Thursday, July 31, 2014

Whoever Ordered This 3D Printer Through My Amazon Referral Program Link

Wow.  This 3D printer contributed mightily to referral income for the month.  But all the little things that people bought as well--they add up, too!  Thanks again!

And some of the stuff that you guys and gals are ordering, like this parking aid, I did not even know existed!

Solar Power Finally Makes Sense--Even Without the Tax Credits and Deductions

Here's the spreadsheet:

This involves buying this 400 watt system, which includes a 1000 watt pure sine wave inverter and 30 amp charge controller, cables, and mounting brackets.  It does not include a battery, which I really don't need since the goal is not to become completely independent of the grid.  It would, however, provide enough power to keep the well pump and pressurization pump running at least part of the day.

My assumptions, based on my experiments with solar panels at my location over the last few years, are 3.5 hours of full sunlight in winter (we get snowstorms, but many days of clear blue skies that are below freezing), 7 hours in spring and fall, and 10 hours in summer.  I am also assuming that the current Idaho Power electric rates are not going to drop.  The Idaho income tax deduction is 40% of the cost first year, and 20% for the next three years.  Strictly speaking, treating this as 100% first year is wrong, but inflation isn't so high as to make this too far off.  I am assuming that the costs of having my neighborhood electrician install this to my breaker box are not going to much at all, and I will install the panels on the roof myself.  I am assuming that the system will net 100 watts per panel, even with inverter losses, because a number of buyers of this panel report actually measuring 120 watts per panel.

Notice that it pays for itself in less than two years, and even without the tax benefits, in less than three.  (Tax credits can hide a host of bad ideas, but in this case, it makes sense.)  It looks like it scales pretty linearly if I install more equivalents in future years.

The primary goal is to reduce dependence on the grid, but it at least seems to make sense as well.

UPDATE: The 400 watt system above includes a charge controller (which I don't really need).  I might get the cost down by $30 by purchasing the inverter, cables, and mounting brackets with the panels separately.

UPDATE 2: In case you are wondering why this kit includes a charge controller but no battery, I suspect that it is because enough deep discharge battery to store very much of this power would take the price way, way up there. It certainly makes it nice to be able to just add as much battery as makes sense for you.  This 28 aH battery would store 336 watts--less than an hour of output from these panels (assuming no losses in the wiring and perfect output from the panels).  The cost of enough battery to store several days energy production is as much or more than the 400 watt system, which is an argument against using batteries unless you are seriously interested in getting off the grid on a regular basis.

UPDATE 3: The panels alone are about $600.  This 400W pure sine wave inverter is $144.95.  With the cables and mounting brackets, this could be done for about $800, which knocks payback down to a year and a half.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of FBI Expert Testimony Finding Serious Trouble

The July 29, 2014 Washington Post reports that a federal government review of FBI crime lab "expert" testimony is finding really, really serious problems:
Nearly every criminal case reviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department as part of a massive investigation started in 2012 of problems at the FBI lab has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency, government officials said.
The findings troubled the bureau, and it stopped the review of convictions last August. Case reviews resumed this month at the order of the Justice Department, the officials said.
U.S. officials began the inquiry after The Washington Post reported two years ago that flawed forensic evidence involving microscopic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people. Most of those defendants never were told of the problems in their cases.
I first became aware of how severe the problems at the FBI's much publicized crime lab when reading the transcripts of the McVeigh trial.  There were really, really serious problems.  The bomb range was adjacent to the lab where they were doing nanogram level detection of explosives on evidence--and people could and did walk from the bomb range, where they had been handling explosives, into the room where the gas chromatographs were supposed to be doing this very sensitive testing of evidence.  Some of the evidence from the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was placed in the same paper bag as some of the evidence taken from McVeigh's person, with no serious attempt to separate these items.  And yet we were supposed to take seriously their evidence?  Worse, it made me wonder how accurate some of the other "expert" testimony involving lock cylinders and tool marks were.

Houston, Texas 9/12 and 9/13

I will be presenting at the Texas Bar Association CLE on Firearms Law on September 12 in Houston.  I had thought of doing some history research on Saturday, but the sources that I need are not in that area.  The choices were flights home at the crack of dawn, or afternoon flights, so I will have to amuse myself Saturday until about 1:00 PM.  I will be arriving in Houston on a 6:00 PM flight Thursday evening.

Does anyone have any experiences (good or bad) checking firearms with either Delta or US Airways?  Delta's policy on checked firearms seems pretty reasonable, including allowing you to place your checked, locked, hard-sided gun case inside soft-sided luggage (where it is less likely to come to the attention of thieves):
Shooting Equipment

Shooting equipment is allowed as checked baggage only. It must fit within the very specific criteria that we outline below.
  • Declare to the Delta representative that you are checking a firearm.
  • Declare the existence of a firearm to security personnel if there's a security checkpoint before the Delta counter.
  • All firearms must be declared by the passenger to a Delta representative at the main ticket counter.
  • Present firearm(s) unloaded and sign a "Firearms Unloaded" declaration.
  • Firearms must be packed in a locked manufacturer's hard-sided container specifically designed for the firearm, a locked hard–sided gun case or a locked hard-sided piece of luggage. Handguns may be packed in a locked hard-sided gun case, and then packed inside an unlocked soft-sided piece of luggage. However, a Conditional Acceptance Tag must be used in this case.
  • Maintain entry permits in your possession for the country or countries of destination or transit.
  • Ensure small arms ammunition is packed in the manufacturer's original package or securely packed in fiber, wood, plastic or metal boxes and provide separation for cartridges.
  • You are responsible for knowledge of and compliance with all Federal, State or local laws regarding the possession and transportation of firearms. For more information about this regulation you can visit the TSA website.
  • If you are transporting a firearm to the United Kingdom, a permit from the United Kingdom is specifically required. You must contact the United Kingdom for more information about securing this permit.
US Airways has very similar policies:
US Airways will allow passengers to transport firearms in accordance with Federal Law.
  • Items of shooting equipment will be accepted as checked baggage only.
  • A passenger who presents checked baggage that contains a firearm must declare the weapon and sign a written acknowledgement that the firearm is unloaded.
  • Firearms must be packed in a manufacturer’s hard–sided container specifically designed for the firearm, a locked hard–sided gun case, or a locked hard–sided piece of luggage. Handguns may be packed in a locked hard–sided gun case, and then packed inside an unlocked soft–sided piece of luggage. However, a Conditional Acceptance Tag must be used in this case.
  • Baggage containing firearms must be locked at all times and the key or lock combination retained by the passenger.
  • A Firearm Unloaded Declaration form (available only at the airport) must be signed and placed inside the bag or gun case.
  • Checked ammunition may not exceed 11 lbs/5 kg per person. Ammunition clips with ammunition loaded are not accepted. Ammunition must be packed in the original manufacturing package or constructed of wood, fiber, plastic, or metal and provide separation for cartridges. No additional documentation is required.
  • There is no limit to the number of items contained in rifle, shotgun or pistol case, up to 50 lbs/23 kg, 62 in/157 cm in maximum.
  • A passenger who presents a firearm to be checked to an international destination must be in possession of all required import documentation for their international destination city and any international transit points. It is the responsibility of the passenger to acquire the required documentation from the applicable government entity prior to travel (usually a consulate or embassy). Firearms will not be accepted for transport if international import requirements have not been met.
 UPDATE: This is nice.  The last time I went to Texas, I ended up getting a Florida concealed handgun license, because Texas did not recognize Idaho permits (somewhat less strict requirements for training than Texas), but because Idaho issues such permits, Texas would not issue a non-resident permit to an Idahoan.  But because Florida issued to non-residents, and Florida had similar training requirements, Texas would recognize a Florida permit.  Convolution beyond need.

Now, however, Texas does recognize Idaho permits, at least since 2004.

UPDATE 2: One annoying aspect of the rules that most of the airlines have (but which does not appear to be a TSA requirement) is that ammunition has to be either factory boxes, or boxes that separate the rounds from each other.  This effectively means that you can't have ammunition loaded in magazines, which means that when you get where you are going, you need to spend time loading magazines, and unloading magazines when you are ready to get back on an airliner.

Really Important Interview With Former Ambassador to Iraq

At PBS, no less.  Crocker is a career diplomat, and he makes some important points about how the failure to negotiate the Status Of Forces Agreement opened the door for the current and future disaster.  One especially chilling part:
And the consequences are? How dangerous a situation is it?
This is analogous to Afghanistan, say, in August 2001. And this time, it is Al Qaeda version 6.0. They make bin Laden’s 2011 Al Qaeda look like Boy Scouts.
They are far stronger; they are far more numerous. They have thousands who hold foreign passports and require no visas to get into the United States or other Western countries.
They are well funded, they are battle-hardened, and they are well armed. And they now control far more territory exclusively than bin Laden ever did. They have the security; they have the safety to plan their next set of operations; and they are a messianic movement.
Believe me, they are planning those operations. That’s why the Saudis moved 30,000 troops up to their border. They know that ISIS wants Mecca and Medina.
They also want to come after us. And I can tell you, as we sit here today in Washington, they’re sitting in Mosul figuring out how they’re going to get at us next.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I Hate To Sound Like A Doom and Gloom Sort

But yes, people are getting on airliners with Ebola.  July 29, 2014 CNN reports on the death of a U.S. citizen:
(CNN) -- Patrick Sawyer had one stop to make before heading home to Minnesota to celebrate his daughters' birthdays: a conference in Lagos, Nigeria.
But when he landed in Lagos, Sawyer, 40, collapsed getting off the plane. He had been infected with Ebola in Liberia, where he worked as a top government official in the Liberian Ministry of Finance.
Sawyer was isolated at a local Nigerian hospital on July 20. He died five days later.
The good news is that you are not contagious until you are showing symptoms.  But pretty obviously, Patrick Sawyer wasn't feeling sick enough to miss his flight to Lagos.

New Blood Test For Precancerous Conditions?

There have been some astonishing improvements in diagnostics the last few decades: the prostate-specific antigen blood test that usually catches prostate cancer before it has far advanced, and often before it would be detected by the embarrassing finger where the Sun doesn't shine test; the A1C test for measuring average blood glucose levels, instead of the clumsy fasting test.  The July 29, 2014 Daily Mail reports:
A revolutionary blood test that could detect any type of cancer has been developed by British scientists. 
It is hoped the breakthrough will enable doctors to rule out cancer in patients presenting with certain symptoms - saving time and preventing costly and unnecessary invasive procedures and biopsies. 
Early results have shown the simple test can diagnose cancer and pre-cancerous conditions from the blood of patients with melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer with a high degree of accuracy.

Read more:
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Any time you can diagnose with any high degree of accuracy cancer or other serious illnesses from blood draws alone, that's a big win.