Sunday, January 31, 2010

Government Inefficiency at its Finest

I don't think that anyone will argue that the Federal Government is not the most efficient organization out there. Even though the Constitution allows the government to make war, hence maintaining the security of the nation is a prime function, everyone I know in the military will agree that the armed forces are not the epitome of productiveness. Recent events have confirmed this.

The "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was instituted under Clinton as a compromise to allow gays to serve in the military without telling anyone they were gay. No one really liked it. Those opposed to gays serving in the military didn't like it because gays were allowed to serve. Those in favor of gays serving in the military didn't like it because it basically forced homosexuals to lie/cover up a part of their life. Other than that, the military operated normally (read inefficiently).

Now, our President wants to get rid of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and Secretary Gates has presented a plan of what steps need to happen to get us there. What? Are you kidding me? I don't care whether you are for gays in the military or not. You don't need a PLAN to get rid of an arbitrary policy. Gays are allowed to serve in the military now, they just can't say they are gay. Either by executive order or Congressional law, you get rid of the policy and then it is no longer a crime to admit you are gay in the military (crime is harsh word, you just won't be discharged).

Gates talks about insurance issues. Uh, this is easy, if the federal government provides benefits to homosexual couples already, then it shouldn't be a big deal. Then there is the toilet/shower issues that he brings up. You can't be serious. THERE ARE ALREADY GAYS SERVING IN THE MILITARY!!! Yes, under the current policy there are gays serving in the military, they just can't admit it. So, if you are afraid of sharing a bathroom with someone who is gay, guess what? You already are! And 99.9999% of the time they haven't made a pass at you. It's not like they have tuberculosis or Ebola. You are not going to "catch" it.

If this is what the President wants, it should happen by the end of the week (if not the end of the day). There doesn't need to be a plan, it isn't even like racial integration. Let me reiterate: THERE ARE ALREADY GAYS SERVING IN THE MILITARY. No need for special treatment. If you get rid of the policy, the only thing that should change is gays won't be discharged for being gay.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Very Irreverant View of Miss America

Folks, tonight is the night 3 million people in America have been waiting for. (Everyone else is anticipating the Superbowl next week). Tonight is the Miss America Pageant, and against my better judgement I have decided to watch it with my wife and blog the experience live. I know, this is sort of odd since the vast majority of things I talk about on this blog involve guns, politics, capitalism, and explosions. But I thought I would be original. Anyone can blog the State of the Union, but it takes someone with intestinal fortitude (and a huge bottle of Scotch) to blog the Miss America Pageant. Before it begins let me go over a few things. My wife was (is?) a pageant girl. In other words, in her younger days, she competed in pageants (and even won a few).

Since I have known her, I have been to two pageants in my whole life, and I will be perfectly happy if I never go to another one again. The first was a 4 hour borefest that could have been shortened down to 1 hour and still been boring. It was times like that, that I wished I drank just to kill the memories. The second was the finals night for Miss Texas America Pageant. I honestly don't remember anything about this night other than we were suppose to stand up when the reigning Miss Texas entered. Didn't make sense to me but OK.

Now, I do have a confession to make. I have seen portions of a dozen or more pageants on TV. My interest usually wanes about 30 seconds after the swimsuit competition is over with. The Miss America program does have a talent competition that I keep hoping they will show some good talents (usually the good talents have been eliminated by the finals). When I say good talent, I mean something other than singing, dancing, or playing an instrument. My wife has told me of people that did flaming baton twirling or chainsaw sculpture. Why can't those be on when I am watching.

Unfortunately, the talent portion of Miss America suffers from the fact that it has to be done in 2 minutes on a stage. So things like putting 10 shots inside a quarter at 200 yards could be accomplished in 2 minutes, it couldn't be done on stage. I did have a friend whose daughter competed in the pageants for a while but got discouraged because what she really wanted to show for talent (ice skating) was not practical. What would be cool to see is someone try for a Guinness World Record like breaking boards, or stacking cards, or even eating hot dogs. Now that would be AWESOME! Watch some 110 lb pageant girl in shorts and a tank top down 15 hot dogs in 2 minutes. The thing about it is, if she sets a world record, how could you justify not awarding her the talent trophy? A few years of this and we would have half a dozen girls attempting various world records in each competition. This could revive the Miss America Pageant.

Truth of the matter is, pageants aren't near as popular as they were 20 years ago. Frankly reality TV has sort of destroyed the cute girls competing aspect of pageants. A few years ago, Miss America flirted with a reality TV program. Watched an episode of it, it sucked. Mainly because they didn't get to kick anyone off.

So tune in at 8pm eastern, 7pm central, 6pm mountain, and 5pm pacific and read while I make a total fool of myself and provide a blow by blow, no holds bar commentary that is sure to get me a smack or two from my wife (and maybe even a death threat from one of the contestants!).

T-0:30 TLC has something going on with Miss America where you can vote for something (as if that is going to make a difference.

T+0:00 There is Miss America on top of some building. What would be really cool is if she did some base jumping.

T+1:00 Mario Lopez is hosting (from saved by the Bell). My wife says they have more moves than Camp ROck. It does look sort of disorganized, but then again, not all of them are dancers. Short black dresses for the opening number, lots of hip shaking. Miss America has gotten a lot more risque in the last decade (sex sells and when your ratings stink you might as well turn the girl next door into a .....)

T+3:00 Now to meet them, I like: AK, KS, LA, MS, NV, NY, OK (but I am from there so I do have a bias), PR (by far the prettiest among all off them), VT, WI. Looking back I think they are all brunettes.
They must have been required to wear huge earings. DC is a white girl (not that it matters but that is rather odd for DC). Iowa wasn't impressive for her intro. Maryland used "nude" in her intro.

T+10:00 Intros took a long time. And now we have the "everyone's a winner" trash. Oh no! Amway is sponsoring it. Does this mean that we have to show the pageant to 3 of our friends? And we go to commercial. No I haven't cut myself yet.

T+12:00 My wife informed me that you can vote for the 15th contestant, they did it last year or the year before and Miss Utah (from the Utah National Guard) got in the top 15. She was the first one eliminated so if you do want to waste your vote be my guest.

T+13:00 Commercials always tell you what the audience is. Here we have Paint, Olay, and some TLC commercials which basically means that no one else wanted to advertise on Miss America.

T+14:00 Back to Mario. Looks like black bikinis from the preview. I can't wait. And for the finalists:
OK (America's choice, she is blond, unfortunately, she will be eliminated now).
AR (completely honest, she is in this for the money).
KY (do something big, and Miss America is it?)

OK now for the judges: Shawn Johnson (from Iowa) - she looks like she could be in this pageant. Vivica Fox - positive impression, who doesn't want that. Rush Limbaugh - poise, confidence, articulation, must like herself. Katie Harman - 4 S's. Dave Koz - capture my BARF! Brooke White - American Idol finalist (not winner).

T+19:00 OOOOH the girls get to choose a semifinalist and they don't even know it. And we go to commercial. We are 20 minutes in to this thing and we only know who 3 of the finalists are. This could be a long night.

T+20:00 Commercials: Sonic, Cadillac. I'm rather shocked. I would have expected more beauty products. They must think that a lot of guys are watching the beginning (waiting for the swimsuits). Ok, Pantene, Geico/Iphone, Avon (don't they compete with Amway), more TLC shows. It is sort of funny how they are advertising Kat von D (the Tattoo artist) on Miss America. I would love to see some girl win Miss America that was covered in tattoos.

T+22:00 And for the next 11:
TN - nothing exciting
CO - ice cream, she and OK will get along great.
CA - take a leap of faith, Indiana Jones said that and speaking of Indiana...
IN - primary job of Miss America is making people feel special
HI - huge smile
LA - she has the cleavage showing
DC - iphone with lots of Apps. With fake caller. Guess she won't get a date after admitting that.
NM - That "it" girl.
VA - have rythmn but not dance? how does that work?
TX - I think Texas probably pays off every pageant becasue she is always in the finals.
NE - Turtleneck @ Miss America? Isn't that like 1930's?

T+29:00 They get to choose. Don't vote for yourself. Apparently the first three were America's choice.

T+30:00 Commercials: More TLC shows (Miss America just isn't drawing a lot). Listerine, Subway (with Michael Phelps - he is in a swimsuit), Pantene (they always have that hair lift and drop in every commercial), AngelSoft toilet paper, Latisse (grow lashes), OK, they are getting into the makeup commercials, all of the guys have left, we'll see how the commercials are after the swimsuit - maybe a Coors commercial?, Maxwell House, SLumberland.

T+33:00 Still have one finalist left to name. This is suppose to be two hours long and it is already 1/4 over. They need to count the results. OK, now to a bunch of people that have something to do with Miss America. Katie Stam reigning Miss America she walks out and the crowd goes wild!! you would think she was throwing out $100 bills.

T+35:00 Wife says it looks like Miss America is wearing an Army dress. Who just got engaged. It is meant to look that way as a tribute to the military. Girls choice:
OR - hands on face crying, hurry and go get dressed in your bathing suit. More crying, hysterics, a line of bikinis, giver her some privacy already. And an inappropriate comment from the host. I'm suppose to be the one who says those.

T+37:00 Health fitness,... no not really, just girls in bikinis. Sorry for any mispellings, I am actually paying attention to the TV now. I never understood the high hills with the swimsuit. My wife likes the butt shots. Remember, all of the girls parading down the runway is for the children. OK, one of the girls shouldn't be in a bikini or at least get one that covers a little more. That has got to be painful to swing your hips that much. It can't be natural. I haven't seen a girl yet that actually looks comfortable walking on stage in a bikini. Of course the 6 inch heels can't help matters. OR made it, she got the change done and on stage in under 5 minutes. Ah, three get eliminated.

T+42:00 Miss America contestant montage (including table dancing) Commercials: Cadillac, so far, the demographic targeted looks like 40-60 year old women.IKEA mattress, Pantene (they must be the top commercial buyer), Glade, more TLC shows, Slumberland, so people who want furniture, high end cars and shampoo watch Miss America. Lets look back for a second. It took 35 minutes to finally find out who the 15 were. They were done with the swimsuit in 5 minutes. I think the times should be switched.

T+46:00 And now they have sarongs on so that you don't focus on their bodies so much. And the ones who advance are:
OK , LA, HI, (don't forget to scoot in and hold hands), NE, VA, NM, CO, DC, TN, (moms and dads go crazy), KY, (lots of thank yous), TX (see I told you its rigged), CA. And we go to Clinton outside the dressing room. With some former Miss America's. What is different from 50 years ago? Swimsuits are a lot smaller. Let's see if anyone trips this year.

T+51:00 I wonder if evening gown will take 5 minutes like swimsuit did. And all the losers get to sit in the background in comfortable clothes. Evening Wear - OK - she stumbled. Here is an idea, don't wear a dress with a train and your chance of slipping will go down! Slips all the way up the leg. Definitely more skin than in recent years. VA- a yellow dress (sunshine yellow), that is odd. She stands out. NM - How are her ears still attached to her head after wearing those all night. CO - prom gowns were homemade, she doesn't say anything about the gown she is wearing. Everyone is all about not having a wardrobe malfunction. Some of these dresses are looking the same, just a different color. KY looks like her top is about to have one of those malfunctions. TX bust has something funky going on, almost like vulcan ears. 5 minutes and evening wear is done.

T+57:00 Someone from the Amazing Race. Miss America donates to Haiti. The losers like yellow. KY and CA are one of the girls best friends? You've no each other for like 1 week!

T+60:00 Commercials: TLC shows, Amelia on DVD, Sonic, frankly besides the beauty products, the commercials are not geared towards women, Pantene (yet again), Allstate, Angel Soft, AT&T,TurboTax, Iowa Skating (no hockey though), ShopNBC.

T+65:00 And time to eliminate another 2:
CA - ballerina in a classical tutu except for the bare midriff. Something from La Coursair. Talent is the last chance you have to show off your body, since you get to pick your own costume. Of course, this is a scholarship program, it isn't about who has the best body (otherwise PR would have won - they robbed her).
VA - singer Listen from Dream Girls As I said earlier, I wish that girls would take a risk and do something out of the ordinary. No more singing, dancing, and instrument playing. Since I don't know this song, I couldn't tell you if it even sounded right.
DC - opera singer Oh mio mio Franc boyardee - o. She has one of those ear mics so that she can use her hands better. She wants to get a motorcycle license. Why not do the globe of death on a motorcycle for your talent or jump through some flaming hoops?
NM - another dress that leaves nothing to the imagination. Somewhere from West Side Story. And why doesn't anyone try to pull off Guns and Roses. My youngest daughter is watching and mimicing the motions of the girls. And clench a fist and pull it into the body. And arc into the air.
LA - Her dress is painted on her. Piano. How about playing backwards ( back to the keyboard). That would show some talent. Or play one hand on one piano and the other on another piano. And a trill to end it!

T+75:00 Commercials: TLC, Cadillac, Listerine (Miss America can't have bad breathe), AT&T, Walmart, Pantene, Proactiv (with Julianne Hough - I know her sister, I'm practically famous), TLC (they have reality TV for chocolate, cake, cooking, and who knows what else). Right about now is when if I drank I would be downing about a half of that bottle of scotch.

T+80:00 NE - who was just on the floor for something. This looks interesting. she has a chair, doing a jazz dance from Legally Blond, except she isn't using the chair (throwing it around, doing flips over it, etc.) so it is just a dance. And the bag turns into a jacket, which didn't make sense.
TN - I will always love you. Classic pageant song. BARF! How about "Back in Black" by AC/DC? The problem with singing a well known song is the judges are comparing you to everyone else who has sung that song, and more than likely a half dozen have sung it better. Dad and mom are proud.
TX (It's totally rigged!) Pucini something something. I actually like opera, just in English. I saw a couple of operas when I lived in New Jersey: Carmen and The Lighthouse. Both were in English. I never have understood going to a performance of something in another language (even if they have subtitles.)
KY Les Miserables On my Own. Let's here something from Big & Rich instead. Or something peppy like "Kansas City" from Oklahoma. If the last girl is a singer, I may have to go out and get that Scotch!
HI Hula dancing - without the coconut top and grass skirt. It just doesn't have the same appeal with a regular dress on. And she needs to get up and start shaking her hips. This may be hula, but it isn't what Hollywood has taught me hula is. I like the grass skirt type better.
So, 1 pianist, 3 dancers, and six singers. They eliminated a couple of dancers. So in the end all twelve did not meet my definition of good talent.

T+90:00 Commercials: TLC, Pantene, Cadillac, StayFree (that is something that Miss America could use - by this time all of the guys are off playing Xbox on the other TV), IKEA beds, Angel Soft, Avon (I am shocked that even though Amway sponsored something with Miss America they don't have a commercial), Maxwell House (my guess is we are not going to see any new commercials), Childrens Miracle Network, more TLC

T+95:00 Gretchen Carlson tells us how to botch the question. These are some of the brightest, most intelligent ... more inappropriate comments aobut sneaking in on the girls dressing. And the envelope of questions. Seven contestants will remain:

CA - Sports Stars get millions, do we have a right to expect them to be positive role model? Fluffy bunnies, stalwart unicorns.
NM - WE live in an age of international, should we learn foreign languages? Welcoming of other languages? Huh.
VA - healthy choices, yet america is fat, what should be done to get back on track? Get the dopes outside, play with sticks (and imaginary guns), get outside and see the world.
HI - are social networks a safe way to engage socially? I think, I think, I think it is all positive!
TN - Criticism is mean, which is better tough love or being gentle? Dude, Simon Cowell does not do tough love, he is just a jerk. Very confusing answer.
LA - US leads in foreign aide, why send money abroad? Close to my heart, she was there helping orphans, and inspired, nothing about whether government should send money, just use Miss America platform so we can all live in happiness and peace. (DC is super tall.)
KY (Texas didn't make it, someplace must be freezing) - Steroids in sports, should athletes be banned from sports for life? shouldn't be banned, but they should set an example (what about after they have their second chance).

T+105:00 - I guess after the Perez Hilton debacle at Miss USA last year, they aren't going to let the judges ask unscripted questions. Too bad, it would have been funny to have Rush ask the exact same question. The 2nd hour has gone much faster than the first.

T+110:00 - Back to Miss America and her incredible reign. Wearing a dress that lets you see ALL the way up her leg. Promoting water bottles? This is what Miss America has been reduced to, promoting water bottles? And Mario gets the envelope for the final results:
4th runner up - KY (too bad, that was one of the peoples choice).
3rd runner up - LA (she has on the same dress as Miss America)
2nd runner up - TN
1st runner up - CA
Winner - VA with humongoginormous earrings. She did have the yellow gown that stood out so I will giver her credit for that.
And she takes her walk (they need to update the song which sounds like it was written in the 50s and still references Atlantic City). Trip, trip, trip... come on, you won, just trip now, show us your human. And all the girls come up to hug her and pretend that they are so happy, (even though we know inside they just want to claw her eyes out).

Well folks that is all, the things that I do so that you don't have to.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Red Light, Green Light!

Someone will always come up with something to cover a niche market. In this case, they are sort of inventing their own niche market. An electronic firearm that is automatically disabled if it is not near the corresponding wrist watch, a "safe" gun. I have a few problems with it.

1. A "safe" gun, is a term more commonly called a "safe queen." It is a firearm that because of its beauty or monetary value is never fired, but resides in your safe. It is brought out for show and tell, but nothing more. I don't own any "safe queens." I certainly don't begrudge someone who does. Everyone probably has a small fortune tied up in something that will never be sold. My is in coins.

2. $10,000 price tag. Alright, I am sure this is just the starting price and as the technology catches on it will come down in price. Right? Seriously, though, this is being marketed to law enforcement and personal security people. What law enforcement agency is going to spend $10,000 per firearm? Most common firearms used by law enforcement cost less than $1000. Besides, if I had $10,000 to spend on a firearm, I wouldn't buy a .22, even if it was gold plated. I would buy one of these.

3. .22 caliber. There is nothing wrong with .22 caliber. I own several and shoot more rounds of .22 than all others combined. That being said, I would only use .22 in a defensive situation if I had no other choice. Again, this is marketed to law enforcement and personal security. I would be that there are a total of ZERO law enforcement agencies that use .22 as their standard (or even backup) caliber. The vast majority (and by that I mean all) use .38 special, 9mm, .357, .40 S&W, or .45ACP (or one of their derivatives).

4. LED lights. This is designed so that if the firearm is near the watch, it is activated and a green light is lit. Otherwise a red light is lit. OK, for stoplights and electronics, green means on and red means off. For firearms, not so much. If you haven't looked at your manual safeties lately take a look. You will find that the safe position is white and the fire position is red. Every firearm manufacture that I know follows this method. Green is for camoflage. This tells me that people who actually use firearms probably had very little to do with its development. Not sure I want to trust someone like that with a weapon.

5. Electronic whiz bang stuff in a mechanical instrument. Let's be perfectly honest with ourselves. Firearms are mechanical devices. The revolver was invented more than 150 years ago and is still in (very reliable) use today. Semi-automatic handguns were developed more than 100 years ago and we are still making some of the exact same models that were produced at the turn of the 20th century.

But, but, but, sound like you are anti-technological advancement. Uh, no. I happen to love a lot of technology. That doesn't mean to say that every technological advancement is good or worth spending our money on. No one complains that pencils are outdated and we continue to sell billions of them each year. Yet this technology (using carbon based substance to make marks on a plant based substance) has been in continuous use for more than 10,000 years. Before they used charcoal and wood, today we use graphite and paper. It is essentially the same. Mechanical pencils are nice, but in all honesty, they aren't as reliable as a regular wood pencil, can you imagine what would happen if someone came up with an electronic pencil?

The reason why firearms are so popular with law enforcement, military, hunters, sport shooters, and yes, even criminals, is because they go BANG each time you pull the trigger. If they don't do that reliably, then they are sold at a discount. Quality firearms go BANG whenever someone pulls the trigger, and they don't go BANG unless someone pulls the trigger. This company has produced a gun that goes BANG when someone pulls the trigger IF (and depending on your situation, that could be a big IF), there is a wristwatch nearby, AND IF the batteries are still working, AND IF none of the electronics have gone bad. And they want to charge a premium for it as well.

So, if you feel like wasting $10,000 on this paper weight, do you mind sending me a check as well?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The iPad Technological Revolution!

Since Apple has just announced the new iPad, I thought I would do a quick review of it. Nah... I am just shamelessly whoring for traffic like others here, here, here, and here. So instead, let me go through some of the technological advances in my lifetime that I have and have not embraced.

1. iPad - I have no intention of ever buying one. I see no use for it in my life. I have tried reading books/newspapers/etc. on an object similar to the iPad, and it doesn't work for me. I can search for what I want far faster with a paper whatever than I can with some electronic device (unless I happen to know the exact keyword or phrase I am looking for). That is not to say that I don't read stuff off of the computer. I read lots off of the computer. But it isn't laid out in traditional book/newspaper format.

2. iPhone - No need for one of these either. In fact you could put the entire cellphone concept in this category. I will admit, I have a Tracphone (pre-paid cell phone) that I use whenever I go on vacation. If I ever am in a dire emergency and need to use a phone, I'll borrow one from one of the 5 billion people in the world who have one. I don't even care if they charge me.

3. iPod - (are you noticing a pattern here) Once again, no need for this one. I don't listen to music like I did when I was a kid. I have never had a portable CD player either. I did have a walkman once or twice, but looking back, it was probably a complete waste of money. People who have the headphones of their iPod stuck in their ears all the time annoy me. Do you honestly have nothing better in life to do? Have you ever heard of talking to people (I know complete strangers are scary, but get over it already)?

4. Mac - Apple made a big mistake when it decided it was going to be stingy with software rights for the Mac. So for a while no one made it (not literally, but in effect yes), hence the PC grabbed the entire market. I remember in college a friend showing me the new mac OS X operating system. He raved on and on about how stable it was and how it was based on Unix (and Mac people accuse Microsoft of copying their product). Then we asked what programs he had for it (primarily what cool games 20ish boys would want to spend hours playing). None, there wasn't really any that he could buy. Was he poor? No, there were no games that would run on the new system. Period. Gosh, stability is great when all it will do is boot up the computer.

5. Personal computers - Yeah, I latched on to these real quick. The Apple IIc we had when I was a kid had much better games than the Atari 2600. Now I am at the point where I have more computers in the house than adults. And yes, the primary purpose of computers is to play games. Even my mom will tell you that in college she would take her punch cards down to the computer lab and they wouldn't be able to run it until midnight because they had a pong tournament going on.

6. Segway - this was suppose to revolutionize the way we lived. Eh...not so much. More like give yuppies with too much money (or credit) an excuse to get fat. Never ridden one, no desire to.

7. Rollerblades - I liked rollerskating when I was a kid, so in high school when I could buy my own rollerblades I did. I gave them to a friend while I was out of the country for two years, and I never did get them back. Unfortunately, I have never found a pair comparable to that one.

8. New cars - OK this isn't a technological advance, but still. My car is 17 years old. It still runs so I have no intention of getting a new one for the next couple of years.

9. Ebay - Yeah, I recognized the value of this pretty quick. I have had my account since 1998. Sure I may not be a top seller or buyer, but I have never had anything but a + rating. And I have gotten rid of a lot of stuff that probably would have just been thrown away.

10. Automatic bill pay - How could you not love this? Besides Christmas cards and a few magazine subscriptions, there isn't much I need my mailbox for now. Or my checkbook. About 7 years ago I bought a program that could print out checks. I haven't had a "traditional" checkbook yet. And I probably write less than a dozen checks each year.

11. Netflix - This is one I have waffled on. While I couldn't think of how I could imbibe in so much pointless entertainment to justify getting a subscription, now I am looking at is as a way to get a lot of the educational videos that my kids can use for home school.

As you can see from this short list, Apple is pretty much a useless company to me. That is not to say that I wouldn't invest in it. There are plenty of lemmings that buy their products just to have the latest and greatest that their stock price has performed admirably.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Spending Freeze is Going to Help, Right?

Well, Obama has finally come up with a marginally good idea, a spending freeze. Now before you get too excited lets go over some numbers. First, Federal spending is at about $3.6 trillion (or $3500 billion). Federal revenue (taxes) is at $2.3 trillion. What is being frozen is not the $3.6 trillion, no, that would be too easy. That $3.6 trillion is made up of a lot of mandatory spending: Interest on Debt, Social Security, Medicare, Pensions, Veterans Benefits, etc. None of that will be subject to the spending freeze. These account for more than $2 trillion of total spending.

Plus there is the biggest non-mandatory budget item of all: Military (odd how that is since unlike the mandatory spending above, the Constitution actually grants the government power to make war). That is around $700 billion. Which only leaves just under $700 billion of discretionary spending that could be frozen. Except that isn't even what is being frozen. There is some security spending (Homeland Security, etc.) which is also not subject to the freeze. So the only thing that is being frozen is about $450 billion in spending.

And this will save us $15 billion next year. To put this in perspective we are going to put a freeze on 13% of spending, and save 3% of that 13%, which makes a grand total of 0.4% of the total US budget. That is the equivalent of my family deciding to go to McDonald's instead of Applebee's 1 time next year.

Let's be honest, we really don't concern ourselves with 0.4% savings in our daily life. We make accounting mistakes bigger than this. We spend 0.4% of our income on lots of things throughout the year that we never planned on. That kind of money quickly evaporates when something unexpected like a parking ticket happens. Coincidentally, the US got a "parking ticket." Turns out the Stimulus Bill (which we're still waiting for those jobs to materialize) is going to cost $75 billion more. Uh-oh, that would put it over the $800 billion threshold that it had to be under to get the final votes to pass it. Does this mean we get a do over?

So, to sum it up. Obama's freeze (if it actually stayed in effect) would save $250 billion over the next 10 years. Before the freeze is even in place, we have chipped away $75 billion of it. Anybody have a guess as to how the economy is going to react to the tax increase that is happening next year (or as some would put it - the return of tax rates to normal)? According to the Budget Office's projections, everything looks rosy for the next 10 years! Oh yeah, and these discretionary programs got an increase of 10% last year so it is not like they are hurting for money. In the end, sure I support the freeze (as long as it really does result in less spending), it is just a hollow promise that won't do anything to affect the deficit.

This perfectly illustrates one of the problems that we have with Budgeting for the US. None of the projections are remotely realistic - even only going out 1 year. Somehow in 2011, the laws of economics (for both Keynesians and Austrians) are going to be suspended and tax rates will go up (substantially in some cases) thereby causing an increase in revenue to the government, and at the same time, business will be booming (as evidenced by an almost doubling of the corporate tax revenue from 2010 to 2011). Does anyone believe that all of the Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire? In an election year? Does anyone believe that taxing people more causes business to grow?

America needs to grow up. If they really want to get rid of the deficit and the debt, some sacred cows are going to have to be touched. Either we need more tax revenue and/or we need less spending (and not on the order of 0.4%). Tax revenue can increase in two ways. 1) Raise taxes - not a popular idea, and economically it will produce an immediate increase, however over the long run, tax increases tend to depress the growth engine. 2) Enact policies that increase GDP (which may mean tax cuts) - these usually lead to lower tax revenue immediately (simple math if you make $100000 and I get 20% this year and 15% next year then I have less money next year), however in the long run, those extra funds in private hands will drive the economic engine to produce more - hence revenues will eventually rise.

Spending is the key. For one, it is something that the government actually has control over. If you are looking at cutting the deficit, then spending needs to be cut by $1 trillion. Simple math will tell you that if you only cut 100% of the frozen budget (i.e. $450 billion) you are still not even halfway to $1 trillion. So some of the other stuff needs to be cut. Cutting Social Security isn't going to do much. Currently SS taxes bring in almost enough to pay for the outlays (until 2014). So completely eliminating SS will be a net change of zero (although, I fully support eliminating it).

How about Medicare and Medicaid? Oh, I am such a heartless schmuck to even suggest it. Well, that would cut the deficit in 2011 by $500 billion. So between Medicare, Medicaid and non-security discretionary spending, we eliminate almost $1 trillion. Surely, we could find another $50 billion from the Pentagon's budget. What would this do for the working poor in America that politicians love to put on the pedestal. Well, just in the payroll taxes alone, they would get a 7.65% payraise if you don't count the employer contribution (adding in the employer contribution then you get 15%). Don't you think the poor (and every working American) could use a 15% pay raise?

But what about the people that depend on SS and Medicare? Tough, the government shouldn't be in the business of compassion. Let the private sector handle. It does it better and more efficiently. And when I give money to XYZ Charity, I usually don't have to worry about them taking me for a sucker. Someone has to make the hard decisions. Not a single politician today is going to do it. Medicare is already paying out more than it brings in, SS will be in 2014. If I were less than 50 years old, I would make sure that I had some other means of retirement, because these two programs will not be there when you retire. For those who are younger, put money into investments that are not subject to payroll taxes. You're going to need it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reputo's New Motto

Today, while tearing apart the old computer, my wife asked if I would just throw away the old case.

"Yeah, I could do that. Or I could fill it up with stuff and shoot it. I mean, why throw something away when you can still shoot it!"

And then my wife suggested that that become Reputo's Motto. I agree.

Reputo's Motto: Why throw something away when you can still shoot it!

Reputo's Wife's Motto: Be sure to have enough high capacity magazines so you don't have to reload at the range.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Best Movie Review Ever!

I just read the best movie review ever written. It is about Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel. Go on over and take a read and leave a comment so Erin knows she did a great job!

Please note, I said this is the best movie REVIEW ever, certainly not the best movie. By the way. I have not seen the chipmunks movie and after reading this, I have no desire to see them!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Great Balls of Fire!

We had some friends over for dinner on Saturday night. The kids had attended my son's birthday party when I played the role of Dr. Madd and we exploded some dry ice bombs (and other slightly less cool things). They told me I couldn't be Dr. Madd at dinner. I relented, but asked them if they wanted to play with fire!

So, after dinner, once the small talk was over with, I started to get things set up in the backyard. Fire is really cool. Especially at night! Whoever the caveman that discovered how to make fire was, he or she should be given a retroactive Nobel Prize. The same with the person who invented matches and the Zippo lighter. Flares definitely deserve a Nobel prize.

In setting up, I had three things to show the kids (all under 10 years old). I had the test combustion chamber sitting on the picnic table. And my cannon right beside it. And something that I call Dragon's Breath (no not the shotgun shell one).

We started with the Dragon Breath. It is simply a large can with some tygon tubing inserted near the bottom. A sterno can burns inside and then you put in a couple of spoonfuls of your favorite combustible kitchen powder. There are lots of them: flour, powdered sugar, corn starch, coffee creamer, etc. Then simply blow in the tube and you get the following:

The kids definitely enjoyed that, especially since I put some pixie stick dust in to make it change colors (and you thought crack in a tube was suppose to be eaten). The best part was to allow them to blow in the tube to make their own fireballs!

After that it was time to get out the black powder! I had my test combustion chamber and just loaded a tablespoon of black powder in it and lit the fuse. In case you didn't read about building a cannon, the combustion chamber is made from nested cans with concrete filler in between. The actual chamber part is an empty tomato paste can (about 2 1/2 inches deep). So, the chamber isn't covered like it would be in the cannon, simply a small pile of black powder. Light the fuse and:

Pretty cool (at least the kids thought so). That column of flame is about 3-4 feet high. So, after getting them a glimpse of the power of black powder, we loaded up the cannon (in the backyard) with a tablespoon of black powder and launched the empty pineapple can about 35 feet. The kids clamored for more! And I was more than willing to oblige. Two tablespoons of blackpowder and the can, plus my wife was ready with the camera. Fuse lit. It burns down, and down, down ...

The fireball was impressive, and my wife caught it on film (or actually on the SD disk). She actually took all of the pictures. And she is great. Today, she cleaned out her craft closet and emptied her box of paints into a smaller box. Her old box was a giant toolbox. I asked what she was going to do with it and she suggested that I turn it into an explosions and miscellaneous stuff box. So, how many guys do you know have both a range bag and an explosions and miscellaneous box (besides Joe Huffman)?

If you didn't know, she posed for the Motivational Posters we made several months ago. Which brings me to a final thought: Why are pictures of women with guns (even fully clothed women) so popular? Since posting the pictures, those links have consistently been in the top five of viewed pages on my blog. I don't know, but as with teaching science through fire and explosions, I am happy to post for your viewing enjoyment some other great photos of my wife with a gun. Feel free to link to it as much as you want!

One News Story, One Op Ed

Two things grabbed my attention this morning, that I thought I would comment on. The first is this news story of Cindy Sheehan. Cindy, if you will remember, lost her son in Iraq and became the icon of the anti-war movement. My recollection may be wrong, but I thought she was just protesting the war in Iraq when Bush was president. She can unsuccessfully for congress, but has kept on with her protests. Now it appears that all war is bad to her and we are cowards.

Some points to bring up. After Bush left office, Cindy had a protest outside his home near Dallas. Did anyone bother to tell her that on January 20, 2009, Mr. Bush no longer had any power to change the course of the war. Her recent protest near Cheney's home and the CIA show that she is truly clueless. Even if Bush and Cheney had epiphanies today and decided that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were wrong and they demanded the immediate pullout of all troops ... nothing would happen. One of the great things about our country is that once a new president, congressman, etc. is sworn in, the old one is irrelevant to actual decision making. So the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are Mr. Obama's now. In spite of what he may think.

The other thing I don't understand about Cindy's protest is she is protesting the use of drones to attack enemy targets. Somehow this is cowardly and immoral. This seems like an odd argument when the other option is to send live bodies in to do the killing which is how her son died. I would have thought that using technology which prevents our soldiers from coming into harms way would be the moral thing to do. So what if it is cowardly (which it is not), it certainly isn't any more cowardly than hiding amongst women and children or setting a IED to be remote detonated. Cowardice when people are trying to kill you can be forgiven. The idea that we shouldn't use drones is stupid and will get people killed.

The second item was an op ed piece about Mika Bresinski. If you watch MSNBC in the mornings, which I sometimes do, you know Mika is Joe's liberal counterpart who can't make a coherent argument even when it is on the teleprompter or script in front of her. Now, having not seen the footage for this, it may not be as the writer describes, however, based on my watching of Mika, it sounds spot on.

First, Sarah Palin says that Washington was her favorite founding father. And Mika is a little flummoxed (probably because she doesn't know who George Washington is). After some others mention founding fathers, Mika pipes up with Lincoln (I suppose she means Abraham Lincoln, because Benjamin Lincoln is usually not listed among the founding fathers and if Mika doesn't know Washington I doubt she has heard of Benji - as opposed to Benjamin Franklin, I know all those names can get confusing). Lincoln, as in the man who wasn't even born until after Washington's two terms as president.

Sarah Palin is the one that is always panned by "reporters," like Mika, as being clueless and a buffoon. In this case, Mika clearly demonstrates who the buffoon is.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Taiwan Wedding Vacation Extravaganza!

About a two months ago, I got an email with this heading: Got any plan next spring Opening it, was one question: Would you like to come to Kaohsiung for my wedding next April?

And for some background. When I lived in Vancouver, British Columbia 13 years ago, I became friends with a young lady from Taiwan. Teresa. After she graduated from high school she went to college out in Toronto and I went back to school in Texas. We kept in touch through email for 13 years.

My wife and I helped her a lot with correcting grammar on her English papers and my wife (who has a degree in Marketing) helped her out with one of her Graduate projects. Later on, my friend worked in Taiwan and Japan. Even though she speaks Chinese, Japanese, and English she would still call or email me for help in translating documents, letters, and agendas (I speak English and passable Chinese). So over the last 10 years you could say that documents I helped translate have seen the desks of government officials from Taiwan, Japan, and the USA and officers of multinational corporations and international Universities.

Now, lest you think that all of the diplomatic problems in the world rest on me, let me assure you these were not the policy making documents. For example, I helped translate the agenda for some conference that the US Representative from American Samoa (Eni Faleomavaega) was going to in Taiwan. I also helped script out my friend's welcome speech.

We haven't seen each other since 1997. I have gotten married and had a gaggle of kids. And now she gets to start that wonderful journey. So, I was excited that I would be invited all the way to Taiwan for her wedding. My wife and I looked at our budget for the year and after a couple of weeks of playing with the numbers decided that we would do it. This was a big decision for us. We had taken a trip to Disneyland in May and weren't planning on any other major trips until well into the next decade.

International travel started for me when I was 16. I went to Niagra Falls in Canada. It might have started earlier (when I was 13) when I went fishing with an uncle in Seattle, but we aren't sure if we crossed into Canadian waters. I lived in Canada for 2 years. Then about a month after I graduated from college, my work sent me to England for a week. This was the first of about a a half dozen trips to England. (When you stay at the same hotel each time, and have the same taxi driver take you to and from the airport it sort of becomes a second home.) Later I was sent to India.

Then I switched jobs and worked for a government contractor in an area where they limited the amount of foreign travel. It was here that I found out that Hollywood and the novel writing industry is absolutely completely clueless about "Top Secret" designations and the like. Trust me, it is a lot more mundane and boring than you think. If I told you more, they might lock me away forever - or until they realized the Top Secret information is also published in high school math and physics textbooks. But I digress.

So now I work elsewhere (don't you like the cryptic nature of not giving the reader any real clue as to my background), and going to Taiwan is an option. My wife has never been out the country and she is excited and nervous all at the same time.

Well, first thing I do is check out the State Department website about travel to Taiwan. No visa required - good, that is one less hassle to try to deal with. Lots of people speak passable English - good for my wife. Don't drink the tap water - ooooh this is sounding sort of like India. When I went to India, I was there for a week. After talking with my doctor (actually my wife and kids doctor, I don't have a doctor), he told me that I could get all of the recommended immunizations (malaria, hepatitis, etc) or I could just not eat raw food, not drink the tap water, and not have any liaisons with prostitutes and I should be fine.

So, when I traveled to India, I had just one carry-on. It weighed about 60 lbs because half of it was bottled water. I wasn't going to risk losing my luggage on the way to India (since I was flying all over India) and not have clean drinking water. This was also before they put the ban on liquids on planes. No, I am not kidding, I had 3 gallons of water in my carry-on. Taiwan is more modernized than India, so I think that I'll leave the water in the checked luggage. But since it is for me and my wife, I'll probably take 3 gallons.

This then led me to the American Airlines website to check out the baggage guidelines. I was in luck, for international travel, checked bags are free! Then I scrolled down some more. Under the sporting goods section they have a list of what can be checked (size of plane dependent). Bowling Balls - alright, except your going to go over your weight limit pretty quickly. Hang-glider - you are allowed to check 1 hang-glider for only $100 additional charge. I wonder how often that happens. Javelin - check 1 javelin for an extra $100, although can anyone explain why a pair of oars (about as long as a javelin) is allowed for no extra charge. No kayaks or canoes (which is odd since they can get a hang-glider in there) but you can check a windsurfing board, mast, boom, and sail for $100 extra. I'll have to remember to check the baggage compartment the next time I am on an aircraft that loses both engines and is plummetting to the earth and the evil badguy has thrown all of the parachutes out the door (no airlines do not have parachutes on board for every individual). There may be someone's hang-glider or windsurf sail that I can use.

Anyway, back to the wedding thing. International tickets are a finicky thing to nail down. One month ago they were $1200 to Taiwan. A week ago they were $960. Two days ago they were $1415. Yesterday they were $1006. So I bought. Watching the prices swing so wildly reminded me of the Stock Market during April and May of last year. Sure I made money on the swings, but it is kind of nerve racking to see 30% changes in such short periods of time.

The hotel we are staying at is one of the tallest buildings in the world. And the hotel starts on the 45 floor. So at a minimum, we will be staying in a hotel room that is higher than the tallest building in the state of Iowa. The wife doesn't want to look out the window. I want a balcony! We also plan on taking the high speed rail up to Taipei. It is the perfect transportation for my capitalist mindset. Privately funded mass transit. $30 gets you 300 miles in an hour and a half. I can't wait. Needless to say, I may not get much sleep while I'm there.

Now we have to figure out the whole Chinese wedding thing. I'll admit, I have been to a Chinese funeral, but never to a Chinese wedding (well one sort of but that was between a Chinese girl and an American guy). Furthermore, my friend has asked me to give a speech at the wedding. It seems that her friends and family are all shy, so the gregarious American gets to become the entertainment. Perhaps after I am done, she will think twice about having an American speak at her wedding...

Problem with Maine's Assistant Attorney General

Going through the news, I almost didn't click on this story. But, I couldn't resist. After the first couple of paragraphs I was about to click away to something else, then this quote caught me off guard:

"You just don't hold a gun to someone's head and pull the trigger without making sure it's not loaded. And at the moment he pulled the trigger, he didn't know."

If the reporting is accurate, that was spoken by the Assistant Attorney General. I have a problem with that. Why would an Assistant Attorney General think it is OK to point a gun at someone's head and pull the trigger EVEN IF they know that the gun is unloaded? How about not pointing the gun at someone's head in the first place!

It definitely speaks to the woeful inadequacy of firearms education in this country when one of the top law enforcement officials in a state believes that it is OK to point a gun at someone's head and pull the trigger if it is unloaded. In case you didn't know, its not OK. Learn the four rules of firearm safety and don't be afraid to teach your children about them. And please, don't elect people who don't know what the four rules are or their proper application.

And I thought Maine had a culture of firearms ownership. Guess I can be wrong every now and again.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cannon Fodder - Applied Science

After reading A Brief History and Building a Cannon you should know that there is only one thing left to do. Actually use it. Well, I needed a fuse, and it turns out that the hobby shop doesn't sell the regular fuses anymore. They only have the electronic kind. I did find some online through a fireworks warehouse. You got to love the internet. You can buy anything online.

To begin the tests, I had to make certain that I wasn't going to blow myself up (a rather important step if you want to continue to have fun with cannons). I had built two combustion chambers (since I had two tubes of PVC), although I only assembled one in a cannon. The other was for cannon testing.

Over the course of a couple of evenings, I made some small fireworks displays in the backyard. I started with relatively little black powder (about a half a teaspoon) to see how much of a flame/ smoke it would create. I slowly built it up until I was igniting a full tablespoon of black powder. Then I tried it by covering the combustion chamber with a #10 can. Everything worked. And suprisingly, the neighbor kids either didn't notice that I was making big clouds of fire and smoke, or just didn't care.

My first thought was to test this out on Thanksgiving weekend. I was going to be down at my brother's place where there was plenty of open land. However, a combination of deer season (cannons tend to scare away deer, or so I've heard, I'm not a hunter and couldn't care less) and a broken fridge (he lives an hour from town and having a fridge die during a weekend when all of the family is in town is not fun) nixed the testing of the cannon. So it would have to wait until I had another opportunity.

That opportunity came on New Year's Day. What better way to ring in the new year than by firing off a home made cannon. I asked my wife if I could go test it in the afternoon and she consented. I figured that the cold weather (-5 degrees) and holiday would keep people away from the range. I didn't want anyone around in case something bad (like an explosion) happened. While I had tested out the combustion chamber in the backyard, this would be the first live test of the cannon.

For some crazy reason, there were actually half a dozen people at the shooting range. (Don't they know that it is freezing outside!) So I continued on driving down the road to the Shotgun range. I was sure no one would be dumb enough to be out shooting clays in this weather. I was right!

After setting up, I loaded the cannon with a half a tablespoon of black powder. For my shell (cannon ball), I used an empty can of peaches wound with duck tape to the same diameter as the barrel. So, for the first shot, it would be a very small charge, shooting out a very light (and non aerodynamic) shell. It took forever to light the fuse since the wind kept blowing the matches out. Finally, I saw the sizzle of the fuse, and ran back about 50 feet. While I wasn't expecting any negative consequences, I wasn't going to tempt the firearm gods.

Pfft! It sounded just like a 4th of July mortar firework. (Which makes perfect sense since it is basically the exact same thing minus the dazzling display of colors in the sky). The can flew out about 20 feet in the air and 10 yards down range. A big smile broke across my face. I had just built a working cannon with stuff you can get from a hardware store. Now, the fun was about to begin.

Just before Christmas, my kids cleaned out the basement and ended up with two trashbags full of stuffed animals that were not needed. Goodwill won't take them and I was thinking of sending them to fellow blogger JayG who loves to bayonet stuffed animals. But then I got a better idea. If bayoneting stuffed animals is an acceptable practice in the communist state of Massachusetts, then shooting them out of a cannon must be an acceptable practice in the slightly more free (we are still a May Issue state) land of Iowa!

So little teddy bear got to be the pioneering cannonaut! I used a full tablespoon of black powder and just stuffed the bear in the can. Pfft! A little louder this time and the teddy bear went sailing. About 20 yards. Not bad. One of the most satisfying things about a black powder cannon compared to an air cannon or even a flammable fluid cannon is the big puff of smoke. The wind was blowing perpendicular to the range of fire so after each shot there would be a nice 5-10 foot smoke cloud floating away.

A third time with a tablespoon and a half and a fourth time with two tablespoons. The teddy bear did not disappoint, each time going a little farther, until he peaked out at around 30 yards. I did notice that the can was going farther, about 40 yards. So, by my eighth shot I was practically frozen, the wind was blowing and the wind chill was about -30 (no, I am not exaggerating) and since I had to take off my gloves to light the fuse, my hands were numb.

I decided that my eight shot would be the final one for the day. I wanted to get some weight to the shell so that it would have more momentum (also less air resistance as I would fill up the can. At first I thought of packing the can with snow, but decided that it wouldn't really add that much weight, snow just doesn't weigh very much. While I was retrieving the can from the range, it hit me. I'm on a shotgun range and there are bound to be clays I could crush up into the can.

Sure enough, the people who use the shotgun range are about as good of a shot at flying clays as I am (which means not good at all!). In no time I had found a half dozen unbroken clays. I smashed them up into the can. Now it had some weight to it.

Three tablespoons of black powder in the chamber, then the can and the teddybear on top for good measure. I set the camera to continuous picture to be able to get multiple shots.

Pfft! Somehow my camera was timed perfectly to not only capture the teddybear in the early stages of flight but also the growing smoke cloud AND the two foot column of flame.

The teddy bear did a perfect spread eagle at the apex of his flight and traveled about 35 yards. The can continued on to about 65 yards.

I was giddy all the way home. In my mind I started planning what types of shells I am going to make and different combinations of powders to use. This was only a two foot cannon with a combustion chamber that is large enough for about a half cup of black powder (six or so table spoons). I think for the three foot cannon I'll make a combustion chamber that is twice that size. If anyone would like be to give a demonstration and a physics lesson to elementary, middle, or high school age kids, I'm ready. You can bet that the 4th of July will be a whole lot of fun at the Reputo Casa!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cannon Fodder - Building a Cannon

Well, if you read Cannon Fodder - A Brief History you know where I got the inspiration to build a cannon. Why build a cannon? Because I can (and so can you). First off, there is nothing illegal about building a cannon. For the most part, federal law doesn't even classify them as firearms or destructive devices (even though they use black powder, a lead or other metal projectile, and shoot hundreds of yards).

Second, they are great teaching tools. Lessons in Materials science, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, etc. can all be taught in a hands on way. The two lessons that I remember most from high school physics were when we made dry ice bombs (try getting that into schools these days) and ignited methane bubbles. Sure many of the formulas and principles have been ingrained in my mind through later courses in college and hands on experience, but if you ask me what I remember about high school physics those are the stories I would tell you. Since my wife and I homeschool our children, we have a lot of latitude in how they are taught. And since my wife says that I am in charge of science, it is my duty as a father and a teacher to provide the best education possible. Why play the cannon game where you lob shells at an opponent on the computer, when you can do it in real life. So in essence, its for the children!

Third, cannons are FUN!. Fireworks are glorified cannons, and we all like them. The last thing we need is to teach our children to be afraid of smoke and flames coming from a barrel. They need to be taught to respect the power of them (just like they should respect the power in a 100hp engine attached to a one and a half ton metal box). But they should also learn that the proper application can bring joy and happiness. (Not to mention it can be a great stress relief - I have never been stressed after blowing something up).

So I was going to build a cannon. Not an air powered or even hairspray/lighter fluid cannon. I wanted a black powder cannon. Something that would have smoke and flames! I wanted to build it out of everyday materials that could be found in any decent sized town in America. I did not want to use any specialized tools or specialized skills. In other words, I wanted to do it so that any adult capable of getting a driver's license could do the same thing. As a final result, I wanted a cannon capable of launching a 5 lb shell, 100 yards.

Now, let me allay any fears that some may have. In showing in excruciating detail how to build a cannon of one's own, am I aiding terrorists or criminals? Uh, no. As I mentioned in Cannon Fodder - A Brief History, the technology I am explaining is 1000 years old and the principles have been known for almost all of recorded history. If terrorists or criminals are coming to my blog to learn how to make destructive weapons, then we don't have too much to worry about.

So, let's start with a list of tools that you will need:
Drill w/ 1/4" bit

Materials and where to get them:
PVC pipe (home improvement store)
Duck tape (home improvement store or Walmart)
PVC joining glue (home improvement store)
Small copper tubing (home improvement store)
Concrete filler (home improvement store or Walmart)
High temperature grill paint (home improvement store or Walmart)
Various sized cans (from your wife or mom after she makes dinner)
Large band clamp (auto parts store or Walmart)
Shelf tracks (home improvement store)
small nuts and bolts (somewhere in your garage or basement)

So on to the assembly!

First, the barrel is made from PVC pipe. I used 4" sch 40 because it snuggly fit a can of peaches (which became my outermost layer of the combustion chamber). A cap is solvent welded onto one end.

Now, PVC has the nice quality of being rigid (hence less risk of compression holding the shell too tightly and making a bomb). However, it is also a brittle material that will be subjected to many stresses that are going to crack/shatter it in a cannon. Hence, I wrapped it with duck tape. The cloth tape will provide a protective barrier to prevent the PVC from breaking apart, and by wrapping it very tightly, I am introducing some compressive forces on the PVC which will partially counteract the hoop stress from expanding gases.

Second, the combustion chamber is made by nesting various size cans inside of one another. I started with a big 25 oz peach can for the outer base and ended with a 4 oz tomato paste can on the inside. I used concrete filler (the rubbery stuff) to fill in the space between the cans. This does two things. It increases the mass of the combustion chamber (providing strength) and being a compressible material, it will mitigate the amount of hoop stress transfered to the barrel (the highest pressures are going to be in the combustion chamber).

I then sprayed the inside of the cannon with the high temperature grill paint. Not so much to make it heat resistant, as to give it a uniform color. The heat resistance is a bonus. To assemble the cannon, I simply dropped the combustion chamber into the barrel. Then I drilled a hole through the wall and into the combustion chamber. A short piece of copper tubing was inserted to act as the touch hole.

Finally, after scrounging around my garage, I found a 4" hose clamp and a couple of old shelving tracks. I used these with some nuts and bolts to create some legs for the cannon, and viola! The cannon was completed!
Next up, what good is a cannon if you don't use it. See Cannon Fodder - Applied Science.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cannon Fodder - A Brief History

It all started around September. There I was relaxing one evening watching Mythbusters, when an idea popped into my head. The episode was about duck tape. And they were doing all sorts of things with duck tape. Lifting cars, making sailboats, and naturally, building a cannon.

The building of the cannon intrigued me. Their goal was to make a cannon out of duck tape that performed as well as their steel cannon they had used in other episodes. Their steel cannon shot a 18 pound ball, 500+ yards on three shotgun shells worth of gunpowder.

They took the right approach by figuring out how thick the duck tape needed to be. What was amazing was that a 1 inch thick slab of duck tape was able to withstand the pressure. They then proceeded to wrap a post with ducktape into a cannon shape and removed the post, giving them a cannon. One of the major downfalls to using 100% duck tape is that even with 1+ inch thickness, the duck tape is still not rigid. Not only that but it is highly susceptible to self compression - in other words, as the duck tape is wrapped tightly around the 3" post, the post provides a force back on the duck tape such that the post is not compressed. However, once the post is removed, that counteracting force is no longer there, forcing the barrel to collapse some (so now it is only 2.88").

How could this be bad? Well, in a steel or metal cannon, the cannon ball will just fit into the barrel, it should slide down though with minimal forcing. For the duck tape cannon, the ball literally had to be shoved and pounded in. This created an interesting dilemma, which they did discuss. Do they have a cannon, or a bomb?

So let me give a quick intro in how cannon's work. It is not exactly advanced technology. It has been around for at least 1000 years, and the general principles have been known for many millenia before that.

A cannon has three main components: the barrel, the combustion chamber, and the touch hole. The touch hole or fuse hole or vent hole is a small hole where the ignition source is introduced to ignite the main charge. This hole should be relatively small (<1/8") which I'll explain in a moment.

Next is the combustion chamber. It sounds somewhat high tech, but in actuality it is just a cavity where the charge is burned. Once the charge is ignited through the touch hole, it creates a whole bunch (that is a technical term for you non-engineers) of gases. Since the combustion chamber is completely enclosed at one end and covered by the cannon ball at the other end, at the beginning of the reaction it is a constant volume closed space. So as the charge rapidly burns, the amount of gases increase. Simple physics tells us that for a constant volume, as the amount of gases increase, the pressure will increase. Additionally, since the burning of the charge releases heat, the temperature of these gases goes up also forcing pressure higher. Therefore, the combustion chamber needs to be the strongest part of the cannon. More on that in a second.

Finally, the barrel is a long tube. It holds the the cannon ball. As the gases expand in the combustion chamber, they push on the cannon ball. The barrel helps to direct the trajectory of the cannonball and also allows the further expansion of gases transferring the force of the burning charge, into kinetic energy of the cannon ball.

So those are the basic parts, now to tie up the loose ends. The touch hole needs to be small so that there is not a large pathway for combustion gases to escape. Otherwise, much of the energy would be lost as gases leaked out of the touch hole rather than acting on the cannon ball.

The combustion chamber is made stronger usually by having thicker material around the combustion chamber. This is done in two ways. First, the combustion chamber can be made smaller diameter than the barrel. For a constant outer diameter (say 4"), a 3" bore (1/2" thickness), the combustion chamber may only be 2" in diameter (1" thick). Another way of making the material around the combustion chamber thicker is to taper the metal. This gives cannons their their classic bulbous shape at the end. One or both of these methods could be used.

The cannon ball needs to be matched to the size of the barrel. There needs to be a tight fit. A loose fit will allow gases to leak by, thereby wasting the charge and in extreme cases, not shooting the cannon ball out of the cannon (which would defeat the purpose). A tight fitting ball is going to have increased friction as it travels along the barrel, this could be mitigated by lubricating the barrel. Too tight of a fit and bad things can happen. First, the charge might not be able to overcome the force of friction, thereby sticking the ball in the cannon. A stuck ball can be extracted with much difficulty. Second, the possibility is there that the ball could be friction welded to the cannon, in other words, depending on the metals of the barrel and the ball, the friction might cause enough heat to weld the ball to the cannon. At this point, you cannon is pretty much scrap metal. Third, the worst thing that could happen is your barrel or combustion chamber could fail (i.e. break apart) from the force of the expanding gases, thereby creating a bomb rather than a cannon.

Basically, a good cannon is a fine balance between friction and expansion. A "perfectly" balanced cannon would have a complete burn of the charge (i.e. expansion) at the very instance that the cannon ball left the cannon (i.e. no more friction to overcome). However, that would also eliminate the puff of flame and smoke that makes cannons so fun (mostly the flame).

So back to Mythbusters. With the extremely tight fit of the cannon ball, they surmised that they might have a bomb on their hands. Of course, in the pursuit of science, there is only one thing to do. Light it off and find out (applied science is a lot more fun than the theoretical stuff). They took appropriate safety precautions and lit the fuse. I sat on the edge of my seat as the fuse burned down. Then BOOM! I could see a definite trajectory of smoke and what looked like an intact cannon. Sure enough it worked. The cannon was in one piece, and the cannon ball flew 175 yards. Not quite the 500 of the steel cannon, but my guess is the majority of that can be attributed to the increased friction of the tight fit in the barrel. However, it is not repeatable, then you can't really call it science. So they shot it again. I was in heaven. When my kids watched it, they were in heaven.

And that is when I had my idea: I am going to make a duck tape cannon!
(More coming in Cannon Fodder - Building a Cannon)