Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Noted in Passing: the Opioid “Crisis” is Not Due to Prescription Drugs

I've written on the so-called opioid crisis several times in the last few years and have come to the conclusion that the narrative we're being fed simply isn't true; that the stories are manufactured for reasons that aren't necessarily clear, but that could track back to some well known politicians (hint - one of the names is associated with Arkancide).  For example a couple of years ago, Mylan, the company that makes Epinephrine injector pens - the kind used to stop anaphylactic shock in people with allergies to things like bee stings - raised the price a factor of 4x and the media howled like banshees.  The company that makes Naloxone, the drug used to stop people from dying of opioid overdose from dying, raised their price 17x and the media didn't say a word. 

Back on November 20th, the CATO institute put up an article derived from a study published November 1st in The Annals of Emergency Medicine (full text).  The study demonstrates what I've reported here from the start, the numbers of people who become addicted to prescription opioids is too small to match the overdose numbers being seen.
This prospective cohort study by researchers in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine followed 484 “opioid naïve” patients prescribed opioids for acute pain upon release from the emergency department during a six month period. The statewide prescription drug monitoring program was employed in addition to regular follow up telephone interviews. One percent (five patients) met the criteria for persistent opioid use by the end of the follow up period. Four of the five patients still had moderate or severe pain in the affected body part six months after release from the emergency department.
I'm a little surprised to find that it's as much as 1% of the group that were using the opioids persistently, but 484 patients isn't a big number and sometimes small groups give strange results.  The CATO article also talks about a much larger study with a smaller number of misusers in the British Medical Journal.  
The study comes after a much larger retrospective cohort study reported in the BMJ of more than 568,000 opioid naïve patients prescribed opioids for acute postoperative pain between 2008 and 2016. Investigators found a total misuse rate of 0.6 percent. The researchers defined “misuse” as follows:
The primary outcome was an ICD-9 (international classification of diseases, ninth revision) diagnosis code of opioid dependence, abuse, or overdose…Opioid misuse was defined as the presence of at least one of these ICD codes after discharge and encompasses a composite of a wide range of forms of misuse. We included only diagnosis codes related specifically to prescription opioids.
There is simply no correlation between opioid prescription volume and non-medical use or opioid use disorder among people age 12 and over.  Meanwhile, the restrictions on drugs that some patients need are still being withheld as policymakers and law enforcement continue to pressure health care practitioners into undertreating patients in pain. At a recent international breast cancer conference experts stated the under-prescribing of opioids to breast cancer patients in the U.S. is now comparable to treatment in third world countries.

This despite the CDC coming out this April ('19) and saying (my editing), “you guys making drug policy and passing laws got us all wrong.  Those 2016 opioid prescription guidelines we issued were supposed to be just that: guidelines.   We always figured the doctors know best what their patients need.  You doctors should treat the patients who need it for pain.”

Closing words to CATO:
Meanwhile, as prescription volume precipitously drops, the overdose rate continues apace, with fentanyl and heroin now making up the overwhelming majority of overdose deaths. And now methamphetamine is making a comeback as a major cause of drug deaths—15 years after Congress addressed the “meth crisis’ with the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act.
A clear case of, “it didn't work, so let's try it again only harder.”

Today's opioid or fentanyl addicts are not yesterday's patients.  That lie has to die.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

What About the FISA Court?

Ever since this dog-and-pony show culminating in today's articles of impeachment got started, something has been on my mind.

It's clear the FBI is corrupt at the upper most levels.  Chief Weasel Jim Comey, and the dishonor roll of his underlings: McCabe, Strzok, Page, and lots more are all partisan hacks.  We know this.  We know they used the absolutely bogus Steele dossier to justify the need to monitor American citizens to the FISA courts (overview).  Borepatch started the day with post that it's time to Disband the FBI.  Count me on board with that.  While, from all I know, the majority of the agents and lower level staff are still honorable, there's a saying in management classes (I originally heard it was taken from the mafia) that goes, “the fish rots from the head down.”  If there are systemic problems in an organization, the problem lies in the top management's offices.

What I've been saying since this whole mess started is “what about the FISA courts?”  In my mind, if they were honest and honorable, they'd bust the FBI like 13 year olds pretending to be college students at spring break in south Florida.* I'd very publicly and loudly tell the FBI, “you've proven you're not trustworthy.  Because of that, from now on there will be no warrants issued to you unless you bring 10 times the amount of justification we used to require, and you'd better have far more than one source.  You will be questioned about it relentlessly, and you'd better damned well have every last detail documented.”  Or something similar.  Let everybody know the FBI is getting their chops busted for their partisan politics.

The fact that this hasn't happened doesn't mean the FISA courts didn't slap down the FBI in some classified meetings that we're not allowed to know about.  The fact that it wasn't public, though, implies that the FISA court is just as rotten as the heads of the FBI fish.  They could have dressed them down in secret but made a public statement about how shocked - shocked! I tell you - and how appalled the court is at having been lied to by the FBI.  The fact that didn't happen tells you the FISA court needs to be disbanded, just like the FBI.  The whole Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act needs to be torn up and started again from blank paper. 

The FISA court in DC.  It's very secret, you know.

* Not that I would know anything about being a 13 year old trying to pass for a college freshman with the college babes at Spring Break.  I was at least 16.  Ok, 15.  But I swear I wasn't 13. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

There's No Such Thing as Woke Enough - Episode 9,436,954 - the Peloton Ad

Last Thursday (or Friday?) I was doing my usual wading through junk mail.  Lots of it is easy to delete this time of year. In the mail, was the daily link to PJMedia, where I saw a story called, “Cops Should Do a Wellness Check on Woman in Peloton Christmas Ad” by Stephen Kruiser, who ordinarily writes things a bit tongue in cheek.  That demanded a read.

It turns out it's a bigger story than I knew.  I don't know when the Peloton ad first appeared but it fired immediate outrage by the easily offended and made headlines far and wide.  For your convenience, I'll embed the ad here.

Kruiser went over the top with his take on it - but not as much as the wokescolds.
Her Eyes Are Blinking "H-E-L-P" in Morse Code
A quick respite from the political news slog has been delivered unto us from the most unlikely of places. Peloton -- the indoor workout bike that runs around fourteen and a half million dollars -- has released a Christmas with a creep factor so high that it has people reaching across the aisle in agreement about its awfulness.
Before sharing some words from another article he read:
Allahpundit shared his thoughts about the ad at Hot Air:
The weird part is the … eagerness with which she shows her gratitude. It’s lovely to be grateful for an expensive gift, but she’s *really* grateful and *really, really* wants her husband to know it. It’s not just that she feels compelled to record herself using the bike repeatedly over a span of many months. She looks curiously anxious doing it, even when smiling into the camera. At the end of the clip, when she finally shows him the footage, her eyes are trained on his reaction, seemingly desperate for his approval.

Is, um… How do I put this?

Is everything okay between these two?
I honestly don't see a thing wrong with the ad.  For those that don't know the details, a Peloton stationary bike is an excruciatingly high end stationary bike - almost as much as an actual, fairly high-end road bike.  I looked into Peloton once; the bikes start at $2200 and require subscription to those cycling workouts they always show in the commercials.  I think I got to $3500 before I stopped looking.  As an aside, I've been riding off and on since I was 30.  I've never once been in that position they always show of the rider sitting upright with both arms straight out to the sides. (and BTW, if you have a real bike there are several apps and websites that let you do some of what Peloton does for a few bucks.  I hear good things about one called Strava.)

Deep inside, I think we all know that most exercise equipment is a clothes rack within six months -- or six weeks.  I would think it would be considered nice - or an attempt to be nice - to gift your spouse a $3500 toy for Christmas, but that's just me.  They'd probably object to jewelry or a new car, too.  

What are people so upset about?   They call it “humiliating and misogynistic.”  They say Peloton husband giving his wife an exercise bike means he thinks she's fat and needs to drop some weight.
“This fictional frightened woman’s yearlong journey to lose the 14 ounces of water weight that her husband the good Doctor Mengele insists she musts is the Christmas miracle that a news-weary world needs.”  “Nothing says "maybe you should lose a few pounds" like gifting your already rail-thin life partner a Peloton”  and “After a year, the Peloton wife looks exactly the same.  So it's an insulting gift and completely useless.”

So much misinformation... so much stupidity...  Allahpundit gets it exactly right when he says,
The first reaction everyone has is “Why is this guy buying his gorgeous, rail-thin wife an exercise bike for Christmas? Does he think this goddess is overweight?” No. That’s why they cast the actress they did. They knew that if the wife had as much as an ounce of visible fat on her, the takeaway would have been that Peloton is encouraging dudes to pressure their significant others to drop a few. There would have been sit-ins at Peloton HQ to protest a crime against body-positivity of that magnitude. Only by casting a woman who *obviously* didn’t need to lose weight could the company semi-plausibly say, “He gave her the bike for fun and for cardiovascular fitness and for no other reason.”
Then he goes on down the path to insanity.

Lighten up people, it's a commercial. Christmas is coming. People are looking for gifts, companies are looking for sales. There's no reason for us to think that Pelton Wife didn't say the only thing she wanted for Christmas was a Peloton exercise bike. I know... I know.  It's not possible to please the wokescolds. 

A funny postscript is that actor Ryan Reynolds has a small label gin company.  In the week or two this has blown up, Ryan tracked down the actress (Monica Ruiz) to do a parody of the commercial to promote his Aviation Gin brand.  You can watch the commercial, hosted on Twitter, there.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

"Nobody Knows The Troubles I've Seen"

I ran across a group of guys singing that old spiritual song the other day.  They were all news people.*

If there's one sector of the economy that's in bust times it's the news media.  And maybe it deserves what it's getting.  According to Business Insider, 7700 people have lost their jobs in the media over the last year. 
The media industry continued to execute cuts in December and November as Gannett, Highsnobiety, and the CBC reduced headcounts.

The cuts followed large rounds of layoffs earlier in the year from companies including BuzzFeed, Verizon, and Vice Media.

The massive cuts this year represent a recent trend in media that has seen upstart companies and newspapers alike shrinking and disappearing.
Gannett is the publisher of USA Today (and our local Florida Today).  They merged with local paper giant GateHouse and both of them laid off employees.  Gannett laid off 215 while GateHouse laid off 243 between last January, May and August.  Last January 23rd, Gannett laid off 400. 

It's not just print newspapers.  Highsnobiety is some sort of “men's fashion and lifestyle” website, and of course BuzzFeed and Vice Media are web presences also.  CBC is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; they cut 35 jobs.  An attempt to relaunch Gawker failed. HuffPost laid off 13 in its video department. ThinkProgress shut down in September.

I have to agree with writer Matt Margolis at PJ Media who points out the media is very distrusted as an institution.  People are voting with their wallets.
What's the reason for the media industry doing so poorly while other sectors are experiencing a boom? I don't know; I'm sure much of it is because the media isn't adapting, but I can't dismiss the possibility that trust in the media being at historic lows is playing a part, either. A recent Gallup Poll shows that Americans "remain largely mistrustful of the mass media," and that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that much of what the media is presenting is biased, inaccurate, or misinformation.

It's worth noting here that media coverage of President Trump is 90 percent negative. Maybe the public is sick of media outlets that do public relations on behalf of the Democratic Party.
Gallup presents a graph of the combined responses for trusting the media a Great Deal and a Fair Amount.  I notice something interesting in this, besides the overall downward trend over the measurement time.

Notice the biggest drops in reported trust in the media.  I read them as the years 2000, '04, '08, '12 and '16 (although 2000 doesn't stand out as much as, say, '04 does).  Those are all Presidential election years.  It seems to me that the media reaches a crescendo of negative coverage of even RINOs like John McCain and Mittens Romney, and it stands out to people, making them trust the media even less.  It gets more revealing when you look at the same data sorted by political leanings.

Notice how the big drops in presidential years are less obvious.  Democrats had a big dip in 2000, while Republicans had the dip in 2001; is that a remnant of the hanging chad news coverage?  The Dems didn't have dips in '04, '08 and '12 while Republicans did.  Independents had dips in '08 and '12Notice also that the years since the '16 election have seen the Democrats trust in the media go up by 35%, from 51% to 69% this year, claiming either a Great Deal or a Fair Amount of trust in the media, while at the same time, Republicans went from 14% to 15%, a 7% increase but still around 25% of the Democrats' trust.   Is that because the Democrats like the media lies and the Republicans don't?  (In both cases, I'm ignoring the peaks in 2018 and treating them as transients.  It's entirely possible that in another year we'll see that the 69% and 15% numbers were also transients and we'll get slightly different answer.)  Finally, note how the last few years saw Democrat trust in the media higher than anywhere in the 22 years shown while Republican trust in the media has been in decline since 1998 and is now close to an all time low. 

* No, I really didn't come across a group of reporters singing spirituals. That's an attempt at humor.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Pearl Harbor Day

This is just a simple suggestion to take a few seconds and think of it.  Pay respect to the WWII vets who fought and died. 78 years ago this morning. 

In the last five years, I've come to find out that my brother's Father-in-Law is a WWII vet.  He's 97 now, still drives a lot, still has a sharp mind.  He was mowing his lawn the last time we talked a few years ago.  For much of the time I've known him, he worked as a bag boy at a Publix grocery store although he was a retired banker, but that ended around ten years ago.  He's the first WWII vet I've known in years.  I'll use the term, "tough old bird".  Maybe on Christmas, I can get a few stories out of him but he hasn't made one of the holiday events at my brother's house in three years, now.


To borrow the Ancient Aliens meme:

The Pearl Harbor shooting seems more like some sort of “generic murder,” one that's either due to (A) someone being FN or (B) a personal conflict.  Pensacola sounds like terrorism.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Space Ketchup

Just a couple of odds and ends... (one odd and one end?)

Rocket Lab's test flight this morning (EST) of their booster recovery approach was a success.  According to an update at CNBC:
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck broke down the results of the test in a call with CNBC on Friday, explaining how the company got the booster through the atmosphere’s dense “wall” during reentry.

“The real challenge in this program has been ‘can we get through the wall’ and today we punched through the wall and came out the other side in great shape,” Beck said. “We knew that we had a chance of getting it through the wall and all the way down to the water but with anything reentry it’s hugely difficult to model.”
Instead of firing one of the booster's engines and adding legs, like the SpaceX Falcon9 and Heavy, Rocket Lab is testing a technology Beck calls an “aero thermal decelerator” — essentially using the atmosphere to slow down the rocket. After separating from the upper stage of the Electron rocket, which carried the spacecraft into orbit, Rocket Lab’s onboard computer guided the booster through reentry, successfully flipping it around 180 degrees.
“We maintained control of the stage and guided it through the narrow corridor with the heat shield and the right orientation, the right angle of attack,” Beck said. “And, not only we were able to hold telemetry on it all the way to impact at sea, we had tremendous amount of instrumentation on board that said the stage was very healthy when it impacted the ocean.”
The area of the Pacific around the calculated impact site was circled by an aircraft recording telemetry from the booster until it impacted the ocean at about 560 mph and disintegrated.

Looking toward the bottom of the Electron booster's first stage, shown at the top, and including a view of the curvature of the Earth and our atmosphere along the bottom.  Rocket Lab photo.

Back in mid-November when SpaceX destroyed their Starship Mark 1 prototype in Texas, there was reference to iterating to a Mark 2 or 3 as fast as humanly possible.  There was speculation among Twitter-watchers about whether it would be built in Texas or here in Florida, or if one would be built in each place.  Apparently, SpaceX has decided to pour the resources into Texas.  NASA is reporting:
The new vehicle, called Mk3, is already undergoing construction in Boca Chica. It is being built by a unified team, with many of the Florida-based crew members moving to Texas. By building Mk3 with a combined team, SpaceX believes that they can reach the first flight faster.

Consequently, most Starship operations in Florida are currently on hold. Activity at SpaceX’s Cocoa site has ground to a halt for the past several days.
With Florida-based crew being sent to Boca Chica Beach, Texas, work in Florida has slowed to a crawl, or completely stopped.  NASA reports the only work being done in Florida is the refurbishment to Pad 39A, which must be nearing completion.

SpaceX is grappling with the difficulty of getting something the size of a Starship from Cocoa to the Kennedy Space Center.  Cocoa is on the mainland of Florida while the KSC is on Merritt Island, separated from Cocoa by about a mile of Indian River Lagoon on the west, but also separated from the beach island by the Banana River Lagoon.  There are only a couple of bridges across the Indian River, they're heavily used by traffic and (it's said) not rated for the loads they would see.  Add to that Virgin Trains is currently constructing a new high speed train line through the Cocoa area, and a new bridge will soon block Starship’s transportation path to the KSC.  There are indications their answer is to move over onto the KSC.
SpaceX is currently preparing a facility at Roberts Road, inside of KSC, which is expected to eventually take over most, if not all, of the Cocoa operations. This will make transportation to the launch site considerably easier for future Starship builds in Florida.
There's no word what will become of the Cocoa facility.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

New Zealand's Rocket Lab to Test Tech for Recovering Boosters

New Zealand's successful small sat launch company, Rocket Lab, announced in August that in order to increase their vehicle launch rate they were going to move toward recovering their boosters.   Unlike their bigger competition, SpaceX, instead of landing boosters back near the launch site or on a drone ship at sea, Rocket Lab is going to use a parachute that get snagged in midair by a large helicopter.

This week's NASA reports that the upcoming 10th launch of their Electron booster will have modifications that will be needed for recovery and part of the launch mission is to test those mods.
Electron was never designed for this rather unorthodox method of recovery, so some changes have had to be made to the booster, known as a first stage block upgrade.

Although some previous flights have flown hardware or taken measurements in support of the Block upgrade. Flight 10 will be critically important because it will mark the debut flight of the block upgraded first stage.

The upgraded first staged includes a Reaction Control System (RCS), which will be used to orientate Electrons for recovery and guidance and navigation hardware such as a new S-band telemetry system and onboard flight computer. A parafoil is also included to allow for Electron to be “picked up” by the recovery helicopter on later missions, it is unknown if a parafoil is included on this flight specifically though.
The mission customers are paying for is the launch of seven small satellites into orbit.  I can't resist passing on that since this is going to be their 10th flight, the mission has been named, “Running out of Fingers,” but that bit of cleverness doesn't tell you anything about the flight.  The article on NASA has some details on everything being launched on this flight, so head on over there if you're curious what the small satellite launch business is all about. 

Concept art of the Electron booster under a parafoil chute, as it will eventually be flown.

This flight is to be launched from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand, and is scheduled for December 6th at 0756-0922 UTC, which is 2:56-4:22 AM tomorrow morning EST.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Technically Miscellaneous Odds and Ends

Today's launch of the SpaceX cargo container to the ISS was scrubbed due to high level winds.  Currently scheduled for tomorrow, 12/5 at 12:29:23 PM.

Boeing's Starliner test capsule is on its Atlas 5 at Launch Complex 41.  Liftoff is currently scheduled for Thursday, December 19, at 6:59 a.m. EST.

The combination is 172 feet tall, and you get a sense of that size in this photo, from Boeing.  Much like last year's test that SpaceX did of their Crew Dragon capsule, the Starliner test will be an unmanned flight to the ISS.  If successful, the second flight to the ISS will be manned by Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, along with NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann.

Launch dates/times from Spaceflight Now.

Finally, there was a story that both got a chuckle and a raised eyebrow with an unspoken, "seriously?  In the 20-teens?"  If you own a Hewlett Packard computer with a solid state drive, a service bulletin released on November 19th says they have a firmware version in some drives that fails after 32,768 hours, which they say works out to 3 years, 270 days 8 hours.  There is a strongly mandated software patch for owners of these Enterprise Solid State Drives. 

Some of you get it already; for those who don't recognize it: 32768 is the largest positive integer that can be expressed with 16 bits.  People who do a lot of programming see the number often enough that it gets thoroughly woven into their brain's neurons and knowing it is as much a reflex as any physiological reaction.  From the bulletin:
HPE was notified by a Solid State Drive (SSD) manufacturer of a firmware defect affecting certain SAS SSD models (reference the table below) used in a number of HPE server and storage products (i.e., HPE ProLiant, Synergy, Apollo, D3000/D6000/D6020 disk enclosures, MSA Storage, StoreEasy 1000 Storage, StoreVirtual 4335 Hybrid Storage and StoreVirtual 3000 Storage are affected).
Checking that numbers don't go out of range should be something all programmers check, and part of acceptance quality testing of all software.  The problem is that most consumer products don't get that sort of testing.  Now think of what sort of software limits might be encroached on by a self-driving car having to react to a pedestrian who's not in a crosswalk or a kid chasing a ball into a street.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Snippi Longstocking is Gonna Hate Me

Hat tip to Borepatch, for the first time I came across that memorable nickname for Greta Thunburg, the autistic, Swedish, high-school dropout and globe-trotting, full-time wokescold.  Greta gonna hate me.

I did my holiday travel by SUV, and according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (motto: “we're from Tennessee so we're not all Nuckin' Futs.”) and posted on Political Calculations blog, the least fuel efficient way to travel is by light truck; the category which includes SUVs.

On this chart, produced by Political Calculations from the data linked here, lower is better. 

The chart shows BTUSs per passenger mile for the 40 years from 1976 to 2016.  As you can see, light trucks are at the top - the worst fuel economy.
In the chart, "Light Truck" refers to any two-axle, four wheel truck, which would include anything from pickup trucks to SUVs. "Air" refers to commercial air travel, while "Intercity Rail" in the U.S. means train travel via Amtrak.

Probably the most remarkable thing is how air travel has become less energy intensive per passenger mile than both transit buses (after 1996) and cars (after 2004). The second most remarkable thing we find is how transit buses have become worse over time.
It should be mentioned that each category is an average of everything they measured in that vehicle class.  Air travel has improved, as noted, but SUVs have improved by a bigger percentage.  Most of that was by 1991.  It's a safe bet that today's jets going into service have better fuel economy compared to 1976 jets still in service, just as today's SUVs will when compared to any 40 year old SUVs on the road.  Mine's an '09, which is right where the line jumped up (got worse) for the second to last time.

Snippi gonna hate me.  Not that I care.

(Note, that Oak Ridge file has an odd name and no extension, but if you look at it, you'll see it's a CSV file - Comma Separated Variables - that any spreadsheet program will read.  Just re-name it with a .csv extension and you'll be good.  I'm using one of the free spreadsheets, Libre Office, and it imported the file with no problems.)

Besides, she's a time traveler and just passing through.  You've seen the picture, right?  Several excellent pictures at that article. 

Edit 2050 EST:  Forgot to add one of the links I should have linked.

Monday, December 2, 2019

December is Looking to be Busy with Launches

December is looking to be a busy month on the Cape, with SpaceX potentially launching four missions in the next 29 days and Boeing adding a fifth.

The first launch is scheduled for this Wednesday, the 4th, at 12:51PM EST.  A Falcon 9 will carry the company's 19th cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.  These missions deliver crew supplies and hardware; this mission will bring some science experiments to the Expedition 61 crew.  More details on the experiments at Florida Today newspaper.

The next launch will also be a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, currently scheduled for “no sooner than” December 15th.  The Falcon 9 will carry the JCSAT 18/Kacific 1 communications satellite for Japan.

The last launch I have a proposed date for is Boeing's, “no sooner than” December 17th.    The Boeing CST-100 Starliner will launch an uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) at approximately 7:45 a.m. EST (1245 GMT).

The other probable launches that don't have firm dates, but that are considered likely are both SpaceX missions.  According to NASA, SpaceX will also conduct an in-flight abort test for the Crew Dragon spacecraft in December, no date set, and the company may also seek to make its third launch of 60 Starlink satellites, a repeat of their early November launch, before the end of December. 

The in-flight abort test would launch from pad 39A on the Kennedy Space Center, which SpaceX has been busily renovating since signing a 20 year lease for the pad (long story here).  The two Falcon 9 launches are slated for Launch Complex 40 on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station side. 

The SpaceX Crew Dragon with scaffolding around the capsule for workers.  SpaceX photo, posted a couple of months ago.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

All Moved In, Still Getting Settled

As an analogy to moving into a new house, the move onto the new computer is finished enough to get back to life as normal.  There are still metaphorical boxes to unpack, small knickknacks to put in place and stuff that came with the house that needs to be gotten rid of or otherwise dealt with, but the one or 1-1/2 dozen big things are all here and working.  Thankfully, I don't have to print anything because one of those things is to get the printer on the network talking again.

My biggest problem was installing my 3D CAD program, Rhino 3D.  Although they've been at version 6 for a year, I never upgraded from 5, fully intending to force myself to learn Fusion360.  Which I never did.  It took either four or five attempts to install and one less uninstalls of everything.  Each time I got a slightly different weirdness, but that's not worth getting into.  That could become a bigger discussion in its own right.

A few installations want you reboot after you're done, most just quietly install.  Probably the slowest thing was to deleting a directory structure that I had on my backup drive but couldn't use.  It was smallish at about 16 Gigs, but almost 250,000 items.  Took two hours to delete. 

That said, did you ever think you'd be using the words “narwhal tusk” in regular conversation?  Or thinking of the merits of a narwhal tusk for everyday carry?  Or comparing a narwhal tusk to an AR-15 for ease of concealment?  Courtesy Daily Timewaster:

(although I think I read the tusk he used was over five feet long, so much longer than shown in this cartoon)

In case you hadn't noticed, Daily Timewaster has been in my reading list for a couple of weeks.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Great Adventure Slog is Slower Than Anticipated

Just an update.  I'm on the new machine; the new ones are getting there but it's not ready for prime time. 

I'll keep plugging at it.

In the mean time, go watch some cat videos or read some of the fine blogs just to your right here. 


Friday, November 29, 2019

Now The Weekend's Adventure Really Begins

Thanksgiving was a good day.  It's a combined five hours of driving and the families present are getting smaller, but we spent from noon till about 8PM with my brother's (and therefore our) extended family. It's just good to spend time with family.

Today was our Thanksgiving here with just us.  I smoked a turkey; the twist this time is that I tried something I had never done, found here on Serious Eats.  A combination of spatchcocking the turkey together with a dry brine and then smoking.  Instead of my old smoker, the Masterbuilt electric (MES), this was done in my Weber kettle grill.  It gives such a nice pink smoke ring in the meat that you just don't get with the MES.  Look at the pieces around the right and back of the plate here.

Came out quite good.  I goofed the recipe a little and left too much salt on the skin, so I'll do that more carefully next time, but I think the results were worth trying again.  

Now comes the adventure for the weekend.  It starts where so many of our troubles have lately, the lightning strike back on August 1st.  One of the first problems we encountered was that Mrs. Graybeard's computer lost its video output.  We originally thought it was the monitor, but later realized it was the video system in her 8 year old HP desktop.  By switching from the DVI output to its other (VGA) output, we found that the monitor was fine.  For a while, but the VGA output eventually started going bad.  Eventually the video system died completely, and we replaced it with a spare video card - which was from the computer in the ham shack that blew out. 

To shorten the story, that system started failing.  Slowly at first, like once a day, the display goes black then comes back in a few seconds.  It would display a notice that the video driver failed but the system recovered.  About a week ago, maybe two, the system started failing in worse ways.  Instead of coming back looking normal, we'd get random sparkling pixels.  Then it got worse, yet.  Eventually the system started resetting and not working at all.  Then working in Safe Mode but not in normal, Windows modes.  Then working or not working unpredictably. 

Both that desktop and mine are Windows 7 machines, and if you're not running 7 you might not know that Win 7 is going end of life, with all support ending in January, just like XP before it.  With her computer seemingly at the end of life, and this one needing at least a new OS, we decided that with two eight year old machines, we'd replace them with newer machines that come with Windoze 10.  Long stories about shopping deleted, we picked out some systems over the weekend that are a later model of this one, a Dell Inspiron.  This is a mid-range home/small biz computer and we're hoping the new ones will be quite a bit faster, with more processor cores and all.  The new boxes arrived today, and since her computer has been knocking on death's door for at least a month, she's started the migration. 

I will migrate to the new computer tomorrow.  Wish me luck.  After 8 years of faithful, daily service, this will become a "doorstop computer" - which is what the replacement computer in the ham shack was until the lightning stroke.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Something I'm Thankful For This Thanksgiving Eve

A not-so little thing I'm thankful for is that the rocket ranch, just up the road, doesn't deliberately drop boosters on us, like the Chinese do.
On Friday, a Long March 3B rocket launched a pair of Beidou satellites into orbit. The rocket's ascent was normal, but its first stage booster tumbled into a village down range from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, in the South-Central part of the country.

This was the aftermath reported on Chinese social media over the weekend:

It has happened many times before, including most infamously in 1996 when a Long March 3B rocket veered off course shortly after a launch and crashed into a village. Chinese officials reported six dead from the accident, although Western sources have speculated that hundreds of Chinese citizens may have died in the accident.
See, unlike the US, the European Space Agency, Japan, New Zealand, and a host of other nations, China doesn't launch over water, where the chances of hurting someone are greatly reduced.   China launches from far inland, much like the Russian/former USSR Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazhakstan.

Mind you that in the late 1950s through early 1960s, there were many rockets that went down in the Atlantic and some for which control was lost that got very close to the beaches here (I think at least one came onto the land).  During the development of what's now called the first cruise missile, the SM-62 Snark, there were jokes about the area being home to “snark-infested waters.”  In July of 1962, an Atlas Agena carrying Mariner 1 to Venus was destroyed off the beach here because of a typo in the control code, and became a local legend.  On the other hand, there hasn't been much of that since the early days, which is different from China's routine of dropping expended stages knowing they're going to fall on land.  It's land with low population density, but not zero population.
Earlier this year, China began experimenting with grid fins to help steer the first stage of its rockets away from populated areas. However, it seems likely that China has invested in the grid fin experiments more to emulate SpaceX's ability to land and reuse first stage boosters than protect its population.

This is because the Xichang launch center has been open for more than three decades, and grid fin technology is older than this. The country has had ample time to protect its citizens, but only now—after SpaceX as demonstrated the viability of vertical take off and vertical landing—has the country seriously looked into such technology.
After a similar launch seven months ago in April littered the Chinese landscape with toxic debris, commercial space expert Greg Autry called on the Trump administration to address China's lax safety regulations.
"The safety standards used in Chinese space launch would leave American regulators apoplectic," Autry wrote in Space News. "As is the case in many global industries, this lax approach to environmental standards and human safety promises to provide China with a significant cost advantage over more responsible and highly regulated American firms."
I get that the US built the launch facilities on Cape Canaveral for rather prosaic reasons: the area was very lightly populated in the late '50s, oceanfront land was cheap, and the latitude gives a free speed increase to vehicles launched toward the east.  Not dropping boosters on American heads entered into the decision matrix, but that just means seaside launches, which also applies to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Wallops Island, Virginia and lots of places.  China built their launch facilities inland rather than on the coast because of paranoia over being targeted by the US or the USSR, but the days when that mattered have been long gone since the advent of photographic satellites with resolutions less than 1 foot.  Their launch facilities could be taken out in preemptive strike no matter where they're located, as can ours and everybody else's.   

As others have commented, I'll be taking off tomorrow for our annual family gathering in South Florida with my brother and his extended family.  Friday we'll be back, but I'll be smoking a turkey and might not be very active here either. 

In the meantime, a happy and healthy Thanksgiving to you and yours! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Who You Calling Turkey, Turkey?

OK, so I'm grasping at straws for a Thanksgiving joke.  What?  You've never heard of Turkeys in the Straw?  Hey - I'll be here through the weekend except that we're closed Thanksgiving Day - remember to tip your waitress and be sure try the veal.  It's really veal this time.

But seriously folks, our friends at have put up a pretty nice little piece on Thanksgiving History that a lot of people won't know. 

Go read.  There's a couple of pieces of trivia I didn't know. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

When Everything's Important Nothing's Important

Back when I was a production test technician (between iterations of college) I worked for a company that shipped on a quarterly system, meaning that orders were booked and the company's financial results were tracked by the quarter.  Since I was in the group doing the final system tests, by the time products got to us, every delay that could have possibly happened had pretty much all happened and things were running late.  To stretch a metaphor, they were pushing the product to get shipped so hard that if you got between the product and the shipping door you'd be crushed to death.  Our shipping department had metal garage doors tall enough to let a semi-trailer back up to the dock so we could roll things in on fork lifts or dollies.  So much product was pushed so hard through those metal doors that the morning after the last day of the quarter there were literally metallic hemorrhoids gleaming in the morning sun around the frame of the garage doors.  OK, so maybe I was the only person who could see them.

In the weeks before that, the production expediters would go through the work orders coming into my department and mark which of them were “hot” and should be worked on first.  In the last week or two, pretty much everything was marked that way.  You've probably been wondering where I'm going with this: it's that I told a production coordinator at one time, “when everything's hot, nothing's hot.”  To his befuddled and exasperated expression I calmly explained that nobody can work on everything first, I can only work on one thing first.  Only one thing can be most important.

And now that we're over the target, by extension, when every day is Black Friday, no day can be Black Friday - in the usual sense of a special day that kicks off the Christmas shopping season. 

I don't know about you, but I'm sure I started seeing black Friday ads in July.  For sure, for the last month, I must have been getting 50 to 75 emails a day with black Friday in the subject.

When did this become a national thing?  It seems it must have been within the last twenty years. 

Black Friday was supposedly called that because it was the day where businesses turned their annual ledgers from red ink to black ink, but in the last few years it seems to have morphed into something else.  It has been reported for years that the big deals aren't necessarily really deals at all, or that some companies raise their prices in the weeks (months?) before the day so that what would have been a normal, small discount from MSRP suddenly seems like a deal.  It's being reported that more and more people are carrying their smartphone into the stores to price check things, check on price and availability at other stores, or get coupons.  I confess.  I've done it and not just this time of year. 

Once there started to be a perception that good deals came on Black Friday, it was only a matter of time until it became just another way of saying “BIG SALE!”  But shoppers like to think they're getting big deals, and there are stores that put one or two items on a massive discount to get some people to line up the night before.  Maybe they can get some buzz on the news.  Of course, now that stores are opening on Thanksgiving itself, Friday seems like it loses some drawing power.  Regardless, every year there's some incident where people get violent over something stupid.

It always pays to know what going prices are.  I've heard that generally speaking, the best time for deals is closer to Christmas, especially right before Christmas.  You'll get better prices than this week, but it's a gamble.  You're betting that the stores will be stuck with some of an item you want and would rather discount it than not sell it.  If they sell out first you lose.  If they don't sell out but still  don't or can't cut the price you lose.  That said, it has worked out for me in the past.  It's sort of like calling a bluff in poker. 

Retail is a rough way to make a living. I'm sure you've heard how airline reservation systems base the seat price on the apparent interest in a flight.  If you go back and check on the price of that seat every week, the system says there must be more demand for that flight and raises the price.  What if stores could measure real time demand and adjust the price.  Say you're looking for a new tool or other gadget; what if they see someone checking the web site regularly and interpret that as several people interested in that item and raised its price.  Would you be upset or offended?  What if they dropped the price to see at what level you can't resist pushing the Glistening Candy-like "BUY IT" button?  I don't have any hard evidence that anyone does that, but it seems trivial for an online store to track interest in something.  The biggest risk is scaring away customers.

To me the Golden Rule is the willing seller/willing buyer.  My inner engineer drives me to optimize things, but if people are happy with what they paid, regardless of whether or not it really is "the best price of the year", and the seller is happy with the price they got for it, that's definition of a fair price.  I'm sure not gonna poop in anyone's corn flakes by telling them they didn't get the best price.

As for me, I've never gotten up early to go do a black Friday shopping expedition, and I doubt I ever will.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Tiny Caribbean Country Dominica Is China's Base in the Americas?

For years, you've probably heard about China pushing into Africa.  This article from the Heritage Foundation is dated 2006 about China pushing into Africa, doing infrastructure projects to get into those countries for oil, minerals and more.  It has been going on a long time.

I learn today from an article reprinted by FreePressers that China seems to have pushed into tiny Dominica as their entry into the Americas.
Dominica — population 72,000 — has been the spearhead of much of the People’s Republic of China’s strategic operations in the Caribbean Basin.

From this base, the PRC has engineered its support for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (even though his Administration has lost much international recognition), Cuba, Bolivia, and elsewhere, and has been used as a major base for intelligence and political operations against the US and elsewhere in the Americas.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has also worked diligently with the PRC to support Iranian covert activities to circumvent U.S. embargoes.
Why Dominica?  Dominica is small, not even 300 square miles, and out in the eastern Caribbean area commonly called the Windward islands.  Dominica's about 1/5 the size of Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US, and its population is also tiny.  If that cited 72,000 population is accurate, every man woman and child on Dominica could fit in the Los Angeles Coliseum

Although part of the UK Commonwealth, there is no High Commission in Dominica nor is there a U.S. embassy.  By contrast, the Chinese Embassy, outside the Dominican capital, Roseau, is, disproportionately large, and clearly a base for regional operations, particularly by the Ministry of State Security (MSS), Beijing’s national-level intelligence service.  The MSS is said to be active throughout South and Central America.

It's not surprising that a special election being held there on December 6th hasn't made the news here in the US.  That would entail doing real journalism; something other than staring into Adam Schiff's eyes or breathlessly trying to cover for the DNC.  It also hasn't made the news in the UK, although for a better reason than the Schiff Show; they have their own special election on December 12th.  Since nobody's watching, it's a good time to try to pull off an election scam. 
The result of the PRC’s engagement has been, over the 15 years Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit (Dominica Labor Party) has been in office, that Dominica has become the hub of a large network of illegal activities which have funded the effective suppression of anything like democracy on the island.

It is for this reason that many foreign political observers and some Dominicans have said that the opposition United Workers Party/Team Dominica (conservative) movement should boycott the Dec. 6 election as a protest to the advance steps Skerrit, 47, and his team have undertaken to ensure that, regardless of voter intention, he would win a fourth consecutive term in office. After all, the opposition had unsuccessfully taken its protests against vote rigging to the courts in past elections which Skerrit has claimed victory. Why should it expect the 2019 elections to be different?

Why participate in the charade? After all, the Skerrit Government absolutely rejected the combined report of Joint CARICOM (Caribbean Community), Commonwealth, OAS (Organization of American States) Task Force mission to Dominica, Aug. 6-9, urging electoral reform and political dialog before any future election.

Indeed, it is probable that Skerrit called the Dec. 6 election specifically to head off any requirement to institute reforms which would guarantee a transparent, free and fair election.

(Image source)

Somehow, I think if the conservative United Workers Party/Team Dominica boycotted the election it would have no effect the Skerrit government; they'll declare victory no matter what.  It sounds like China's expansion into the Americas will be unaffected.  

Offered for your consideration...

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Rising Attacks on DIY Guns

According to an article yesterday in the Ammoland Shooting Sports News, in the wake of the Santa Clarita, California high school shooting, the anti-gun forces seem to be cranking up attacks on so-called “ghost guns.”
The Hill is among news agencies reporting that California investigators determined that the pistol used by the 16-year-old shooter was “an unregistered ‘ghost gun’” that had no serial number, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

“Ghost guns, also known as ‘kit guns,’ can be purchased online or at gun shows,” The Hill noted. “They do not have serial numbers, nor are they registered.”
Oooo!  A twofer!  They get ghost guns and gun show loophole by proxy.  Not surprisingly, all the reporting excerpted in the article show the same quality of information.
The Los Angeles Times is also repeating the terms in its reporting.

“The gun used in last week’s shooting at Saugus High School was assembled from parts, a so-called ghost gun without a registration number...
“The teenager who shot five classmates, killing two, at a Southern California high school used an unregistered ‘ghost gun,’” the Associated Press also reported.
the Seattle is reporting that anti-gun Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who has sued the Trump administration 51 times over the past 3 ½ years, just obtained a summary judgement in federal court against a Texas company that had published data on the internet about how to construct a 3-D printed gun. The story said this: “A Texas anarchist and gun rights advocate, Cody Wilson, has made it a crusade to publish blueprints.”
They don't bother to mention that Cody hasn't been associated with Defense Distributed for more than 14 months, but that's just a start.  Those aren't registration numbers on a gun, they're serial numbers, and there's no absolute requirement that all guns have one.  There are millions of guns in the US that were made before the serial numbers became required.  As you know, facts don't matter to these wannabe tyrants.

It looks to writer Dave Workman at Ammoland that this is the start of an organized campaign to prohibit DIY guns, and the 80% lowers that are the common starting point (these guys seem to have made a wide selection of different platforms available, but I know nothing about them).  It seems to me that 3D printed guns scare them the most, and the anti-gun folks' main problem is that horse is already out of the barn.  In fact, that horse is so far out of the barn that it got out of the corral, and left the county.  

I don't remember where I posted this, but someone had a picture of an AR lower with a guy's face and his hand giving the reader the middle finger; it read "here's my serial number."  I countered that I've always said that I think it's better to make up a company name and a serial number for all guns you complete.  Don't call it a Colt or something they can check on, make up a company.  Nobody knows how many small shops make their own ARs from off the shelf parts, and nobody has a comprehensive list that's accurate for more than 15 or 20 seconds.  I figure making up a serial number takes less time than explaining to Officer Nahtso Friendly in a random traffic stop why you don't have or need a serial number. 

Here's mine: 

The serial number can be read as 10 001, meaning the first unit of the 2010, or maybe as week 10, unit 1, but I really intended it to be a negative number (-15) in two's complement as a geeky joke.  The company logo is also a joke.  My upper was from DPMS, and they use a fierce-looking panther for their logo.  So I turned the fierce looking panther into a goofy looking cartoon “puddy tat.”  I've told people at the range it was made by Moe Guns, whose company motto is “Who doesn't like owning Moe Guns?”  Nobody has challenged me.

Bottom line is that I don't think this could happen without a major political swing in the country, but I gotta believe that if one of those current Democrats running for the nomination got it and won the presidency, “hell, yeah, we're coming for your AR-15s” and this could happen.  If you've kinda liked the idea of finishing an AR from an 80% lower, but not today, it might not be too paranoid to buy an 80% lower or two.  Just to have on hand, just in case.  Right now, the prices are often lower than you'd pay for a finished lower when you count the FFL transfer cost on the finished one.  Pricing figures to go up if the market is shut down.

Friday, November 22, 2019

How Do You Talk to the Opposite Side of the World with Ham Radio?

It's something that's talked about all the time when people talk about ham radio: you can talk to the other side of the world.  You can, indeed, it's just not always easy or trivial.  Ham radio is regularly referred to as a thousand hobbies with one name, the particular sub-hobby of trying to talk to as many recognized countries as possible, has always been one of my main interests in the hobby.  Other hams out there are recognizing the warning sign immediately, “he's a DXer!”  Yeppir.  Guilty as charged.

There's stuff to unpack in there.  How many countries do you think there are?  That depends on what the meaning of country is, right?  For American hams, the most commonly recognized source of authority on that is the American Radio Relay League, who likes to call themselves the National Organization for Amateur Radio (which is more recognizable to non-hams).  The ARRL manages this through their DX Century Club programs.  (Note that to Shortwave Listeners and other radio hobbyists, the abbreviation DX has long been used to denote Distance and the Unknown).  Part of the rules are common sense: a country is a place under its own government (even puppet countries, like the old Soviet Republics, were officially their own governments).  Where the DXCC list deviates from that common sense is that if one part of the country is separated from the rest by more than 350 kilometers (217 miles), that remote portion is considered a new country.  That means, for example, that Hawaii and Alaska are states in the United States, but they're also separate countries for the DXCC awards!

That means that there are more ham radio countries than countries recognized by other governments.  There are 340 currently recognized DXCC countries.  That includes countries that don't exist anymore, but if you have a valid confirmation (QSL) card from the country, it's still accepted.  For example, at one point, the Panama Canal Zone was a country - I have a card from back then. 

That's just the very edge of that rabbit hole, but I won't go into more.  Suffice it to say that whenever there are lists and recognition that comes from checking off having contacted ("worked") these countries, guys get competitive and go to great lengths to work more countries than their friends.  Lists like the Most Wanted Countries circulate, and obscure, uninhabited islands attract “DXPeditions” to get operators on them for brief periods (typically two weeks).  This was a major operation in 2006, Peter the First Island.  As life works out, I know one of the operators in the group casually - he works in town at one of my previous employers

One of the areas of the radio hobby you'll need to study is radio propagation which tells you how radio signals get from one part of the earth to another.  I've posted on this topic before; this post gives a good summary of the essences and even some of the details of current ham operating.
Probably the thing I find the most interesting in radio is propagation - how the signal gets from one station to the other - and especially the ionospheric propagation.  This can turn into multiple pages itself, but the ionosphere is a layer of the atmosphere where the molecules present in the lower atmosphere are ionized by incoming solar radiation, and the air is so rarefied that it takes long times for ions to bump into something that makes them neutral again.  ("Do you think you're ionized?" "Yes, I'm positive") .  The ionosphere, in turn, is characterized as having several layers, with each layer's name changing with height.  The lowest, densest layer is called the D layer, and as we look farther vertically, they go through the E and F layers.  During periods of high ionization the F layer can further stratify into F1 and higher F2 layers.  The ionosphere expands and contracts, getting taller or shorter with incoming solar energy.

In general, the higher layers are active when the sun is overhead, but even then are dependent on the solar energy output which varies day by day, with the solar cycle, with (possible) grand cycles of solar activities and so on.  Generally, the type of propagation that gets hams excited is from the F2 layer, for a simple reason: it's the highest layer, so signals "reflect" from farther up and can go farther around the world. 
You rarely have the opportunity or need to talk with the exact opposite side of the world.  That's called the antipode and many times, there's nothing there but ocean.  The complication of contacting a station even near the antipode is that (often) the radio signals from each station diverge a bit from a straight line, and arrive at the receiver after varying time delays.  This multipath propagation can distort the modulation and make it difficult to understand the transmissions.

This map from Engaging Data shows a set of crosshairs that are antipodes of each other.  On the left, I dragged the globe around until it was relatively close to my location, and it repositioned the globe on the right to show the antipode.  When we were kids, we used to say you'd dig straight through the earth and come out in China.  Most of the US has its antipode in the South Indian Ocean; China is in the Northern Hemisphere.

It works out that one of the handful of countries I haven't worked that are still on the list is an island near Indonesia in the top of that view.  Called by the awkward name Cocos-Keeling Island, it's an Australian possession and has an Australian callsign - starting with VK9C.  In this case, it's VK9CZ.  Unlike the Peter 1 expedition, which looks like a military takeover of the frozen island, it's two guys on a two or three week trip to the island, which is a lightly inhabited resort.

I don't consider Indonesia particularly hard to contact, but that was when we had sunspots* and I'd work them on 15 or 10 meter bands in our evening local time - early morning there.  One of the first steps is to try to get a competent propagation prediction.  The VK9CZ guys provide access to customized maps for your location, provided by this site (I believe).  I get this:

You supplement these predictions with the presence of GrayLine propagation enhancement (most important on 7 MHz and down and vitally important on 1.8 MHz (160meters)) which happens at local sunrise and sunset plus or minus a bit - perhaps as much as an hour.  The GrayLine would add higher probability colors perhaps red or orange on the bottom row (80 meters), at 12 and 19 horizontally.

This prediction shows that 15meters will have great propagation to VK9C at 15 or 16 hours UTC, the deep orange or red squares.  That's 10 or 11 AM here and makes some sense - except for the fact that they're almost perfectly 12 hours out from us, making that well after dark on their end and those are daylight bands.  So far this particular propagation prediction chart has been pretty useless.  This morning I was up at 6AM for the sunrise GrayLine.  They were on higher frequency bands but since they're having a really hard time working the US, they dropped to 80 meters.  I listened from about our sunrise at 6:50 until about 7:30 and never heard any signal I could identify. 

I need some more study of the band openings.  Mostly, I need some luck here.

* I have plenty of posts that mention sunspots and how higher sunspot numbers correlate with higher solar activity and better propagation, but nothing on that topic by itself.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

SpaceX Blows Their First Starship Apart in Texas

On Wednesday at SpaceX' Boca Chica Beach facility, where the first Starship stainless steel ship was the backdrop for a dramatic conference, that very rocket failed during a tank pressurization test according to coverage in Ars Technica.
About halfway during the process, however, some sort of failure occurred as the top bulkhead of the vehicle broke apart and went flying away. This was followed by a large, white cloud of smoke and vapor emanating from the interior of the vehicle, which eventually cleared to reveal a dented, but still shiny Starship. This was the same vehicle the company revealed in late September.

SpaceX sought to play down the accident, noting this was a "max" pressurization test to stress the system. No one was hurt, the company said, and it was not a serious setback in the development of the ambitious vehicle. The company's founder and lead technical designer, Elon Musk, later said on Twitter that this prototype had "some value as a manufacturing pathfinder," but that the flight design of the vehicle would be "quite different."

So what's the deal? Is this a catastrophe for SpaceX that dooms its Starship program? Or just a minor setback as the company suggests? The answer is probably closer to the latter.
Never lose sight of the fact that Musk and the higher level managers in his companies come from the Silicon Valley mindset.  A common idea in the high tech world, is to “fail early”; that is, don't hold development back until you're 100% positive the design is optimal.  Do your computer simulations and math analysis, but (1) prototype as soon as possible, (2) fail early and (3) correct quickly.  That's what SpaceX is doing.  Even more aggressively: they're iterating the design in Texas and here on the Space Coast, bouncing back and forth, incorporating everything they can learn at breakneck speed.
The key to grasping why SpaceX can afford an accident like this is to understand its iterative design philosophy. Under this approach to the design of spaceflight hardware, the company builds vehicles, tests them, and flies them as quickly as possible. And if they fail, as often happens, SpaceX fixes them. This is especially true of the Starship program in which teams of SpaceX engineers in Texas and Florida are separately building prototypes of Starship to learn from them and then improve the design in subsequent versions.

The nomenclature SpaceX uses is "Mark," as in the vehicle the that was severely damaged Wednesday was Mark 1, with Mark 2 being built in Florida, and work already beginning on Mark 3 in Texas. It is possible this "Mark 3" vehicle will fly into orbit sometime in 2020.
Go read that Twitter stream from Musk; you don't need a twitter account (I don't have one) and you can watch some videos of the accident.   You'll also see speculation from people who follow SpaceX closely that the real action is likely to be Mark 3 or Mark 4, and one or both could be built here in Florida. 

This is completely the opposite of how the major contractors and NASA itself have together developed spacecraft.
For casual observers of spaceflight, this "iterative" design philosophy is very different from the much slower, linear design process used by traditional aerospace partners for large development projects. Under this more traditional process, a company—or, historically, NASA—seeks to avoid the risk of a rocket failing before it is perfected. Years are spent designing and testing every component of a vehicle before it is assembled for a full-scale test. As a result the process is much slower and more costly.
The reason SpaceX can do this is that this is self-funded and that means they're not answering to congressional hearings like NASA does. NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said he's glad some contractors are working this way; saying “I like it being a part of the mix of our contract capabilities.”
It is easier for a company like SpaceX working on a self-funded project like Starship to do this than a government agency, noted Phil Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida. "You have to let people see you fail, and you have to push back when the critics use your early failures as an excuse to shut you down," he recently said. "This is why it is hard for national space agencies to adopt it. The geopolitics and domestic politics are brutal."
During design, we frequently run into situations where two slightly different analyses of a design get drastically different results, or one camp gets set up thinking an approach will work and another camp says it won't.  It gives rise to the cliche' that “one lab experiment decides six months of arguing theories.”  The essence of the iterative design approach is to get to that lab experiment as fast as possible and not spend six months arguing.

Pad explosion, seconds after the top of the pressure vessel decided it wanted to get a closer look at some other place.  SpaceX photo.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Auto Giants Line Up Behind Trump and Feds On MPG Standards

This is an interesting development.

According to Electronic Design's Weekly Newsletters, several major automakers have reversed their course on the Trump administration's legal struggle with California over who sets standards for mileage and emissions.
A coalition of international automakers, including General Motors, Toyota, and Fiat Chrysler, have reversed course and are siding with the Trump administration in a legal battle with California over fuel-economy standards for automobiles.

The three companies, plus a trade association called the Association of Global Automakers, plan to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defense Fund against the administration, which is seeking to revoke California’s congressionally granted authority to set standards that are stricter than those issued by federal regulators.
In case this case got around you when it first made news, the US has staked out the position that they regulate the automakers; they set mileage standards, emissions standards, safety standards, the whole nine yards.  At some time in the past, California said that they were going to institute stricter standards, and they were given that authority by a prior congress.  Just like every product you buy comes with a warning that it may cause cancer in California, once they pass some law like that it quickly becomes the default national standard. 

In the case of “everything causes cancer in California” it becomes the butt of nationwide jokes, but in the case of tougher standards for emissions or fuel efficiency manufacturers are faced with making a California version or a Rest of the US version of every car.  Not wanting to lose the business of the biggest state for car sales, the manufacturers make every car California compliant and raise the price of everybody else's car in America.  From their standpoint, making every car that way is cheaper than making two versions of every model and keeping them straight.  You know how California compliant magazines and handguns are ruining it for the rest of us - it's the same here.

Initially, the automakers didn't want to rock the boat, and sided with California against the feds, but somewhere along the line this changed.  In addition to GM, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, the suit has been joined by a group, called the “Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation,” which includes Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Isuzu, Maserati, McLaren, Aston-Martin and Ferrari.  Notice who's missing?  What about Ford?  Honda?  Others?  That's because they already signed a deal with California that's better for them but potentially not as good as it could have been if every carmaker had joined in.
The automakers decision pits them against leading competitors like Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW, which have sided with California in the battle. In July, these automakers completed a deal with California regulators to meet standards that are slightly less restrictive than the Obama standards, and that they could apply to vehicles sold nationwide. [Bold added: SiG]
On the other hand, it doesn't hurt these four at all to say, “we're better than we have to be - we meet the tougher standards.”  While this has an aspect of states rights to it, this is one of those things that could get sticky.  If California was a smaller market and it was very hard for automakers to meet their standards, they might simply refuse to sell cars there; but California is the biggest state in the country, and famous for its freeways and spreading suburbs.  More cars are sold there than any other state by far.  

In the previous quoted paragraph, it appears that California regulators negotiated down on the Obama standards.  That implies they're not going for tougher standards because they're afraid they're going to suffer if the mileage isn't as good as they originally wanted.  So why are they fighting?  Afraid of losing their power?  Is their opposition entirely because they're opposed to anything Trump might want?  Trump Opposition Syndrome - instead of Derangement?
The Obama-era national fuel economy standard would require automakers to build vehicles that achieve an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The Trump administration has proposed freezing federal standards at 2021 levels until 2025, with final rules expected by 2020.

This prompted California to declare that it will go its own way and keep enforcing the earlier, stricter standards. The State then took the Trump administration to court, saying that it has the right to write its own clean-air rules under the Clean Air Act passed in 1963. Several other states have pledged to follow California’s lead in enforcing stricter standards for auto emissions.

The legal fight between the Trump administration and California over auto pollution rules has swelled into a battle over states’ rights, which is likely to only be resolved once it reaches the Supreme Court.

The Harbor Freeway in El Lay - the linked article refers to this as a typical freeway, but I think it's a bit more extreme than typical.  Photo source

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Strange Reality of Hauser's Law

While writing last night's piece on Elizabeth Warren's tax plan, my natural inclination was to reference Hauser's Law, because I've referred to it at least a dozen times over the years.  I initially looked up some of my old pieces but didn't want to just go to those, but I really preferred a reference site in case the idea is new to some of you.  I found that most of my old links didn't work.  One thing led to another and I eventually searched for the topic at one of those old links and found a fresh article, from the beginning of this year.  Even better! 

To begin with, economic laws are different from physical laws.  Physical laws simply can't be broken despite what car commercials may say to try to convince us otherwise.  Social science laws are broken all the time; I've said before the only so-called law I've come across that comes close to the character of physical law is Supply and Demand.  “Ironman” at Political Calculations calls Hauser's law "one of the stranger phenomenons in economic data".  When first noted by W. Kurt Hauser in 1993, he observed:
No matter what the tax rates have been, in postwar America tax revenues have remained at about 19.5% of GDP.
It's hard to see how this could flow from quantum physics or electro-weak unification theory, so we're left to take it as simply an observation rather than as rigorous as physical law.  It's more puzzling because of how much the top tax rates have varied.  Political Calculations provides this analysis of the data, with an explanation. 
In 2009, we found total tax collections the U.S. government averaged 16.8% of GDP in the years from 1946 through 2008, with a standard deviation of 1.2% of GDP. Hauser's Law had held up to scrutiny in principal, although the average was less than what Hauser originally documented in 1993 due to the nation's historic GDP having been revised higher during the intervening years. [Bold added: SiG.  Also: note that the original text reads 17.8% in the first sentence.  Every other reference in the article says 16.8, so I changed this one to agree with the rest of his post.]
Since the publication of Hauser's Law in 1993, the only thing that changed the results of Hauser's Law wasn't a change in the tax rate, it was a change in the way Gross Domestic Product was calculated.  That reduced tax revenues to 16.8% of GDP from the original 19.5%. 

The red line indicates the highest tax rate, which you can see peaked at 92% in the early '50s and has been as low as 28%.  The blue curve, embedded in a gray band at the bottom shows the tax revenue as percentage of GDP.  The gray band is familiar to any of you who have worked with statistical quality assurance techniques: it's the + 3 standard deviations band, which ranges from 13.2 to 20.5%

A little diversion on these tax rates is in order, but space is at a premium.  A long description is here; a short version is that while we have seven tax brackets, when the top bracket was 92% there were 24 brackets.  The highest rates were only paid on income over $3.2 Million - adjusted for inflation.  Today, the top tax rate has dropped to an income under $500,000.  The top tax rate dropped from 90% to 40%, a factor of 2.25 while the income that required paying that rate dropped by a factor of 6.4.  That means many more people are paying the top rate than in the '50s. 

It's interesting to see that individual tax collections have only been about half of that revenue.  The mean of individual income tax collection is 7.6% of GDP with a standard deviation of 0.8%. 

What does all this mean?  It means quite a lot.  The first thing is something I harp on all the time: tax rates are not tax revenues - the money collected.  They're different things.  They may be correlated mathematically but if rates go up, revenues don't automatically go up as much.  People change their lives to save paying tax.  (I know, right?  What a surprise!)  It means that the Dems' wealth tax is not going to make much of a difference in collected revenues.  Simple-minded people like Warren, Sanders, or  Pistachio Kotex will believe that tax revenues will go up enormously with a wealth tax.  Data says that if they raised the top rate even to 90% that revenues wouldn't go up as much as they think - they'd stay in the historical range.