The Big Think

May 29, 2015

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 2:55 pm

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.: “With the paper out, it was time to make some noise. I called a friend of a friend who works in scientific PR. She walked me through some of the dirty tricks for grabbing headlines. It was eerie to hear the other side of something I experience every day.

The key is to exploit journalists’ incredible laziness. If you lay out the information just right, you can shape the story that emerges in the media almost like you were writing those stories yourself. In fact, that’s literally what you’re doing, since many reporters just copied and pasted our text.”

Something to keep in mind the next time the media reports a “new study”.

May 26, 2015


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:31 am

Sticker Shock for Some Obamacare Customers – Bloomberg View: “So the proposed 2016 Obamacare rates have been filed in many states, and in many states, the numbers are eye-popping. Market leaders are requesting double-digit increases in a lot of places. Some of the biggest are really double-digit: 51 percent in New Mexico, 36 percent in Tennessee, 30 percent in Maryland, 25 percent in Oregon. The reason? They say that with a full year of claims data under their belt for the first time since Obamacare went into effect, they’re finding the insurance pool was considerably older and sicker than expected.”

“The only thing we’re gonna try to do is lower costs so that those cost savings are passed on to you. And we estimate we can cut the average family’s premium by about $2,500 a year.”

Barack Obama, Oct 15, 2008

May 25, 2015

Trust Us, We’re the Authorities

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:34 am

County sheriff has used stingray over 300 times with no warrant | Ars Technica:

“Stingrays, or cell-site simulators, can be used to determine location by spoofing a cell tower, but they can also be used to intercept calls and text messages. Once deployed, the devices intercept data from a target phone as well as information from other phones within the vicinity. For years, federal and local law enforcement have tried to keep their existence a secret while simultaneously upgrading their capabilities. Over the last year, as the devices have become scrutinized, new information about the secretive devices has been revealed.

This template application, surprisingly, cites no legal authority on which to base its activities. The SBSD did not respond to Ars’ request for comment.

‘This is astonishing because it suggests the absence of legal authorization (because if there were clear legal authorization you can bet the government would be citing it),’ Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, told Ars by e-mail.

‘Alternatively, it might suggest that the government just doesn’t care about legal authorization. Either interpretation is profoundly troubling,’ he said.”

So when Civil Libertarians get their shorts twisted and talk about the slippery slope, this is what we’re talking about.

May 22, 2015

The Trigger-Happy Generation

Filed under: Uncategorized — jasony @ 9:28 am

The Trigger-Happy Generation – WSJ:

“Well, here are some questions and a few thoughts for all those who have been declaring at all the universities, and on social media, that their feelings have been hurt in the world and that the world had just better straighten up.

Why are you so fixated on the idea of personal safety, by which you apparently mean not having uncomfortable or unhappy thoughts and feelings? Is there any chance this preoccupation is unworthy of you? Please say yes.

There is no such thing as safety. That is asking too much of life. You can’t expect those around you to constantly accommodate your need for safety. That is asking too much of people.

Life gives you potentials for freedom, creativity, achievement, love, all sorts of beautiful things, but none of us are ‘safe.’ And you are especially not safe in an atmosphere of true freedom. People will say and do things that are wrong, stupid, unkind, meant to injure. They’ll bring up subjects you find upsetting. It’s uncomfortable. But isn’t that the price we pay for freedom of speech?

You can ask for courtesy, sensitivity and dignity. You can show others those things, too, as a way of encouraging them. But if you constantly feel anxious and frightened by what you encounter in life, are we sure that means the world must reorder itself? Might it mean you need a lot of therapy?

Masterpieces, by their nature, pierce. They jar and unsettle. If something in a literary masterpiece upsets you, should the masterpiece really be banished? What will you be left with when all of them are gone?

What in your upbringing told you that safety is the highest of values? What told you it is a realistic expectation? Who taught you that you are entitled to it every day? Was your life full of . . . unchecked privilege? Discuss.

Do you think Shakespeare, Frieda Kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Langston Hughes and Steve Jobs woke up every morning thinking, ‘My focus today is on looking for slights and telling people they’re scaring me’? Or were their energies and commitments perhaps focused on other areas?

I notice lately that some members of your generation are being called, derisively, Snowflakes. Are you really a frail, special and delicate little thing that might melt when the heat is on?”

Happily, these special little snowflakes seem to still be in the minority (let’s hope they stay that way). 99% of the students I work with are hardworking and– tellingly— somewhat embarrassed about the reputation that their generation has garnered. Let’s hope the good ones can change that reputation for the better. My own Gen X did, so there’s hope.

May 15, 2015


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 5:37 pm

Is Obamacare Working? Quarter Of Americans Who Bought Health Insurance On Exchanges Couldn’t Afford Medical Care:

“More than a quarter of adults who bought health insurance on exchanges created under Obamacare skipped important doctor visits and medical tests because they could not afford to pay, a study published Thursday by Families USA found. Among low- and middle-income adults, the proportion of people who avoided care was even higher, at nearly one-third.”

Health insurance is not health care, and the people implying that everything would be okay if everybody was forced to purchase health insurance are having their massive, misleading worldview exposed. As consumers’ (government mandated) insurance has continued to increase every year, more and more people are having to make the difficult choice between paying the premium for a high cost, high deductible policy, and forgoing treatment. Premiums will continue to go up. Deductibles will increase to save money. But actual health care? That will remain an afterthought. I think we’ll eventually see statistics touting how Obamacare has reduced hospital visits but the reality will be because people can’t afford insurance and visits. And since one is mandated and the other is up to the consumer, we know which one will be neglected. Better hope that pain isn’t something serious…

Welcome to the Affordable Care future.

Wise Man’s Fear of Heights

Filed under: Current Reading,Mad Science,Maker — jasony @ 8:07 am

Patrick Rothfuss:

“So… yeah. My book has been into space. I’m *so* going to give John Scalzi a hard time about this the next time I see him…

Hold on. It only now occurs to me. Commercial planes don’t fly that high. And I doubt very much that anyone takes novels on rockets due to weight limitations….

That means The Wise Man’s Fear has probably set some sort of weird record. I’d bet a modest amount of money that it might be the first novel in the stratosphere. If not, maybe first hardcover novel. Or.. maybe… First Hardcover Fantasy Novel to Reach Stratosphere Via Balloon?

Does anyone know how to get in touch with Guinness?

You know what? It doesn’t even matter to me. The fact that someone did this with my book is cooler to me than I can express in words. (And when you read that, please consider who is writing it.)”

Read the whole thing

May 14, 2015

Tapped Out

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 9:08 pm

So here we are, nine days after my long post about finishing the basic frame and starting the 151 tapped holes. Tonight I completed all of the drilling and tapping! What a slog.

Since writing that post I’ve spent maybe 70 hours at either the lathe or the manual mill. I’ve tapped and drilled and center-finded and changed bits and adjusted X/Y zeros until I can do it in my sleep. In fact, I probably have done it in my sleep. The shortest day at the mill was 6 hours. The longest was when I got to TechShop around 6am (couldn’t sleep) and didn’t leave until almost 10.

But hey! The basic frame is DONE. And when I finished all the milling and threading I assembled it, screwed it together, and took a minute to step back and admire the work. I made this. Sure, you can buy it, but this one is all mine. I’m profoundly proud of what I’ve done so far. Also kind of surprised.




I am taking tomorrow off and not going to TechShop. The employees have (no kidding) started to joke that I should just clock in like they do since I’m there so much. One time this past week I got there about an hour before the night shift left, worked through both day shifts, and left just as the night shift came on again. Crazy! The funny thing was that the entire day was spent in a flow state that made time pass really fast. It’s so much fun to learn new things.

Next up: I’ve decided that instead of working on the dome and skins (which are ready and waiting), I’m going to pull the year 3 schedule into year 2. So once I finish up year 1 I’ll start in on the legs. Some good reasons for this that I won’t go into here, but mainly it’s so R2 can have some legs to stand on and not just be a sad little aluminum trash can shape. Before that, though, I need to figure out the “skirt” (the sloped bottom part of the body) as well as decide how to go about making the “bread pan” little cubbyholes in his frame. Once those are done I’ll polish and anodize the basic frame and start designing the pattern that I will laser cut into the anodizing. Hopefully all of this will be done at the one year mark of Sept 1st. If not then hey, it’s all for fun, right? 🙂

May 9, 2015

Ring 1, Ring 3!

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 8:55 pm

Today I got a huge chunk of the frame done. I milled and tapped holes in the “A” and “C” rings (JAG01 and JAG03). It took about six hours to index everything and slowly tap about 30 holes. I have to admit, the holes are much easier to tap than I’d thought and I haven’t broken a tap yet (knock on wood). Erin showed up at TechShop with dinner and I let her set up and tap a couple of #4-40 holes herself. She did a great job and didn’t seem that phased by it.

I also met a really nice guy working on the other mill by the name of Josh. He took quite a bit of time to watch my milling technique and give me some very much needed pointers. He even got me out a jam when I couldn’t figure out how to proceed.

I really feel like my machining skills are improving by leaps and bounds. It might have to do with the fact that I spend 14 hours in the shop today, 12 yesterday, 10 the day before, and 14 the day before that. 50 hours in four days! Malcolm Gladwell would be proud. I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately so I’ve been getting up really early and driving to TechShop to work. I never thought I’d say this but I’m glad they’re open 24 hours.

In related news: I think I need some new shoes, or at least new insoles. 🙂

I went through the blueprint book tonight and “signed off” about a dozen pages. Those parts are done! Not only did that feel absolutely great, but just looking at the parts I’ve completed gave me a big confidence boost that I can actually tackle some of the upcoming parts. The more experience and confidence I gain in the shop, the better I am able to look at a part and “see” in my mind how to go about machining it. I’m asking a boatload of questions of the other people at TechShop and everyone seems pretty excited about the project. The employees give regular tours every hour or so to prospective members and whenever they come through the machine shop they always say “And this is Jason. He’s building an R2D2”. No matter the age of the people on the tour, everybody breaks into a smile and takes a minute to watch me tap a hole, cut a part, or page through the blueprints. This project really brings people together.

Sorry for the lack of pictures in these posts. I’ll try to do better. One of the reasons is that there are a ton of tiny aluminum shards flying everywhere in the machine shop and it’s very easy to get a little bit of aluminum on the iPhone screen. I made a tiny scratch on the screen tonight trying to clean it off. So I keep the phone hidden away and use my new bluetooth ear protectors (these babies) to listen to podcasts and talk on the phone. That way the phone (and its camera) stays hidden away in my toolbox.

May 7, 2015

Pamela Geller: A Response to My Critics

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 9:22 pm

Pamela Geller: A Response to My Critics—This Is a War | TIME:

“So, why are some people blaming me? They’re saying: ‘Well, she provoked them! She got what she deserved!’ They don’t remember, or care to remember, that as the jihadis were killing the Muhammad cartoonists in Paris, their friend and accomplice was murdering Jews in a nearby kosher supermarket. Were the Jews asking for it? Did they ‘bait’ the jihadis? Were they ‘provoking’ them?

Are the Jews responsible for the Nazis? Are the Christians in the Middle East responsible for being persecuted by Muslims?

Drawing Muhammad offends Islamic jihadists? So does being Jewish. How much accommodation of any kind should we give to murderous savagery? To kowtow to violent intimidation will only encourage more of it…

…You can try to avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality. The shootings in Garland, Paris, and Copenhagen targeting defenders of free speech, and the raging jihad across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, are the disastrous consequences of avoiding reality.”


Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 9:02 pm

Back at it today milling up the other 8 vertical support posts. This time I knew exactly the sequence of cuts and moves to cut each part. I even optimized my movements around the lathe to speed things up (you get a lot of time to think of this sort of thing when you’re doing the same procedure over and over and over again).

Yesterday I took around 7 hours to cut 8 parts. Today? 4.5 hours. Boom. I finished and though “gee, I’m glad that’s over with”…. and then discovered that I still have 4 more left.

Ah well, at least I’m good at this!

I took the parts I’d done and did a little preliminary screwing together of the frame. It looks great! I’ll do the other 4 and then snap a picture.

Next up (after the 4 remaining rods) is to build a jig to place on the manual mill so that I can locate, drill, and tap each of the holes in the horizontal “rings”. Lots and lots of those little holes. I also have to countersink, which should be comparatively simple.

I spent a few minutes looking through the blueprints for (much) later steps. Legs, skirt, ankles, etc. Then I abruptly shut the pages and returned to what I’m focusing on. Way too many things I don’t know lurking out there in the future. Best figure one thing at a time out and not freak myself out.

May 6, 2015

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 8:54 pm

Whew, what a day. I went to TechShop this morning at 11:30 and stood at the metal lathe for almost 8 hours. In that time I managed to complete 8 of the 16 vertical support rods from the R2 frame. Each rod has a tapped hole at both ends, so 16 holes.

It took about an hour to get everything adjusted correctly, find all my tools, get advice, and carefully test out a piece. Once I felt good I just stood there for hour after hour carefully working on each piece. Here are the steps:

1. 45 degree chamfer and detail lines .33″ apart
2. center drill end of rod with a center bit (basically a short stubby bit that makes a pilot hole for the main drill bit
3. Drill a 1″ deep hole with a #7 tapping bit
4. Tap threads with tap (by hand…. no power)

It doesn’t look like much but the first hole took over 30 minutes. I got to where I was doing one rod (twice through these steps) about every 40 minutes. I forgot to eat breakfast before I went and skipped lunch (except for an apple) so by the time I finished at 7pm tonight I was starving. Luckily, Erin has a nice steak cooking when I got home.

Just before leaving I took one of the rods and hit it with a high rpm grinding wheel (a soft wheel) and removed the oxidation. I then did a polishing pass with a polishing wheel just to see what it looked like. Verdict? Amazement. It looks so much better than I thought. What was a simple oxidized rod of aluminum now actually looks like a for-real metal part to something. This is going to be pretty spectacular, I think.

I’ll probably go back up to TechShop tomorrow but I don’t know if my feet can handle another 7 hours at the lathe. I’m halfway through with the 16 rods but I think I need a break.

May 5, 2015

JAG 04 and a Milestone!

Filed under: The R2 Project — jasony @ 6:17 pm

Big day today! But first:

Last night I cut the final part of the main body on the Waterjet. It was by far the longest cut I’ve had to do (though not the most complex). Gratefully, the WJ performed perfectly with no garnet clogs or pressure drops. I did two 22:00 cuts for a total of 44 minutes of cutting. I cut two identical parts.

Here’s the FlowCut software with my part all laid out and pathed, ready to cut:


The solid lines are cutlines, the dashes are traverses (where the cutting tube moves but shuts off the water so it’s not making a cut). The colors denote what percentage of speed the machine uses. In short, if you tell the machine you’re using .5″ 6061 aluminum (which I was), it calculates the fastest possible cut speed to get through the material. You won’t get a neat or clean cut (you’ll have pretty jagged edges), but it will go all the way through the material. In order to get a neater/smoother cut you tell the machine ahead of time that you want it to go at only 80% of optimal speed, or 60%, or whatever. Then as it’s cutting you can dynamically speed up or slow down the cutter as it cuts out critical surfaces. You can see in the above photo that the top and bottom edges are dark blue (the 40% speed). This is because those surfaces will be drilled and tapped and a flat and neat cut is critical. The light blue lines are less critical and the purple lines are only there to cut out chunks of aluminum for weight reduction. Make sense?

Anyway, once I was happy with how the layout looked I did a dry run and the machine ran the 22 minute cycle with the pump off (so basically free since you only get charged for cut time). After that I clamped down the part and did the cut.

But first! The previous day I’d gotten to this part and realized that the narrow piece of aluminum I’d purchased was only just barely wide enough for the part with very little room left over to lay down the weights that I normally use to secure the aluminum blank. If I’d have executed the cut I’d have risked running the cutting tube into a weight, breaking it, and have to pay TechShop $250 for a replacement. So what to do? Why, spend 6 hours on the manual mill machining up a set of custom clamps, of course! Four pairs of brackets (5052 aluminum) with a threaded rod connecting them. The bottom bracket has threaded holes that the rod screws into while the top bracket has oversized holes so they can slide up and down the threaded rod and be captured and tightened down by nuts and washers. Today I cut a nice little lasered box for the whole system. I’m even going to powdercoat the metal pieces red for visibility (well, really just because I can). It’s a good system. Here’s the narrow piece clamped down on the water jet table:


The aluminum brackets hold the piece very securely and the blast skirt that surrounds the mixing tube (where the water comes out) easily clears them. The tube would probably still break off if it hit the brackets but this gives me a lot more room to maneuver.

So once this was all done I started the pump, hit play, and watched the machine do its thing.

For the first few seconds after the stream starts (eight or so) you can tell that the water/garnet mix is cutting its way through the .5″ of aluminum. All of that water has to go somewhere so it bounces back off the part, gets turned to (very warm) steam, and sprays everywhere. This is not a neat machine to operate. Wear grubbies. My arms got a light sandblasting from the overspray from each of the pierces. Once the stream is through the material, though, it’s smooth going. All the water exits out the bottom of the part and gets absorbed by the water in the tank.

Now that the critical JAG04 parts (shoulder plates) were done, I hit my milestone: all basic frame parts are now done! Today I went in to TechShop and precariously balanced/clamped the parts together into the frame to check fit. Looks like everything fit fine though I won’t know for sure until the holes are tapped and bolts/screws installed.




There are some curved pieces on the front that you can’t see since they’re held up by holes and screws that aren’t there yet. Speaking of holes and screws:

NEXT STEP: Now that the basic frame parts are done I’m entering once again into uncharted territory. I have to drill out (enlarge) the holes that the waterjet cut by just a little bit. I’ll clamp each piece onto the mill, locate the exact center of the hole with a “wiggler” tool I just bought, and then swap out the wiggler for the correct tapping bit. I’ll then enlarge the hole and swap out the drill bit for a spring loaded tap guide which I’ll use to keep the tap handle perfectly straight. Then I’ll tap and clean the hole so that it has nice neat threads. Lather, rinse, repeat.

One hundred and fifty one times.

Yep, most of those holes you can see on the frame need to be slightly enlarged and have threads cut into them. I also need to drill and thread the ends of each of the vertical 3/4″ aluminum rods (I’ll do that on the lathe with basically the same procedure as described above). One hundred and fifty one holes. I’ve tapped exactly five holes in my entire life. I’m pretty nervous about this. I figure I’ll be doing this at a rate of ten or so holes per day. I’ll doubtless start slow as I figure out how to find the centers of the current holes and get a feel for tapping (the last thing I want to do is break off a tap in my beautiful frame pieces) as well as get into a groove on procedures and muscle memory. I figure it’ll take me three or four weeks of work to finish this step. Boooring but important.

You know, it is possible to actually buy a frame online for about the same amount of money as I’m spending do to this myself, but it’s really rewarding and fun to learn so many new skills. I really feel like I’m stretching what I can do and adding some skills to my skill set.

By the way, I discovered something: if you assemble an R2D2 frame at TechShop don’t expect to get any work done. Little R2 was the star of the work area (called the “Hub” at TechShop) this afternoon. I probably had a dozen people come up and ask me what it was and then start offering all sorts of suggestions of what I should do. So for the record:

1. No, there won’t be a holoprojector (yes, you’re very clever for saying this… you’re the hundredth person to do so)
2. No, there won’t be a short guy inside (ditto)
3. No, it won’t be completely autonomous (though I’ll try and make it at least as smart as a Roomba) (and ditto again)


May 2, 2015

Board Meeting

Filed under: Business,Maker — jasony @ 10:47 am

It’s done! As you may know, about a month ago I was commissioned by the Sing director (actually, her boss) to build a status board for Sing and Stomp Fest. They’d been using this:

Paper Sign.jpg

They went through multiple green markers every year. It was an adequate but sub-optimal solution.

So I met with them and we talked over what they needed. Same general design and layout but nicer looking. More professional. They gave me a budget and I was off.

It took about 60 hours to design the file for the grid and cut it on the CNC Shopbot at TechShop. Then I hand-laid in over three hundred individual pieces of mahogany and cut, sanded, and installed 317 3/4″ dowels. Then I laser cut large and small placards for each group (the small ones in case two groups combine). Tons of sanding, more details, and finally a laser etched storage box for the tiles and small green and red acrylic tags.

Yesterday Erin and I drove it up to Waco and showed it to Matt and Cheryl. They were thrilled! I’m so happy for their support and inclusion of me in this project. The status board is now hanging in the Student Productions office with a little (hand stamped by Erin) tag that says “Proudly made by Jason Young”. It was indeed!

Finished Sign.jpg

May 1, 2015

Must Be One of those Tea Party Loons

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:47 pm

Wait… he’s got a D in front of his name? Who knew?

Irate Congressman gives cops easy rule: “just follow the damn Constitution”:

“It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem. Why do you think Apple and Google are doing this? It’s because the public is demanding it. People like me: privacy advocates. A public does not want an out-of-control surveillance state. It is the public that is asking for this. Apple and Google didn’t do this because they thought they would make less money. This is a private sector response to government overreach.

Then you make another statement that somehow these companies are not credible because they collect private data. Here’s the difference: Apple and Google don’t have coercive power. District attorneys do, the FBI does, the NSA does, and to me it’s very simple to draw a privacy balance when it comes to law enforcement and privacy: just follow the damn Constitution.

And because the NSA didn’t do that and other law enforcement agencies didn’t do that, you’re seeing a vast public reaction to this. Because the NSA, your colleagues, have essentially violated the Fourth Amendment rights of every American citizen for years by seizing all of our phone records, by collecting our Internet traffic, that is now spilling over to other aspects of law enforcement. And if you want to get this fixed, I suggest you write to NSA: the FBI should tell the NSA, stop violating our rights. And then maybe you might have much more of the public on the side of supporting what law enforcement is asking for.

Then let me just conclude by saying I do agree with law enforcement that we live in a dangerous world. And that’s why our founders put in the Constitution of the United States—that’s why they put in the Fourth Amendment. Because they understand that an Orwellian overreaching federal government is one of the most dangerous things that this world can have.”

Good for him.

I Got a Fast Car

Filed under: Hobbies — jasony @ 5:34 pm

The 2015 European Slot Car Racing Championships.

Seriously, just watch the first few seconds. Wow.

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