Welcome to my musings on whatever topic catches my eye, plus stories, recipes, handyman tips, welding, photography, and what have you. Oh, and analog/digital hardware design, and software. Please comment on the blog post so everyone who visits can see your comments.

Month: January 2019 (Page 1 of 2)

Physical Security and Walls

Obvious, but not obvious.

There’s an important concept in the security field that everyone should understand. I’m writing this now because of all the discussion about building a wall at the USA/Mexico border. Some of you will find what I have to say obvious. Most will find it to be a new way of thinking that they hadn’t consciously thought about before.

Back in the last century, I spent 15 years building a company in the security business — physical security, access control, tracking of personnel within a secure facility, and asset tracking. Focus was on facilities needing the highest level of security, mostly government, so our systems supported man-traps, two-man-rule (required for access to nuclear warheads), surreptitiously weighing personnel as they entered and exited to detect systematic theft, collecting data that could indicate impaired performance of personnel, on and on. Back in the 1980s, if you visited the headquarters of the three letter agencies you passed through systems designed by me. In the 80s and 90s, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton controlled zone security the Whitehouse with my systems. FBI evidence rooms and all federal court facilities are secured by my systems today. If technicians need to work on a nuclear warhead at facilities where they are stored, their access is controlled by systems I designed. When the Soviet Union fell, the USA stepped in, and I and others worked on systems to physically secure the Russian nuclear arsenal until they put a stable government together.

When I began in this field, I was just an electronics engineer and software guy, who had done a lot of things. In the course of working in security, I was fortunate and privileged to work with the roughly half dozen guys in the USA, who are the most skilled and knowledgeable in this field. They all worked for various agencies in the government and I can’t describe how brilliant, experienced, and amazing they were. I learned a great number of fascinating and useful things. Over the years, it became clear that there are a number of basic principles that govern the field of security, like the laws of physics. One partner and I repeatedly discussed writing a book on these principles, but we never got around to it.

One of the principles or realities of physical security, the most important one to have clearly in mind, is that there’s no such thing as foolproof physical security. We constantly hear promotional phrases like “bulletproof security”, built like Fort Knox, impenetrable as a bank vault, uncrackable codes, unpickable locks, etc. There is no such thing. Any security scheme devised by Man can be defeated by Man. The only thing that security schemes do is buy you time. In the case of physical security, it buys time for humans to respond with force to an intrusion attempt. Hopefully, it raises the time cost/risk high enough that an intruder isn’t willing to try. That’s all it does. It’s a delaying mechanism and nothing more.

If there is no human to respond to an intrusion attempt, then there is no security. Security depends on human intervention and how long it takes for the response to arrive. This is obvious once you think about it. It’s just something most people don’t consciously think about. It’s not pleasant to think about because it makes you feel naked to realize that all the fancy security systems you have are worthless if an armed response doesn’t arrive in time.

Now you’re thinking about it. I hope this informs your thinking about the security measures in your home and business.

It also means that a border wall is useless without intrusion detection and armed response. Adding that to a wall costs more than the wall because it’s a perpetual ongoing expense involving lots of people. This is the drawback of all walls, including the Great Wall of China. Walls are not standalone solutions. They must be defended.  In its day, the Great Wall did its job because it was defended. Yes, the Great Wall of China was manned 24/7 from one end to the other.

There are other considerations, but there’s no need to get into them here. All arguments say that undefended walls do not work. History proves it.

Polar Outbreak, January 2019

The big news right now is the record low temperatures in the Mid- and Upper-Midwest. The Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana are experiencing extreme low temperatures and high winds, bringing the chill down to dangerous levels of -40 to -60 degrees Fahrenheit. These conditions are expected to set numerous all-time record lows.

I blogged about this a month ago, on December 28th. It was expected. The only question a month ago was how far south it would go.

You might ask, who am I? I’ve been an amateur meteo guy for over 50 years, I’m an engineer, and from 1998 to 2005 I did marine weather forecasting — guiding yachts at sea, talking them through dangerous weather conditions using marine SSB radio. So, I have some experience with these things and know my way around a 500 millibar chart.

With this polar outbreak, as expected, climate change deniers, including Donald Trump, jumped on this phenomenon with foolish comments like “we need more global warming.”

The key question that a smart person would ask is how did I know a month ago that this was going to happen? I knew because I observed two masses of very warm air in equatorial regions rise to the stratosphere and move north. I knew that those warm air masses would disrupt the circulation around the pole (the so-called Polar Vortex), destabilize it, and push a large mass of extremely cold air out of the polar region and south over Canada to the USA.

What I didn’t know was how far south it would reach. But, about a week ago, it looked like a pair of north-south ridges were forming that would squeeze the cold air mass and vigorously squirt it south, well into the USA. Then, I knew the cold blast would be severe. This squirting effect also meant high winds and severe wind chill — what I call a Blue Screamer. That’s what we’re going to get tomorrow (Wednesday) and into Thursday.

The bottom line here is that the cause of this outbreak is warm air that came from the tropics. Global warming doesn’t mean a perceived increase in warmth. Not yet, anyway. Raising the average global temperature by one degree doesn’t result in feeling warmer all the time. It results in more violent and severe weather, both cold and hot. The amplitudes increase. Temperature swings get wider. The winds become more violent. We’ll set both high and low temperature records as this proceeds.

The workings of Earth’s atmosphere are extremely complex. I know it may seem contradictory, but the next two days will bring us record-breaking cold and high winds — as a direct result of global warming.

Please comment below.

$1.5 Trillion Tax Cut Fails to Deliver What Congress Promised

Time: December 2017
Place: Washington, DC

Congress: We’re going to restructure the tax code and give you corporations an enormous $1.5 trillion tax break.
Corporations: Great. Thanks.
Congress: We believe this money will cause big corporations like you to increase your capital expenditures, which will stimulate the economy.
Corporations: Why would we do that? We’ll use the money for stock buybacks that drive up the price of our stock and we’ll pocket the rest of it.
Congress: Wait. What? Well, we’re going to do it anyway because our big donors want it and Trump wants it.

Reuters: $1.5 Trillion US Tax Cut has No Major Impact on Business CAPEX.

Please comment below.

IRS Building, Washington DC

IRS Building, Washington DC

No Chocolate, Potatoes, or Tomatoes in Europe?

If you took a trip to 16th Century Europe, you could meet or see Michaelangelo, da Vinci, Martin Luther, Charles V, Henry VIII, and many other fascinating people from that period. But, you’d also be shocked by many things, especially everyone’s diet.

Michaelangelo never tasted marinara sauce on his pasta because tomatoes were unknown in Italy. No Irishman, German, or Pole had ever seen a potato. No German, Swiss, or Frenchman had ever tasted chocolate, nor vanilla.

What? It’s true. Foods from the Americas started coming to Europe in 1493 when Columbus brought bell pepper seeds and a few others. But it took decades for these to become noticed and spread. Some items like tomatoes took a long time to catch on. It was believed that tomatoes were poisonous until a Frenchman demonstrated that they were not. Cortez first learned of chocolate from Moctezuma in 1520.

European Diet

Fundamental to Italian cuisine are the fagioli soups. Fagioli means beans — the common bean like navy, kidney, black, lima, northern, and pinto. There were none of those in Europe, just fava beans. Nor was there corn, squashes, yams, strawberries or pineapples — no peanuts, so no peanut butter — no zucchini, pumpkins, avocados, or cashew nuts.

There were no hot chili peppers in Europe. The only hot spices were pepper, mustard, and horseradish. But what about Asia? The Chinese and Indians love chili peppers. Chili peppers were brought there from the Americas by European sailors, and they became extremely popular. In fact, chili peppers found their way to Europe from the Americas, to India, then to England. There were no bell peppers either, of any color.

There was no white or brown sugar, just honey for sweetening. No Englishman puffed on a pipe, nor did any Frenchman smoke a cigarette — tobacco was unknown. No green beans, tapioca, papaya, guava, passion fruit, cranberries, sunflowers, pecans, allspice, or chicle (chewing gum).

The European diet was bland. Nourishment came from breads, pasta, grains and meat porridges, apples, pears, berries, beer, eggs, fish, and dairy foods. There was no coffee at this time either, although coffee came from Arabia, not the Americas.

Sound boring? It was. Most of the foods for which European countries are famous like Swiss chocolate, and Irish potatoes, were introduced in the past 400 years. Yet, most people I know think that potatoes came from Ireland.

Negative Side Effects

I find it interesting to observe the effects of introducing new food sources to a place. We’ve all heard of the great impact of the Irish Potato Famine. How did that happen?

The potato was brought to Europe in 1536 and was spread by seafarers to the rest of the world. It quickly became a staple food crop in Europe. It was so successful at feeding the people of Ireland that it touched off a population explosion, resulting in hordes of Irish immigrants to North America. By 1800 it was not unusual for an Irishman to eat an astonishing ten pounds of potatoes a day! Many Irish were literally surviving on potatoes.

For over 7,000 years, the Indians of South America cultivated more than a thousand varieties of potato. But the lack of genetic diversity in Europe left the potato vulnerable to various diseases. One potato disease known as Late Blight, caused by a fungus-like oomycete called Phytophthora infestans, was responsible for the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845. It spread rapidly in western Ireland and resulted in widespread crop failures. More than a million Irish died of hunger and 1.5 million more emigrated to the United States, resulting in a huge increase in demand for the potato in the USA.

So, introducing a great source of nutrition to a region triggers a population explosion. This makes sense. And, it happened again. Africa never had an overpopulation problem before. What happened?

Corn was domesticated from a wild plant called teosinte more than 7,000 years ago in Central America. Corn is fundamental to the Mayan creation myth and is considered a sacred plant. The ears of the wild teosinte plant were small but years of domestication resulted in larger plants and larger ears of corn. Corn spread throughout the Americas. Popcorn was invented by North American Indians. Corn was brought to Europe as a curiosity by the first explorers and Europeans were not much interested in it. However in Africa, it spread quickly, and together with the peanut and cassava from the Americas, completely transformed the diet of much of Africa. The productivity and nutritional value of these foods resulted in a rapid rise in population in Africa, similar to the effect of the potato on Ireland.

Another negative side-effect came from the introduction of tobacco. In the Americas, tobacco was smoked in moderation, often associated with religious or other ceremonies. In Europe, and throughout the world, it became a highly addictive drug, smoked excessively, resulting in millions of premature deaths.


To finish off the list of foods from the Americas, we have turkeys, brazil nuts, prickly pear, huckleberries, annatto (achiote), and maple syrup.

Lastly, although not foods, many other important substances came from the Americas such as rubber, mahogany, hickory, cochineal dye (Natural Red Dye #4), and logwood. Logwood was a very important commodity, driving politics, economics, and piracy in the Caribbean until the invention of aniline dyes in the 19th Century.

If you plan to travel by time-machine to Europe of the past, be prepared for extremely disappointing dining.

Please comment below.

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