The Big Think

January 10, 2015

Confessions of a former TSA officer

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 6:27 pm

Security Theater:

“WE KNEW THE full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, in December 2009, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.

Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines.

‘They’re s—,’ he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.

We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.”

The Blasphemy We Need

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 12:30 am


“We are in a situation where my third point applies, because the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more. Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.”

I’m not a fan of people going out of their way to offend me (I mostly just roll my eyes and go about my business), but I certainly don’t want to live in a world where I risk death if I offend someone else.

January 9, 2015

The Uncomfortable 1%

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:26 am

Yes, You’re Rich, and It’s Time You Admit It:

“If you’re reading this article, chances are that you are in the top 1 percent of global income. And chances are also that you really don’t feel like a tycoon.

The cutoff for the global 1 percent starts quite a bit lower than the parochial American version preferred by pundits. I’m on it. So is David Sirota. And if your personal income is higher than $32,500, so are you. The global elite to which you and I belong enjoys fantastic wealth compared to the rest of the world: We have more food, clothes, comfortable housing, electronic gadgets, health care, travel and leisure than almost every other living person, not to mention virtually every human being who has ever lived. We are also mostly privileged to live in societies that offer quite a lot in the way of public amenities, from well-policed streets and clean water, to museums and libraries, to public officials who do their jobs without requiring a hefty bribe. And I haven’t even mentioned the social safety nets our governments provide.

So why don’t we feel like Scrooge McDuck, rolling around in all of our glorious riches? Why do we feel kinda, y’know, middle class?

Because we don’t compare our personal experiences to a Tanzanian subsistence farmer who labors in the hot sun for 12 hours before repairing to his one-room abode for a meal of cornmeal porridge and cabbage. We compare ourselves to other Americans, many of whom, darn them, seem to have much more money than we do.”

As Instapundit put it, traditionally, envy was regarded as a sin.

It’s easy to live as a middle class (i.e. globally “rich”) Westerner among the Super-wealthy elite. It makes the super-wealthy an easy target for jealously and envy, with demands for “social change” as a tasty side dish. But I wonder what would happen if those Tanzanian subsistence farmer suddenly started picketing all of those iPhone/MacBook wielding protesters: the members of the “99%”. Would the protesters be willing to give up their Western comforts to spread the wealth around? Take on a few dozen roommates? I think not.

Ultimately it comes down to the viability of relative systems. If your society is structured around opportunities for advancement and personal success based on hard work then your society will tend to attract people that are willing to strive for their own future benefit (as well as the predictable gathering of lampreys that prefer to sponge off of the hard work of others, but that’s the inevitable friction of any successful economic system). If, however, your society rewards graft, personal connections, and the unfair application of laws and regulations based on who-you-know, then there will be a limit to how much your society can advance economically.

Once a society breaks out into entrepreneurialism, the trick is to keep regulations and graft from choking it to death. In the meantime, protesting about “the wealthy” while making calls on an iPhone and sipping your Starbucks is the height of hypocrisy.

January 8, 2015

Spring into the Unknown

Filed under: Space/Astronomy,Technology — jasony @ 5:21 pm

2015 is getting an extra second and that’s a bit of a problem for the internet | The Verge: “On June 30th at precisely 23:59:59, the world’s atomic clocks will pause for a single second. Or, to be more precise, they’ll change to the uncharted time of 23:59:60 — before ticking over to the more worldly hour of 00:00:00 on the morning of July 1st, 2015. This addition of a leap second, announced by the Paris Observatory this week, is being added to keep terrestrial clocks in step with the vagaries of astronomical time — in this case, the slowing of the Earth’s rotation. And it’s a bit of a headache for computer engineers.”

Going to have to watch the atomic clock online that day to see “23:59:60″. Weird.

Print Me

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 3:01 pm

MakerBot Invents a Way to 3D Print With Limestone, Metal, and Wood – Popular Mechanics: “The world of 3D printing is getting some new materials to work with, creating the potential to print some really innovative objects.

At CES, MakerBot just announced a new move to allow customers to print with metal, wood, and limestone. To be sure, these will be composite materials, with the metals and other printed materials alloyed with the plastic. But it means that users will be able to create functional tools through 3D printing, moving the technique beyond gorgeous sculptures, toys, and trinkets. “

January 6, 2015


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:03 am

Changes at Harvard:

“‘Deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university.’  That’s what Harvard Classics professor Richard F. Thomas calls the changes in Harvard’s health plan, which have a large number of the faculty up in arms.

Are Harvard professors being forced onto Medicaid? Has their employer denied coverage for cancer treatment? Do they need to sign a corporate loyalty oath in order to access health insurance? Not exactly. But copayments are being raised and deductibles altered, making their plan … well, actually, their plan is still extraordinarily generous by any standard:

The university is adopting standard features of most employer-sponsored health plans: Employees will now pay deductibles and a share of the costs, known as coinsurance, for hospitalization, surgery and certain advanced diagnostic tests. The plan has an annual deductible of $250 per individual and $750 for a family. For a doctor’s office visit, the charge is $20. For most other services, patients will pay 10 percent of the cost until they reach the out-of-pocket limit of $1,500 for an individual and $4,500 for a family.

The deepest irony is, of course, that Harvard professors helped to design Obamacare. And Obamacare is the reason that these changes are probably necessary.”

Of course, they thought that these changes would affect everyone else, and they were okay with that (know your place, peasant). When they are directly impacted by the law, well, then it becomes “deplorable”.

Too bad they didn’t listen when voters were shouting for them to stop.


2015 The Obamacare Crucible: “It is likely that ObamaCare’s low point hasn’t been reached. The year 2015 is shaping up to be the ACA’s worst yet. A confluence of events will have significant implications for the law’s ultimate disposition and may give the law’s opponents their best chance to date to relieve the American people from some of its most crushing burdens.”

January 4, 2015

A Prop Story

Filed under: Business,Disclosure,Woodworking — jasony @ 5:38 pm

One of the great things about doing props for me (one of my main reasons, really), is to help the students, particularly the girls, feel more comfortable around tools. So many of them have never held a hammer (really), cut a piece of wood, or built anything in the “real” world. Over and over again I hear from them that one of their top five memories from the whole process is helping a pile of lumber become a bunch of props that they can be proud of. I do much of the cutting (and all of the cutting with the table and miter saw), but they handle most of the nail gun work, drilling/screws, jig sawing, and other medium duty stuff. They do probably 70% of the work with me managing, advising, and “big picturing”. If there’s a problem I toss it over to them and help them solve it. It’s important to me that they don’t stand around and “watch Jason build” because they’ll be invested in their props if they’ve got their own skin in the game (hopefully not literally). Since so much of college takes place in the cerebral realm I feel strongly that it’s a way that I can hopefully help them feel like they can do something physical/tangible.

(Funny sidenote: several years ago a pair of Sing chairs came down for props. One of the chairs was so blown away by the idea of building stuff that she called me a few weeks later to tell me that she’d been to Lowes to buy some tools! Then a few days later she called me again for advice on a present that she was building. She didn’t have a router — the tool that could make the cut she needed— so I came up to Waco and helped her finish the project in time for her roommate’s 21st birthday. The present? A beautifully made… beer pong table. Gotta love college).

Anyway, a group was down this weekend to build props. They did a fantastic job, transitioning in the typical way from “I’m afraid of that tool and don’t want to touch it!” all the way to fighting over who got to use it. I was really proud of them. We had a great time, worked fast, stayed safe, and I felt like I was able to give them a memory and maybe some skills that could help them feel more confident in the future. Man, I love this part.

However (dangit, there’s a however), today one of the girls’ dads drove down in his pickup truck to cart the props back to Waco. We had a few minor things to finish up – a few boards to glue/nail and some casters to apply. No big deal, and certainly nothing compared to what we’d done the past few days. About 45 minutes’ worth of work, tops. Anticipating that the chair would be proud of her new-found skills, I gave the tools to her and walked her through the procedure just like I’d done over our build time. I thought her dad would be proud of seeing her handle a pneumatic stapler, drill, driver, etc. At first she jumped right in there, proudly saying “look what I learned yesterday!” I was beaming, and so was she. But at the first little hiccup/problem, instead of stepping back and letting her puzzle through it (I think the stapler just needed new staples), her dad stepped in and took over. Completely. You know, because “I’d do anything for my little girl”. You mean like take her very minor but potentially significant milestone away from her? I kept wondering if he’d have taken over the tools if it was his son, you know? At first she sort of fought it but then reverted back to helpless-daughter-leaning-on-daddy mode. It made me really sad.

My biggest goal in props is to help these kids (gahhh… I called them kids!) gain experience and confidence with tools in the same way that being a Chair helps them gain experience and confidence with budgets, peers, scheduling, etc. I just hope that the other parents are willing and able to let their kids stand on their own, even if it means holding their tongue (and their help) when their kid has a problem. Overcoming these issues can be much more helpful to their child than just grabbing the nailgun and taking over.. because you’d do anything for your little girl.

Got news, dad, your little girl isn’t so little any more.

December 31, 2014


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 3:15 pm

When The FISA Court Rejects A Surveillance Request, The FBI Just Issues A National Security Letter Instead

…the FBI had a neat way to get around a rare FISA Court rejection: just issue an NSL and ignore the First Amendment concerns.

Apparently, to some, whatever weak “oversight” there is from the FISA Court really just means “find another door in to violate the same Constitutional issues.”

Sheesh, this is reprehensible.

And He Built a Crooked House

Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 12:41 pm

Storybook Houses Fantastic pics of some really amazing houses. As the article says, it’s so much harder to build “wonky” than straight-and-true.

A Case of the Vapors

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:41 am

2014: The Year of the Fainting Couch:

“2014 was the year, thanks to the hack of Sony Pictures in retaliation for the spoof movie ‘The Interview,’ that even the North Koreans made the ‘do not offend’ list.

It was the year that a scientist made an abject apology for wearing a shirt that offended feminists in a TV broadcast; that Amazon Prime put a label warning of racist content on ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons; and that various news outlets refused to say the name of the NFL team from Washington on grounds that even uttering it made them complicit in rank offensiveness.

It was a year when the nation’s colleges and law schools cemented their reputations as places where easily offended children go for a few years to become slightly older easily offended children.

Colleges canceled appearances by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Condi Rice (who technically pulled out of her scheduled Rutgers commencement) and George Will for fear students might hear something they disagree with from a figure they object to.

The University of California at Irvine offered grief counseling (‘in a constructive space’) for students upset at the grand-jury decision in the Ferguson case, and Occidental College brought in a religious counselor to comfort students who had volunteered for losing Democratic Senate campaigns.

An open letter from law students at Harvard upset at the nonindictments in the Ferguson and Eric Garner cases captured the spirit of the year, and deserves an honored place in the history of the rhetoric of plaint.”

We have a cultural problem when the exquisitely overly-sensitive minority gets to define and enforce acceptable discourse. We’re a long way from “I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

December 30, 2014


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:40 pm

Instapundit: “Obama Adviser Jonathan Gruber In 2009: Obamacare Will NOT Be Affordable.

‘Gruber said that Obamacare had no cost controls in it and would not be affordable in an October 2009 policy brief, presented here exclusively by TheDC. At the time, Gruber had already personally counseled Obama in the Oval Office and served on Obama’s presidential transition team. Obama, meanwhile, told the American people that their premiums would go down dramatically…

“The problem is it starts to go hand in hand with the mandate; you can’t mandate insurance that’s not affordable. This is going to be a major issue,” Gruber admitted in an October 2, 2009 lecture, the transcript of which comprised the policy brief.

“So what’s different this time? Why are we closer than we’ve ever been before? Because there are no cost controls in these proposals. Because this bill’s about coverage. Which is good! Why should we hold 48 million uninsured people hostage to the fact that we don’t yet know how to control costs in a politically acceptable way? Let’s get the people covered and then let’s do cost control.”

Gruber also said that the only way to control costs is to effectively deny treatment…

…”And despite the president’s pitches to the contrary, Obama also knew that his health care bill was unlikely to control costs”, Gruber said.’”

December 24, 2014

World’s Smallest Violin

Filed under: Science — jasony @ 9:07 am

Why String Theory Still Offers Hope We Can Unify Physics: “”

December 22, 2014

Sunlight is the best sanitizer

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:46 pm

IRS Targeted ‘Icky’ Conservative Groups: “Top IRS officials specifically targeted tea party groups and misled the public about its secret political targeting program led by ex-official Lois Lerner, according to a bombshell new congressional report.

The Daily Caller has obtained an advance copy of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report set to be released Tuesday morning that definitively proves malicious intent by the IRS to improperly block conservative groups”

First we were told it didn’t happen.
Then we were told it was “rogue” agents.
Then we were assured there wasn’t a “smidgen” of corruption.
Then key people took the 5th.
Now the truth is starting to come out.

I predict the next phase will be the “move the goalposts and redefine illegal” phase.

December 16, 2014

JAG 17, JAG02

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 10:24 pm

I really need that iPhone, you know?

The last two nights I’ve gone to TechShop without a definite plan but left with two waterjet cut frame parts (JAG17 and JAG02… the “JAG” stands for the blueprint part number “James A Greene” designed).

I was messing around getting the part .dwg files exported from the completed Inventor model and then threw them into FlowPath (the waterjet pathing software). Well, I figured, I might as well take the parts back and run a (free) dryrun to see if this worked. Sure enough, they did! The part ran without a problem.

So I was standing logged in to the FlowJet with my 1/4″ plate of aluminum in my truck and I thought oh, what the heck. I got the plate, fastened it down, held my breath, and hit CUT. A few minutes late a perfectly WaterJet cut part emerged from the metal! The first one I cut last night was really easy– basically a rectangle with eight holes cut. Tonight’s part was the much more difficult “Ring 2″ from R2’s body. It has 28 holes and a very distinctive “C” shape. I took calipers to it afterwards and confirmed that the cut is perfect! So far so good.

So in the last week I’ve milled up 24 rods (various lengths, 3/4″ diameter) and 4 very precise bars. I still have to tap and drill all these parts, which terrifies me since I’ll be remaking them if I break a tap. But onward we go!

I have 2 more main body rings to cut on the WaterJet and then two much thicker side pieces. Then I’ll be spending a lot of time at the mill edgefinding, drilling, tapping, etc. Tonight I got a master class from a member on lathe tool selection. There’s just so much to know. Cool tidbit: the guy I learned from helped Steve Jobs design the first iPod. He was also on the team that made the Starship Enterprise fly under early CNC control for the first Star Trek movies. An electronics genius. It’s amazing what kind of resources and people are at TechShop.

I’m building props for Sing the next few days so, ironically, I won’t be going in to to TechShop. Nope, I’ll be out in the cold and rain trying to stay dry. Cool stuff building, though. Next week I’ll be back at T.S. doing some more W.J. cutting.

Oh, and the dome (one of the few pieces I bought) should be arriving soon. Hooray!

Edward Snowden: The Untold Story

Filed under: Politics,Technology — jasony @ 1:05 pm

Absolutely worth the read:

Edward Snowden: The Untold Story | WIRED: “Snowden and his colleagues had discussed the routine deception around the breadth of the NSA’s spying many times, so it wasn’t surprising to him when they had little reaction to Clapper’s testimony. ‘It was more of just acceptance,’ he says, calling it ‘the banality of evil’—a reference to Hannah Arendt’s study of bureaucrats in Nazi Germany.

‘It’s like the boiling frog,’ Snowden tells me. ‘You get exposed to a little bit of evil, a little bit of rule-breaking, a little bit of dishonesty, a little bit of deceptiveness, a little bit of disservice to the public interest, and you can brush it off, you can come to justify it. But if you do that, it creates a slippery slope that just increases over time, and by the time you’ve been in 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, you’ve seen it all and it doesn’t shock you. And so you see it as normal. And that’s the problem, that’s what the Clapper event was all about. He saw deceiving the American people as what he does, as his job, as something completely ordinary. And he was right that he wouldn’t be punished for it, because he was revealed as having lied under oath and he didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for it. It says a lot about the system and a lot about our leaders.’ Snowden decided it was time to hop out of the water before he too was boiled alive.”

The rest of this excellent interview details even more appalling behavior that the secret organizations commit.

People say Snowden betrayed his oath to his country. I believe it’s more like he betrayed his oath to the government, and the government is the one that betrayed the country. Betraying his oath to a betrayer is simply proof that he’s back on the right side.

I’m pretty much coming to the conclusion that I’m glad he did what he did.

December 15, 2014

Christmas Present Idea

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 8:17 am

December 14, 2014

Tool Time!

Filed under: Business,Woodworking — jasony @ 8:22 am

Ha ha! I get to buy a new tool. :) A drawknife. I need it for a cool prop build and nothing else will do the job.

I love it when that happens.


December 13, 2014

Lathe Work

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 1:26 am

Finally confronted the great big Machine. The King of Tools: the machine shop lathe. I took the class last night and then went back in there tonight, broke out my notes, and went over that sucker one crazy, unmarked lever at a time. After spending almost five hours on it I managed to lathe out ten simple parts for R2 (the vertical support beams). It took me almost two hours to figure out the various chucks, stops, tool rests, etc. But once I got everything set up and zeroed out to 0.0000 inches I was able to reproduce parts that were spot on accurate with each other. Took a bit of doing (and a whole lot of careful moving), but I did it! It feels great to have tackled that one. And you know, it’s not really that hard after all. Just don’t turn the wrong handle the wrong direction at the wrong time and you won’t destroy the machine. :)

Easy, huh?


December 11, 2014

Time Trap

Filed under: Humor and Fun,Movies — jasony @ 2:12 pm

Hilarious and really well done.

Unexpected Gifts

Filed under: Friends,Maker — jasony @ 11:45 am

It’s Christmas season! Which means getting to know the UPS driver and mailman really well. The other day the doorbell rang and I went down to see a large flat box perched next to the front door. Huh… don’t think I was expecting anything. It turns out it was a gift from an artist friend of ours along with this note:

Jason and Erin,

Just a small token to say “Merry Christmas!” and let let you know that, in spite of all the miles between us, we truly appreciate your friendship and think of you both often….

…I trust that it will still fin a place in your home and, just maybe, spark some pleasant memories of the Emerald Isle.

Tim is a fine guy, a wonderful, patient artist, a supportive husband, and one of those friends that you never get to spend as much time with as you’d like (in our case, we’ve spent maybe two hours total with him and his wife Katherine but hit it off right away. Just wish they didn’t live in Nashville). His out-of-the-blue gift just completely floored us. We’re looking forward to hanging it above our front door to catch the morning light.

Thanks, Tim.

Please read on to see the glass as well as to get insight into the (40 hour long!) creation process.

I stumbled across the original design hanging on a coworker’s wall and filed it away to work on someday when I wanted to try my hand at a Celtic knot project. After working on several stylistically similar pieces this year, I needed a creative palate cleanser, so “someday” came sooner than expected.


Getting started was as simple as printing off the picture, laying it on my light table and tracing the design onto the back of the sheet with a sharpie. (Sharpies are indispensable for stained glass. I honestly don’t know how stained glass artisans worked before they were invented!) There were a few places where I had to divide a single section into two pieces, but I don’t think they interrupted the flow of the knot too badly.

Doing the rough cuts proceeded more quickly than you’d expect. Even more than usual, this was a trade-off between making broad cuts to leave myself plenty of margin for error vs. making close cuts to minimize how much grinding I’d have to do later on. Still, coaxing the basic shapes out of sheets of glass is one of my favorite parts of the process. It’s also when the unavoidable, “Oh my, what have I gotten myself into?” moment hits.


And now begins the long, precise work of grinding and foiling. For this project I used the narrowest copper foil tape so that I’d end up with finer solder lines. (A unique challenge in and of itself.) As I think I mentioned to Jason, the intricacy of this design translated to each piece taking several times as much grinding time as an average project. Instead of doing a rough pass and then 1 or 2 shaping grinds, I’d say I went back to the grinder an average of 8-12 times for each piece. Rinse. Repeat. (About 110 times.) Well worth it, though, as I was pretty pleased with how everything came together.


I must admit that I had help with this project. In this case, it was a subtle reminder that I share my workshop with far more talented craftsman.


This is where an animated GIF would come in handy to show the progression as a time-lapse [done!]. Each new section represents an average of 4-6 hours of work. I took a few extra days off over the Thanksgiving break and immersed myself in the project, which provided a much needed mental break. Though after about the fourth day the tips of most of my fingers were badly bruised from pressing the glass into the grinder. That was a new and unique experience.


And here’s where I have to apologize for my impatience. Once I’ve completed the grinding and foiling, I always feel like I’m in the home stretch and invariably dive right into adding the soldering, frame, hangers and patina. It’s only after everything is done that I realize that I should have been taking more pictures. Still, you get the idea. Here’s the finished project next to the original design:

Anyway, that’s it. Thanks for letting me share a bit of a glimpse behind the scenes of making your piece.

UPDATE: Sorry Tim! I forgot to include a pic of the finished piece.

Finished Glass2.jpg

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