Friday, December 14, 2018

CNC Threading Scratching Metal

Since my last post on the CNC Lathe project, I made the mount for the optical sensor permanent (that is, not blue painter's tape) and permanently mounted the optical sensor board inside my control box. The optical sensor mount is adjustable to rock forward and backward as well as swivel little bit clockwise/counter CW around the two 1/4-20 bolts visible. 


The CNC4PC board is visible at the top left of the box in this picture.  Besides saying "CNC4PC" on it, it has two blue terminal strips on the right, toward the centerline of the box it's in. 


This was all done by the 6th (file date on those pictures).  The optical pulses were being read by the Mach3 software and it displayed RPM on the monitor.   

The holiday intervened, as it tends to do, and I only today got back to trying to get all the hardware and software to actually play nice with each other. 

I was going to "go for it" and try to cut a 1/4-20 thread, but I figured I'd better start with a "try to walk before you run" day.  The idea was cut a few passes of 1/4-20 in brass to see how the threads looked.  Good thing I did.  Something isn't right. 


To begin with, anything you see that's brass colored has been cut into the blue-dyed brass blank.  If you look at the threads on the right, you'll see a thin blue line in the middle of the wider brass color.  That means the cutter didn't retrace the same cuts exactly.  If you could look into the profile of the thread, instead of being a sharp "V", it's more like a "W".  The high spot in the middle of the W is the dark blue line in the middle of the scratched thread. 

The next task will be troubleshooting this and getting the scratch to come out as a V.  After that, it should thread properly.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Law of Unintended Consequences Strikes Again

Over the years, I've come to regard the Law of Unintended Consequences (LoUC) as one of a few things out of social sciences that rises almost to the level of physical law.  Contrary to what they say in car commercials, it's not possible to break the laws of physics, and no law, regulation or any change is immune to the LoUC.  While the LoUC isn't quantitative, it seems the concept of saying "all intended changes bring unintended consequences" is as rigid as saying "gravitation is a force between two bodies proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to their separation".

Where I'm going is a little story in Digital Photography Review, a weekly newsletter I get, that tells the story that the Jackson Hole travel and tourism board is asking visitors to stop geotagging photos.
As Vox recently pointed out in a video titled What happens when nature goes viral, geotagged photos have become a major issue for landmarks around the world. When photos posted to Instagram, Facebook, and other social networks are geotagged, knowingly or otherwise, it makes it easier than ever for new people to seek out the exact same location and have their own turn at taking a photo, only adding to the problem.

While it might not seem like a problem, the influx of visitors to many of these locations has caused a dramatic change in the environment, physically and otherwise...
The combination of the social media craze of taking pictures of yourself in remote and beautiful locations along with geotagging providing the exact location the picture was taken together invoked the LoUC and is causing damage.  These remote, beautiful places have seen increases in visitors they're incapable of sustaining — at least not without dramatic physical changes to the areas.  Sometimes changes to ensure the safety of these visitors, such as trying to keep the visitors from falling off ledges or cliffs.


(A screen capture out of the Jackson Hole tourism board video

In response the travel and tourism board has started a campaign to get visitors to not tag their location.  When offered a choice to tag their photo with, they get the option to add the tag, "Tag Responsibly, Keep Jackson Hole Wild."
'Every time someone captures stunning scenery and tags the exact location, crowds follow,' says the narrator in the above video. 'The traffic causes unintended harm to pristine environments, plants, and animal habitats.'
Sometimes users are completely unaware that their images are being tagged. Most phones nowadays feature automatic geotagging and although a number of image hosting sites and social networks strip the metadata, there are others that use it by default.

The thing about the Law of Unintended Consequences is that the effects are always obvious in retrospect; which means they should have been obvious before the initial thing that caused them.  In this case, someone should have foreseen that combining location tagging with social media's competition to get more likes and just appear to be a more awesome person would lead to crowds trying to emulate the first picture and flocking to the location.

Besides my canonical "all new legislation should come with a sunset date when it's deleted", I should add, "all new legislation should include a study of unintended consequences and what should be done about them".   Anything to slow those a-holes down.



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Look Inside One of the Most Important Advances in Space Exploration

Let me introduce you to a name that everyone should know but few do: Michael Minovitch.  Michael Minovitch is almost single-handedly responsible for developing the math behind gravity assist trajectories, often called a gravitational slingshot that NASA/CalTech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory uses for deep space missions.   

Dr. Minovitch was a grad school student in the summer of 1961, and given a tough but solvable problem that was important in those earliest days of spaceflight.
The problem was to determine the parameters of a conic trajectory (semi-major axis and eccentricity) of a free-fall vehicle passing between two given points with a given flight time moving under the gravitational field of the sun.  Minovitch solved the problem and presented his solution in the form of his first JPL paper dated July 21, 1961. 
During this study, he became interested in a much bigger problem, one that no one knew of a solution for:
... his work on the problem offered insight into a far more difficult challenge which had yet to be solved: determining the exact three-dimensional approach trajectory of a free-fall space vehicle approaching a target planet such that the planet's gravitational field, along with the Sun's gravitational field, could deflect the vehicle’s unpowered trajectory onto a new path. This was one of most difficult and famous problems of celestial mechanics: the “restricted three-body problem” for motion through the solar system.

Minovitch believed he could solve the problem by using a different perspective to define a conic orbit in three-dimensional space. By converting from a planet-centered reference frame to a Sun-centered reference frame (as he had done for his JPL-assigned research project), he realized he could develop and confirm a new theory for achieving unlimited interplanetary space travel through the solar system, but powered solely by gravity-based propulsion. He presented his results in late August 1961.
His big insight was to look at the three bodies (sun, destination planet, spacecraft) and realize he could "steal" some energy from the planet and speed up the spacecraft from the frame of reference of the sun.  Which led to the realization that some momentum could be stolen to speed up the spacecraft to go to a farther away planet and reduce mission times.  Until this time, very few people had ever considered a way of propelling spacecraft that didn't involve any of the action/reaction systems:  conventional rockets, nuclear powered or ion-powered spacecraft.  Flights to the outer solar system were considered out of reach because of the long travel times at conventional rocket speeds.  Nuclear powered spacecraft had been talked about but nobody had constructed one that's flyable (nor has anyone done it since then).  Conventional rockets can only achieve limited speeds, due to the self-limiting situation of fuel being required to lift fuel for the mission.  This gave the possibility of achieving higher speeds without lifting more fuel by using the planets themselves.  (A good look at some of the math, and a wiki page showing animated visualizations)

It wasn't long before others at the JPL looked into the work, calculated if they could achieve the navigational accuracy to not smack into a planet and pickup the calculated speed.
In 1964 when Gary Flandro came to JPL, he was assigned to investigating possibilities for outer planet missions. When he began to consider gravity slingshots, he rediscovered Minovitch's alignment. Flandro calculated a number of routes through the outer planets that could use the alignment. His paper, citing Minovitch's work, was published in 1966. Flandro is generally given the credit for the “grand tour” of the outer planets.
...
Francis M. Sturms Jr and Elliott Cutting at JPL compared the navigational accuracy needed for a gravity slingshot with what could actually be achieved. They found a good match, and applied the method to the Mercury mission Mariner 10. It was successful. The probe picked up gravitational energy from Venus, which reduced the launch energy.
Since then, gravitational slingshot/assists have been used on virtually every interplanetary mission - the only exceptions I can think of are missions to Mars launched around opposition, which are short flights for an unmanned probe.   Some probes have made multiple loops around inner planets (Venus and Earth) before heading for the outer planets. 

When Minovitch was working on his big paper on gravitational assist, he became aware of the possibility of the Grand Tour of the outer planets mentioned in that paragraph above, due to an arrangement that comes around once every 175 years.  After Mariner 10's success, JPL scientists began planning a Grand Tour mission, which eventually became a bit less grand due to budgets, but gave us Voyagers 1 and 2, both of which are still reporting back and both of which have left the solar system

I opened this piece up with a link to Michael Minovitch's "Gravity Assist" page on the web.  There's a wealth of information there, and a bit of what seems like "hey, I did it first!" disputes about other researchers.  Reading several pages on this, it seems difficult to say Minovitch invented everything about gravitational assist flight, but there's no doubt he was a major contributor to it. 


Michael Minovitch at JPL computers for the Mariner II mission, August, 1962.  From his website.

Another guy that all space geeks should know about, but don't.  


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

An Annual Christmas Post - My Favorite Christmas Song

While I strive to provide fresh content every day and make it worth more than you pay for it, today my email program (Thunderbird) found it appropriate to delete 15 or 20 years worth of filters I've been using when it did an update, so I have to go wrestle with that.  In place of newer content, something little more dear to my heart.  

Regulars here know that I'm somewhat of a blues fan.  I've introduced the outrageously talented Joanne Shaw Taylor,  the late country blues master (and songwriting partner to Eric Clapton) JJ Cale, and even mentioned my own meager study of the art.

So it might not come as a surprise that my favorite Christmas song is the bluesy, melancholy, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".  The song dates from 1944, is credited to Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine for Judy Garland's 1944 movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, but it's generally acknowledged to be Martin's writing.  The somber tone is understandable; Christmas of 1944 was three years into World War II, and many people had undergone the hardship of long separations from or the loss of family members. The war was wearing on the national psyche; the death toll was the highest seen since the Civil War.  They were dark days. 

It's interesting, then, that Martin has said he wasn’t consciously writing about wartime separations.

In a 1989 NPR program, the authors spoke of having written the first drafts of the song and Judy Garland objected to the lyrics, saying they were too sad.  According to Hugh Martin's book:
Some of the original lyrics ... were rejected before filming began. They were: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past / Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Pop that champagne cork / Next year we may all be living in New York."
Martin revised the lyrics, getting approvals from Judy and the rest of the production staff.  Eventually, Judy Garland made this recording:



You'll note that at the end of the song, the line isn't "hang a shining star upon the highest bough", it's the more subdued "until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow". Much more fitting to a sadder song written during WWII. That change (which seems to be the last) was prompted by Frank Sinatra in 1957. According to Entertainment Weekly,
Among the never-recorded couplets — which he [Martin] now describes as ''hysterically lugubrious'' — were lines like: ''Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last.... Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more.''
...
Then, in 1957, Frank Sinatra — who'd already cut a lovely version with the movie's bittersweet lyrics in 1947 — came to Martin with a request for yet another pick-me-up. ''He called to ask if I would rewrite the 'muddle through somehow' line,'' says the songwriter. ''He said, 'The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?'''
That request led to the line we hear most often, although Martin says he thinks the original line is more "down-to-earth".  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has become one of the most popular songs year after year.  EW says it's second only to the Nat King Cole-popularized "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)".  It has been covered by a gamut of artists from Sinatra to Connie Stephens, to James Taylor (who sings something closer to the '40s, Judy Garland version) to '80s metal band Twisted Sister", and many, many more.



Monday, December 10, 2018

Barbecue 401

Not many of the bloggers in my regular reading list talk about barbecuing with any frequency.  Just Miguel at Gun Free Zone comes to mind, although I gather it's still pretty popular with most of the rest of bloggers and readers to eat barbecue.  

The "401" reference is to first college courses in the senior year.  This is not about basic barbecue, 100 or 200 level, that's pretty widely known; this is about a technique that I heard about from a competition barbecue master, a guy who has won barbecue competitions at several levels.  It's a technique that's well known among chefs but not widely outside that world. 

One day, while I was reading in a cooking forum, I found pictures he posted that referred to a "medium rare smoked brisket".   He had pictures and it looked to be exactly what he claimed.  The slices were clearly brisket flat, and the right shade of pink.  Questions ensued and the answer emerged.  It was sous vide cooking, commonly also called precision cooking.  (Intro from one of the big names in the business

Sous vide is French for "under vacuum" and the method is a way of cooking low and slow (like barbecue itself) that isn't barbecue.  The recipe to be prepared is sealed in a vacuum bag and then immersed in water kept at a precise temperature by the small appliances that heat and circulate the water.  The temperature of the water bath is typically held to within 0.1F for the entire soak.  An oven thermostat, for example, maybe within 20 degrees.  Maybe worse.  For the desired finished appearance and taste, the meal is taken out of the bags and finished in some other ways.  In the case of the medium rare brisket I saw, the brisket was vacuum sealed then held in 130 degree water for more like 36 hours (I honestly don't remember his details), then chilled and finally put into the smoker for a few hours to get the smoke flavoring and the desired bark on the brisket.  By contrast, making a brisket completely in the smoker would typically be at least 16 hours, carefully maintaining temperature with 20 degrees by feeding wood into the smoker, then cooking the brisket to an internal temperature of 203F.  The brisket is "well done" by any cook's standards, not medium rare.  

The usual technique, for something like a good steak, is to sous vide it for 1-2 hours at the internal temperature you like on the rare to well done scale, and then finish it with a brief sear in a hot pan.  It's the only way you get a steak that looks like this:

You'll notice there is virtually no transition from the seared outer layer to the deep pink center.  That's because the sear is so short the heat doesn't soak in well.  For sous vide barbecue, the lower temperature is held longer to cause the breakdown of connective tissue and make the meat more tender, while conventional barbecue goes to a higher temperature for less time.  The proponents say that the sous vide barbecue tastes better and is worth the extra time. 

Basically, since reading the post about medium rare brisket, I've been researching the technique and trying to see if I wanted to take the plunge and get into this.  During the Cyber week specials on Amazon, I took advantage of a sizable discount (which I see is still in effect) on one.  After missing out on a lower priced deal the week before. 

Once it arrived, I tested it out to make sure it was working, and then went looking for a recipe for a smoked chuck roast.  I found a couple, one that soaked 36 hours at 155 and another that soaked for 48 hours at 135 (private forum I can't link to).  By last Friday I hatched a plan to start the sous vide soak at noon Saturday, soaking at 133 until today at noon, give it an ice bath to reduce the internal temperature and then smoke it three hours or until about 5 PM.   Since this is the internet and "without pictures it didn't happen", this is the start of the process:


A few hours ago, right out of the smoker, and "pulling" a few pieces (pulled beef), it looked like this:


It kept a good pinkish color like a medium rare roast, got a good smokey flavor in the three hours it had and the texture was on the line between being good for pulled beef and a tender roast.  All in all, I'm quite pleased with how it turned out.  I've tried one chuck roast in the smoker before and it was a disaster compared to how well this turned out.

We can get into deep philosophical questions about "it's not really barbecue" if you'd like, but my take is it's not "classic" barbecue: so what?  It's not relying on long periods of heat provided by burning wood (or propane or any other fuel or an electric burner in the case of my electric smoker); it mostly relies on an electric water heater with the burning wood (or smoke source) secondary.  I've long heard that after the first few hours in smoke, the food isn't going to absorb any more.  So if it's not classic barbecue and it's a different thing, fine.  I'll play with the different thing. 




Sunday, December 9, 2018

Walmart Expanding Their Healthcare Involvement

An interesting article came in my email this week.  Retail giant Walmart has long been know for having some additional kiosks (at least as they appear around here) in the fronts of their stores.  These include hair salons, restaurants, banks, Starbucks franchises, and optometry offices.  Our local Walmarts have had pharmacies for as far back as I can recall, inside the main body of the store, but optometrists and those others tended to be along the front of the store, near where the checkout lanes are.

Now, one Walmart in Carrollton, Texas, is getting a mental health clinic as well.
The clinic opened Wednesday and is the first from Beacon Care Services, which will provide outpatient mental health care in various locations like retail stores. It hopes to provide convenience and accessibility to more people who need care, according to its site.
...
There is a growing demand for mental health care, but the number of mental health professionals is not growing enough to meet that demand. This leads to issues such as long wait times to see a professional and the inaccessibility of mental health professionals for those who live in rural areas.
Over the years, I've heard people who are close to having an actual addiction to shopping refer to it as "retail therapy".  This puts a whole new light on that saying. 

According to the Foundation for Economic Education, the arrangement is based on something closer to a market-based system, rather than the typical model for all other health care where no one knows what anything costs.
Since the clinic opened less than three weeks ago, over 500 prospective patients have come in to talk with representatives and learn more. Interested consumers can expect to pay $140 for the first appointment with additional visits costing $110. This cost is drastically lower than other therapy services available in the marketplace, where an uninsured person can sometimes pay upwards of $200 per visit. For consumers who are experiencing extenuating circumstances, Beacon also offers a sliding fee scale to help make these services accessible to everyone.
It's likely to be a start of a spreading trend and more involvement in health care for Walmart.
When it comes to improving general health care, Walmart is just getting started. The company announced that it is going to make cutting health care costs a priority. Putting this plan into action, the company recently hired former Humana executive Sean Slovensk to head up its health and wellness division.
...
The company recently partnered with Anthem, one of the largest insurance providers in the country, to offer discounts on medical equipment and over-the-counter drugs to Medicare patients. And all this is being done without government compulsion.
It's often noted that the leftists are often opposed to Walmart, but Walmart has done more to improve the lives of the "little guys" the leftists supposedly care about than any government anywhere in the world.  They are ruthlessly free market.  I've known engineers that have been involved in proposals to Walmart corporate headquarters and I've heard stories that I can't verify.  Let's just say Walmart apparently cuts their own costs as ruthlessly as they ask vendors to cut their costs.

One of the reasons Walmart wants to help cut health care costs is that health care for their employees is the second largest expense on their profit/loss ledger, right behind wages.  From their perspective as sellers of Pretty Much Everything, they see that if their customers didn't have to spend as much on health care they might have more to spend at Walmart.  That sort of corporate greed, backed by the resources of one of the largest retailers in the country, might be able to make a difference.  
“So these are the things that drive us to be interested in health care: Our customers need help. Our associates need and want to be healthy. And it’s good for our business,” [Walmart executive Lori Flees] said.
Frankly, I see other potential private sector moves to cut health care costs and improve access and it's nothing but good.  More from CNBC, back in October. 
Walmart’s competitors are also investing in health care. CVS Health wants to add more options at its retail clinics, known as MinuteClinics, once it closes its acquisition of health insurer Aetna. Walgreens is testing a number of partnerships, including one with UnitedHealth Group to add urgent care centers to some drugstores.

Walmart earlier this year was looking to deepen its partnership with Humana, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Flees said partnerships are “an essential part” of the strategy to lower the cost of health care and to improve the health of the country.

“If you take the expertise that lies in the industry and you combine it with Walmart’s footprint, it really is an opportunity to have a positive impact at scale,” she said.
The more government involvement there is, the worse things get.  We need more freedom, more market. These companies can't completely unscrew things themselves, state and local governments can always screw things up more, but it's a hopeful sign.


A typical in-store Walmart Pharmacy line.  Callaghan O’Hare | Bloomberg | Getty Images


Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Stupid Is Strong In This One

I don't ordinarily make fun of the stupidity of common criminals, but sometimes I can't resist.  Let's face it: most people don't become criminals because of their stellar work ethic and phenomenal reasoning skills.  Sometimes the resulting stupid is so extreme it makes you laugh.

GAT Daily posts a story that leads us to the story on ABC News about a Houston girl who blew off her heel while trying to shove an AK-47 down her pants.  That she didn't own (the AK; we don't know about the pants).  Apparently, she and one or more friends stole the gun and then were playing with it.  In the street.
A Texas teen shot herself in the foot with an allegedly stolen AK-47 that she had stuffed down her pants, according to police.

Police responded to the scene of the shooting in Harris County on Tuesday at around 4:15 p.m. They found three teens: two 17-year-old females and a 16-year-old male.
...
“We have found out since then that the gun that was used was stolen in a home burglary just hours before that shooting,” [Harris County Constable Mark] Herman said.
These stellar young citizens reacted in true bonehead fashion.  The 16 year old male grabbed the AK-47 as his friend is lying in the street screaming in pain and shoved the gun down a storm drain.  When police arrived, neighbors were on the scene trying to help the girl and the boy told police it was a drive by shooting.  Neighbors told the police that wasn't true and pointed out the storm drain the gun was ditched into, where it was recovered.
Video obtained by ABC News affiliate KTRK shows a girl lying on the road and neighbors coming to assist her.

“She had some pretty good wounds. She blew off the heel of one foot,” Don Sievertson, a 68-year-old veteran who ran out to help the girl, told ABC News. “She was in excruciating pain and she had every reason to be. She had very severe wounds, very severe.

“She was thrusting backward and forward, side-to-side screaming in pain and you know, [saying], ‘I need help.’”
The story at the "Video Obtained" link says she shot herself more than once.  They go on to say the girl is in critical condition in intensive care, so they are indeed serious wounds.  Shooting off one's heel is an injury that will probably bring lifetime difficulties.  My first aid experience doesn't specifically include that kind of injury, but I wouldn't think of blowing off the heel or most of the foot as life-threatening.  Maybe one of the other injuries nicked the femoral artery?

Various charges have been filed against the boy and this girl with more pending, possibly to include the second girl.  GAT Daily has a good summary. 
  1. Don’t steal a gun.
  2. Don’t play with the stolen gun in the street.
  3. Don’t squeeze the trigger of the gun you shouldn’t have stolen in the street you shouldn’t be playing in while pointing it at yourself or shoving it in your pants.
  4. Don’t toss the gun you shouldn’t have stolen into a storm drain on the street you shouldn’t have been playing in after your friend blasted a round into her foot and then tell the cops it was a drive-by.
 (Photo - Mark Herman/Harris County Constable Precinct 4)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Interesting Article With Totally Misleading Headline

The Guardian (UK) titles the article "First Ever Plane With No Moving Parts Takes Flight", but that's not true at all.  It's not what they mean.

They mean it's a plane without a motor that has moving parts.  Thousands of simple gliders with no moving parts have flown.  If you've folded up a paper plane and thrown it, that was a plane with no moving parts.  They actually say it correctly in the article:
The first ever “solid state” plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system, has successfully flown for a distance of 60 metres, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers.
The glorified paper plane shown flying in the article is flying with ionic wind propulsion.  The approach uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust.

Ionic propulsion is not a new idea; it has been investigated off and on since the 1920s, and always found to be impractical.  No aircraft has ever been known to fly with purely ionic propulsion.  NASA investigated it in 2009 (pdf warning).  Technologies change, though, and no branch of technology changes faster than electronics.  Could it be the shrinking of power supply components can make the approach feasible?  The investigator this time is MIT aeronautics instructor Steven Barrett, who “...went through a period of about five years, working with a series of graduate students to improve fundamental understanding of how you could produce ionic winds efficiently, and how that could be optimised.”


In the prototype plane, wires at the leading edge of the wing have 600 watts of electrical power pumped through them at 40,000 volts. This is enough to induce “electron cascades”, ultimately charging air molecules near the wire. Those charged molecules then flow along the electrical field towards a second wire at the back of the wing, bumping into neutral air molecules on the way, and imparting energy to them. Those neutral air molecules then stream out of the back of the plane, providing thrust.

The end result is a propulsion system that is entirely electrically powered, almost silent, and with a thrust-to-power ratio comparable to that achieved by conventional systems such as jet engines.
The abstract of their paper in Nature points out:
Here we demonstrate that a solid-state propulsion system can sustain powered flight, by designing and flying an electroaerodynamically propelled heavier-than-air aeroplane. We flew a fixed-wing aeroplane with a five-metre wingspan ten times and showed that it achieved steady-level flight.  All batteries and power systems, including a specifically developed ultralight high-voltage (40-kilovolt) power converter, were carried on-board. We show that conventionally accepted limitations in thrust-to-power ratio and thrust density 4,6,7, which were previously thought to make electroaerodynamics unfeasible as a method of aeroplane propulsion, are surmountable.

One of the indoor test flights of their "five meter wingspan" aircraft - which resembles a box kite.  If you squint.  It was launched by what seems to be similar to an aircraft carrier catapult, raising questions about just what sort of thrust to power ratio they can achieve.  Model airplanes with two-stroke internal combustion engines are capable of taking off without a catapult.  On the other hand, by all accounts this prototype is very early in the development process and a primitive design. 

Does this represent some sort of new paradigm in aviation that will lead to passenger airplanes powered by ionic acceleration like this?  Maybe it doesn't achieve that level, but instead becomes part of a niche market; maybe for drones, maybe replace the cellphone-relaying, high-altitude balloons that go high and stay over one point on the ground?   Something like those options might well happen.



Thursday, December 6, 2018

Still Not as Much Bull as the Evening News

It's a story about a steer, and a steer is an ex-bull by way of castration.  Typically done for ease of handling more than meat yield, as I understand it.  I've never even spent a day on a farm, let alone lived on one, so anyone reading here who has lived on a farm knows infinitely more than I do.

That's a long way of saying there's no bull in this story:  meet Knickers, the largest steer in Western Australia.


(Knickers surrounded by a herd of Wagyu cattle. )
Knickers weighs 220st and stands at a massive 6ft 4inches tall - but his mammoth size means he gets to live out his days roaming the fields in Western Australia.

His owner Geoff Pearson tried to sell Knickers at auction last month but meat processors said they couldn't take him as he's just too big.

Knickers is a Holstein Friesian but is far taller than other cows from the same breed.
(220 stone works out to 3080 pounds, which is a lot of beef). 

It's actually an accident (serendipity from Knickers' standpoint) that they held onto him and he continued to grow.  He was used as a 'coach' which is a steer that leads other cattle.  Knickers, though was a standout as a coach (go ahead and say it: "he was out standing in his field") judging by how the other cattle liked him and readily followed him around.  Some of the cattle about the same age as Knickers have already had their appointments at the abattoir with Grim Reaper, but Knickers' size got him a reprieve.

Knickers' name - think of the slang term for women's panties - comes from his owner joking around.  Seems when Knickers was young they had a Brahman steer, another breed of cattle, which was a friend of the young calf.  Since they tended to call the Brahman "Bra", they thought "Bra and Knickers" was a natural combination.

I guess you've got to take your jokes where you can find them. 



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

In Other Update News

Besides the LED ceiling lights, I've been working on something else that's based on a light, an Infrared LED: my CNC threading hardware.

But first, a quick summary.  This morning, before the bulbs got here, I pulled the circuit breaker for the fluorescent fixtures, then took the bad fixture down.  I took pictures of both ends and the circuit diagram on the ballast, in case I needed that info, cut the wires at the ballast and took it out, leaving lots of spare wire (easier to cut it off than add it).  Then it was time to wait for the bulbs.  Thankfully, they came right after lunch and I was able to get it all done pretty quickly.

All in all, it went smoothly.  I'll say there was only one of the normal goofs that always seem to creep into projects.  When I was reassembling the light, I broke one of the terminals (tombstones) off on one end.  Rather than take the fixture down again, I taped the tombstone in place and then reinforced it with RTV.

When I turned on the breaker, it was noticeably brighter in that corner.  I have a light meter and held it under the fixture. Something like 1600 lux.  Cool, but what does that mean?  I went over to the nearest T8 bulb fixture and got about 800.  Looked up and saw the step ladder in front of me that I had stood on to change the fixture and it morphed into a "calibrated" (or consistent) test fixture while I watched.  Long story short, here's the reading with the sensor on the top of the step ladder directly under the fixture (about 3').  I didn't move the sensor around and attempt to peak the reading, just put it up there.


When I bought the package of four tubes, I assumed that I'd keep the other two for the next fluorescent fixture that died.  Mrs. Graybeard noticed the improvement in light in that corner and said I should upgrade the fixture closest to the machine tools.  I have a lot of additional lights in that corner, including three clamp on reflectors with 100 W equivalent LED bulbs in them, and an LED Spot Light.  There's almost no such thing as too many lumens when you're doing close, detail work.



Moving to the Lathe, when I first put the system together it didn't fit the way I designed it to.  This led to puzzlement for several days as I measured all the parts and found they were correct.  Then I realized the model I had designed it to fit wasn't the same size in one critical dimension as my lathe.  The effect is that the phototransistor comes up short of the interrupter disk by about 2/10 of an inch.  This will be fixed with something like a thick washer or something very low tech like that.  Over the weekend, it became time to lash everything up and see if I got pulses.  The scope immediately said it looked like it was doing what it's supposed to do.  


The scope trace is the low-going pulse every revolution (1 Pulse/Rev) on the black and white wire pair that will go to the interface board.  The CNC4PC board is in the air above the interface board.  This is ready to mount everything permanently, button it up, and try to coax the hardware/software combination into cutting threads.

You can see my Sooper Excloosive, High-Tech, Mounting Techneek here:


Bet you ain't never seed no CNC machinery built with painter's tape like this!



Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Replacing Fluorescent Tube Lights with LEDs

File this under "Simple Things That Aren't Simple".

Back in 2014, we added a big room onto our house which has become my playground.  Mostly my playground.  Yes, it shares space with things from the rest of the house, but this is where my metal shop is, where my gun cleaning and reloading benches are and where general wood and other projects get done.  When the addition was done, we had a general contractor oversee everything and the electricians he brought in installed six fluorescent light fixtures.  Mounted to the ceiling, not hanging from chains, the six fixtures are two T8-size bulbs: four feet long and (mumble mumble) lumens of light output.   (T8 is a designation for the size of the bulb, 1" diameter).  I don't recall them ever offering the option of LEDs instead of fluorescents. 

A couple of weeks ago, when I turned on the lights in the shop, one of the fixtures didn't turn on.  Most everyone has seen a fluorescent go bad and are familiar with the flickering and light/dark waves in the tube they get.  That never happened: it was fine then completely dead the next morning.  When that has happened to me in the past it was because the fixture's ballast had failed.  I measure voltage into the ballast, but nothing on its output.  Replacing the bulbs with others I have lying around shows other bulbs won't light, either.

It was time to dive into the world of replacing the fluorescent tubes with longer-lived LED tubes.  It turned out to be quite a morass.  My expectation was that I could buy a replacement, ceiling-mounted light fixture with LED bulbs for perhaps twice the price of a shop light with fluorescent tubes.  The only thing I could find near that price were lights that are metal fixtures with LED strips mounted inside them, making the lights not replaceable.  If you had to change the LEDs, you would need to change the entire fixture. The lights I could find in the home improvement stores were more like four times the cost of the hanging shop light.

These lights are rated for 45 to 50,000 hours of life, and if I'm using them around 10 hours/day, 50,000 hours is over 13 years.  It is reasonable to want to change those bulbs when we have no real idea what technology light fixture might be set to replace it in 13 years?  Maybe its OCD, excuse me: CDO, but I kept going down that path.

I started searching for LEDs, in tubes, that could replace my T8 fluorescent bulbs.  Last April, when I replaced my halogen kitchen lights with LED bulbs, I had done my shopping at a company called 1000Bulbs.  I popped over there and found I could get two bulbs for $3.25 each, but there was a catch.  I needed to buy a pack of 25 to get that price.  There are 16 bulbs in the house.  With a 50,000 hour lifetime, about 13 years, 25 bulbs is a lifetime supply.  Or two lifetimes.  In the box of 25 they were $3.25 a piece.  In single quantities, quite a bit more than that - like $8.  (Not the same exact bulbs as the quantity discount, just what they listed). 

It's a long story, but I eventually found that the most common LED replacements are powered only at one end, one pin for each power lead, and naturally called "single-end" LED bulbs.  That's what these $3.25 bulbs were.  Size wise they go in the same fixture and they have two inert pins on the other end just to support the bulb.  To use those, I'd need to rebuild my fixture - it's not hard, but would be best to take the fixture down and put it on a workbench.  The fixtures have the terminals (colloquially called tombstones) on both ends with the pins tied to each other, called shunt wired, so I'd need to take those out on the end that gets powered and replace them with tombstones that have the two sides wired separately.   This diagram should help:
Shown at the top is the starting condition, the Line (or Hot) and Neutral wires come into the ballast in the fixture.  The ballast has two pairs of wires, two blue and two red, that go to the tombstones on either end.  All of those wires are cut and the ballast removed.  Those shunted tombstones (built into the fixture) are removed and replaced with two new ones that have separate black and white wires.  The wires are connected to each other (black to black, white to white - which are shown gray in my hacked picture, next)  then the Line or Hot (black) wire from the house goes to the black sides of the tombstones and the Neutral (white) goes to the white sides.  The wiring diagram on the bottom of that picture is trying to tell you tie all the blacks together and all the whites together, never connecting black to white.  I can't find anything that definitively said that it mattered to the bulb which pin got black and which got white, but it might be labelled on the bulbs.


Remember that this is 120 Volts AC and 120 kills more people than any other voltage widely distributed.  If this is out of your comfort zone, don't do it.

Somewhere along the line, I found there were double ended LED replacements.  Those would go in the same fixture, but with no need for new tombstones.  In fact, you don't even need to take out the ballast if it's good (yeah you waste 8 or 10 watts in the ballast if you leave it in, so it does impact your electric bill slightly).  Problem was they were out of stock.  Another LED seller I went to was out of them, too.  These would be easier to wire in.  
In this case, you cut out the ballast, then take your hot wire (L) and tie it to either of the ballast's output wires, the blue or the red pair.  Finally, you tie the neutral wire (N) to the other color pair.  This has the advantage of not requiring you replace the tombstones (although they're cheap if you get them online) and not having to mess with adding more wiring.  To echo what I said about the single-end installation, I've seen nothing that says one end or the other of the tube needs to be L or N, but it might be marked on the bulbs themselves.

A visit to the local home improvement centers had no options whatsoever, so this time I went to search on Amazon.  They had a four pack of double-end lamps that were frankly more than I wanted to pay, but they had good reviews and to be honest, I was pretty tired of the problem.  I have a dark corner in the shop that needs new bulbs and this looks like it will get me there with the minimum of blood, sweat and tears.  

This blew entirely too much time over the last several days - and since I'm retired, I know I have more time than many of you.  The bulbs are supposed to be here tomorrow.  With luck, they'll be here well before 6 PM and I'll be able to get right on it.



Sunday, December 2, 2018

On G.H.W. Bush

As is often the case, I find others have said what I've been thinking as well as I can.  I refer you to LL at Virtual Mirage, who put it this way:
George HW Bush was an unabashed globalist and in his own way, an elitist. He was not a conservative and he was clearly a big government guy. He also strapped himself to a Navy TBF and flew it against the Empire of Japan and was shot down, ditching in the ocean. I give him huge credit for his service and for putting himself in harm's way. It takes guts to go out and face down "the elephant". George had guts and guts is good.
His politics were not mine.
I can respect the man for what he did as a young man in WWII while still not wanting to see him leading in any public office.  Run a company? Fine.  No company can do as much damage as a government can.  

I'll just echo the several voices who have wished him "fair winds and following seas". 



Saturday, December 1, 2018

NASA launches safety review of SpaceX and Boeing

I get a rocketry-oriented weekly mailing from Ars Technica called the Rocket Report.  This week's report links to a story that NASA plans to launch a safety review of SpaceX and Boeing.  They link to the source of the story as the Washington Post, so perhaps not the most credible source in the DC swamp.  The Rocket Report editor has an interesting take on the story.
What is really at play here? ... This was an interesting development. We have heard several reasons for this, from NASA wanting to perform a CYA review in case something goes wrong with these commercial spaceflights to, (more plausibly in our opinion) an effort by a few Congressmen to detract from SpaceX's efforts to win the race to the commercial crew launchpad. Remember, there are people in Congress who don't like commercial crew in general and SpaceX specifically. We're told NASA human spaceflight chief Bill Gerstenmaier did not view this review as necessary but was not really in a position to resist.
The Washington Post leads with the angle that some widespread videos of Elon Musk smoking pot are the reason, as if the behavior of their carney barker CEO would be a better indicator than their track record as commercial launch provider.
The review was prompted by the recent behavior of SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, according to three officials with knowledge of the probe, after he took a hit of marijuana and sipped whiskey on a podcast streamed on the Internet. That rankled some at NASA’s highest levels and prompted the agency to take a close look at the culture of the companies, the people said.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs declined to comment on what prompted the review. But in a statement, he said it would “ensure the companies are meeting NASA’s requirements for workplace safety, including the adherence to a drug-free environment.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an interview that the agency wants to make sure the public has confidence in its human-spaceflight program, especially as the companies are getting closer to their first flights, scheduled for next year.
So why does Boeing get lumped into this if it's related to Musk's sometimes frankly bizarre behavior?  This supports the idea that it's really due to some people in DC not wanting to relinquish power to the private sector.  (Where "power" equals budget$ and $pending).  You might recall a story from 2016 reporting that then-NASA chief Charlie Bolden was opposed to private space operations. 
Bolden was asked for his opinion on the emerging market for small satellites and launchers. He chose to respond instead with his thoughts on NASA's own rocket, the Space Launch System, and private-sector development of larger launch vehicles.

"If you talk about launch vehicles, we believe our responsibility to the nation is to take care of things that normal people cannot do, or don’t want to do, like large launch vehicles," Bolden said. "I’m not a big fan of commercial investment in large launch vehicles just yet."
To be sure, Bolden is gone and doesn't matter anymore, and it's not the case that everyone agrees with this view.  Lori Garver, a deputy administrator of NASA from 2009 to 2013, has been quoted as saying that perhaps NASA should stop dumping money into development of the heavy lift SLS and use commercial options like the SpaceX Falcon Heavy or BFR.
"The question is really, why would the government continue to spend billions of dollars a year of taxpayer money for a rocket that will be unnecessary and obsolete?"
ARS Technica reporter Eric Berger pointed out that while the Falcon Heavy can't necessarily lift the payloads of the SLS, it's an incredibly cheap heavy lift rocket and NASA would save serious money by taking advantage of what it can do.
For the sake of argument, consider the costs of this three-year delay against the lift capability NASA could have bought by purchasing Falcon Heavy rockets from SpaceX in 2018, 2019, and 2020. That $7.8 billion equates to 86 launches of the reusable Falcon Heavy or 52 of the expendable version. This provides up to 3,000 tons of lift—the equivalent of eight International Space Stations or one heck of a Moon base. Obviously NASA does not need that many launches, but it could buy several Falcon Heavy rockets a year and have the funds to build meaningful payloads to launch on them. [Bold added - SiG]
So it seems to me this "safety" review is a cover for a "trying to come up with reasons private sector launch vehicles shouldn't be used" review.  Here's the thing no one's talking about: NASA doesn't really build rockets, so anything that's claimed to be a NASA booster would be built by Boeing or another contractor like SpaceX anyway.  To borrow a phrase, NASA people are the Only Ones capable of handling manned space flight safely.  They've had the special, magical, government competency dust sprinkled on them.

 
One of the highlights of the Falcon Heavy test launch was the landing of the Heavy's two boosters back on the Kennedy Space Center, near the launch complex they left from.  They were offset in time deliberately for the aesthetics of seeing them landing like this.  

Friday, November 30, 2018

Some Problems With That New Climate Change Report

Last Friday, as in Black Friday, the Fed.gov released the latest version - 1700 pages - of the National Climate Assessment (NCA). Typical of media reaction is The Atlantic, wondering "why would they release this on Black Friday?  To keep people from reading it?" and then going on to highlight that the report "contradicts nearly every position taken on the issue by President Donald Trump."  Funny how they never criticized Obama for all his Friday and holiday weekend document dumps. 

The fact of the matter is that the report is required by law, was scheduled for "late in the year" all along, and is a product of government agencies and employees that have nothing to do with President Trump.  It's not like the report was put together by a team President Trump picked by hand.  If anything it's the opposite: it's a report put together by a team Barack Obama picked.

Which means it's based on all the bad data we see all the time: temperature series that have been adjusted to make the past look colder and the present hotter (long term temperature records from around the world always disagree with the adjusted version the Feds use); wild exaggerations about the effects on hurricanes, fires and every aspect of our lives.  

Nicolas Loras at the Daily Signal reports on four points you might find useful should you need to point out the errors of the "the world is going to end before I grow up" crowd at a holiday get together.
  1. It wildly exaggerates economic costs.
    One statistic that media outlets have seized upon is that the worst climate scenario could cost the U.S. 10 percent of its gross domestic product by 2100.  The 10 percent loss projection is more than twice the percentage that was lost during the Great Recession.

    The study, funded in part by climate warrior Tom Steyer’s organization, calculates these costs on the assumption that the world will be 15 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. That temperature projection is even higher than the worst-case scenario predicted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In other words, it is completely unrealistic. 

  2. It assumes the most extreme (and least likely)climate scenario.
    Here we have to go down a rabbit hole. The NCA is based on a model called Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5. In estimating impacts on climate change, climatologists use four representative trajectories to project different greenhouse gas concentrations.  The NCA chose the most severe and least likely of the four different trajectories.

    It assumes “the fastest population growth (a doubling of Earth’s population to 12 billion), the lowest rate of technology development, slow GDP growth, a massive increase in world poverty, plus high energy use and emissions.”... It estimates nearly impossible levels of coal consumption, fails to take into account the massive increase in natural gas production from the shale revolution, and ignores technological innovations that continue to occur in nuclear and renewable technologies.

    When taking a more realistic view of the future of conventional fuel use and increased greenhouse gas emissions, the doomsday scenarios vanish. Climatologist Judith Curry recently wrote, “Many ‘catastrophic’ impacts of climate change don’t really kick at the lower CO2 concentrations, and [Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5] then becomes useful as a ‘scare’ tactic.”

  3. It cherry-picks science on extreme weather and misrepresents timelines and causality.  
    This seems to happen all the time.

    A central feature of the National Climate Assessment is that the costs of climate are here now, and they are only going to get worse. We’re going to see more hurricanes and floods. Global warming has worsened heat waves and wildfires.

    But last year’s National Climate Assessment on extreme weather tells a different story. As University of Colorado Boulder professor Roger Pielke Jr. pointed out in a Twitter thread in August 2017, there were no increases in drought, no increases in frequency or magnitude of floods, no trends in frequency or intensity of hurricanes, and “low confidence for a detectable human climate change contribution in the Western United States based on existing studies.”

  4. It relies on energy taxes which are a costly non-solution.  

    Through the use of the wildly pessimistic "Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5" and the wildly exaggerated costs, the authors of the report are clearly trying to drive readers to the conclusion that the costs of inaction (10 percent of America’s GDP) dwarf the costs of any climate policy.

    The reality, however, is that policies endorsed to combat climate change would carry significant costs and would do nothing to mitigate warming, even if there were a looming catastrophe like the National Climate Association says. Which there is precious little evidence to support. 

Two articles in the New York Mullet Wrapper Times: Last January, it was OK to say the forest management practices that left 100 million dead trees on the ground could cause a horrifying wildfire season.  In November, after the worst of those wildfires it suddenly was no longer acceptable to say forest management might be a problem, but it was thought critically important to quibble over the wording of the president's tweets.

In the land of uncomfortable truths is this fact: virtually no country on Earth is meeting its Paris Accord obligations.  Here's another one:  the US is now the global leader at reducing its emissions even though we didn't sign the accords.   Possibly the most uncomfortable truth of all:  if all of the dire assumptions and models in the Climate Change camp are applied, the Paris accords result in a net temperature change of 0.05C by 2100.  The current NOAA procedure rounds the high and low temperature to the nearest whole degree Fahrenheit (0.55°C, a value eleven times greater than the .05°C savings Paris offers).  That means the effect of Paris would be undetectable.  There are no words for how preposterous I find this. 


From The One Graph Every Discussion About the Paris Climate Treaty Needs to Include: here.  


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Media Criticizes Melania Over WH Christmas Decorations

Acting as if there isn't a staff responsible for the White House, and Melania personally chooses every aspect of every decoration, the media criticized her for the choice of red decorations this year.   Some twit on Twitter said it was reminiscent of the outfits from A Handmaid's Tale, which is apparently something they see everywhere this year.  (Project much?)  You might recall that they criticized her last year for her choice of white decorations.  No, there isn't a color theme she could have chosen that wouldn't draw criticism.
Mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Post, USA Today, Time, HuffPost, San Francisco Chronicle and Vice all mocked the decorations, often masking their disdain by focusing on the backlash of trolls on social media.
The Babylon Bee points out that she was criticized for decorating the White House with the skulls of their enemies.
While past first ladies have decorated the White House with traditional Christmas wreaths, trees, holly, and lights, Trump opted to mount the heads of her slain foes throughout the executive residence "as a warning."

"Did she go too far?" one pundit on CNN pondered. "I gotta say, these heads don't exactly say 'peace' and 'love' like a good, old-fashioned wreath would, you know?"


Pressed about whether skulls presented enough holiday cheer and festive spirit, the First Lady commented, "The skulls bring out the festive joy of the holiday season in our decor. We're reminded to treasure what we have when we see the skulls of our conquered foes every time we walk through these sacred halls."  She paused and added, "It's all to point us to the reason for the season."

And what's the reason for the season?
"To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women," she stated.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Offered Without (Much) Comment

Because there isn't much to add.  The article pretty much says it all.  Hat tip to the Blaze PM newsletter:
Yale study: White liberals use ‘less competent’ language with blacks — but conservatives don’t
Cue the tape of Hillary saying "I don't feel no ways tired", pandering to a black church in 2007.

The study is published psychology research by Cydney H. Dupree, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management and summarized in Yale Insights.
According to new research by Cydney Dupree, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Yale SOM, white liberals tend to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, compared to how other white Americans act in such exchanges. The study is scheduled for publication in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

While many previous studies have examined how people who hold racial bias behave in multi-racial settings, few have studied how whites who are more well-intentioned interact with people of other races. “There’s less work that explores how well-intentioned whites try to get along with racial minorities,” Dupree says. “We wanted to know their strategies for increasing connections between members of different social groups—and how effective these strategies are.”

The team found that Democratic candidates used fewer competence-related words in speeches delivered to mostly minority audiences than they did in speeches delivered to mostly white audiences. The difference wasn’t statistically significant in speeches by Republican candidates, though “it was harder to find speeches from Republicans delivered to minority audiences,” Dupree notes. There was no difference in Democrats’ or Republicans’ usage of words related to warmth. “It was really surprising to see that for nearly three decades, Democratic presidential candidates have been engaging in this predicted behavior.”
Could it be that until very recently Republicans didn't speak to minority audiences because they weren't invited and didn't expect to be able to get more than 1% of those voters to even consider listening to them, anyway?

In another experiment, they tried to test how white participants would speak to a hypothetical or presumed-real interaction partner. They were assigned someone to compose an email to:
For half of these participants, their partner was given a stereotypically white name (such as “Emily”); for the other half, their partner was given a stereotypically black name (such as “Lakisha”). Participants were asked to select from a list of words for an email to their partner. For some studies, this email was for a work-related task; for others, this email was simply to introduce themselves. Each word had been previously scored on how warm or competent it appears.

The researchers found that liberal individuals were less likely to use words that would make them appear highly competent when the person they were addressing was presumed to be black rather than white. No significant differences were seen in the word selection of conservatives based on the presumed race of their partner. “It was kind of an unpleasant surprise to see this subtle but persistent effect,” Dupree says. “Even if it’s ultimately well-intentioned, it could be seen as patronizing.”
Down here in the south, when we're faced with a patronizing person, we tend to say, "bless her heart" (or his or their).

So the article's takeaway is that liberals tended to talk down to minorities when addressing them, while conservatives didn't.  Which is to say the liberals attribute less intelligence and less accomplishment to minorities, so they crank back their obviously superior intellect to talk to the inferior minorities.  Conservatives tended to talk to minorities as if they're simply other people and should be treated as equals. 


Monday, November 26, 2018

Old School NASA vs. New Woke NASA

The contrast is giving me whiplash.  Nausea.

This afternoon, I watched the live feed of the Insight probe landing on Mars.  It was classic JPL - on one of their great days.  Every milestone clicking off on schedule, everything going right.  Every minor milestone caused the controllers at their terminals to applaud for a few seconds.  Finally the call that landing was verified, and there was quite a bit more celebration.


That was followed a few minutes later by the first photo from the lander. When the live video coverage shut down, everything had happened on schedule and it looked great.  NASA has successfully soft-landed a vehicle on the Red Planet eight times.  It has always been difficult, but JPL makes it look like they know what they're doing - because they do.  Even though they've done it more than any other group, JPL has lost craft on the way to Mars and a landing.

The contrast, though, comes from a set of articles linked by the Blaze this morning.  It seems the New Woke NASA scientists think ‘exploration’ is ‘problematic’ and oppose Mars missions like this one:
Adler astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz is the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, not to mention a guest star (as herself) on National Geographic’s Mars TV series. Cosmologist Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is with Department of Physics at the University of Washington, and fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. And together they are, counter-intuitively, not so keen on the exploration or colonization of Mars.

In fact, the very word “exploration” is inherently “problematic”, they would have us believe, as detailed in a panel discussion published at Gizmodo last week. It was highlighted Sunday by Powerline, with the observation that “if these folks had been with NASA in the 1960s, we’d have never made it to the moon.” That may seem like a snarky insult on the part of Powerline, but in fact it’s precisely the point that the scientists made.
It seems that they feel we have no right to explore Mars, and any such thoughts should focus on social justice for Martian inhabitants.  Inhabitants?  What inhabitants?  Personally, I think that missions from the first Viking landers in 1976 through the most recent missions show that Mars is a sterile planet; or perhaps we could say the probability that microbes exist on the planet is vanishingly small (1 in 10^-10 to PFA a number). 


(Astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz of National Geographic's 'Mars' at The Beacon Theater on November 14, 2018 in New York City. - Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for National Geographic)

The two were also featured in Gizmodo in a piece called "Decolonizing Mars" (is the publicity the two are getting what it's all about?)   I find the phrase puzzling: there are no colonies on Mars to "decolonize".  There are several probes, thoroughly sterilized before launch, on the surface, but no colonies to "decolonize" and bring the settlers home from.  Still the rhetoric we get from these two talks about indigenous peoples rights and other things that just don't seem to fit the situation at all.
Walkowicz: In my work, I’ve been thinking about issues around how we talk about going to Mars, and plans that people make for what they want to do when they get there—whether it’s living on Mars, doing scientific research and trying to figure out its history, or corporate interest in mining or resource extraction of any kind.

There are a variety of scientific reasons why human presence might make certain investigations easier on Mars. But I’m disturbed by the way people talk about going to Mars as if the planet is ours... When we talk about terraforming, that’s a planetary-scale strip mining operation. If you transform a planetary environment, even if you think you know how to do it, that represents a total alteration of the chemistry and physics of the planet, which means you may erase the history of life that might be there.
...
I can’t give you an example of what a decolonized Mars looks like, but it starts by having multidisciplinary conversations about the things that happen here on Earth. I often give examples of Standing Rock as an Earth-based example of interests colliding, where you have indigenous people opposing a large-scale project that, much like space exploration, features cooperation between private industry and the government...

Prescod-Weinstein: I’m trying to think carefully about what our relationship to Mars should be, and whether we can avoid reproducing deeply entrenched colonial behaviors as we seek to better understand our Solar System. This includes thinking about why our language for developing understandings of environments that are new to us tends to still be colonial: “colonizing Mars” and “exploring” and “developing,” for example. These are deeply fraught terms that have traditionally referred to problematic behaviors by imperialists with those that we would call “indigenous” and “people of color” often on the receiving end of violent activities.
When I first read that piece in the Blaze this morning, my reaction was to say we need to just shut down NASA entirely.  If that's what became of the agency that was so good in the 1960s, they've outlived their usefulness.  Shut them down and sell the assets to the highest bidders.  DOD or private industry.  Other countries - if there's no security risk.  Then I watched the landing and it brought back memories of the good old days.  They do know what they're doing!  They're not all about Muslim outreach!  Now I don't know what to do.  Does NASA stay or get zeroed out? 
.
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Wait!  I found an image of an indigenous Martian on a rare trip to Earth!  This must be what the woke NASA scientists were thinking of!  I have to reexamine all my thoughts about this.


Original Chuck Jones artwork from.