson, who lives in Harlem. ‘And if I can’t navigate this, who can?’”

Too bad there was nobody warning that this would happen when the plan was being responsibly debated rammed through Congress on a party line vote.

November 5, 2015

10 Reasons We Sold Our Television

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 11:55 am

10 Reasons We Sold Our Television: “9. I’m Actively Recovering
I’m a story addict. Serial shows are my nemesis, because they rarely ever resolve in a way that is satisfying. This means I (and every other television viewer) must keep watching and watching and watching a program to get an emotional payoff. This is death to my literary spirit. The best solution? Getting rid of the television and picking up a book, instead.”

The other 9 reasons are very good as well. I confess that we have a very nice 48″ flat panel, but this is used for RedBox movies once or twice a month and pretty much stays off the rest of the time.

Breaking the TV habit was hard the first month. Now that it no longer holds sway over us I don’t miss it a bit. Actually, I would actively campaign against ever plugging in the cable again. It’s basically given me years of productive time back — time that can’t be replaced and that would, I am sure, be regretted on my deathbed. Instead, I am using that time to develop skills, build an R2D2, read, and help Erin with her business. That extra time has become precious to me. Why would I pay to have that time taken away?

End of an Era

Filed under: Education,Maker,Science — jasony @ 10:30 am

After 14 years, the next season of Mythbusters will be the last. What a great run!

What We Owe the MythBusters: “The MythBusters’ delight in gonzo engineering also helped inspire the rise of the modern class of tinkerers known as ‘makers.’ When the show began, the idea that average people could build their own complex gadgets was a fringe notion at best. Today, more than 400,000 students worldwide gather to compete in FIRST Robotics competitions. Thousands of adults and kids attend Maker Faire festivals to show off their quirky inventions. ‘I feel really lucky that ‘MythBusters’ coincided with the whole D.I.Y. movement and contributed to it,’ Mr. Savage said. ‘I mean you’ve got 10-year-old girls building robots now!’

‘MythBusters’ didn’t do all this alone, of course. American culture is embracing its inner nerd on many fronts today. The cult of Steve Jobs and our fascination with tech start-ups have played a part. So have fictional TV shows like ‘CSI’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has stepped into Carl Sagan’s shoes, and ‘The Martian,’ which its star, Matt Damon, calls ‘a love letter to science,’ is one of the biggest films of 2015.

Best of all, a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the number of college freshmen enrolling in STEM majors has climbed nearly 50 percent since 2005. If a few more kids today want to grow up to be Elon Musk or settle on Mars or cure cancer, we have Jamie and Adam partly to thank.”

October 31, 2015

Japanese Researchers Make Glass That’s Nearly Unbreakable

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 8:18 am

Japanese Researchers Make Glass That’s Nearly Unbreakable:

“the Tokyo team brewed up a method of making glass that required no container at all: they used gas to push the chemical components into the air, where they synthesized together. The result? A transparent ultra glass that’s 50% alumina and rivals the Young’s modulus of steel and iron, which measures rigidity and elasticity in solids.”

Guess What? You’re Not Actually A Hero

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:00 am

Guess What? You’re Not Actually A Hero: “Stop confusing bravery with actions that merely confirm your worldview”

Good article. The author comes at it from a conservative leaning bent but also has some negative things to say about his own side.

October 30, 2015


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 2:56 pm


The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white supremacist groups, suggested in an article last week that the arsons [of six black churches in St. Louis] were carried out by white supremacists.

The group quoted a journalist who covers African-American issues who said that the fires were “both alarming and not surprising.”

“This is alarming because domestic terrorism is alive and well,” David A. Love told the SPLC. “It is such a problem that the U.S. Department of Justice recently predicted increases in violent acts by white extremists who are responding to a new reality in which people of color will become a majority in America.”

The SPLC also quoted Love blaming “a vicious cycle created by rightwing politicians, the NRA and hate groups who stir up anger, fear and resentment over changing demographics and want their country back.”

So people who were looking for news were presented with a pre-framed narrative and interpretation of events.

Today, police announced that they arrested the arsonist and it was quietly reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Although the locations of the fires in predominantly African American neighborhoods gave rise to speculation that the motive might be race-related, Jackson is black.

But hey, You can trust the media.

October 15, 2015

End of Sanding

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 7:55 pm

Finally finished sanding the frame pieces! I took the four curved front pieces and sanded them up to 3000 grit (wet-sanded). It took almost three hours. Ugh. I’m so glad to be done with that.

I still have about six to ten hours of polishing with the industrial buffer (and four more grits of rouge followed by aluminum polish and then billet polish) but the really nasty job is done. When I finished I took off my N95 mask and it was covered in powdered aluminum. So glad I wore that thing.

Anodizing is getting closer. I’ll hopefully be able to take it to the anodizer in a few weeks.

October 12, 2015

R2 Update

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 8:32 pm

Tonight I spent four hours at TechShop drilling eight holes. Not even full holes. I had to set up the manual mill, clamp in the four curved front utility arm pieces, centerfind each hole and then drill a .045″ countersink on each one with a .50″ bit. Each hole took about 20 minutes. With setup, cleanup, and a few side trips to help other members with the WJ (as well as answer questions about the laser and software) it took me four hours.

It’s fun being an instructor at TechShop, and fun being a well-known one. But sometimes it can be distracting! It took me a full 30 minutes to get to the mill and put my headphones on (the universal T.S. “leave-me-alone-I’m-working” signal that most people seem to understand).

So now all of the frame pieces are cut, drilled, and tapped. I have a little bit of wet sanding to do (about an hour) and then I can start in on the high-gloss polishing. I bought two different polishing wheels and a whole slew of compounds to use. I’m hoping to have the frame ready to go to the anodizers in a few weeks. Then assembly and I’ll then move on to the legs.

Pics will follow soon! I try not to touch my iPhone too much when I’m in the machine shop since there are so many tiny aluminum shards flying around.

Confessions of a Private Space Rocket Engineer

Filed under: Maker — jasony @ 12:41 pm

Confessions of a Private Space Rocket Engineer:

“I have the resources to move quickly from spitballing an idea with other engineers to drawing up a design, fabricating, and testing without friction from management or bureaucracy. This creative freedom is possible because every engineer is aware of the responsibility they have to their coworkers, that at the end of the day their work will be right. A lazy moment could result in the delay of a program, the loss of a vehicle during testing, or an injury, the consequences of which may be devastating. The engineering managers come from this culture of rapid innovation so they are able give significant control to the engineers allowing the organic development process to flow, adding in structure where it is needed. 

Nyberg: In a small scrappy company like Masten, the engineers are given both the pleasure—and frustration—of fabricating their designs with their own hands, which is very uncommon. We’re a company of tinkerers, and a core philosophy is that an engineer who physically builds, repairs, and maintains their own designs becomes tattooed in a way—either by the satisfaction of a well-built design, or just as frequently, by the frustration and revelation of how you’ll improve it ‘next time.’ When a teammate cursing an inaccessible bolt is the same teammate who designed the part in the first place, something very interesting happens: their designs mature at an absurdly fast rate”

In my much more modest projects I’ve definitely noticed that. It quickly gives you the ability to look ahead.

October 7, 2015

Alea iacta est

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:08 pm


“Occasionally a member of the chattering classes writes something that is not just wrong, that is not just irritating, but that is genuinely dangerous. Matthew Yglesias’s latest essay at Vox is just such a piece. Writes Yglesias:

From her adventures in cattle trading to chairing a policymaking committee in her husband’s White House to running for Senate in a state she’d never lived in to her effort to use superdelegates to overturn 2008 primary results to her email servers, [Hillary] Clinton is clearly more comfortable than the average person with violating norms and operating in legal gray areas.

This is, for him, a point in her favor:

Committed Democrats and liberal-leaning interest groups are facing a reality in which any policy gains they achieve are going to come through the profligate use of executive authority, and Clinton is almost uniquely suited to deliver the goods. More than almost anyone else around, she knows where the levers of power lie, and she is comfortable pulling them, procedural niceties be damned.


She truly is the perfect leader for America’s moment of permanent constitutional crisis: a person who cares more about results than process, who cares more about winning the battle than being well-liked, and a person who believes in asking what she can get away with rather than what would look best.”

Or “we’re okay with someone breaking the law, as long as it’s our person doing it.”

October 4, 2015

Daily Cuteness

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 1:47 pm

15 photos that prove dogs can fall asleep anywhere.

October 3, 2015

The Modern Milquetoast

Filed under: Current Reading — jasony @ 7:07 am

A rebuttal to the ridiculous and laughable NYT article about the “Modern Man” that made so many people giggle.

The Modern Man does not hunger for the approval of the New York Times.

October 1, 2015

The Mob Is Coming For You

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 2:05 pm

VDH: “All consensual governments are prone to scary wild swings of mob-like emotion—and to demagogues who can almost rein in or goad the dêmos. But the Founders sought to make American government immune to Athenian-style craziness through a system of checks and balances that vented popular frenzies without a great deal of damage. If an idea proved illogical or illegal, then legislators, judges, and executives could dissipate, delay, or nullify it, before it swept away years of sober custom and time-honored practices—at least as long as the Constitution and its subsidiary laws were not dismantled as impediments to ‘fairness’ and ‘equality.’

In the twenty-first century, novel developments have increasingly turned us from sober Roman republicans into mercurial Athenian democrats, as we can see especially in this election year.

First, the rise of social media suddenly destroyed most hierarchies of popular expression. Anyone can put up a YouTube video on the Internet and either delight or enrage millions of Americans within seconds—without any journalistic standards, fact-checking, or editorial oversight. The ensuing fury recalls the frenzied rumor-mongering of ancient Athens, when bearers of unpleasant news were often murdered or beaten by mobs at the port of the Piraeus, before their reports could be verified.

Presidential candidates crash or burn in fantastic spurts of public adulation or abject repulsion—predicated not on their policy positions or their past record, but instead on their  television appearances and the degree to which they are ‘trending’ on social media in any given 24-hour period.

Second, we are an increasingly urban people who have lost the sense of self-reliance and autonomy so needed for survival in the countryside and rural communities. Jefferson, more than two centuries ago, warned us that he did not think democracy would work when ‘we get piled upon one another in large cities.’ Fad and frenzy are the wages of centrally controlled, dense populations that look to an omnipotent ‘You Didn’t Build That’ government for their sustenance, safety, and guidance, losing contact with nature and confidence in themselves that accrues from self-reliant achievement.

Third, globalization has expanded America’s supposed responsibility for equality and fairness to all the peoples of the world. Suddenly, it is not enough for the government to provide jobs and opportunities to Americans alone; we must now extend those privileges to illegal immigrants. The Internet and cable TV show us hordes of people scrambling to enter the West—as if we have within our means the instant fixes for such maladies that are the fault of distant others. The plight of gays in the Congo, Christians in Syria, the transgendered in Russia, and the poor in Sudan have become referenda on our morality—and our government must expand and grow, the argument goes, to serve the global disadvantaged.

Finally, the law is seen as an impediment to such sweeping notions of social justice. It is certainly deemed counter-revolutionary and an impediment to the Obama administration’s idea of an equality of result. As a result, the President at one time or another has ignored enforcement of federal laws, from not prosecuting the rogue behavior of federal bureaucrats at the IRS or EPA to suspending elements of his own Affordable Care Act.

Over 300 cities—in antebellum, neo-Confederate fashion—have declared themselves immune from the jurisdiction of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Often detained and deported illegal aliens have been freed by our modern bureaucratic versions of Jefferson Davis nullificationists. Consequently, many released illegal aliens have killed and maimed Americans.

Yet not all of the laws are ignored in quite the same blanket fashion. If San Francisco claims that it does not have to turn over an illegal alien caught in violation of federal immigration law, then can Salt Lake City arbitrarily decide that a particular protected newt or salt-water fish is no longer sacrosanct under the federal Endangered Species Act? Will Fresno be allowed to cancel federal laws that forbid instant purchases of handguns?

What now constitutes actionable criminal behavior in the scandals at the IRS, EPA, ICE, and a host of other alphabet agencies are not treated as per se violations of the law. Rather, they are judged according to whether the offender and his crime were deemed progressive and well-intended—or reactionary and thus prosecutable. CEOs who cannot cap a leaky oil well or who sell noxious peanut products go to jail; EPA functionaries who turn white-water rivers into toxic yellow mush melt back into the coils of the bureaucracy.”

The whole article is worth reading.

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