Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Man, I'd never think to see George "Moonbat" Monbriot write something like this. It could be an old Gregg Easterbrook column in the Marty Peretz-edited salad days of The New Republic. When you have ol' Moonbat telling the panicky MSM to calm the hell down about an environmental catastrophe...

Heck, I was even yelling at some perverse paleocons to stop sniveling about Obama's allegedly unconstitutional Libyan adventure the other day over on Rantburg.

Strange days indeed. Everything's upside down, and it could turn back rightside up again at any moment.

Insty h/t.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I saw this link in the Althouse comments today. A real panacea for today's ration of panic about the Fukushima plants, which have even infected most of the conservative, pro-nuclear blogs and sites.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Man, Ishihara can be uncomfortably close to Hitler in temperament. Please don't call the man a "conservative", he's a fascist, capitalism-hating, racist, will-to-power extremist. And maybe Yamakan might want to think about getting into politics and giving up on anime - he's not much of an artist, and seems to love controversy and fighting things out in the media when he should be concentrating on current projects.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lucid, clear explanation of the Fukushima partial meltdown. Long story short, it was ugly, but a forty-year old reactor at a troubled plant with a spotty maintenance history took two beyond-design-specification disasters in close succession & didn't kill anybody or poison its environs. It sounds like all the radiation casualties will be plant employees.

Frankly, the horrible damage done by the tsunami tearing through the grease, oil, and lubricant-contaminated environs of every port on the Tohoku coast & depositing all of those industrial poisons and toxic wreckage over the once-fruitful coastal plains is the actual environmental disaster to consider in this catastrophe. Those were beautiful fields being submerged under that black, foul hell-tide. They aren't beautiful anymore, and I'm not sure anybody should be eating food grown off of them for the next couple seasons at least.

We need nukes, damnit. The more of them we can build in safe locales (and yes, if nothing else, putting our nuclear power plants in places where we don't have to use design tolerances keyed to survival from a 9.0 earthquake and inundation by a 30-foot tsunami strikes me as *cheaper*, cheaper to build and cheaper to maintain), the better. A modern economy won't be run from power-plants burning unicorn farts and pixy dust, it's either nukes, coal, or gas - and the more of each, the fewer little old ladies get to freeze to death in the depths of winter when it comes down to the limitations. There are bureaucrats in Japan right now, cold-bloodedly plotting rolling blackouts in order to stretch the torn ends of their shredded power infrastructure around the Fukushima-shaped-hole torn in their power net. Redundancy is life.

Explanation link from Rand Simberg; youtube link from the Brickmuppet.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Yesterday was another busy day on the pumpkin catapult front. We finished assembling the devices and tested them in Jason's back yard while he kept an eye on a smoldering pile of crop refuse and brush which he was burning in order to try and kill off a late-blight infestation in his tomato patch in preparation for the new season.

My direct-fire spring-pull ballista was kind of a damp squib. It fired, reliably, but no further than about twenty-five feet - about the same range as a high-end SuperSoaker. It wasn't really designed to be adjustable, so that was it, boom, 25 ft. So, the finished device works, but isn't much more than a bulky, wonky-looking toy. At least the spring didn't fail - we had padded it out with a series of rubber sheets around the pull-axle, which was enough to keep it from self-destructing. Speaking of which...

Jason's spring-torsion trebuchet started out brillantly, destroying the sweet onion we had been using as a pumpkin-substitute (we managed to directly smack into a branch of the big maple behind Jason's house, which pretty much put paid to that object as a throwable payload), and firing for another two-dozen pulls with a light obsidian-pumicy rock about the right size and shape. After changing the angle of attack on the throwing arm, and modifying the base to add a trigger and a shelf for the sling and projectile, we got it up to throwing small rocks about 80-90 ft across Jason's yard - just shy of his property line. Then the spring failed.

Happily, since the spring was in a protective sleeve (actually, the leg of a pair of blue-jean trousers) and it wasn't really under explosive outward pressure, it didn't hurt anybody. When we took it apart to see what happened, we found that one of the mounting pegs had also snapped, which explained one of the earlier "SPRONG!" noises the machine had made on an earlier cranking. So, we had been putting a lot of stresses on this device. The spring failed just above the welds holding it to the octogonal plate holding the mounting pegs; best guess is that the heat from the welding process weakened the aged spring (to remind y'all, this had been taken out of a trashed automotive shock-absorber) enough that it eventually failed under pressure. The mounting peg was a separate issue, and the design group concluded that having used drillcore for the mounting peg had been a mistake - it was too hard and rigid for the horizontal sheer force being placed upon it by the design. We should have used mild steel instead.

They went back to the drawing table, and quickly banged out a replacement design based on a completely different principle, which would allow the salvaging of as many parts of the wrecked device as possible. The new device would use the second salvaged shock-absorber spring in a compression device - playing to the actual design usage of the original manufacturing process. The spring was mounted in a box on the base, with a bottom-plunger on braided steel cord threaded through the spring, so as to pull directly upwards, distributed through the body of the device by the construction of the box. The steel cord will be wrapped around a pulley-cam on a moving axle, which will be welded to the salvaged throwing arm. This retains the torsion motion, while avoiding any weld-work on the surviving reserve spring. We spent yesterday afternoon and evening putting together the new base & welding together the pulley-cam & modifying the original three-quarters-inch bar, which had been a non-moving support element in the old device & which had to be reworked to turn it into a smoothly-turning axle in some brass bushings.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Spent a few more hours in Jason G's basement yesterday, until the snow got too alarming for me to be out and about. We (well, mostly Jason) came up with a welded double-hook for the draw/catch/release on my device's shuttle. After fighting with some basic hooks I bought at Triangle Supply, Jason got an evil look in his eye and declared that he'd make his own. So he did, out of a bit of steel barstock he had on hand, reaming out an end, tapping it for a 1/4 screw socket, and then bending out two hooks with wrench, hammer, anvil, and cutter. Then he shaped the ends with a metal-grinder and used his welding rig to mate the parts together. Doublehook!

We drove a simple bar-based pull through the side of the device, and test-fired it in the garage, with nothing on the shuttle. That was probably a mistake. The light, store-bought spring was powerful enough to damage itself without any weight on the shuttle to bleed off energy. Jason had talked me into wrapping some rubber around the top axle, which probably kept the spring from shattering entirely, but after one dry-fire, the spring had herniated visibly. We talked about inserting a compression-spring ahead of the pull-spring to absorb some of that recoil shock, and he thought that we could probably just snip off the herniated section & re-bend a new hook to replace the removed section, but by then we had noticed that the weathe had dropped an inch and a half of snow while we had been mucking around with drilling and testing.

Meanwhile, he's still working on his welded-steel monster, and we built the wood frame for the base. He also started in on drilling out the plates for holding his fulcrum axle, but none of his proper drills were large enough to drive the holes needed to hold the 3/4ths inch steel bar he's using for his axle. So he drilled out as big as he could go, and then started setting up the plates on his power lathe with a four-corner chock and a, I don't know what you call it, lathe arm? After a couple minutes of this, he sighed, said it would take hours, and put it aside for when I wasn't there.

So there we are, Jason's device is coming along slowly, and mine got to its first partial-build test fire, and is going back for some re-design. And we got at least three-four inches of heavy snow last night - I haven't been outside yet to see what damage the night left us.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

I had a busy Saturday. Jason G, who has a big workshop in his basement & garage, wanted to try building pumpkin-throwing devices for Jessica's little event in the fall, and his girlfriend was out of town for the weekend. So we spent the morning with Dan W, digging through piles of scrap at a junkyard in the ruins of a quarry facility outside of Pleasant Gap. We ended buying about fifty pounds of aluminum and iron bars, springs and the like, then hit a tractor supply shop and Triangle Lumber over near Jason's house. We met a couple of university folk back at Jason's place - Antonios whom I know from Otto's Tuesdays, and a guy named Jim who I think was at Jason's Superbowl party this year.

I was going for a simple spring-pull ballista, while Jason had this idea for a torsion-axle trebuchet design. I really just banged about without much estimation, calculation, or design, building a wooden frame around a nicely-formed piece of aluminum scrap. The frame and shuttle was mostly done by yesterday evening, although there's a lot of work & thought required in figuring out the exact nature and details of the pull and latch mechanism. I'm thinking a simple latch hanging off of the shuttle, and a cross-bar just before the full extent of the spring, so that the latch can simply "drop" onto the bar when pulled back across the locking cross-bar during cocking. When the device is inverted and placed into firing position, the latch can easily be yanked down by cord, triggering the device.

Dan W and I *tried* to assemble the device so that the formed-aluminum slot at the core was properly aligned so that the latch would be placed at the rear of the aluminum core, but I'm not sure if it'll do so or no. If not, we can always set up a bar across the top of the device instead, although that'll be yet another failure point. At least we went with a cheap and new heavy-duty door spring instead of the ancient and far-too-strong car-shock-absorber springs which we bought at the scrapyard. To be honest, this device doesn't feel like it'll throw a pumpkin all that far, if it works at all. But what the hey.

Jason's device is much more elaborate, and looking kind of steampunkish. He and Antonios and Jim were working all afternoon and evening on a lot of grinding, metal-cutting, and welding tasks, modifying one of the shock-absorber springs and building a delicate, cross-supported throwing arm out of little strips of steel. The in-process result I looked at at the end of the evening was about five-six pounds, I guess. Most of the mass of the device will be in the fulcrum cross-arm and the base of the device, I guess. My machine has most of its mass already - the only thing to be added is the latching mechanism, a detachable pull-stirrup, and another cross-bar.

Antonios is some sort of chemistry PhD, a professor I think, and he spent much of the afternoon filabustering, trying to come up with rules-lawyering ways around the "mechanical advantage only" design requirements. Talking about water-pressure rockets, gunpowder, dynamite, air-pressure - but mostly going on about a preposterous Mentos and Diet Pepsi driven device. I told him about the dry-ice and water in a two-liter toy we had made back at the Witch House which destroyed a garbage can.

But anyrate, yesterday, we tinkered, and made a heck of a mess in Jason's garage and workshop.