Sunday, April 9, 2017

Here are the Brave Leaders Resisting the March to War

Sadly, as Glenn Greenwald points out, "...nothing unites people behind the leader more quickly, reflexively or reliably than war."  Unfortunately, most Republicans as well as many Democrats -- including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nanci Pelosi -- have stated their support of Trump starting a war with a country allied with another nuclear superpower.  According to's Perry Bacon, "Most Senators Support Trump's Syria Airstrike".  He provides a list, stating that only six senators have come out vocally against Trump's strike.  His list is very incomplete, but it's a good place to start.  Here are the leaders who actually learned something from our disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Please lend your support to these individuals and message me we with any I'm missing at


Kamala Harris - Senator of California

Chris Murphy - Senator of Connecticut 

Rand Paul - Senator of Kentucky

"...actions often have consequences well beyond the obvious.  It is for this very reason that the Founders wanted a deliberate, thoughtful foreign policy, and when military action was needed, they wanted it debated and authorized by Congress."

Bernie Sanders - Senator of Vermont

“If there’s anything we should’ve learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which the lives of thousands of brave American men and women and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians have been lost and trillions of dollars spent, it’s that it’s easier to get into a war than get out of one. I’m deeply concerned that these strikes could lead to the United States once again being dragged back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement in the Middle East. If the last 15 years have shown anything, it’s that such engagements are disastrous for American security, for the American economy and for the American people."

Brian Schatz - Senator of Hawaii

"The Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is abhorrent, but a military response is not the answer. ... A one-off strike may satisfy our desire to hold Assad accountable but it risks deeper escalation without any sense of direction or objective... The United States must focus on leading a diplomatic effort among our partners and allies in the region to achieve a political solution that results in a post-Assad Syrian government that brings stability to the region."

Tom Udall - Senator of New Mexico

"We're heading rapidly toward another Middle East war with no strategy, no clear time frame or cost, and no authorization from Congress."

House Representatives

Keith Ellison - Representative from Minnesota

Raul Grijalva - Representative from Arizona

Mark Pocan - Representative from Wisconsin  (jointly, as leaders of the progressive caucus)

“In the absence of an imminent threat to the United States, the president must seek Congressional authorization prior to any act of war. ... These unauthorized attacks could pull the United States into a regional war and escalate this unprecedented humanitarian crisis."

"March to war in #Syria without a strategy is both dangerous and ILLEGAL. #Trump cannot go to war against #Assad w/o congressional approval."

Honorable Mention: Tim Kaine, for recognizing Trump's actions as unconstitutional, despite his misguided embrace of military action against Assad

“Assad is a brutal dictator who must be held accountable for his actions. But President Trump has launched a military strike against Syria without a vote of Congress. The Constitution says war must be declared by Congress. I voted for military action against Syria in 2013 when Donald Trump was advocating that America turn its back on Assad's atrocities. Congress will work with the President, but his failure to seek Congressional approval is unlawful.”

Thursday, March 9, 2017

DIY: A Chess set for Jack

I made a new Instructable post.  It's a chess set I made for Jack for Hannukah.

Movie Review of "The Great Wall": Not that bad

I recently saw The Great Wall.  It's honestly an interesting movie, because it is such a specific cultural artifact.  The movie is made to try and impress Americans with the resourcefulness and capability of the Chinese.  The result is meta.  The movie isn't really great, but it shows that Chinese producers, directors, actors, and special effects teams can produce mindless big-budget spectacle just like Hollywood.  And it's impressive in a purely technical way.  Additionally, the film itself is literally about a team of Chinese warriors engaging in a cultural exchange with a greedy European thief searching for treasure in the medieval orient.  Every shot is the fulfillment of stereotypes, both loving and hoke.  The Chinese general explains how her army is strong because of their selflessness and their discipline.  The American brags of his self reliance.

Overall, it's fun.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

ROV Update #2: The Thrusters

This will be a quick one.

For a few weeks I've been working on the general plan for the ROV, and demoing various strategies for collecting video and temperature data, and sending signals to it from a computer.  Recently, I though, I moved on to working on the thrusters.  These are ducted propellers which propel the ROV through the water.

This kind of design is pretty complicated.  The shape of a propeller isn't easy to calculate or just guess, and propellers aren't easy to build either.  Fortunately, there has been a lot of open-source development on other projects, which will likely be the topic of my next ROV update.

Based on what others have found, I purchased the following propeller:

I also bought a motor to drive it.  The next step is to buy an electronic speed controller (ESC) that will deliver power to the motor as commanded by and arduino micro controller.  Before I buy the ESC, though, I need to make some decisions about what kind of battery this is going to use.  I have some ideas based on other projects, but I'd like to consider a few options before I make a final decision.

So that's the plan right now: select a battery, then start building the thrusters, and once I can control them from a laptop, build them into a waterproof frame and attach a housing for the electronics.

Monday, January 30, 2017

ROV update #1: I'm building an ROV

I first started planning to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) around two years ago, shortly after leaving grad school.  Oceanography had scratched an itch for the adventure of exploration. Earth scientists travel to the inhospitable places.  They sail across oceans and climb mountains.  They go to Antarctica.  And using probes, they also send their presence even further.  Into the abyssal ocean, into volcanoes, even onto alien planets. I didn't want to lose that excitement, and designing and building a submersible ROV was a way of continuing that exploration without the need of wider logistics out financing.

For over a year, this was purely an intention. Late in 2016, though I finally began to work on it seriously, although gradually.

I have some limited familiarity in the process of designing hardware to penetrate inaccessible places.  I was in a satellite design club in college. Designing a mission to search for life is a common project in certain classes I've taken. And in grad school, all of our experiments depended on the collection of data or samples using robots sent several miles either up or down. That said: that amounts to tidbits, really.


The process begins with a set of specific goals, followed by an outline of the equipment needed to accomplish them. In my case, the foremost goal was to make a camera that I could pilot around underwater from the surface. Further goals included adding instruments that provided interesting and useful information, then adding some other functions to it that would be fun to use.

Goals drive the hardware needs, and the hardware design is broken into various 'subsystems'.  This approach is similar to the one applied to most probes, whether it's a DIY ROV, a small satellite, or NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover (MSL).  In fact, the specific subsystems are pretty similar across these projects: Cameras, Data Acquisition, Telemetry, Communication, Mobility, Power.

The general form is going to be a box, with floats on the top and weights on the bottom to keep it oriented correctly.  The computer and camera will be in a watertight housing, and a set of thrusters will be used to drive it around and steer.  The whole thing will be controlled from the surface via an umbilical cable and powered by on-board batteries.  This is a pretty tried-and-true approach.  Consider these examples.

This is the back of the ROV Jason, which is one of the major workhorses of American oceanography. It's funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. This was the ROV I was fortunate to get to work with.

This is the ROV HYPER-DOLPHIN, seen from the front. It is the premier ROV of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC). Extended in front is its retractable sampling basket, flanked on each side by robotic arms.

This is a commercial model used by Oceaneering Inc., which serves the oil and gas community. You can see the common features that ROVs have evolved toward.

This is the Blue ROV2, which is a commercial ROV sold by Blue Robotics that you can buy for $3,400.

This is the current crude drawing I'm using to plan the layout for my ROV. I'm planning to make a blocky roof out of either wood or specialized foam, and then attach two rigid plastic panels on the sides. A PVC tube with a clear window will hold the electronics and ducted thrusters will move it.

More updates to come.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Obama has been reading my blog

The evidence is clear.  This week, outgoing President Barack Obama published an opinion peice in the journal Science titled, "The irreversible momentum of clean energy".  The arguments he lays down are quite similar to the ones I made last month on this blog.

Mr. President, if you're reading this, I'm flattered, sir.

Sunday, January 8, 2017