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.


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.


I’m a physics student. My studies, research, and ultimately my career relies upon facts. If I were to publish a paper with incorrect*, falsified, or made-up facts, I would be discredited and my reputation seriously tarnished.
I’m not sure what sort of student Ms. Clymer is, but I’m pretty sure that facts are important to her course of studies as well. In in a letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star, she claims,

In the hands of ordinary citizens, guns do more harm than good.

Since a picture is said to be worth a thousand words, I reply thusly:

In short: Prove it. The evidence certainly seems to favor the opposite conclusion: there are 80+ million gun owners in the US, with hundreds of millions of guns. A not-insignificant number of these gun owners routinely carry their guns on a regular basis with essentially no statistically significant negative effects.
It certainly seems that guns in the hands of ordinary citizens do not, in fact, cause more harm than good. If they did, there’d be some significant evidence of this…and, as far as I’ve been able to find, no such evidence exists.
“Gun-free” school zones have been implemented on a widespread basis across the country. There have been several high-profile acts of violence at schools over the last ten years or so. Maybe it’s time to try something else
Even if allowing law-abiding private citizens to be armed on campuses doesn’t reduce the overall rate of violent crime, it’d at least give folks a fighting chance to defend themselves from violent crime. Given the overall good behavior of concealed carry permit holders, I don’t foresee any particular downside.
* Assuming that the correct information is presently known. Science is always advancing, and it’s quite possible for a hypothesis to be shown to be wrong in the future. If this occurs, a new hypothesis is created. In general, this does not reflect poorly on the author of the incorrect hypothesis.

Better Than Nothing

After several weeks, the Gallatin, TN police department returned ColtCCO’s 1911.
In an ideal world, this much time and wrangling wouldn’t be needed to get one’s lawfully owned property back from the police, but it sure beats having it “disappear”.

Goodbye, grandpa.

My dad’s father died Saturday morning. He was 91.
He lived a long, fruitful, and prosperous life. He was a kind, generous, honorable, and all-around good man.
I will miss him terribly.