Bloggus Interruptus

Things here just got crazy busy. This week and next week will be pretty much spent in the physics building, not really seeing the sun, blogging, or sleeping.

I should probably ask my girlfriend if she’ll still love me if I go crazy.

I’m not sure I have enough scotch…

I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance…

…by switching away from GEICO.

That’s an extra $300/year I can put into savings, or maybe spend on ammo.

Update: On a similar note, I’m curious what, if any, insurance you have to protect your firearms. All the renters insurance policies I’ve seen have a $2,000 limit on firearms. I augmented my Allstate renters policy with a “sporting equipment” rider that upped the limit to $5,000 for an extra $20/year. USAA has a similar limitation (and optional add-on rider) for firearms. Any recommendations?

Absurdity and Machine Tools

Before today I’d never touched a machine tool in my life. My experience with tools was limited to power drills, screwdrivers, wrenches (socket and otherwise), and — dare I say it — a brace and bit. Basic hand tools used for basic around-the-house purposes.

Well, the lab wanted everyone to become familiar with the lab’s machine shop in case we needed to fabricate things for various experiments. I chose to try out the milling machine, and milled a tuning fork from a piece of aluminum stock. I certainly won’t be winning any awards, but the tuning fork does produce a steady note when struck. It only took me two hours, and about a third of that was figuring out how to work the machine and later removing melted aluminum from my cutting bit when I screwed up. Not bad for a total rookie.

Now, if a total rookie could fabricate a working tuning fork in a matter of hours, how long would it take for someone to make one of these? Granted, the factory ones were stamped, not machined…but it still would be pretty simple. Milling a link from a piece of stock steel and trimming back an AR-15 bolt carrier to the SP1 profile would take less than a day, even for a total newbie.

(Granted, doing so would be extremely illegal (that tiny piece of metal is actually considered a “machine gun” by law), and I would never attempt it — I legally own an NFA item and several “ordinary” firearms and would never do anything to risk my right to own them. I also have a rather serious allergy to jail and rather like being on the ATF’s good side. Don’t do it. Really. It’s a Very Bad Idea.)

Amazingly enough, buying all the stuff to make one is cheaper than buying one legally:

  • AR-15: $800
  • Milling machine: <$1,500 (not including cutting bits)
  • Steel: <$20

Round up to $3,000 just to be on the safe side.

A legal, transferable Lightning Link costs $8,000+, will be 22+ years old, and likely well-used.

Does anyone honestly think that a cost of a few weeks wages will stop those with criminal intentions from making machine guns? I certainly hope not. One can even alter “ballistic fingerprints” and remove microstamps using only simple hand tools like a file. The fact that these laws are either in place or being considered is absurd.

Once again, the law restricts the rights of honest folks, yet does essentially nothing to impede criminals.

I long for the day when people realize that laws and the justice system are reactive, not proactive. The mere existence of a law does not restrict anyone from behaving badly. It simply allows for them to be punished for their actions. One cannot preemptively stop crime by passing more laws.

Science, It Works

After a few weeks of wrangling about in the lab, I was finally able to get some good data out of my experiment.

I haven’t fully analyzed the data yet, but my back-of-the-envelope calculations seem to indicate that I have experimentally measured the speed of light within about 6% of the accepted value.

Not bad for an experiment consisting of a laser, a few mirrors (with one strapped to an electric motor), a multimeter, and what basically amounts to a very fine ruler attached to a microscope. The distance the beam traveled was about 15 meters.

With better instruments, and a longer distance, and more beer it’s quite likely that I could refine this number even more.

Updated WordPress

I just upgraded WordPress from 2.6.1 to 2.6.2.

It was during this upgrade that I decided to make a major change: I had previously done a manual install of WordPress, and thus had to manually upgrade it whenever a new version was released. While not a huge hassle, it was a bit annoying.

Fortunately, Automattic (the folks who make WordPress) maintain a subversion repository, so I can easily install and update WordPress from the command line. As such, I backed up all the content, deleted everything (there was a few minutes where there was no content on the site), and reinstalled from WordPress. After restoring my configurations, plugins, and so on, everything seems to be working properly.

Whenever I do updates, I ask that users contact me if they have any problems. I mean that doubly so this time; if you notice even the slightest problem or irregularity with the site, please let me know and I’ll do what I can to correct it.

Ugh

Between what seems to be a nasty cold (headache, nasal congestion, sore throat, coughing, etc.) and some Happy Fun Digestion-Related Activities, today is not off to a good start.

Why can’t I have an Emergency Medical Hologram like Star Trek: Voyager?

If I start shambling about (more than usual) and groaning for brains, you know what to do.

Projectile Goodness

I have come into possession of a trebuchet.

It’s not a very large one (the arm is only 12″ long and it uses AA batteries as weights), but it will suffice for now.

Right now, it’s being used to bombard (with partial success) my co-workers with small pieces of plastic. Much amusement ensues.

Myself and several others in the physics department are working on a project to construct a larger trebuchet, which will hopefully be used for bombarding things with water balloons. Being physics folks, we’ll try the gravity method first, but we’re looking at using a solenoid to attract an iron rod and drive the arm, so we can better tune the force to compensate for range.

Please disregard any mention in the police blotter of the local papers regarding a mad scientist with medieval siege engines. It couldn’t possibly be me. No way.