Wednesday, November 13, 2019

SpaceX Pulled Off Two Firsts on Monday

Monday morning, with a 9:56 AM launch time SpaceX set a few notable firsts in their history.  The mission was to launch another 60 of their Starlink internet satellites, and that succeeded.  The notable firsts:
  • The first stage took it's fourth flight, the most-flown booster in their fleet.  
  • The mission included the first ever reuse of a payload fairing.  
Everyone knows about the recovery of their boosters, the most expensive portion of the rocket.  It took SpaceX Engineers a while to get the details down, but once they landed the first couple, the failures have been very rare.

During the last minute of the booster return flight, the video feed went down and it looked like we wouldn't see the landing of the booster on recovery ship OCISLY (Of Course I Still Love You); but it suddenly woke up just as the ship's deck started to be illuminated by the landing burn of the returning booster.  I was able to screen capture this a second before landing.


Regarding the fairings, though, Space.com puts it this way:
SpaceX uses identical fairings for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Each one costs about $6 million (roughly 10% of the $62 million Falcon 9 price tag) so there's a significant financial incentive to recover and reuse the fairings. SpaceX fairings are composed of two halves, each of which is equipped with small steering thrusters and parachute-like equipment to aid in recovery efforts. 
...
Both ships deployed in advance of Monday’s launch attempt in hopes of snagging the fairing halves. Unfortunately rough seas thwarted an attempt at another catch.
The fairing flown on Monday was from last April's Falcon Heavy launch of the Arabsat-6A communications satellite. SpaceX did not specify what sort of refurbishments the fairing halves have gone through or how many times they expect to reuse a recovered fairing. 

As for Starlink satellite themselves, this launch of 60 gives 120 of the prototypes for experimentation. They're in use now, but as SpaceX says, “We still have a long way to go from tweets to 4K videos, but we are on our way,” with the goal for the eventual number being “12,000 satellites, the company plans for its burgeoning cluster to eventually be more than 40,000 satellites strong.”  Say that again to yourself: 40,000 satellites in low earth orbit.
Musk said SpaceX will need at least 400 Starlink satellites in orbit for "minor" broadband coverage, and 800 satellites aloft for "moderate" coverage.


(Monday's group of 60 Starlink satellites just before being mounted for launch)

Recovering boosters, recovering fairings,  they seem to be moving toward learning how to recover upper stages, which could reduce the cost of a flight to essentially the cost of fuel.  Manufacturing, launching, and operating 12,000 to 40,000 satellites.  You can't accuse these guys of not being visionary. 



Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Movie for Techie History Buffs

Monday, Mrs. Graybeard and I used our retiree privilege for a movie we've been meaning to see, The Current War.  I understand that this is a limited run and they're planning for release to some other distribution method (although I don't know which format) so I'm pointing it out for an audience who might want to catch it before it goes away.  This might be your only week to see it.  I first saw a trailer for this in 2016 or '17 and then it went away.  I've heard a rumor it was somehow held up by the Harvey Weinstein hoopla, although I can't imagine why.  IMDB isn't much help, only saying,
The film originally premiered at numerous festival and was then shelved for 2 years until a re-edited version (titled "The Current War: The Director's Cut") was released theatrically in 2019
and the only difference they refer to is the sound track between the two versions.

The word Current in the title isn't the usual meaning of “present.”  The movie is about the turbulent period in the late 1800s, 1880 to about 1900, when the world first saw Edison's light bulb and was making the decisions on whether the world would be powered by Edison's advocated Direct Current (DC) or George Westinghouse's proposed Alternating Current.  The major technical advantages and disadvantages of AC vs. DC were well known at the time, but the practicality of doing either system on a national scale was simply unknown.

It was a wild time in history.  Edison believed that the major advantage of DC was that voltages could be kept low, and that led to DC being safer.  The other side is that lower voltage led to limiting areas that could be served with DC.  It would require that the country have generating plants much closer than we see now.  Westinghouse and his group understood that by stepping up the voltage with a transformer, the current went down and resistive losses in the power lines went down with it.  Simply AC “went farther” and fewer power stations were needed, but if a person got themselves across the higher voltages they were more likely to be killed.  Edison wanted to bury power lines; Westinghouse wanted to put them up on poles so people couldn't get to them.

This led to the rather well-known dark side of the period.  Edison's lab killed lots of animals to get the point across.  No one had been killed by AC power yet, Edison was showing it was possible.  An advocate for humane capital punishment comes to Edison to invent the electric chair and Edison agrees to provide technical details if he's kept anonymous.  Westinghouse hires someone who finds Edison's name on the documents for the design of the chair. 

One of the subtopics was that nobody knew how to make an AC motor, just DC and that gave Edison an advantage.  In one scene, Tesla is giving a talk at a university and shows off a drawing of an AC motor while explaining how to do it.  It was like they copied it from a modern textbook.  

It's got two big name actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland playing Edison and his secretary, Samuel Insull.  Westinghouse is played by an actor I could swear I'd seen before but had to look him up on IMDB to be sure.  Chances are I saw him in the current version of the Superman franchise, where he played General Zod from Superman's home world, Krypton. Rounding out the top four, Nicholas Hoult, who has starred in the most recent X-Men movies, plays Nikola Tesla

The fun fact of the movie is that both Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland are from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) and Holland (Spiderman) first worked together in this movie.  Although Avengers Infinity War and End Game both came out during the time Current War was languishing on the shelf, they met during the filming of this one. 

I think the movie would appeal to anyone who has more than just a passing interest in that story and the times at the end of the 1800s.  Definitely a movie for techies.  We both thought it was very well done.  Interest in this period has been revived on occasion.  Glenn Beck devoted hours of programming to it in the early days of his TV network.  Much of what I've seen focuses on Edison as the “hard-driving son of a bitch,” but I think this movie was more even handed.  Yes it shows the rivalry, it shows both of them as driven men who are obsessed with changing the world and know it.  Yes, it shows how Nikola Tesla was the “unappreciated genius” he's usually portrayed as, even as it shows him working for both Edison and then Westinghouse. 


Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch from one of the scenes just before the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. 


Monday, November 11, 2019

Veteran's Day 2019

There really isn't anything I can add to the quality writing exhibited around the blogs today, besides “thank you for your service.” 


World War I ended at “the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month” in 1918.  The world never recovered from WWI; it led inexorably to II, which led to the cold war, and so on.  I recall back when I was a kid that people still called this day Armistice Day, but that was a leftover habit.  

To be clear, I'm not a veteran.  My father fought in WWII, but there was no real family tradition of enlisting in the military (both mom and dad were the first of their families born in America - there was no time to have a tradition) so enlisting was not something I thought about doing.  I have deep respect for those of you who served.  You allow me to sit here and write this. 


Sunday, November 10, 2019

November 9th was Another Milestone

Yesterday was another milestone in history; the anniversary of the first orbital test flight of a Saturn V rocket, November 9, 1967; 52nd anniversary.   Like a lot of these ~50 year anniversaries, I remember it clearly. 

The launch was on a school day, a Thursday, and I was in the eighth grade.  The launch was set for 7:00 AM and I had a chance to see it before leaving for school.  Here's a detail I don't remember: I rode a school bus in those days, but I don't recall if I pestered my mom to drive me to school so I could squeeze out every last second before I left to catch the launch if I could.


Liftoff at 7:00 AM - NASA archive photo

There are several videos of this test; some that are simply a couple of minutes of network TV tape from 1967; this one is 5 minute piece of a documentary on the Apollo program. 

The one detail I'm sure I recall is one I can't confirm.  If you watch many Apollo launches on YouTube, you'll see some views of the five first stage engines from cameras mounted on the launch platform pointed directly at the engines.  When the vehicle's flames come above the cutout in the launch platform, they turn from dark and full of streamlines to very bright and overexpose the cameras.  I believe I recall that when the flames reached the top of launch platform, one camera view went out.  I heard later that the camera was blown off the launch platform and was found “miles away.” 

Unfortunately, I can't quite get Duck Duck Go to find it for me.  Perhaps someone else will remember or might have a way to find that detail. 



Saturday, November 9, 2019

Saturday Round Tuits

Since everybody knows about the round tuits but not the bean meanin tos.

First off, we got our hot water back Thursday (that I whined about).  I ordered a water heater that seemed equivalent to what we had from Amazon after looking several places.  Why Amazon?  They promised delivery Wednesday while the blue and orange borg both said delivery “as early as Thursday.”  A couple of weeks ago, a battery powered porch light we've been using died and we ordered one from the Home Despot with "Thursday delivery" and it ended up being Friday.  Once bitten, twice shy.

The new heater was running by Thursday evening.



Today, as you've undoubtedly heard, is the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down.  The thing I find most remarkable is that the wall has been down longer than it was ever up - 28 years; growing up in the '60s, it was a regular topic of conversation and it seemed to have been there all my life.  Which is the case, if we define my life as the time I was aware enough of the world to be aware of things like the wall.  It went up in 1961, the year I got out of first grade and started second, and came down in 1989 when I was 35.  I probably became aware of the Berlin wall within two or three years of it being completed.

FEE had several stories about the dystopian life in East Berlin, with this one being the best.  The part I had forgotten was that the wall coming down on November 9th was a mistake - the kind of mistake you associate with bloated, inefficient, arthritic bureaucracies, like the German Democratic Republic.   
However, 1989 was different. And it was the result of a mistake. The GDR decided to allow East Germans to apply for visas to travel. Politburo spokesman Guenter Schabowski missed most of the critical meeting but was tasked with announcing the new policy to the international press. He indicated that people could travel now, “immediately, without delay.” Crowds gathered at Berlin’s crossing points as GDR border guards unsuccessfully sought guidance from above. Receiving none, they opened the gate after 10,316 brutal, sometimes murderous days.



Conservative podcaster Lauren Chen had a truly ridiculous amazing interview as an episode this week.





This “professor,” Ryan Wash, is the unification of corrosive racism and postmodernism.  He starts out by saying that “space is not real” and “science, technology, it's all fake”.  “It's a projection of white fantasies that has worked to control our interpretation of how the world works...”  Since he hasn't personally gone to space or visited the other planets, they aren't real.  Never mind telescopes and looking at stars or the other planets, he wishes to remain ignorant.  When asked if that meant Paris wasn't real if he hadn't visited the city, he confirmed that nothing is real unless he has personally experienced it.  Student Michael Moreno questioned him, asking if space was invented by white people to keep black people down, what about the black astronauts?  Wash seemed unaware that there ever were any black astronauts and refused to believe at first, then switched over to the race traitor idea, before going back to saying that he can't confirm anything exists unless he personally experiences it.

Quoting from a piece in American Thinker that I linked to before:
There is no universally agreed-upon definition of "postmodernism." Like the philosophy itself, it means whatever the person who espouses the position wants it to mean. Three general tenets are acknowledged: Objective truth is unknowable, objectivity is fallacy, and modernity is a failure. By the last they mean that the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and the Industrial Age are all malevolent failures of reason and objectivity, as they failed to solve the world's existing problems and created new ones. Stephen Hicks, Ph.D. explains in his book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault:
Postmodernism rejects the Enlightenment project in the most fundamental way possible... [it] rejects the reason and the individualism ... And so it ends up attacking all of the consequences of the Enlightenment philosophy, from capitalism and liberal forms of government to science and technology.
There is no such thing as reality, only our perceptions and reactions to reality.  Considering how much progress has come from the Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial and Information ages, it's remarkable anyone could still accept postmodernism, but this professor does.  It's an idea so bad that you need to have an advanced degree in some field completely removed from reality to be stupid enough to accept it.  

Oh, it gets better, and while Lauren's video is almost 18 minutes long it's worth watching.  Professor Wash is questioned by a student who records the entire exchange.  Wash's solution is to send all the white people to space, since they invented it.  It's really too stupid to summarize.



Friday, November 8, 2019

Deutsche Bank Dying? Probably Not This Calendar Year

The Deutsche Bank Death Watch has been going on for at least a year, and tracked by author Michael Snyder on the Economic Collapse Blog.  Deutsche Bank is in deep trouble and almost certainly going to go bust, but my view is it won't be before the end of the year, and probably much longer.  (Hat Tip to ZeroHedge via Kenny at Knuckledraggin')

Why?  The usual; they're hemorrhaging cash and going broke.  How bad is it?
We know that Deutsche Bank has been losing money at a pace that is absolutely staggering...

If you add the losses for the second and third quarter of 2019 together, you get a grand total of nearly 4 billion euros.

How in the world is it possible to lose that much money in just 6 months?
If they had hired people to throw $100 bills out the window every second of every day, 24/7 for 6 months, they would have only thrown $1.57 Billion out the window.  They've laid off thousands of workers; at one time (July of '19) 20% of their employees on one day.  (I've been through a lot of layoffs in my career, even laid off a couple of times, and 20% is a big cut!)  They've even canceled this year's daytime, coffee-and-cake Christmas reception for retired employees. 

Again, why?  The usual, bad management.
There have been so many bad decisions, so many aggressive bets have gone bad, and there has been one scandal after another
In April 2015, the bank paid a combined $2.5bn in fines to US and UK regulators for its role in the LIBOR-fixing scandal. Just six months later, it was forced to pay an additional $258m to regulators in New York after it was caught trading with Myanmar, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Syria, all of which were subject to US sanctions at the time. These two fines, combined with challenging market conditions, led the bank to post a €6.7bn ($7.39bn) net loss for 2015. Two years later, it paid a further $425m to the New York regulator to settle claims that it had laundered $10bn in Russian funds.
Those two are relatively easy questions; the hard ones are do they really go broke and (my favorite question) then what happens?  Author Snyder thinks the first one is easy.  Hell yeah, they're going down.  Snyder says Deutsche Bank “ ...is just a zombie bank that is stumbling along until someone finally puts it out of its misery.”  The second question, of course, is harder and long time readers know one of my favorite quotes of all time, “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” (physicist Niels Bohr).
Deutsche Bank is the largest domino in Europe’s very shaky financial system.  When it fully collapses, it will set off a chain reaction that nobody is going to be able to stop.  David Wilkerson once warned that the financial collapse of Europe would begin in Germany, and Jim Rogers has warned that the implosion of Deutsche Bank would cause the entire EU to “disintegrate”
Then the EU would disintegrate, because Germany would no longer be able to support it, would not want to support it. A lot of other people would start bailing out; many banks in Europe have problems. And if Deutsche Bank has to fail – that is the end of it. In 1931, when one of the largest banks in Europe failed, it led to the Great Depression and eventually the WWII. Be worried!
How can I say they probably won't collapse for a while?  Overlay their share price on Lehman's from 2008. 



(Deutsche Bank share price, from Bloomberg posted on ZeroHedge  In plots like this, I always assume the prices are scaled or offset or otherwise manipulated to make the similarities stand out better.)

Speaking of quotes, I'm also a fan of the one that “history doesn't repeat, but it rhymes.”  I think these plots rhyme.  By the time scale shown, Deutsche is at about January of '08, while Lehman made it to September, eight months later.  We'll see how these plots overlay as we go along.  I suppose some unexpected event could speed up the approach of their end, and conceivably even save them.  Probably not a safe bet.



Thursday, November 7, 2019

Florida's Assault Weapons Ban Consitutional Ballot Far From a Sure Thing

The out of state organization started to put a constitutional amendment in Florida to Ban Assault Weapons Now, BAWN (no, I won't link to them) is off to a rocky start.  BAWN is part of Americans for Gun Safety Now, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Michael Bloomberg Lobbying Industries, Inc. (yes, I made that up).

From an article in Ammoland Shooting Sports News, it appears that three briefs have been filed in the State Supreme Court against BAWN and their intended ballot initiative.
The NRA, Attorney General Ashley Moody and the National Shooting Sports Foundation argued separately in the briefs that the proposed amendment should be blocked.
The NRA argument is largely that this isn't an assault weapons ban, it's a ban of every semiautomatic long gun ever made due to the loose language of the bill.  I have to suspect that to BAWN that's not a bug, it's a feature. 
The ballot proposal would prohibit possession of “semi-automatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device.”
That would certainly ban my 50 year old Remington Nylon 66, my Ruger 10/22, and virtually every rifle that isn't bolt action that's either for sale today or is already in the possession of owners around the state.  Note the phrase I highlighted in bold; that means if you can modify a gun to hold more than 10 rounds by any method that this proposed amendment makes it illegal.  The amendment bans not only the personal possession of any semiautomatic long gun, it also bans the manufacture and export of those weapons, and “thus prohibits an entire industry” in Florida, an industry that has been growing both by increasing sales and companies moving to the state for the better tax picture.

Attorney General Ashley Moody filed suit against this proposed amendment in July.
“The proposed amendment is, in practical application, a ban on virtually all semi-automatic long guns. This is so because virtually all semi-automatic long guns — either off-the-shelf or by virtue of broadly available accessories — hold, or are ‘capable’ of holding, more than 10 rounds of ammunition,” Moody’s lawyers wrote in a 27-page brief. “The ballot summary does not disclose this effect, which Florida voters are unlikely to understand absent explanation.”
All told, the amendment as described is a hot mess.  The Florida Constitution requires language in these initiatives to be “clear and unambiguous.”  The NRA suit focused, in part, on the term “assault weapons” apparently intending to get that term stricken from the text.
“Coined by anti-gun activists as a derogatory and pejorative term, its prime function is not to inform and describe in a clear, neutral, and objective way, but to deliver rhetorical impact and evoke emotion and condemnation,” the NRA, represented by Andy Bardos and other GrayRobinson attorneys, said in a 34-page brief.
Current owners are not required to turn in guns but the proposed amendment requires them to be registered and prohibits ever transferring them to another person.  If you own one it's yours for life - or until the confiscation starts, which can be made into the same date.  

About the only good news in this article is that the numbers presented show that BAWN has been ineffective at selling this abomination.  To get on the ballot, they need to get 766,200 valid signatures.  As of Monday afternoon, they submitted 115,529, a mere 15% of what they need.  Unless they're hiding something, they need to get the next 85% before their deadline in February. 

There's no mention in the AmmoLand news about the law passed in the closing moments of last year's legislative session affecting BAWN.  The law (HB5) requires paid petition gatherers to register with the Secretary of State and to attest that he or she is a Florida resident for a specified period before obtaining signatures on petition forms, along with imposing some other "truth in petition selling" requirements.



Wednesday, November 6, 2019

On the Cartel Slaughter, Calls for General Pershing, and The Bigger Picture

In light of the brutal slaughter of an American Mormon family apparently by drug cartel members in Northern Mexico, there's a palpable “why are we allowing this?” mood in the blogosphere.  There are calls for a modern day General John “Black Jack” Pershing to go into Mexico and wipe out the cartels.  I don't have problem with that, myself.  If we know who killed this family, that cartel should be asking for an 0300 visit, but I wouldn't do it with valuable operators like we did with Al Baghdadi.  A visit by an air wing of A-10s, B-2s, or a few C-130s with MOABs seems adequate. 

The problem isn't our lack of a general who could wipe out the Mexican military, should they decide to get in the way.  The problem is that this is a tangled web that covers both sides of the border, and if we're going to wipe out this sort of problem, both sides need targeted raids. 

Back in August of 2012, I posted about an interesting article I ran across with details on the Fast and Furious gun running program that Barack Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder had implemented.  It was widely believed that the purpose of F&F was to show American guns are ending up in Mexico as some sort of argument for more gun control.  A “logistics coordinator” for the Sinaloa cartel named Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, had testified it wasn’t about tracking guns, it was about supplying them — all part of an elaborate agreement between the U.S. government and the Sinaloa Cartel to take down rival cartels. 

In effect, the U.S. government was going to use the Sinaloa cartel to kill off the other cartels, and in return for getting rid of them, Uncle Sam was going to give Sinaloa the US drug market.

I re-visited the details of that 2012 story last July and found that the legal cases had gone forward but the story hadn't materially changed.  
Since my knowledge of this story was essentially frozen in 2012, I looked up Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla (there are other family members in the cartel, so you have search the whole name) to find he did a plea deal with the feds to "cooperate with authorities" and potentially stay out of long term lockup.  I found a Forbes article from 2014 saying the same things as the Blaze article my post was based on in 2012.  I've not found anything conclusive saying it was admitted to in court, but there is evidence that the US deal with the Sinaloa cartel was real, and there's a trail of bodies to back it up.
By appearances, I see this as saying there are groups in the Deep State who are behind allowing the Sinaloa cartel to access US drug markets, and I've got to believe there's some money flowing north along with those drugs, to the pockets of the Deep State Actors on this side of the border who are profiting from the deal.  Those Actors are partly responsible for the deaths of those women and children in Mexico on Monday evening.  It's easy to say people dying from the War on Some Drugs are dying by their own choices.  These women and children were innocent bystanders who crossed some sort of invisible line and simply ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. 


Soldiers and police officers guard packages of seized marijuana during a presentation for the media in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The National Weather Service Ruined My Day

If they're right. 

This has actually been posted for at least a week, but this is on the local NWS website:


Temperature is forecast to be above normal for the next six months; the rest all looks boringly normal.  The really odd one is in February through April when the temperature and precipitation are both above normal.  Ordinarily, the clouds associated with that rainfall keeps the temperature down, and it's pretty common for above normal rain to accompany below normal temperatures. 

The ENSO State - the phase or state of the El Nino Southern Oscillation - has a pronounced effect on our conditions, and they're predicting it to be neutral.  So far, their prediction is running a little lower than reality, which Watts Up With That summarizes as a weak El Nino.  (Warning: that link to WUWT's El Nino page will drown you with a fire hose of data)


Personally, I'd rather see temperatures in the below normal range for the entire dry season, but maybe I've been reading too much talk about the deep solar minimum leading to global cooling for the next decade.  Cool is unusual here, so the novelty appeals to me.



Monday, November 4, 2019

The Week's Backstory Around Here

Pardon my distraction around here. 

It started Saturday night when I first noticed the hot water didn't work.  Since it was after 11PM, I just said I'll check it out in the morning. 

A bit of a back story is that the same thing happened about two weeks ago.  When I went to check it out, I found that the outlet the water heater is plugged into (a ground fault protected outlet) had no AC voltage on it.  The GFI had popped and resetting that got the outlet back functioning which got the water heater back working.  I haven't mentioned yet that the water heater is a tankless, gas-fired heater out on the back porch. The day before had an unusual amount of wind-driven rain, so the outlet resetting isn't terribly surprising.  It's a new outlet, but the previous one had done it two or three times in its life. 

While working, I noticed a strange thing.  I had laid the AC cord down on the porch while I was doing things, and when I looked at the plug, the porch was wet around the plug.  Picked the plug up to inspect it and the plug blades left some water on my fingers.  A water film on the blades would certainly blow the GFI.  Running my hands down the power cord showed some water on the outside of its jacket, so I wiped it down with a rag.  I dried up some water inside the heater cabinet, rerouted the AC cord so that it had a loop hanging below the AC outlet, and we went back to life as normal.  Except that I had noticed that the area under that loop never really dried out, so it must still be dripping from inside the heater and running down the power cord. 

Now we're back to yesterday.  First thing I found was the outlet was fine.  The GFI breaker had not tripped and there was 120 VAC making it to the inside of the cabinet.  Looking around the cabinet, I found a little ledge, about a quarter inch wide by 1/16 deep, between what I take to be the heat exchanger and a box below it with a fan mounted on the case.  The little rim ledge was filled with water.  This ledge is about a foot above the floor of the cabinet and there was water down there, too.

At this point, I realized I was in a bad place, with no diagrams, no schematics, nothing to guide my attempt to fix this.  My looking into the thing is really as valuable as calling for the Fix It All Fairy to make it work.  Further, we've tried to get someone out to look at this before and it's always difficult.  There's really one shop locally who takes care of these.  We called them.  We were offered a choice between the tech coming out Sunday at double time and a half, or no hot water for 24 hours and the tech comes out today at normal price.  We chose today. 

The tech was out before 10AM and by 11 we knew the water heater was dead.  He was rattling off parts to repair it and said he'd call later in the day once he knew what it would cost.  While waiting, we researched what a new one would cost.  The one we'd be getting parts for is 10 years old.  I found I could get a replacement for under $800.  In my mind to fix one that's 10 years old and not replace it, those parts better come out to be well under half the price of the new one - including the service calls.  When the tech called back, he said the parts would run over a thousand.  So we said we'd get a new one.  They're perfectly happy to install it for us and don't seem upset we're not ordering it from them. 

Let me recap the suck.  We're going to be close to a k-buck out of pocket either way, but at least it will be a new heater.  The uncomfortable part is that it's going to be Thursday before we can get it installed.  No hot water.  Cold showers for the next few days.  Cold water for washing dishes, clothes, and everything else.  It's like the aftermath of a hurricane except the water out of the tap is colder in November than in September.  I know those of you in Minnesota, Canada, the Dakotas, Montana and so on will laugh at the hardship of showering in 75 degree water while living in air conditioning.  The ambient environment is something one gets used to, though.  In the summer, I generally run the water to pure cold before I get out of the shower.  This time of year I haven't been doing that. 



Sunday, November 3, 2019

Living Skin with Blood Vessels Can Now be 3D Printed

That's the eye-catching headline in a Machine Design news item dated Friday.

The idea of printing enough skin for a skin graft without harvesting skin from elsewhere on the body isn't new.  There have been other solutions put forward.  In the words of researcher Pankaj Karande, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:
“Right now, whatever artificial skin is available as a clinical product is more like a fancy Band-Aid.  It provides some accelerated wound healing, but eventually just falls off; it never really combines with other skin cells.”
One of the reason it never really combines with the rest of the person's skin is the lack of blood vessels.  These are vessels that are too small to suture (stitch) individually for the person, and would have be located extraordinarily precisely for that to even be possible.
Karande has been working on this challenge for several years, and has shown that researchers can turn two types of living human cells into “bio-inks” and print them into a skin-like structure. Since then, he and his team have been working with researchers from Yale School of Medicine to add blood vessels.

He and his team recently discovered that if they add key elements, including human endothelial cells (which line the inside of blood vessels) and human pericyte cells (which wrap around the endothelial cells), along with animal collagen and other structural cells typically found in a skin graft, the cells start communicating with each other and form a blood vessel network within a few weeks.
When grafted onto a mouse, the blood vessels started to communicate and connect with the mouse's existing skin.  Vitally important because the addition of blood vessels allows nutrients to reach the skin and help keep it alive, not sloughing off like a fancy Band-Aid.


Over the life of this blog and going back to when I first heard of it around '97, I've been a strong fan of/advocate for/believer in tissue engineering like this example.  Prosthetic limbs are wonderful, but what if for every veteran returning without a leg or arm, we could build them a functional replacement?  What if everyone who has an organ removed due to cancer, or is burned or otherwise seriously injured, we could replace what they lost?  On a more humble scale, what if a person who's now getting a hip replacement could get their joint fixed with newly grown cartilage instead of getting cut open, bone removed and replaced with metal and plastic?  Humanity is a long way from that.  We may never get there.  But I'm glad some people are trying.

Around 15 years ago, a technician friend asked me if I'd like to live forever.  After thinking for a while, I surprised him by saying, not without a lot of better technology first.  Looking at myself now, I'm too covered with scars and have too many joints that need grease fittings to imagine getting to be three times my age.  Maybe if we actually 'live forever' those problems will eventually get fixed, but if they don't, within the first 200 years we'll be unable to move and unrecognizable because of scar tissue. 



Saturday, November 2, 2019

Liz Warren's $52 Trillion "Medicare For All"

Yesterday, 1 November, Lizzie Warren (D., Uranus) finally unveiled her budgetary numbers for her often-talked-about-but-never-with-numbers medicare for all plan.  It will cost $52 trillion dollars "and, she claims, will not require any middle-class tax increases."

As they say in the UK: go on, pull the other one - it's got bells on.

$52 Trillion might be real; at least it's quite a bit more than the $34 trillion advanced by The Urban Institute and covered here on October 18.  It's the part about not requiring middle-class tax increases that I think is just utter nonsense. 

Let's say, with no particular reason, that this is $5.2 Trillion per year for 10 years, and not increasing exponentially from nothing in its first year.  The current federal budget is about $4 trillion per year, and revenue is closer to $3 trillion leaving a deficit of just over $1 trillion.  Spending would then go to $9.2 t per year and the deficit to $6.2 trillion/year.  The current national debt just crossed $23 trillion at the much lower yearly increases we've had for a couple of years.  Going from $1.1/year to $6.2/year is going to really shock the bond markets.  Something's got to give.

Remember part of her plan is to outlaw the medical insurance industry.  According to some numbers I looked up last time, that industry alone is about $1 Trillion/year in revenue and 621,000 people's careers.  All of those jobs will be lost.  Add that to the economic havoc that will ensue.

By convenient coincidence, the Committee For a Responsible Federal Budget did an analysis of how to pay for it on October 28th, three days before the release of better numbers.  Yahoo Financial News covers the story:
Warren justifies many of her programs by saying all it would take is “two cents” from the wealthy. That’s a reference to her 2% wealth tax on ultra-millionaires. But Medicare for All would be so expensive that if you taxed top earners at 100%—that’s right, if you took all the income of couples earning more than $408,000 per year—you’d still fall far short. And everybody getting taxed at 100% would obviously stop working.

Okay, that won’t do it. So what will? CRFB outlined a variety of options. A 42% national sales tax (known as a valued-added tax) would generate about $3 trillion in revenue. But it would destroy the consumer spending that’s the backbone of the U.S. economy. A tax of that magnitude would be like 42% inflation, wrecking consumer budgets and the many companies that depend on them, from Walmart and Amazon to your local car dealer.

Other options include a 32% payroll tax split between employers and workers or a 25% income surtax on everybody. Or, the government could cut 80% of spending on everything but health care, which would include highways, airports and the Pentagon. Or here’s a good one: Just borrow the money and quadruple Washington’s annual deficits.

The best idea might be charging every enrollee in the new program $7,500 per year, so they’d be paying directly for the coverage they’re getting. Some people pay more than that now for health care, by purchasing insurance outright or sacrificing pay raises in exchange for employer coverage. It would still be a nifty trick to propose that to voters.

The upside to these impossibly draconian scenarios is that nobody would pay anything for health care, except in the $7,500 example. And it’s possible that Medicare for All would cover health care for more people at a lower total cost than we spend now, meaning the average cost per person would go down. The problem is transitioning from what we have now to whatever Medicare for all would be. And it’s a giant problem, like crossing the Mississippi River without a bridge or a boat. The other side might look great but you’ll die before you get there.
My first reaction was to to say, "ain't gonna happen," although I did it with my fingers crossed.  I'd hope that there's enough people in the gubmint that aren't full tilt crazy.  Then I remember the prominence of modern monetary theory in the Evil party these days. 

If this twit gets her way, it's game over.  Economic collapse.




Friday, November 1, 2019

Answering an Unrelated Question

I had a question from an emailer, rather than a comment, to my post two weeks ago about getting back to cycling after long break.  In it's essence: what's different about cycling after being away a long time? 

I answered by email, but thought there might be someone else in the wild world of the internet that cares, so I thought I'd re-post it here. 

The short answer is: not much.  If you're not on the bleeding edge of technology trying to get every last gram out of your racing bike and willing to spend thousands of bucks to do that. 

The single biggest thing, and the only thing I've actually bought (other than replacements for some gear that just wore out) is one simple idea: daytime running lights.  The same high-capacity, rechargeable, lithium ion batteries that have pushed into our phones, tablets, laptops and so many other things have pushed into cycling headlights and taillights.  Most of them are sold with a USB charger cable to plug into your laptop or other USB charger. 

For my headlight, I bought a Cygolite Dash 460 headlight.  These are more for being seen than seeing; at least from my use.  With 460 lumens, though, they'll make a good headlight at night, too.  Here's mine on my everyday ride - the weird background is a tire on my garden cart standing up in the shop.


Similarly, I got a Cygolite Hotshot Pro taillight, with 200 lumen output.  In this case, though, I had originally bought a light recommended on a bike forum that I also got from Amazon, a Blitzu.  This one gave me troubles and the USB charging port broke off the printed circuit board in the unit, leading to replacing it with this Cygolite.  I would recommend the Cygolite over the Blitzu. 

I have more experience with Cygolite as a brand.  Back in the days when Mrs. Graybeard and I used to ride in the evening after work, I had a couple of Cygolite headlights and they still work (although the 10 year old NiCd and NiMH batteries have long since gone belly up). 

Both my head and taillights are set to flash and they incorporate a pattern that isn't metronome steady.  There are tests that say the irregular flashes are more noticeable and a regular flash.  That said, I'm not aware of any studies that demonstrate riders with daytime running lights are safer than those without them, it just seems to be a reasonable bet.  They should give me something like six hours on a charge, but I recharge them after each hour ride.  I'll try long tests someday.

Let me just list throw out some of the other changes in the things I know
  • Disk brakes and especially hydraulic disk brakes really took off.  They're starting to make inroads into road racing, slowly, but the big growth has been for the two off-road style bikes: mountain bikes and:
  • Gravel bikes.  The last time I was riding a lot ('11 or '12?  Before that?), the big thing was cyclocross - essentially road bikes with wider tires, and a more relaxed geometry.  The idea was to race on dirt and gravel roads.  Now the word appears to be gravel bikes for the same basic kinds of riding. 
  • Recumbent bikes and especially recumbent tricycles have continued to grow in popularity, although not as quickly as proponents have been saying since I started hearing it in about 1994.  Recumbents are bikes that are ridden in a sitting position.  Both two and three wheeled designs are popular; like everything else, they have good points and bad.   
  • The substitution of smartphones for all sorts of other devices on the bike.  To the right of the headlight in my photo is a plastic case marked "CATEYE".  That's my bike's speedometer and odometer.  There are models on the market now that just have pickups near the back tire and display on the phone by Bluetooth.  The same idea goes for heart rate monitors, GPS, route planners and any electronic gadget people might like to ride with. 
Finally, it seems as if titanium bikes, like my Airborne, didn't really take over the market as the true believers thought back in 2000 or 2005.  Carbon fiber has become the material for lightweight racing bikes and the choices are still largely carbon fiber vs. aluminum or high-end steel.  There are still titanium bikes made in the US (Litespeed in Tennessee and Habanero down the coast in south Florida to name two).  I would think titanium would have the advantage due to the frame being weldable, but I guess carbon fiber has gotten less mysterious to repair.