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Google Not Really Doing Anything New On Guns

Thanks to several people who earlier in the weekend had sent the news that Google was about to bring forth greater restrictions on gun advertising. I was confused as to what was new about this, because I was pretty certain Google had restricted these items some time ago. I certainly would be a prime site to place some of those ads on, and they don’t appear. So what’s really new about this? Bob Owens took a look, and the answer is quite frankly, much ado about nothing.” I’m glad to hear that, because Bing sucks. Google is one of those products I wouldn’t frankly be able to boycott. It would be like boycotting roads.

Legal Hunting Targeted by Facebook

Facebook locked the admins of a hunting-related page out of putting up new content after they pulled down a perfectly normal hunting photo that didn’t violate any laws or guidelines and claimed that it does not meet community standards.

One of the biggest hurdles Facebook has is not only growing their audience, but keeping the audience it has. Banning perfectly legal photos & pages just because their California staffers don’t like an outdoor tradition seems like it could easily send users running for other social media outlets.

Making an AR-15 Bolt in 9 Minutes

With a Swistek AB42 CNC Mill. It’s edited down to three minutes, but pretty cool nonetheless. This is definitely more sophisticated the Taig mill Jason used to make his CNC’d firearms:

A Bit More on Smart Guns

Bob Owens has an excellent open letter to an ignorant reporter about Smart Guns over at Bearing Arms. I hate to specifically single Bob out for this, because I’ve heard it a lot, but I want to put my engineer hat on for a second and comment on this one bit:

I explained that the technology used in the [Armatix iP1] pistol is so fragile that anything stronger than chambering anything more a low-recoiling .22LR would shake the gun’s electronic brains apart in short order.

There’s actually no fundamental reason you can’t make electronics that can stand up to the shock of a firing pistol and make them reasonably cheaply. After all, a laser and its driver are electronic components, and they stand up just fine. If we can put GPS guidance into artillery shells, we can make reasonably priced electronic components that can stand up to the shock of small arms recoil. I suspect the reason the Armatix is a .22 is that it was designed by Europeans who don’t think of self-defense as the primary reason for gun ownership. It’s also much easier to design a .22LR chambered pistol than a more substantial caliber, where you move away from simple blowback operation. I suspect Armatix don’t have a lot of institutional experience with firearms design.

The problem with smart guns are more fundamental than the shock sensitivity of electronics, and have more to do with the limits of biometric identification and radio frequency identification (RFID). The former is unreliable and slow, and the latter is prone to interference and jamming. There’s also inherent mechanical problems with the smart gun that make the technology very easy for a determined individual to defeat. I had a conversation with some of our opponents on this topic, who argued that automobile anti-theft systems became much more sophisticated, but aside from misunderstanding the problem, I thought it was a reasonable point.

But while it’s true you can’t just hot wire a car these days, the reason you can’t is because automobiles today all have electronic ignitions. In order to make a smart gun that is not easily defeated, guns would also need evolve away from chemo-mechanical ignition to electronic ignition. Now, manufacturers have done electronic ignition firearms, but they haven’t exactly torn up the market. I don’t believe Remington even makes the Etronx line of 700s anymore, and the idea can charitably be called a market failure. It was, to borrow a phrase from Tam, an answer to a question that nobody asked. The Etronx 700s take a specialized and expensive primer, and I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know how susceptible those primers are to electrostatic discharge before I would trust them in a self-defense gun. I’ve also read that the Etronx ignition system was not a paragon of reliability.

But even with electronic ignition, you just move from a simple mechanical hack to a firmware hack to disable the smart features. The difference between a gun and a car is that a thief can’t easily take the car with him to fiddle with the security features. A car thief has to be able to act before someone notices, whereas a gun thief has all the time in the world. Hacking automotive firmware is a hobby among car enthusiasts these days, and there’s no reason it wouldn’t be so for guns.

Additionally, when it comes to electronic-ignition firearms, I’m sure our opponents would positively love semi-automatic firearms that could be converted to fully automatic with a firmware hack, which would beg the question as to whether semi-automatics with electronic ignition were “readily convertible” and thus Title II firearms out of the gate. It would certainly be a novel theory that could be used to prosecute some unlucky bastard. If you’re going to make a smart electronic ignition system, then certainly detecting an out-of-battery condition is an obvious safety feature. You can see how this then becomes very easy.

The antis really have no idea what kind of can of worms they are opening. They don’t much care because their interest in smart guns only goes as far as making guns more difficult and expensive to own, while simultaneously lowering the value proposition of gun ownership. If the technology actually worked, you’d quickly see interest disappear as it became apparent it was not only easy to circumvent, but could open a whole world of new possibilities for people intent on disregarding the law.

More on that “STEM Shortage”

I seem to have a lot of readers in STEM fields, so when I came across this article from earlier in the year, noting that Electrical Engineering lost 35,000 jobs last year, I thought I’d share it. I think Electrical Engineering job losses are largely because we’re too productive for our own good. Currently I’ve been doing more electrical engineering work, mostly with micro controllers, and I have to say it’s a hell of a lot easier these days than it was years ago. The chips do more, they are faster, and boards can be a lot simpler. Hell, a Raspberry Pi is more powerful than my workstation was in college. I would have believed you then that you could fit a 700MHz RISC computer with 512MB RAM and 32GB of storage in the palm of your hand, and run Linux on it, but it would have then and still kind of stuns me. And the Pi is really just meant to be a teaching tool!

Peer Reviewed

You can’t argue with science, or the peer-review process, except when it’s been demonstrated repeatedly that the process is horribly broken, as represented by the fact that many prestigious peer reviewed journals are having to remove papers that are automatically generated gibberish.

Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, which is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), based in New York. Both publishers, which were privately informed by Labbé, say that they are now removing the papers.

These were people trying to game the system, but it’s been done deliberately to expose weakness:

There is a long history of journalists and researchers getting spoof papers accepted in conferences or by journals to reveal weaknesses in academic quality controls — from a fake paper published by physicist Alan Sokal of New York University in the journal Social Text in 1996, to a sting operation by US reporter John Bohannon published in Science in 2013, in which he got more than 150 open-access journals to accept a deliberately flawed study for publication.

Someone quick, send them a Turbo Encabulator!

Surf’s Up, Dude!

Apple is now run out of cat names with which to brand Mac OS releases, so now it’s being named after all things California. The first is the famous surfing location The Mavericks. I will look forward to future OS X releases 10.10 “Overtaxed,” and 10.11 “This Mac OS X release contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

I never used to sweat Apple releases at .0 level, but since Lion, their rollouts have been less than smooth. Nonetheless, since I have to support other people who might upgrade, I figured I should take the plunge early. I installed Mavericks on two of my machines this weekend. Had some issues with Mail hogging the CPU on my laptop for a while, and had to blow away my mail configuration and redo it. The other machine did not have that problem. Mail 7 seems to have serious issues other than that, so if you use Apple Mail, this new version sucks, just to warn you.

People with multiple displays will notice Mavericks handles this differently. It now treats each monitor as a sort of independent display. If you use full screen apps, you’ll probably like this. I don’t use many apps in full screen mode. The downside to the new multi-display regime is that you can’t have a window straddling the two displays. Apple does a little effect when you drag a window between displays so that it looks like it’s moving in between, but once you release the window it has to be on one screen or the, just cutting off the part of the window that overhangs the display.

If you’re thinking about upgrading, I’d wait. While not nearly as troubled as Lion (so far), there’s no real compelling reason to switch to Mavericks. There is no “must have” feature. I use a multi-headed workstation, and for me the new functionality rates a finger twirl; it’s just not all that cool and it has a downside. The new Maps application uses Apple Maps, which is worse than useless, and does anyone actually use iBook over Kindle? I’d wait until at least 10.9.1, possibly 10.9.2 if you’re thinking about doing the upgrade.

I have a real concern Apple is headed into trouble without Steve Jobs. Being an Apple customer in the early-to-mid 90s was depressing, and I fear they may be returning to that state of things.

UPDATE: More concerns about Apple.

For Those in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast

NASA is going to be launching a pretty impressive rocket on Friday for launching out of the Wallops facility in Virginia. It is the LADEE mission. See here. Should be a good view for those of us in the Mid-Atlantic states. See this view of what it will look like from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Normally they launch sounding rockets out of the Wallops facility, but the Minotaur V is capable of delivering 960lbs on a trans-lunar trajectory, which is what it will be doing in this case. We normally don’t get to see this kind of thing up our way. Views should be great from the Jersey, Delaware or Maryland shores.

Gauss Gun Theory

Last week SayUncle, in the daily Gun Porn, pointed to this fully automatic gauss gun. I have looked into the possibility of building such a device, but I’m troubled by the implications of some of the theory. At least if I’m understanding it correctly. From that, it would seem that a gauss gun that uses conventional non-superconducting electromagnets can never really perform as well as even compressed air, at least no without having impractically huge coils. I don’t know as much about this field (no pun intended) as I should, so if anyone who remembers electromagnetism wants to opine, I’m all ears.

Sorry for the Lack of Posting Today

Things at work are busy. In addition to the main project I’ve been working on coming to a header in the next few weeks, as we get closer to final delivery, on the side I’ve been busy layering my wookie suit. I’ve started a Bitcoin mining pool based on a half-baked suggestion from our CEO.

Bitcoin mining is actually quite like real prospecting, only digitally. They are looking for rare hashes; ones with a certain number of runs of zeros (determined by the network), which is unusual mathematically. The network can adjust the required difficulty up and down, depending on how quickly new Bitcoins are being discovered. This is algorithmic, so there’s no “central bank” so to speak, controlling the supply of the “currency.” This is what makes Bitcoins so attractive to the wookie suited among us.

Prospecting involves running through a lot of SHA256 hashes looking for the “valuable” ones. Turns out GPUs are quite adept at doing SHA256 hashing, and since we have quite a bit of GPU processing power hanging around not doing a whole lot, it seemed like a potentially fun experiment, to try to find some of those rare and valuable hashes. I have no idea whether this can earn real cash, or what we could actually buy with Bitcoins, but our company encourages side projects, and this seemed worth learning a bit about (no pun intended).

Fortunately for you guys, the blog server was absolutely pitiful at mining Bitcoins. It has CPU power (which sucks at prospecting) rather than GPU power (which excels at it), so I decided using the blog server’s spare CPU cycles was never going to be worth the electricity it consumed. My workstation is also not so good at mining, even though it has a decent GPU, partly because I think Apple’s OpenCL implementation is craptastic. But a Linux machine with a mid-range ATI Radeon card in it? All your hashes are belong to us.

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