The Big Think

January 30, 2015

R2 Dome

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 5:29 pm

The dome arrived! It’s actually 2 domes (the inner dome is still in the box). Little R2 is still a long, long, long way from completion but he’s graduated from feeling like a box of random aluminum scraps and circuit boards to something more like a robot. Really enjoying this process.

Dome Arrives.JPG

January 26, 2015

Welcome To The Maker-Industrial Revolution

Filed under: Business,Maker — jasony @ 2:27 pm

Welcome To The Maker-Industrial Revolution: “To the executives at GE, Cprek’s hack came as a wakeup call. The idea for a bar-code-scanning oven had come up in internal ideas sessions before, and they knew it had great potential. In retirement communities or urban food deserts, such an appliance could help people eat healthier meals without requiring much time or expertise. And yet, the concept had never left the brainstorm stage at GE. That’s because, for giant manufacturing companies, putting something into a production run is a giant gamble. Navigating the obstacle course of requisite departments (R&D, design, prototyping, market research, manufacturing) can take years, and tooling a factory line can cost tens of millions of dollars. That the executives were now staring at a working prototype of an idea they already liked—and it hadn’t come from them—made them wonder how much innovation they were letting slide by. Why couldn’t they build a more nimble product-development pipeline? For that matter, why couldn’t smart hackers like Cprek have an ongoing role?”

January 23, 2015

Things in Common

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:54 am

This surprised me: “Given that nine in ten African-American women voted for Democrats in 2014, it may be no surprise that a focus group of urban, female, African-Americans had mostly contempt for all things ‘Republican’ or ‘conservative.’ But what was shocking is that this group also, unprompted, uniformly opposed both extended unemployment benefits and a minimum wage increase, and volunteered conservative economic and moral arguments about their potentially destructive impact on job creation, costs, and conduct.

The focus group, done by the Polling Company on behalf of Independent Women’s Voice in the lead up to the Louisiana runoff U.S. Senate election, confirmed what we already know about the GOP’s brand:  These women see the GOP as a clique of rich, white people seeking to consolidate wealth and power, indifferent to and uncaring about people like themselves.  Characterizing something (a policy) or someone (a politician) as ‘Republican’ or ‘conservative’ immediately poisoned the well, even when it was a fellow African-American making the case.  At best, the participants would consider any ‘Republican policy’ with skepticism. 

Yet their discussions of policies apart from political labels revealed more fundamental conservative instincts than the initial conversation—or conventional voter behavior—would ever suggest.”

The rest of the article is very revealing: a lack of support for extending unemployment benefits, a disagreement with raising the minimum wage, etc, from the very constituency we are told is demanding this. In their own words:

Ashley, a thirty-one-year-old, never married mother of four, said, of raising the minimum wage, “It will raise the cost of everything else more than it’ll increase what I get paid… We will end up even further behind.” Another participant pointed out that it would do nothing to help the unemployed get a job, and might even make it harder. Still another seemed to speak for many when she said that giving more money to someone who doesn’t have the skills to handle it is a waste. These women saw a higher minimum wage as leading to even less employment opportunity in their communities.

It’s very opposite of what the conventional wisdom expects.

I wonder what is causing their antipathy toward the parties that espouse the things they themselves agree with?

Trust Us

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:11 am

America’s healthcare portal is sharing your personal data with ad agencies:

“A report by the AP has revealed that, the Government’s affordable care portal, shares some of your personal data with a whole raft of marketing agencies. The action has been independently verified by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has found that a person’s location, annual income and smoking habits are all being freely distributed.

The foundation has also discovered that enabling Do Not Track doesn’t protect users against the surveillance, since the data is being shared in the site’s referrer header. In essence, the referrer header is a fundamental part of how the internet works, and can’t be anonymized.”

January 20, 2015


Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 3:08 pm

Major R2D2 delivery today (well, last Friday but nobody was home, then thanks to the holiday, I finally got them today). My R2D2 skins are here! They’re one of the few parts that I had to order as opposed to making and folks, are they beautiful. Up until now I’ve had nothing more than a pile of aluminum plate, some waterjet parts, a lazy susan, and a bunch of unsoldered circuit boards, plus a binder of blueprints and a whole lot of hope (and fear) that one day I’ll finish this crazy project.

Now that I can see these four beautiful aluminum skins it’s starting to feel a lot more real.

Note: Screen-accurate R2’s skin actually consists of a double layer of aluminum, front and back. So there are four skins total. This is to create the shadow lines when doors open and close and to have a lip behind each of the doors so that it’s 100% accurate.




January 15, 2015

James May’s Toy Stories The Motorcycle Diary

Filed under: Maker — jasony @ 11:30 pm

A Meccano Motorcyle on the Isle of Man

More Frame Parts

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 1:08 am

More waterjetting of the frame. I’ve taken a break from chart writing this week at night (usually starting around 6pm) and gone in to TechShop to cut some more frame parts. I managed to cut JAG 3, JAG 16, JAG 13 (2x), and JAG 11 (4x). I’m getting much more relaxed running the water jet since the various violent noises it makes are starting to seem normal to me. It’s always a little stressful running that machine since it’s the only TechShop machine that starts the billing clock when you hit the PUMP ON button. The trick is to cut for a whole 30 minutes as I did tonight. Then you just get inured to it, I guess.

Anyway, tonight I cut the curved JAG11 parts that serve as the frame for R2’s utility arms. There are four of them under the skin. I also cut the thin .125″ aluminum locking plates for his legs. I opted to leave off the 4 holes that would let R2 stand in two foot mode since I won’t ever do that (I hope).

Speaking of skins, I managed to slip in under the wire and order a set of R2 skins from a club up north. They’re one of the few parts that I won’t take the time to make myself. I could easily cut them from styrene but this is an all aluminum driod. Cutting them from aluminum sheeting is a very complex and expensive process that would take several trial and error tries to get right (each one taking up to 4 largeish sheets of aluminum). Plus they’d be really expensive to cut on the FlowJet since I don’t have access to a high powered laser. The price the club was asking, combined with the fact that they’ll be here in just a few days, made this one of the (hopefully very) few parts that I’ll have to purchase if I want to accomplish the goal of keeping R2 aluminum throughout.

In the meantime, here’s a picture from a couple nights ago of the current parts precariously balanced in position (thanks, Sean for the pic). Not pictured are the curved front pieces I cut tonight or the leg plates (they don’t have anything to sit on anyway since the large side mounts – the intimidating JAG04 parts – aren’t made yet.

It’s so cool to see my little robot coming together.


January 14, 2015

Hostage Music

Filed under: Movies — jasony @ 1:58 pm

THE CODE: A declassified and unbelievable hostage rescue story:

“Ortiz pitched the Colonel a plan as if he were pitching a commercial to Heinz or Coca-Cola. The Colonel stroked his chin. Espejo liked the code idea, because he knew that many soldiers — especially in the communications departments — were taught Morse code in their basic training. Furthermore, Espejo reasoned, ‘The FARC were peasants from the fields, they wouldn’t know [Morse].’ It was a longshot, but if the team could disguise the telltale dot-dot-dash signals in a song, there was a chance the soldiers would hear the message.”

What a feeling of accomplishment to have been in on this.


Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 1:49 pm

Mindblowing tech

With a few mods we’re at the “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi” phase.

January 13, 2015


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:36 am

“Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward–reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story–and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of ‘falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus’, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.
But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.”

– M Crichton

h/t Matt

January 10, 2015

Winter in England

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 8:34 pm

While looking at the weather map just now I noticed something rather strange.

On the left is a screenshot of the rain to the east of Houston
On the right is the map of England.

Each photo is scaled pretty close to correct in relation to each other (maybe off by 10%)

That’s weird.

Weather Weirdness.jpg

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.

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