Recently in Electronics Category

Moving day at 1600

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An interesting look at what goes on when the next President moves in to the White House. From New Zealand's Stuff:

When Trump moves in: Shifting day at the White House
Ever wondered what moving day at the White House will be like? According to one expert, it's a bit similar to a choreographed ballet.

Move-in can't start until Inauguration Day
The president elect can't move in a minute before Inauguration Day, which is January 20. "We have to operate virtually from an off-site location and organise all the logistics there," said Bradley Blakeman in a recent interview with Elle Decor. Blakeman was former President George W. Bush's deputy assistant, and helped organise his move into the White House. "It's organised and they've got it done to a science. It's like a military manoeuver."

Everything is planned off-site
Since the sitting president moves out the same day the president-elect moves in, the moving process must be painstakingly planned away from the White House.

In a 2009 editorial, Slate.com reported that before Inauguration Day the president-elect's belongings are moved to a secure White House storage facility. It's the same space the White House uses to hold holiday decorations, antiques, and art not currently being displayed.

The President-elect is responsible for moving his own belongings
Just because you were voted in doesn't mean you get a break on moving expenses. The president-elect must arrange and pay for the transport of all his belongings and furniture. "[The incoming First Family] have to coordinate with the government and private movers," says Blakeman.

The Secret Service oversees the process, which usually happens the week before the inauguration. It provides an escort for the moving vehicles and screens all items before they enter the secure storage facility. But President Obama had to cover the transportation costs to get his items from Chicago to Washington D.C., and Donald Trump will have to cover the costs from Trump Tower to the White House.

Much more at the site - a fascinating look at something most of us do not even think about.

Tip of the hat to Bayou Renaissance Man for the link.

Electronics humor

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From a Facebook post:

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Me in the radio room

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Lulu took a video of me working on some electronics equipment:

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Well crap - another one bites the dust

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When I was growing up, industrial and military surplus electronics were the way to go for experimenters looking to try stuff out on the cheap. Companies would shut down a product line and all the excess components would be purchased for pennies on the dollar by a number of 'surplus houses' who would sell them for cheap. There were a few in Seattle that I dealt with on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, with most of the manufacturing moving overseas, these markets are drying up and the houses are closing. Another big one bit the dust this new year.

From Ramsey Electronics:

For more than 4 decades, the name Ramsey Kits has been synonymous with some of the neatest and the greatest electronic products and hobby kits for the do-it-yourself hobbyist.  In those 40+ years, we always thought “outside the box” when we designed a new kit, making us known worldwide as the number one hobby kit manufacturer.

Back in the early 70’s it all started with the infamous “LED Blinky Kit” as our first kit.  As the standard first kit sold to schools, scouting groups, and individuals, that one single kit became the very first electronic soldering kit experience for hundreds of thousands of hobbyists.  And from that very first kit with only 10 components in it, the 16 page manual was written to delve deep into the circuit to cover how and why it works, in a fun and very easy to understand format.  This practice followed over all these years, some 311 products later, earning us praise from everyone from teachers, educators, and engineers, to school children, scouts, and do-it-yourself hobbyists.

While our Hobby Kit Group was busy churning out the kits and products you’ve become so familiar with, our Professional RF Test Equipment Group was busy achieving similar milestones in that industry.  From the largest manufacturer of RF pager test equipment, the world’s largest pager test training school, the world standard for cost effective communications service monitors, to our patented RF Isolated Test Enclosures, Ramsey Test has become equally synonymous as the most trusted RF Test Enclosure manufacturer worldwide.

The rapid changes in technologies have made it difficult for the do-it-yourself hobbyist.  You just don’t go out and build yourself an 802.11ac wireless router these days!  You buy one at the corner big-box store for fifty bucks!  One of my favorite kits I personally built was a 25” Heathkit GR295 color TV!  It was considered ahead of its time for TV’s, and you had to build it.  You just can’t do that today either.

Therefore, following our well respected predecessors like Heathkit, KnightKit, Eico, and others in the past, we are discontinuing our Hobby Kit Group January 1, 2016.

I have built a lot of Ramsey kits. Their little FM stereo transmitters were awesome - great sound and range in a $40 kit. Amazon is selling off the residue of their kits - these are excellent value for the money.

Yikes - wages in Los Angeles

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I pity the fool who has their audio equipment worked on by these people. From an advertisement in the L.A. Craigslist - screencap in case the ad goes away:

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All this and they start at $12/hour?

In Los Angeles?

Like I said, I pity the fool who sends their vintage synthesizers to them for work.

Digital is all the rage these days and for good reason. The real world is analog however - temperature, air pressure, sound, electricity - these are always perceived and measured in the analog realm. Unfortunately, most electrical engineering programs focus exclusively on the digital realm.

Texas Instruments' primary business is making chips to do various functions - a lot of these chips are analog. They came out with a training circuit board for university classrooms and at only $99, it fits right into the hobbyist's workbench as well.

From the TI Website:

Everything that an analog engineer needs
ASLK PRO comes with three general-purpose operational amplifiers (TL082) and three wide-bandwidth precision analog multipliers (MPY634) from Texas Instruments. We have also included two 12-bit parallel-input multiplying digital-to-analog converters DAC7821, a wide-input non-synchronous buck-type DC/DC controller TPS40200, and a low dropout regulator TPS7250 from Texas Instruments. A portion of ASLK PRO is left for general-purpose prototyping which can be used for carrying out mini-projects.

There is also a comprehensive parts kit for $70 - the price is actually very good as the kit is extensive. 

Oh how I wish - from XKCD

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XKCD_urgent_mission.png
Would have saved everybody having to re-adjust their thinking...

Ran into this little gem from an electronic music website. From electro-music.com

Be very careful when ordering resistors from china!
A while back I was selecting 100k resistors for the summing stage of a VCO, the most common value in my belt was something like 100.6k

when I later wanted to select from that group the values where nowhere near what I had initially measured, even worse .. the longer I measured a resistor the lower its value got.

I first thought the multimeter was at fault, but another one gave me the same readings.

So then I suspected the resistors ( having seen fake transistors I wondered if they would mess with something as cheap as a resistor )

I took a few resistors and decided to do some temperature testing on them, I picked a "suspect" resistor, a carbon film resistor desoldered from a board from the junk box, a resistor from farnell, one from Conrad, and another one from a local shop.

I tied them to a power resistor together with a temperature probe and plotted the resistance versus the temperature.

The result is quite clear, I bought two sets of resistors from two different suppliers and both where ordinary 5% carbon film resistors marked as 1% metal film.

The fake ones are fairly easy to spot

1. Most if not all fake resistors I had had iron leads ( a magnet will help you out there )
2. The leads of these resistors are VERY flimsy
3. if you heat them ( soldering iron ) the resistance drops, in a metal film the resistance increases (slightly).

So be very careful where you buy, especially for synth applications the precision and the temperature coefficient really matter!

This is absurd. The cost difference between the 5% tolerance carbon and the 1% tolerance metal film is a few pennies at most.

The graph at the website makes it crystal clear the difference between the genuine 1% metal and the Chinese fake.

Quite the story - lightning strike

I am interested in Tesla Coils. Have built a few and have collected the necessary parts to build a big one sometime down the road. On one of the email lists I subscribe to, a reader had this experience:

This is not exactly tesla coil stuff but it is interesting and has to do with large sparks.

Saturday night we had another thunder storm and tornado warnings. Lightning struck the house. There is a 19" hole in the roofing shingles and plywood on the roof. Directly below the 19" hole is a 7" diameter hole in the sheet rock ceiling in the upstairs bedroom. The bedroom floor has a 28" diameter hole in it. Down stairs the 28" diameter hole is directly over the refrigerator. The refrigerator measures 30" x 33". Several of the circuit brakers in the main panel were tripped. The 36" TV in the living room is fried. There was no fire and not even a sign of anything burned. All the holes look like a shotgun blast made them. The wood around the edge of each hole is splintered like all the wood that is gone was ripped away. We were in the living room watching TV at the time when it happened it sounded like a stick of dynamite went off in the kitchen. The TV made some cracking sounds and went off. There was a large flash of light from the kitchen area that reflected through the house. There was also a strong smell of smoke like something had burned. The burned smell had to be the wood that was missing from the holes because there was very little wood pieces laying round to clean up. The Insurance Company is refusing to pay for the TV since it was in the living room 20 feet away it could not have been struck by lightning. Allstate is being a jerk, your not in good hands with Allstate. The variation in hole sizes is very interesting.
Just WOW!
I had written on January 27th about how water conservation has caused public water utilities' revenues to shrink forcing them to defer maintenance and raise prices. Here is a similar story regarding trash collection. From the National Examiner:
City sues man for canceling trash service
A man who claims to have reduced his waste to nearly nothing out of concern for the environment now faces a lawsuit from San Carlos for canceling his garbage-collection service.

Eddie House, 53, says he was shocked when he was served with a lawsuit Sunday at his Cedar Street home.

The lawsuit, filed by San Carlos Deputy City Attorney Linda Noeske in San Mateo Superior Court on Jan. 22, seeks a permanent injunction forcing House to maintain garbage service. City officials are also seeking to recoup from House the costs of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims House broke the city�s municipal code requiring all residential, commercial and industrial properties to contract with Allied Waste for pickup at least once a week � a standard requirement in most cities, San Carlos Deputy City Manager Brian Moura said.

House says he stopped his service with Allied Waste about a year ago after realizing that his garbage cans were nearly always empty.

�It�s just me and my dog, so I don�t have a whole lot of garbage to begin with and I recycle everything,� he said.
San Carlos is in California just south of San Francisco. Sheesh -- how about encouraging people to do good instead of just giving it lip service and punishing them when they actually walk the walk...

The Philbrick Archive

Very cool resource: GAP/R -- George A. Philbrick Researches
This site is a free non-profit repository of materials from GAP/R George A Philbrick Researches, the company that launched the commercial use of the Operational Amplifier in 1952.

I dedicate this site to the many engineers that gave the Analog industry its great start with their state-of-the-art Philbrick products, and by setting new professional standards, and creating new ways to solve engineering problems with the application of analog elements. After Philbrick, these engineers went on to lay the foundations of the analog industry in new companies like Linear Technology, Analog Devices and National Semiconductor, among many others.

The first commercial Operational amplifier was the K2-W op-amp. It was based on the amplifier used in the Philbrick modular Analog-Computor "black boxes". That amplifier's basic circuit architecture, in turn, was probably inspired by an earlier amplifier designed by Loebe Julie (Dan Sheingold and Bob Pease, thanks for helping me with this information). The K2-W Operational Amplifier entered the commercial market in 1952. It performed mathematical Operations in analog computers. Soon after, the K2-W and its successors saw wide application in industry. The Analog Computer was one educational vehicle to familiarize the engineer and the engineering student, with Operational Amplifier techniques. GAP/R also took on a crucial educational leadership role with application guides and tutorials.
The design of the Operational Amplifier was one of those watershed moments in electrical engineering. Here was a circuit that could be made to do a lot of different functions, the selection of which was determined by only a handful of external components. A true "magic box". Growing up, I was aware of Philbrick during his Teledyne Philbrick incarnation and when I became interested in electronic music and sound effects, the op-amp was a key component in virtually any circuit you could build -- oscillator, filter, mixer, envelope generator, sequencer -- you name it and it had op-amps in it. A very cool resource...

Motors

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Are you curious about electric motors and want to understand how they work? This page has an excellent and detailed explanation of AC, 3-phase and DC motors -- some math but not needed for a basic understanding. Basic Motor Theory Good stuff!

On the Bench

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One of the things I do up here is run a computer repair business. Generally lots of fun but today is not a good example. I have a client with an old MAC computer -- not just any MAC but one of the licensed clones made by Power Computing. The top of the line PowerTower Pro. He came into a bit of $$$ back in 1990's and splurged on the best system available at that time. He brought it in with a dead power supply. I was able to find a new working exact replacement from these guys (story is here). Had some time today so started working on his system (he is on fixed income and specifically told me that it was OK to back-burner his machine -- it had been dead for a while). Tested the new supply -- worked fine, voltages on spec. Tested the old supply -- dead as a dodo. Put the new supply in, plugged it into the motherboard and pulled all of the PCI plugin cards -- it powered up for a second and then shut down. This means that the power supply is trying to provide the proper voltages but that the motherboard is not sending an OK signal back to the supply. Not a good thing. I started poking around and finally tested the CMOS battery (a 3-volt lithium cell). Zero volts. Hmmm... Pulled it to test it out of circuit and noticed something that gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach:
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power_mac_battery_holder.jpg
Note at the top picture, the little Plus indicator at the top of the battery. Note at the bottom picture, the Plus indicator embossed at the bottom of the battery holder. The inside of the case was fairly dusty (probably kept on the floor) but the area around the battery was clean. It looks like my client replaced the battery but put it in backwards. I will be trying the machine again later tonight with a couple of AA cells in a holder with test clips that I use for this purpose but my gut feeling is not a good one. I will be checking with ReLectronics next Tuesday to see if they have any Power Computing motherboards but I am not holding my breath. Fortunately, decent MACs of this vintage are often for sale for well under $100 so he can resuscitate his system in a new box but this is not what he will be wanting to hear...

High Voltage online groups

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I am into the works of Nikola Tesla (the guy who invented our system of electrical distribution, the fluorescent light, radio, the alternating current motor, etc. etc. etc.) I have been a member of the Tesla email list for some time but someone just turned me on to the forums at FORUM.4HV.ORG Looks to be an excellent online community.
I just got turned on to this collection of photographs of an abandoned Russian High-Voltage testing facility. I have been into Nickola Tesla since high-school -- he invented Radio (not Marconi), he invented the fluorescent light, the alternating current motor, the system we use for distributing electrical power. Unfortunately for the history books, he was not a good manager -- his contemporaries Edison and Marconi were a lot better at marketing. Tesla lost a lot of money (as well as making a lot of money -- he once had a license to George Westinghouse for one Dollar for every horsepower of electricity used in the US) and he used to pepper his speeches with talk about cosmic death rays and sending free electrical power to everyone in the world. Not a good idea if you want to build credibility... This would be an awesome facility to move over here, even just for parts for Tesla researchers. Here are a few of the photographs:
russian-hv-01.JPG
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The fun I could have with some of that...

Stealing Celestial Fire

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An interesting bit of research on how to trigger lightning on demand. The article is in IEEE Spectrum and deals with lab experiments using an ultra-short pulse of laser light to ionize air molecules to the point where they can trigger a lightning stroke.
Stealing Celestial Fire
A laser has sparked artificial lightning in a laboratory, a first step toward controlling real thunderbolts

There has to be a better way of tapping a lightning bolt than flying a kite in a storm, and a group of French and German scientists just may have found one. They have demonstrated in a laboratory that shining powerful laser pulses between two electrodes elicits a controllable form of lightning. They hope that their invention will eventually help to fend off lightning strikes on airports and power stations.

They employed their Teramobile laser, whose pulse lasts for a mere 100 femtoseconds and packs a peak power of 5 terawatts. The pulse rips the electrons from air molecules, creating a plasma; it also changes the refractive index of the air, a phenomenon called the Kerr effect. The effect focuses the light just enough to balance plasma-induced diffraction, creating a straight and highly conductive channel, called a filament, which can stretch up to 3.8 meters between the charged electrodes.

In the experiment, a 1- to 2-megavolt electrode simulates a thundercloud and an electrically grounded plate simulates the earth. The laser-induced filaments short-circuit the electrodes, triggering an electric discharge much like a lightning bolt. To complete the simulation, the researchers sprayed water between the electrodes. "We expected that the 'rainwater' would scatter light and perturb the filaments, but the filaments survived the interaction," says J�r�me Kasparian, a lead investigator and a member of the group from the University of Lyon, in France. Another team hails from the �cole Polytechnique, in Palaiseau, France; two others come from the Free University of Berlin and the Friedrich Schiller University, in Jena, Germany.
Here is a photo of the equipment in operation:
celestial-fire-bolt.jpg
And as a heads up -- at 186 Million Miles/Second, a pulse of light lasting for 100 Femtoseconds will be just a smudge over 1/1000 of an inch long. Even if it's only packing half a Joule (our big electric fence charger runs at six Joules), I don't think I want to stand it its way. Talk about cosmic bullet...

Take a look at Magnetricity The webmaster -- Rex Hebert -- is not only good at electronics, he has an excellent sense of design.

His website is one of the few that I like which violate the "no music" and "no animation" for the opening screen. Both are short, lush and fit the concept of the site.

Check out his Photoshop skills on these colorized photographs of Nikola Tesla and his laboratories. (Scroll down past the quotes although the quotes are very much worth reading as well...)

Nikola Tesla invented a few things that you may use from time to time.

  • His system of multiple-phase 60 Hertz power distribution is used in the USA. Other nations use it too but some use 50 Hz instead of 60. It's what come out of the wall outlets and runs everything.
  • The AC Motor? Tesla.
  • He invented Radio. Marconi? Challenged Tesla's patent but the US Supreme Court upheld Tesla's prior. (The fact that Tesla had demonstrated a remote controlled model submarine which started, stopped, turned right and left and dove -- all under radio control several years before Marconi ever sent his trans-Atlantic "S" helped establish the claim.)
  • Fluorescent Lights? Tesla.
  • Radio Astronomy? Tesla.
  • X Rays? Tesla.

The list goes on and on. My only gripe with this site is that Rex is also interested in "zero point" energy and generators that yield more out then put in. He has done some gorgeous work in designing and machining this unit but there are some simple laboratory mistakes that can trick people into thinking that more energy is coming out of a system then is actually there.

I don't see any hard data in his NeoGen page -- it will be interesting to check in from time to time to see what is developing.

OOPic

A very interesting company and product: OOPic. I found it while looking at the D.I.Y. submarine site I wrote about yesterday. Computer programming these days is done with Object Oriented Code - a device or a routine is not unique to itself, it is an "object" with properties and one object can be reused many times with different properties instead of having to be written each time. Saves a lot of time for the programmer and the code is just as fast to run. There is a very active area of experimentation with small "embedded" systems - systems which are specific purpose (controlling a microwave for example) and have a minimal input and output functions (as opposed to the full keyboard, mouse and video of a PC). These units generally have a lot of general purpose inputs and outputs - digital and analog. OOPic seems to be the first embedded system board that offers Object Oriented programming. Here is what one of their boards looks like:

oopic-board.gif

Cost is about $70 for the board plus all of the programming software. It can be programmed in C or a Visual Basic clone. Looks very interesting. For our Hard Cider and Mead business I am looking at using embedded systems to monitor tank temperature and fluid management. I have a lot of experience in the older Intel 8051 embedded processors and was looking at using them but this deserves a close second look...

A Modest Proposal...

Bryan at Truck and Barter got an email from a celebrity and talks about it: bq. Arctic Refuge I received an e-mail from Robert Redford forwarded to me this weekend. The text of the message can be read here. Mr. Redford, speaking on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), argues that oil exploration should be stopped in this country. Right or wrong, using the political process to inhibit exploration does not address the underlying issue of oil consumption. bq. I enjoy the beauty of Alaska, Montana, Utah and the rest of this great nation as much as anybody. However, these areas have only been opened to our exploration and enjoyment because of industries pouring billions of dollars into airports, roads, utilities and building a local economy. Allowing any special interest to deny economic self-sufficiency to these areas will effectively cut off access to all but the richest adventurers. In Alaska, the oil industry has single handedly built the economy and attracted thousands of workers, residents and visitors who would otherwise have never seen that great state. Bryan then talks about the results of Mr. Redford's proposal and offers this alternative: bq. If the FCC can auction off the national resource of bandwidth, why not auction off public land. Certainly Robert Redford could pitch-in to help his environmentalist organizations to buy a few hundred acres of the Arctic Refuge. bq. It is an honorable effort to preserve beautiful land and protect wildlife. However any effort which ignores the welfare of our human family is short-sighted. Put your money where your mouth is -- excellent idea! Some organizations are doing that already with private lands; what could be done with our public lands?

DIY Electronics - Radio Receiver

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M. Simon over at Power and Control is building a classical radio receiver - a regenerative. These are hard to tune (you are close to a threshold where crossing over gives you a loud squeal) but the sensitivity and the precision of tuning is excellent for what amounts to a fairly simple circuit. DIY stands for Do-It-Yourself which is unfortunately not that common these days... There is a good description of the project plus lots and lots of links to other circuits and explanations of theory. If you wanted to build a small short-wave receiver from scratch, this would be a very good place to start. I had a nephew visit last summer and he and I built one of these kits from Ramsey Electronics. It is a superheterodyne receiver - the design that followed the regenerative (more complex, softer tuning but easier to operate) and he is having a blast with it, picking up Chinese and Spanish broadcasts.

Kyoto Protocol flaws

Calgary Herald has a followup article on the McIntyre/McKitrick temperature re-analysis:

Kyoto critics better duck
Global warming industry doesn't want to hear that their pet project is flawed

Michael Campbell
For the Calgary Herald

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

When you question a multi-billion-dollar windfall, you'd better look out and, make no mistake about it, the Kyoto protocol translates into monster money for many researchers, bureaucrats and public institutions.

Kyoto is also perhaps the most potent weapon in the arsenal of those who oppose western capitalism and push instead for massive intervention.

That's why Toronto-based analyst Steve McIntyre and University of Guelph economics professor Ross McKitrick had better be battening down the hatches. Their paper, published last week in the respected British journal, Energy and Environment, is arguably the most damaging attack to date on the science behind Kyoto.

In a nutshell, they convincingly reveal that flawed calculations, incorrect data and a biased selection of climate records led Kyoto linchpin Michael Mann of the University of Virginia to declare that the 20th-century temperature rise was unprecedented in the past millennium. After correcting the data and then employing Mann's own methodologies, they found no such increase in global temperature variations had taken place, which places Kyoto's whole rationale in question.

The Canadian study comes on the heels of a recent Harvard climate study that made headlines in the scientific community by arguing that we are not living in the warmest period in the past 1,000 years, as Kyoto proponents claim. The authors, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, reviewed more than 250 research papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature on past climate and concluded temperatures were higher in medieval times, from about 800 to 1300, than they are now.

Upon reviewing the study, David Legates, director of the Centre for Climatic Research at the University of Delaware, stated that it should lead the scientific community to the "inescapable conclusion that climate variability has been a natural occurrence."

A year ago, respected scientist Christopher Essex observed, "global warming ceased to be the subject of scientific debate years ago," but that sorry state of affairs now seems to be changing as an increasing number of scientists, even before the recent Canadian study, were recoiling against the political hijacking of the debate.

In September, at the closing session of the UN's World Climate Change Conference in Moscow, the conference chairman acknowledged that scientists who questioned the Kyoto "consensus" made up 90 per cent of the contributions from the floor. They pointed to numerous flaws and doubts in the scientific case underlying worries about climate change.

Keep in mind that this new research focuses on the science of climate change and doesn't include the numerous attacks on the economic analysis and modelling in Kyoto that John Reilly of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change declared were "an insult to serious analysis."

Asked why he changed his position on a particular issue, John Maynard Keynes once responded, "Sir, the facts have changed and when the facts change, I change -- what do you do, sir?"

In the case of Kyoto, the answer is predictable -- shoot the messenger. Both McKitrick and McIntyre can expect an avalanche of personal attacks from the politically motivated. In Canada, far too much money is at stake to derail the Kyoto juggernaut.

December 2016

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