An electric airplane.

While out in my garden, a few kilometers northwest of Mons, Belgium, my little boy saw this airplane flying overhead.

Its track was roughly east to west.  I have no idea the size of this thing, so it’s deceptive to guess altitude.  20 minutes after I shot these, Euronews weather reported the ceiling at 1981 meters.  So, if that thing was at an altitude of roughly 5000 feet, I’m guessing this thing has a wingspan of 25 to 30 meters.  This is a damn big wingspan.  And slow.  Slower than any plane I’ve seen pass overhead.  By half.

I have no idea whose it is, or even if it is manned.  Pretty interesting, though.

Oooh, a real live debator!

A colleague got a solicitation from a Jehovah’s Witness recently, and invited me to join them for lunch for a discussion.  He is agnostic, while I classify myself as at least a strong atheist, with tendencies toward anti-theism.

Oh, didn’t we have a nice lunch.  Our theistic friend, Frank, was an affable enough guy.  Of course he wasn’t alone.  They never are.  I don’t remember his wife’s name, but she didn’t say much.

First, this was an initial visit.  We agreed to meet again in a month.  It is a different skill set to be able to debate in person than it is to do it in writing.  I  made a few good remarks during our little meeting, but mostly I just listened.   I wasn’t about to get into a tit for tat verbal argument with one of these Witnesses.  They’re very well trained in the art of the silver tongue.  It’s how they have survived so long.

His main point of discussion for this meeting was in defining chance, then going on to demonstrate how, mathematically, it is virtually impossible for the microbiology of living cells to have developed by chance.  He kept returning to how the probability of an average functioning protein, made up of some 200 amino acids, was one out of a number larger than the number of atoms in the universe.

It sounded fishy to me, on more than one level.  One thing I commented on was that he was stuck on a serial event.  One chain of events leading up to a functioning protein.  It turns out I was correct on that point.  In fact, on earth alone, there were some damned big numbers of compounds, all combining in various combinations, in parallel, at the same time.

I found a wonderful page on a website called  What a great site that place is!  Everything you ever wanted to know about biogenesis, evolution, and creationists’ canards regarding the same.  The page that discussed the problem I faced last Friday was titled:  Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Probabilities of Abiogenesis Calculations.

In summary:

Problems with the creationists’ “it’s so improbable” calculations

1) They calculate the probability of the formation of a “modern” protein, or even a complete bacterium with all “modern” proteins, by random events. This is not the abiogenesis theory at all.

2) They assume that there is a fixed number of proteins, with fixed sequences for each protein, that are required for life.

3) They calculate the probability of sequential trials, rather than simultaneous trials.

4) They misunderstand what is meant by a probability calculation.

5) They seriously underestimate the number of functional enzymes/ribozymes present in a group of random sequences.

Anyone curious about this particularly devious creationist canard should go read this really well written and referenced article.  I intend to crush Frank’s article next month.


Don’t those hones just drive me nuts.

I thought I’d try to lap my ceramic hones in a criss-cross pattern with my diamond plate.  And sure enough, they remove steel much better than when they were lapped with just a linear stroke down the long axis.

I’m pretty sure I just made some deep ditches where honing debris can collect, keeping the honing surface clean and biting well.  My evidence for that is how quickly after cleaning the hones with scouring powder (before I criss-cross lapped them), they would feel glazed over and stop biting into the razor.

The shave results are dramatically improved.  I’m quite pleased with the sharpness and smoothness I’ve achieved from my razor.  I shave with it once a week on whatever weekend day I decide to shave.  I tend to give my face a day off once a week.  I haven’t cut myself with that straight razor yet.  But, my technique is still clumsy, and I’m ultra careful, as you’d expect.

It is satisfying to be able to develop a shave worthy edge and use it successfully.

Ceramic hones’ “grit”

All right.  Back to the straight razor honing problem.

I’d read on a few forums how important it is to have the hones flat. I mean flat.  I can say for sure the fine and ultra-fine ceramic hones I got from Spyderco are NOT flat.  How do I know?  It’s easy to see the high spots by where the dark lines form (the ceramic is white) from where the hone is removing steel from the blade.  Not only that, I can both feel and hear that the edge is not in full contact with the hone.

Well, I have a dual grit (400/600) diamond hone I got from EZE Lap.  So, I went after my ceramic hones with the 400 grit side of that diamond hone.  I put plenty of water on the diamond plate, and wore away the ceramic hones on it until the entire face was new, clean, ceramic.  The medium grit ceramic took only a few minutes.  The ultra-fine hone took about 15 minutes.  But that fine grit ceramic hone took an hour of pretty vigorous lapping to get a fresh, flat, surface on it.

The difference in the way they hone is shocking.  The edge of the razor is in full contact with the entire face of the hone over the entire stroke.  Steel is deposited on the hones in a uniform grey pattern across the face.  No high spots.

BUT, a guy on a straight razor forum tells me now that by lapping the ceramic hones, I’ve changed it’s apparent grit.  He said that the factory uses the same grit alumina (synthetic sapphire) in the ceramic medium for both the fine and the ultra-fine hones, and it is the surface finish of the hones that determine their apparent grit.

I’m dubious about that.  Here’s why.  If you have a very fine grain medium (ceramic) in which is embedded a particular size of abrasive grit, that abrasive grit is going to scratch metal based on it’s size.  Obviously.  There is no way I can think of that will make it coarser.  For example, if you were to use an insanely coarse lapping plate and dig gigantic scratches into that ceramic surface, you’d be left with islands of ceramic with the same abrasive grit in it.  There’s be room in those gigantic scratches for honing debris, which may actually make the hone produce a smoother edge bevel.

This theory works if, and only if, the finished ceramic hone is indeed a more or less amorphous solid with alumina particles of a particular grit size embedded into it, and it is those alumina particles that actually abrade steel away.

It might be different if the ceramic is so fine grained and hard that the finish cut into it by various grit diamonds may very well determine how smooth the face of the ceramic is, and therefore, it’s apparent grit size.

Does anyone have any better knowledge of this?  Or perhaps an idea how I could test it?

Another end of an era.

What ends?  Drinking.  Alcohol.  Any of it.

Shit.  I like drinking.  I like the way it feels, tastes, works, everything.  But, I just can’t justify it any longer in light of the effects it has on me.  My wife agrees.  Why?

by Leonard Gross

I read this book years ago.  I remember then the information Gross uncovered was compelling.  Apparently not compelling enough at the time.  Things change.  One’s attitudes towards what is and what is not worth ingesting changes as one ages.  When you’re pushing 50 years old, the risks are palatably more real and tangible.

I will keep the bottom quarter of a bottle of cask strength Glen Livet whiskey I got at the distillery there this year.  Although I can’t think of an occasion now, I think I’ll keep that little special bottle on hand for some possible occasion.  As for the rest, I just stocked up on a bottle of Glen Morangie, Glen Livet, and Maker’s Mark.  I have a half bottle of Frangelico, Bombay Sapphire gin, and Ricardo Pastis Marseilles.  What to do with them?  I’ll bring them into work next week and give them away.  If someone pays me for them, that’s a bonus.  But, I’m not about to dump them down the drain.

I’d like to say I was having two drinks a day, but that wouldn’t be the truth.  The truth is, it was closer to three, on average.  And those drinks were not measured, so each glass of whiskey was probably at least 1.5, more likely 2 measures of alcohol.   My wine glasses are easily six ounce glasses, and we’d take them full.

The cumulative effects to our livers must be evident in fatty liver.  This will reverse itself soon.  So long as we haven’t done significant damage, we should be all right.  The cognitive effects of alcohol were what were concerning me.  Not from  actual experience, but from what Gross reported in his book.  My mind is, to put it bluntly, considerably more capable than most.  I’d like to keep it that way.

So, we learn.  We change our behavior accordingly.  This is what men of science and reason do.

Blade safes

So, what does one do with their used double edged razor blades?  It’s hardly safe or wise to simply toss them in the trash.  Those things are still insanely sharp.  They’ll cut their way out of a trash bag and into the hand of whomever is handling it.  After being in contact with everything else in a bathroom trash can.  Not to mention the dangers if there are children in the house.  Used razor blades are not something you want a child to play with.  Then, there are also the trash men to consider.  Their job is tough enough without having to worry about cuts from household trash.

The answer is to use a blade safe or a blade bank.  A container to put the used blades into.  One that the blades cannot get out of, and that kids cannot get into (without tools, anyway).  I don’t know about now, but medicine cabinets used to have a small slot in the back into which you could put used blades.  They would just fall into the wallspace between the studs.  The house wouldn’t live long enough for it to fill up.

An interesting note about that.  While I was attending some school or other at Keesler AFB, in Biloxi, Mississippi in the 1990s, they were demolishing old dormitories that had been there since the 1940s.  I walked through the bulldozed wreckage, poking around, and I ran into mounds and mounds of used double edge razor blades.  Those little slots had been used by tens of thousands of airmen through the years.  Mostly clumps of congealed rust, some of them were not.  It was an interesting find.

I had a couple commercial blade banks.  One, I bought for a buck when I bought my first double edge shaving setup.  The other was sent to me as a freebie in an order for some shaving soaps and blades from Bullgoose shaving.  Phil, the proprietor, is very, very prompt in shipping, and has always included a sample of something or other in my orders.

I don’t know what prompted me, but I was curious how secure the commercial safe was.  That slot is pretty wide and is the length of the can.  I had about 40 blades in it.  I found I could simply shake out the blades.  That was a little alarming.  I have it so high up in my bathroom, my boys can’t reach it easily.  But, they are clever little devils.  It’s only a matter of time.  So, I set about making a more secure blades safe.

I used a small tomato sauce can.  I took an old chef’s knife and simply punched a slot in the top of the can, punched a small hole in the bottom of the can to relieve the vacuum, and shook out the tomato sauce.  I suppose any small can of whatever will pour out of the slot would do.  I rinsed out the can, and since we had just used the oven, I popped it into the oven to roast out the few drops of water that didn’t shake out.

Here they are, side by side:

Blade safes

Blade safes

Blade safes

Blade safes

As you can see, the slot I punched into the tomato sauce can is a lot narrower and shorter than the slot in the commercial blade safe.  Both slots have a small lip turned towards the inside of the can.  I put all my blades into the new blade safe I just made and tried to get one out.  No joy.  This was the result I was looking for.

When this can is full, I’ll just drop it into my metal recycling and it will get melted down with all the other steel cans.

I suppose there are some places that may require putting used blades into a sharps container, such as what would be used for needles.  I’d probably cheat, and still do what I’m doing, just to return that steel to use instead of it being incinerated as medical waste.  Either way, we’re not talking about a lot of steel.  I read on a bulk blade sale once that a thousand double edge blades weigh about 8 ounces, or about 225 grams.  If you use a hundred blades in a year, that’s less than a whopping ounce of steel.  A big soup can weighs more than that.

So for me, the goal is safety, not so much ecology.  Though, the ecology of recycling the steel is a side benefit.

Honing that straight razor.

The Spyderco ceramic stones arrived last week.  Here’s a great photo (used with permission) by Maximilian (who has a great site of straight razors, etc), of the razor I have, a Dovo Special 5/8 in with faux tortoise shell scales:

My first attempt at honing it was not successful.  There are all kinds of tests you can do to test the edge at each stage of honing.  Sure.  Like I know what each is supposed to feel like.

For example, there’s the thumbnail test, commonly abbreviated TNT on the shaving forums’ honing sections.  Apparently, the trick is to pull the edge over the back of your wetted thumbnail, and it’s supposed to feel like something or other.  Here’s the thing, do that to a shave ready razor, and it’s no longer shave ready.  So, what should it feel like at the successful completion of setting the bevel, for example?  Who knows?

There’s another one called the thumb pad test.  Guess how that’s abbreviated?  Anyway, this one is done by seeing what it feels like when the edge actually slices into the outer layers of the skin on the pad of your thumb.  Again, who knows what this should really feel like?

After my first honing, I tried to shave with it, and it wasn’t anywhere near sharp enough.  It shouldn’t hurt to shave.  So, I had a try to look at the edge itself under my stereo microscope at 30X magnification.  The edge of a sharp razor should be far beyond the resolution of that microscope, so should have been completely invisible.  And, it was.  Almost.  There were two areas were I could see light reflecting off of the edge where the bevels didn’t quite meet.

So, I had a second go at it.  This time, using as light a touch as I could, and very careful, deliberate, strokes on the stones.  I didn’t try to look at the results again, but tried a shave with it.

I got a shave from it.  Not a great shave, but not a painful one, either.  Still room for improvement.  I’m still not convinced the first stage edge is set quite right.

The thing is, the coarsest Spyderco is graded medium.  For an undamaged razor, that is probably just fine.  Mine was seriously abused and the edge was quite damaged (what the hell did I know about stropping a razor in 1994?).  So, I ordered an EZE Lap dual grit 3″ x 8″ diamond hone to use to set the initial bevel quickly and accurately.  I’ve already got an hour of honing on that Spyderco Medium, and it still isn’t right.

I’ll try again in a week or two when that new diamond hone arrives.

Looking over Maximilian’s page, I see he has links to a series of honing clinic videos on the bottom of the page.  Looks like I have some homework before my diamond hone arrives.

Speaking of razors…

I thought I’d have a go at making a double edge razor handle.  Not too hard at all.  And, it turned out surprisingly well, I think.  It’s crafted of the finest European chestnut, with a hand rubbed oil finish.  Only the finest brass and steel hardware secure the blade to the handle.

Chestnut razor

Chestnut razor

Chestnut razor

Chestnut razor

Chestnut razor

Chestnut razor

Chestnut razor

Chestnut razor

Chestnut razor

Chestnut razor

It’s not as heavy as my Pils stainless or my Feather All Stainless, or my Merkur Futur, or any razor for that matter.  The balance is pretty good, but it favors the handle.  The blade angle is quite nice, though this razor is a little more aggressive than most people are looking for.  Changing blades can be a bit of a trick and requires a screwdriver.

How does one hone a straight razor?

I read a thread about the magnification required to inspect an edge being honed, and a pretty authoritative answer was that 35X will reveal everything necessary.  Convenient, since I happen to have a 10x/35X stereo microscope.  But, the microscope was fitted with 110V/60Hz fluorescent lighting.  The problem was in the reactance ballasts, of course.  They were designed to operate at 60Hz, and run far too hot at 50Hz.  So, I replaced the sockets and lamps with locally available CFL lamps with built in electronic ballasts.

Now, with the appropriate inspection tool, I tried out my straight razor honing on a razor edge systems ultra fine stone, just to test the effect on the bevel and to see how visible the changes were.  Clearly, the wrong hone for the job.  So, I ordered a set of three ceramic Spyderco hones to do a proper job.

I hope I can get a nice edge with the new stones.

Ghosts my shiny metal ass.

I’m following a formal debate over on titled:

Formal debate: “Existence of ghosts & apparitions”.

I don’t think I need to elaborate on my position.

The latest, and maybe last, entry by the supernaturalist in that debate, Jeremy, concentrates on waveforms of supposed rapping by ghosts.  He, and others, propose that these waveforms are unable to be duplicated in our world, so are evidence of the existence of ghosts.

Well, being the engineer I am, I had a good look at those waveforms and made a few of my own for comparison.  Here’s the results:

First, Jerome, the supernaturalist on the above debate, posts this image from a recording taken at Andover, Hampshire, UK.  This is supposed to be knuckles on a wall.  What the wall is made of or covered with is not stated.

Andover Hampshire, knuckles on wall

Note the attack time of roughly 5 milliseconds from zero to peak amplitude.

Here, Jerome makes this entry, which is purported to be a “poltergeist” knock, also from Andover:

Andover, Hampshire - "Poltergeist" knock

The time base is roughly the same, a little more than 120 milliseconds from the start to the decay of the knock.  But this waveform shows an attack time of roughly 10 milliseconds.  Must be because of those soft ghostie hands, is my guess.

Apparently, there was another horrifying poltergeist at a place called Euston, also in the UK.  Here is a normal rap from Euston:

Euston - normal rap

Note the similar time base.  What we do not know is what was rapping on what material.  But, the attack time of this waveform is roughly 3 milliseconds.

Ohhh, and the scary anomolous rap from Euston:

Euston - ghostie rapping

Well, well, well.  For visual effect to amplify their desired outcome, the author of this image expanded the time base.  Now, the entire waveform is displayed across 60 milliseconds.  To the untrained eye, clearly a much, much slower attack time.  To anyone who can read a fucking oscilloscope, the attack time is roughly 11 milliseconds.  Soft ghostie knuckles in Euston also, it seems.

But Jerome took some of his own recordings and here are their waveforms:

Jerome - knocking on wood

Jerome - knocking on a table five feet from the microphone

Jerome - sound of knocking on the other side of a wooden door

On all three of Jerome’s recordings, the time base is so slow, we can’t see the attack time.  It looks immediate.  His time base is ten times or more slower than the previous waveforms.  We can learn nothing from these images.

Now, to my simple experiments.  The only microphone I have for my Mac is attached to a USB boom mic/headset.  How I set it up was to pin it down to the top of my hardwood (beech) computer table with a closed-cell foam block.  I wanted good coupling to the table top and acoustical isolation from ambient noise.  I recorded these waveforms using Audacity for the Mac.  Wonderful program.  My sampling rate was double Jeremy’s, at 96000 Hz.

I adjusted all the waveforms to the same time base and amplitude settings.  There are two knocks in each recording.  The first is made on an upturned 12 ounce Corelle glass bowl on the table, and the other is made directly to the table top itself.  I used four materials:  a 345 gram steel bar, a baseball, a plastic bocci ball, and the middle knuckle of my right middle finger.

Here are the waveforms:

Steel bar on 28mm thick beechwood table

The steel bar gives a very fast attack time, as you would expect.  There will be little energy of motion during the impact lost to elasticity.  That energy of motion will be turned into sound waves in the wood table very quickly, as we see.  An attack time of one to two milliseconds.  Quite marked.

Baseball on 28mm beechwood table

Ahh, but a baseball isn’t nearly so hard.  It won’t be able to get that wood vibrating as rapidly as a steel bar, and these waveforms demonstrate it.  Note also that a baseball makes a lower pitched “thunk” on the table, which is displayed by the lower frequency of the waveform (longer time between cycles).  But. look at the slower attack time.  Looks like about five milliseconds.

Bocci ball on 28mm beechwood table

With a plastic bocci ball, the frequency is even lower.  That attack time is roughly five milliseconds again.

Right middle finger 2nd knuckle on 28mm beechwood table

Well, look at that!  Does this not look just about like the Euston ghostie?  Here it is again:

Euston ghostie

You may notice that the duration of the rap event is roughly the same for my recording and the Euston recording.  The attack time is the same.  The waveform envelope is the same.

So, waddya think?  Somebody’s knocking on wood with their hands.  If I can produce this in 10 minutes, this is not a hard thing to do.  I don’t doubt I can increase that attack time by using softer wood, and trying different hammer materials.  Something with a progressively harder surface, perhaps.  Like I said in my title:  ghosts, my shiny metal ass.