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Science Nerd Post: Reactionless Drive

EM DriveI’ve been very intrigued by this supposed reactionless EM drive. When I first heard of it, I was very skeptical, since it violates every law of physics we think we know. Hell, I’m still skeptical. But the fact is that several teams have built one of these contraptions and have measured thrust being generated. Now in MIT Technology Review, we’re offered a theory by which this drive could legitimately be producing thrust. As much as I think there’s probably something else going on here, I really hope this is true. At the risk of people accusing me of being a Debbie Downer again, this late election season has convinced me the only long term hope for libertarian-minded people is getting the hell off this rock and leaving the world’s troubles behind. I’m becoming more convinced that free people need a frontier, because without one, eventually, the meddlers, swindlers, and sycophants of the world catch-up to us.

The Trouble with Flashlights

Tam has been carrying a SureFire E2D Ultra, and comments that the switch design leaves a lot to be desired. I carry a Fenix LD10, showing here:

Fenix LD10

It’s a bit more worn than that today, and in truth it’s probably out of date. With the Fenix, you adjust the intensity by screwing out the lens a bit. That’s fine when you have both hands, but sometimes you don’t, so I leave it on the highest setting. The big issue leaving it on high is the on switch, which is on the butt of the flashlight, gets switched on when I sit down sometimes. It can either engage furniture or engage the sheath of my Leatherman. Now, give it 10 minutes or so, and I’ll usually notice, “Something feels warm in my pocket, and I know it isn’t that, so the flashlight must have gotten stuck on again.” I’ve had batteries drain completely in this scenario, and it happens often enough I now use NiMH rechargeable, and just change them regularly. I use the flashlight multiple times a day.

Ideally I’d like a flashlight where I can turn on and off, and change intensity using only one hand. The SureFire E2D Ultra looks like it might be a solution. It would seem the solution to Tam’s issue would be to make it a one second double click instead of two. Maybe even half a second. I can double click a switch a hell of a lot faster than I can move my whole body. Perhaps a microswitch could be fitted somewhere inside that allows the user to adjust the double click speed.

Not just gun control

Remember, it’s not just guns they want to control. I find several parts of this whole fiasco disturbing. Right from the beginning of the article, DHS and FAA held a “conference was open to civilians, but explicitly closed to the press. One attendee described it as an eye-opener.” When one of those attendees (who runs a small drone shop) posted a picture and notes from the conference, DHS asked him to take it down (he complied).

Then we get to the meat of the issue – that a drone manufacturer unilaterally chose to add all of DC to their drones’ internal “no-fly” map. First, of course, that their drones have a “no-fly” map in the first place, and secondly, that “DJI is preparing an update that will increase the number of airport no fly zones from 710 to 10,000, and prevent users from flying across some national borders.” This is of course, pointless, as there are other manufacturers as the spokesam for DJI points out. Wired also points out that this won’t prevent terrorism, because there will always be workarounds, legal or otherwise.

Sebastian noted a while back about the wishes of gun-control advocates to be able to erect “no-smartgun” zones at will. It looks like their counterparts in drone control will get that wish. I can only hope that DJI gets what Smith and Wesson got from firearms enthusiasts when they kow-towed to the government.

A different kind of wearable

Inspired by (Disney’s) security theater, Leatherman will be bringing a “wearable multitool” out this year. I feel for the guy who designed this; one of the minor annoyances of being a low-level road warrior (3-5 flights a year) is not being able to bring my own Skeletool with me. I’ve seriously considered buying a pack of the cheap $2/unit in bulk at the local home despot to be able to drop one in my checked luggage and not care too much if it doesn’t make it past baggage handling. This won’t fix that annoyance completely, since it won’t have a blade, but the “cutting hook” would deal with most of what I actually use a blade for (opening packages without having to use my teeth). And, of course, the most important tool, the bottle opener.

OTOH, the fine folks at TSA will probably make something up on the spot to “ban” this…

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!

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