Thursday, September 19, 2019

60 Years Ago - The X-15 First Flew

I missed the 60th anniversary of the first X-15 flight on September 17, 1959 thanks to my sources being late on it.  On that day, pilot Scott Crossfield made the first powered flight of the rocket-powered X-15 aircraft, taking it up to 52,000 feet.  The X-15 would go on to fly into space more than a dozen times.  It wasn't the first rocket plane and it wasn't the last, but it was a remarkable test platform for learning more about space, getting sensors working, figuring out reentry, and more.  More than half a century later, the exceptional plane still holds the world record for speed by a piloted, powered aircraft after William Knight flew the vehicle at Mach 6.70 in 1967.

The X-15 had an exclusive group of pilots, but it only numbers a dozen.  Neil Armstrong flew seven X-15 missions between 1960 and 1962 before going to NASA.  Another astronaut, Joe Engle is the last surviving X-15 pilot.  Ars Technica posts a long interview with Joe about flying the X-15, "What it was like to fly the baddest airplane the world has ever known."  Engle says, “The X-15 was the most demanding airplane I’ve ever flown."
On the night before a flight, technicians would mate the X-15 to the B-52 aircraft, pressurizing the plane’s fuel tanks and preparing it for flight. As the pilot, Engle would arrive shortly after sunrise to don a pressure suit and ensure the integrity of its seals. About 45 minutes before the carrier aircraft took off, he would climb into the X-15 cockpit and connect to life support.

Then, the wheels would roll, and the B-52 would take off for its bumpy ride up to the launch location and an altitude of 13.7km. This would take a little more than an hour, during which time Engle would continue to review his cue cards. In particular, he would memorize the various dry lake beds he could make for, were there an engine failure aboard the X-15, based on how many seconds the engine had burned before failing. During the rare moments of reflection at this time, he doesn’t recall being nervous. Rather, he said, “You’re thrilled to death to have the opportunity to be there.”

At the drop-off point, Engle would hit the launch button to release the X-15 from its carrier aircraft. As soon as the rocket plane was clear of the B-52, the pilot would grab the throttle as quickly as possible to open the propellant lines.

The liquid-fueled XLR99-RM-2 rocket engine, built by Reaction Motors, had 70,400 pounds of thrust. This was a powerful engine six decades ago, and even today it has about two-thirds of the thrust that Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket uses to send a six-person capsule into space.
The X-15 weighed about 30,000 pounds fully fueled and loaded, so feeling over twice its weight in thrust and about 2Gs pushing you into the seat left no doubt that the engine had started.  Still, Engle says it didn’t keep you from reaching up and turning off switches, or maneuvering the airplane with the stick.  As the fuel burned for the next roughly 90 seconds, and the vehicle lost that fuel weight, the G forces increased to closer to 4Gs making it harder to reach the panel.
This initial part of the flight required absolute attention, because any course corrections had to be made early, before the X-15 climbed out of the lower atmosphere. Once on a ballistic trajectory, there wasn’t much that could be done to alter the flight.

For high-altitude flights, the X-15 would have about two to four minutes above the bulk of the Earth’s atmosphere in space. “The first time, I naively thought there would be a lot of time,” Engle said. “I thought I would be enjoying the view out the window.” But reaching space brought a new series of tests. Guidance and navigation engineers wanted ultraviolet and infrared sensors on the plane to gather data about the atmosphere, so the X-15 needed to be rolled 90 degrees one way, back to zero pitch, and then rolled 90 degrees in the opposite direction to sweep the instruments over the horizon at different Sun angles. Some of this data was used to better control the flight of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“The X-15 was the most demanding airplane I’ve ever flown, and also the most rewarding airplane I’ve ever flown,” Engle said. “You’d work your tail off during that 10 minute flight. You’d be covered in sweat. But once it stopped, you really felt like you’d accomplished something, like you’d scored a goal with a USA uniform on at the Olympics.”
The article is definitely worth your time to read.  It's more about Joe Engle and his life than just about the X-15.  After his first flight in 1963, Engle would go on to fly a total of 16 missions over the course of two years, reaching a maximum of 85.5km, above the US Air Force’s threshold to be considered an “astronaut.” He also achieved a top velocity of Mach 5.71.

After those two years, Engle applied to NASA to be an Apollo astronaut, but it was not to be.  Deke Slayton, who appointed crews for the Apollo missions, assigned Engle to be the Lunar Module pilot for the final mission, Apollo 17.  That was overruled by NASA management, who instead wanted geologist Harrison Schmidt on the mission. 
“It was very disappointing,” he said. “I was crushed to learn that. However, going to the Moon was really all about geology. Learning where the Moon came from, and about the craters there. Jack Schmitt had a degree in field geology. To me, it just made sense that he should be on the Moon picking up rocks. So I understood the decision, even if it wasn’t my idea.”
For accepting being dropped well, "being a team player", Engle was given his choice of next mission: would he go for likely orbital Apollo mission or hold out for the eventual Space Shuttles?  He chose the latter and ended up commanding the second spaceflight of shuttle Columbia, in 1981, as well as another mission in 1985.

Joe Engle at a screening of the Neil Armstrong biopic, "First Man", at the National Air and Space Museum in October 2018.  NASA Photo.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Fed Cuts Interest Rates; Trump Attacks Them

The Fed Open Market Committee today announced lowering their benchmark overnight lending rate by 0.25% to a range of 1.75% to 2.00%, as was widely expected.  This officially marks the return of "easy money", with the Real Funds Rate going below the "Long Run Neutral" rate:

President Trump, who has been arguing the Fed's policies are unfair to him, was quick to attack
President Trump has been vocal about his criticism about the way Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has doled out little-to-no interest rate cuts, and he was quick to complain again on Wednesday after the Fed announced a rate cut half of what markets were hoping for.

“No ‘guts,’ no sense, no vision,” Trump tweeted after the announcement.

This is the problem with a centrally managed economy, like the we get with the Federal Reserve Bank.  When the economic growth they measure slows down, they go to easy money, but when it's growing they need to crank some of that extra money they created back in and raise rates.  If rates are already effectively zero, there's no room to lower them if they need to.  The economy is in good shape now, so their tendency was to raise rates.  

It is unfair to Trump that the Fed dumped trillions of dollars of economic stimulus into the economy from 2008 through 2016 helping Obama but now not helping Trump.  That unfairness isn't because of anything about Trump; it's what the Fed has to do to function properly. 

David Asman, co-anchor of  Fox Business channel's program “Bulls & Bears,” made this observation:
“He’s worried that with Europe and Japan issues $16 trillion worth of negative interest rate bonds, our rates have to come down more to make our exports more competitive,” Asman said. “He’s got a point that the Fed has an important role in maintaining the dollar’s parity against foreign currencies.”
He has a point about negative interest rate bonds being issued widely around the world.  When bond buyers would rather lose money by buying a bond than stick the money in a vault, it means they consider losing money on the bond to be the best thing they can do with that that money.  For individuals, the choice is to buy a bond or some instrument that guarantees you will lose money or put your cash in your safe, your mattress, or in a waterproofed pipe in your back yard.  Which is the least risky option?  None of the above, buy silver coins?   

We live in exceptionally unusual financial times, historically speaking.  The world seems on the precipice of something. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Quote of the Day - Florida and California

From the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), in an article on California's new rent control law.
When you see a headline that begins with “Florida man…,” you know it’s more likely to be about some guy trying to take down a tornado with his Colt Python than it is that a resident of the Sunshine State has cracked cold fusion. In public policy circles, the words “California policymakers…” appearing in a headline are attaining a similar status.
First off, I'm impressed that not only does author know what a Colt Python is but that he expects all his readers to, as well.  Second off, equating “California policymakers” with “Florida man” is just wonderful, given the general perception of Florida man.

The article itself is OK, I guess, but it's a subject that hardly needs to be covered.  Only the most stupid of the stupid think it's a good idea.  For one thing, in contrast to the saying, “if you lined up all the economists in the world, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion,” isn't true in this case.  Even the famously always-wrong Paul Krugman acknowledges it's a bad idea.
The analysis of rent control is among the best-understood issues in all of economics, and — among economists, anyway — one of the least controversial. In 1992 a poll of the American Economic Association found 93 percent of its members agreeing that ''a ceiling on rents reduces the quality and quantity of housing.'' 
The argument that comes to my mind first, even before that fact, is the one I wrote about just back in mid-June.  Even the North Vietnamese communists saw that rent control was stupid.  In the person of Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach, quoted here:
Addressing a crowded news conference in the Indian capital, Mr. Thach admitted that controls … had artificially encouraged demand and discouraged supply…. House rents had … been kept low … so all the houses in Hanoi had fallen into disrepair, said Mr. Thach.

“The Americans couldn’t destroy Hanoi, but we have destroyed our city by very low rents. We realized it was stupid and that we must change policy,” he said. [Emphasis added - SiG]
It turns out that actual communists are smarter about their failures than the American "wannabe communists" in California, New York, or the rest of the Democrat party.

Old San Francisco stock photo.  You can tell it's old because there's no shit visible in the street.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Awful Cost of Renewable Energies

I know most of my readers are painfully aware how absurd the arguments are that we hear for renewable energy from AOC (Twitty McTwitface), the squad, and the rest of the clown cars about the Green New Deal.  I happen to like seeing numbers to show me the size of the problem and I know some of you do, too.  The fundamental problem with wind and solar energy is that they're intermittent, so any amount of generation that comes from those sources needs to backed up with equivalent generation capability.  Cartoons by Josh, semi-resident cartoonist for Watts Up With That showed it this way in 2011 and it's as correct today as it was then.  In the old days, we built power stations for what we need.  Today we install the bird and bat choppers and build a backup plant capable of delivering all the power the choppers could deliver for those times when its not windy.

Applying generously diced birds to the land under the wind turbines will, indeed, 'green the land'.  In the organic fertilizer sense. Technically maybe they're not diced, just killed.

Foreign Policy offers us a summary of analysis done by the World Bank, a couple of years ago (strangely enough) in 2017.  Although they start from the standpoint of believing we need to build wind and solar farms, they bring some real data to the table.
The phrase “clean energy” normally conjures up happy, innocent images of warm sunshine and fresh wind. But while sunshine and wind is obviously clean, the infrastructure we need to capture it is not. Far from it. The transition to renewables is going to require a dramatic increase in the extraction of metals and rare-earth minerals, with real ecological and social costs.

We need a rapid transition to renewables, yes—but scientists warn that we can’t keep growing energy use at existing rates. No energy is innocent. The only truly clean energy is less energy.
The way I always heard that last sentence is "the only truly clean energy is the energy you don't use".  Same idea, different words.  The article begins by pointing out that the World Bank study modeled the increase in raw material extraction (primarily mining and refining the mine output) that would be required to build enough solar and wind utilities to produce an annual output of about 7 terawatts of electricity by 2050, or enough to power roughly half of the global economy. By doubling those numbers we can see how much more of those materials are required by 2050 to reach Twitty's goal of no carbon emissions at all. 
[T]he results are staggering: 34 million metric tons of copper, 40 million tons of lead, 50 million tons of zinc, 162 million tons of aluminum, and no less than 4.8 billion tons of iron.

In some cases, the transition to renewables will require a massive increase over existing levels of extraction. For neodymium—an essential element in wind turbines—extraction will need to rise by nearly 35 percent over current levels. Higher-end estimates reported by the World Bank suggest it could double.

The same is true of silver, which is critical to solar panels. Silver extraction will go up 38 percent and perhaps as much as 105 percent. Demand for indium, also essential to solar technology, will more than triple and could end up skyrocketing by 920 percent.

And then there are all the batteries we’re going to need for power storage. To keep energy flowing when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing will require enormous batteries at the grid level. This means 40 million tons of lithium—an eye-watering 2,700 percent increase over current levels of extraction.
That's just for electric power generation; essential but far from the only essential.  With no fossil fuels to run an internal combustion engine, there is no transportation left on the planet.
This year, a group of leading British scientists submitted a letter to the U.K. Committee on Climate Change outlining their concerns about the ecological impact of electric cars. They agree, of course, that we need to end the sale and use of combustion engines. But they pointed out that unless consumption habits change, replacing the world’s projected fleet of 2 billion vehicles is going to require an explosive increase in mining: Global annual extraction of neodymium and dysprosium will go up by another 70 percent, annual extraction of copper will need to more than double, and cobalt will need to increase by a factor of almost four—all for the entire period from now to 2050.
Quoting directly from their letter:
The metal resource needed to make all cars and vans electric by 2050 and all sales to be purely battery electric by 2035. To replace all UK-based vehicles today with electric vehicles (not including the LGV and HGV fleets), assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation NMC 811 batteries, would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate (LCE), at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, in addition to 2,362,500 tonnes copper. This represents, just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018. Even ensuring the annual supply of electric vehicles only, from 2035 as pledged, will require the UK to annually import the equivalent of the entire annual cobalt needs of European industry.
Got that?  For the small country of the UK to replace their entire fleet of fossil-fuel powered cars, they would need twice the world's annual cobalt output, the world's annual output of neodymium, 3/4 of the world's lithium, and half the world's copper production.  It goes without saying that every other industrialized country on Earth will also be trying to double or triple mine productions on all these minerals, for their use.   

Note that they're not saying we’re going to run out of key minerals — although that may indeed be possible.  It will just drastically change the impact of mining for these minerals, which many greenies feel takes too big of an environmental toll as it is.

EDIT 1327EDT 9/17: URL for killed, rare bird wasn't loading properly from live blog, but would load from Blogger's editor.  Attempting to fix.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Letter to My US Senators

Here in Florida we have two Stupid Party senators who are sounding downright stupid about gun rights.  Rick Scott, when he was governor, fell for the "we have to do something" line and basically enacted all of the Evil Party's gun control agenda for them.  I guess because doing something wrong is just as much "doing something" as doing something right.  Marco Rubio has already come out in favor of red flag laws and other attacks on gun rights.  Same attitude about doing something wrong. 

I need to contact both offices, so thought I'd share with you what I intend to send to both of them.  Yes, I plan to send both of them the same letter.  Yes, postal snail mail instead of email.  They count more.  This is "2nd draft" level, and may be edited some more.  One page is the optimum length for a letter to an office and this runs over.  Some more work may be in order.


In the wake of a couple of high publicity mass shootings in the last couple of months, the country is wrapped up in the fervor of “we must do something” that we in Florida went through after the Parkland school shooting. Those laws have had awful impacts already and are expected to get worse.

The sad truth, which virtually any honest observer will admit, is that these shootings simply won't be stopped by a new law on top of the thousands currently on the books.  Mass shootings are less common now than in the 1990s and society is safer in many ways. 

The two buzzwords being thrown about are “Red Flag Laws” and “Universal Background Checks.”  Both ideas are traps that will harm many, many innocent people.

Florida passed a red flag law in the legislative session in process when the Parkland shooting occurred. The protections of civil rights and “guilty until proven innocent” nature of the laws is playing out already. Just last month, we read of a St. Cloud man named John Carpenter who was the victim of having the same name as someone else who had been accused of domestic abuse. Even though the warrant he was associated by name to specified the residence was someplace he had never lived, he didn't match the physical description of the other man, and it was an obvious mistake, he was deprived of rights under the color of law. He had to hire a lawyer, take time from his life and job to go to court, at his own expense, for an automated mistake.

I'm not saying “NO” to red flag laws. I'm saying they need to have robust protection for due process. We're not talking about a privilege like a driver's license here, we're talking constitutionally recognized – not granted – human rights. If someone falsely accuses another person as a form of harassment, or to associate an allegation of instability for a divorce or other civil matter, they should subject to fines and imprisonment in line with the punishment the innocent gun owner suffers. In the case of official lack of diligence in identifying the person, as in the case with the St. Cloud man, the agency should be responsible for financial damages and court costs, as should the individual government employee who wrongly accuses someone.

The fundamental problem with the “Universal Background Checks” is that we virtually have that now. We have background checks for the vast majority of gun sales in the country now. There's no such thing as a gun show loophole and there's no such thing as buying guns from the internet without a background check. Surely you know this. The only type of sale that doesn't get a mandatory background check under Federal law is a private sale between two people, and even now it's getting harder to find such a sale without the seller thinking that getting the buyer to pay for a background check will protect the seller. Private sales are a tiny percentage of gun sales, and would be the only type of private sale between two people that the Federal law would regulate. Alcohol: can one adult sell his bottle of booze to another adult? What about selling his car to someone else? Both of those kill orders of magnitude more people than guns do.

The problem with the UBC laws, at least in the House version that was passed this spring, is that it isn't a background check law. What it does is change the definition of “transfer” from being a transfer of ownership to being a transfer of possession. If two friends are out fishing and one has rod and reel the other has been thinking of, it's no big deal for one to lend the other guy his rod and reel. If a friend wants to drive another friend's car, again, no biggie. What the law seeks to do is change that for firearms and make loaning a gun to someone the legal transfer of ownership. The stories say there will be exceptions for family but that falls far short of reasonable. Why should it matter if one person loans a gun to a friend for a few minutes, a vacation or some other reason?

Statistically, the best course of action to “do something” would be to get rid of legally-mandated Gun Free Zones laws. Dr. John Lott's research shows that well over 90% of mass shootings are in gun free zones, presumably because people aiming to get the high score in their chosen game don't like the chance of being shot first.  The question is when given that fact, do people change their beliefs and behavior.

blah blah blah

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Blended Ketchup

Which means catching up on a bunch of little things. 

First of all, the lightning damage story...which I started to call the neverending story, but I'm optimistic will end.  The most expensive piece of gear in my ham shack is a power (linear) amplifier made by the company that most of my radios are from, Icom.  That has not successfully turned on since the strike and mid-July was the last time it was on.  I have the service manual for this beast (it weighs 55 pounds, so shipping would be difficult and expensive), but I was hoping to bring it back to life enough so that I can turn it on and then troubleshoot it.  It might well be that the first part of that is all I need to do.

The starting point is that it smells like a power supply issue ("smells" in the metaphorical sense), and a power supply means analog electronics, which I have plenty of experience with.  If I get it started, then much of the rest is radio frequency electronics which is solidly my home turf.  It's only about twice the output power of the last HF avionics radio I worked on. 

The trouble is that there is virtually nothing published on the power supply.  There are no schematics in the service manual, just interconnection labels.  There are some schematics online, but no component values and no clues about how this blivet is put together.  The only information is hams helping each other online.  Besides that link, there's a hand drawn schematic for one part of it that another ham had trouble with, troubleshot and fixed. 

Armed with that little information, I disassembled the unit to the point I could pull the power supply module out, and started trying to find the problems with it.  Where the 240 VAC enters the unit, it goes through a little line filtering PWB that had two fuses on it.  Both of them were blown into another spacetime continuum.  Both fuses are 250V, 4A, an odd value but I was able to find the manufacturer's part number, and then find the fuses in several places.  Amazon had the best price, and I ordered many of them, anticipating having to replace them a few times as I proceed.  You can see the fuses in this picture - F2 and F1.

These are supposed to be your typical, clear, cylindrical, glass tubes with a thin, carefully calibrated wire in them.  Circuit wise (from what I can tell) those fuses are directly on 220 as it comes into the box, and after going through the fuses, the two lines go to a transformer.  A transformer for line frequencies represents a very large inductance to a lightning pulse, which can be thought of as being above 100kHz, and sometimes even above 10 MHz, based on its rise time.  I could envision scenarios in which the lightning surge dissipated in those fuses and circuits downstream would be OK. 

No joy, though.  The fuses didn't allow the unit to power on, although they didn't blow.  A little more investigation of the earliest routing of the power supply showed a couple of panel mounted circuit breakers on the the back of the amplifier.  One of those was blown open, the other seemed OK, but I ordered some of those, too, and will replace both.  I can tell that one side of the power line brought power into the box, but apparently not in a way that turned on the first stage of the power supply that generates 12V to allow it to be turned on remotely.  I think once I get that little supply to turn on, fixing things gets easier from there.

I never put my antennas back up after the dismounting that Dorian forced on me.  I moved the big HF antenna onto the back porch and stood the much smaller VHF antenna next to it.  Today, I pulled the VHF antenna into the shop to work on replacing the cable in a pleasant environment, and noticed an interesting damaged area on the cable. 

This is apparently where the cable jacket was touching the tower mast.  The area on the right of the opening appears to be melted and re-frozen copper.  The hole would be where some copper braid got blown out, or vaporized.  Because I don't see any abrasion on the (deteriorating) cable jacket, I think this is from the August 1 strike. 

I've gotten a replacement antenna rotator.  The control box was very thoroughly blown out, and the only meter check I can do of the outside unit showed it to be open, so that if I tried to rotate it with another controller, it wouldn't. 

Finally, when I'm not gathering information or buying parts for the radio shack repair, I am still working on my Webster internal combustion engine.  The flywheel has been in process since about the time of the lightning strike, when I gave up on the tool steel flywheel and bought a slice of cold rolled steel to turn into the flywheel.  I have been working on it an hour or so at a time when I get the chance.  

This will get three equally spaced 3/4" holes in that large, thin web between the inner hub and outer ring.  For that it moves from the lathe as pictured over to the rotary table on the big milling machine.  This will take about five times longer to set up than to do

Friday, September 13, 2019

Good News for Amputees From Biomedical Engineers

This week, news came out in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) general publication Spectrum about improvements in quality of life for leg amputees by incorporating sensation into prosthetic legs.  H/T to A Large Regular in his links for yesterday, Sept. 12.
Luke Skywalker inspired a generation of prosthetic arms, including hands that grip, feel, and respond to thoughts.

This morning, an international team of researchers led by ETH Zurich announced a bionic leg that brings similar advances to the lower body. The prosthesis sends sensor input from the foot and knee to a nerve in an amputee’s thigh, allowing users to feel the bending of the knee, as well as pressure and vibrations of the foot on the ground. And those sensations, it turns out, make a big difference to the health of the wearer.

In its first two users, the bionic prosthesis improved walking performance, boosted endurance, and reduced phantom limb pain—the feeling of having a missing limb still attached, but in a wrong or painful position.
The team began with a commercially available prosthetic from Össur, which included a microprocessor and an angle sensor in the knee joint, and added an insole with seven sensors to the foot. The modified system then transmitted the foot and knee signals in real-time, via Bluetooth, to a controller strapped to the user’s ankle.  In the controller, an algorithm encoded the sensor signals into neural signals, then delivered them to the nervous system via a small implant in the patient’s tibial nerve, located in the back of the thigh.  The patients required very little training and said the sensations felt “very natural.”
The device was tested in two above-knee amputees, who had experienced the most severe form of lower-limb amputation. In a series of trials, scientists asked them to walk indoors and outdoors on various types of terrain—for example, in a large, sandy area—with and without the sensory feedback turned on.

When the users could feel the prosthetic limb, they walked faster, felt more confident, and consumed less oxygen, suggesting moving around was less strenuous than with a traditional prosthesis.
That last paragraph is interesting.  It says using the commonly used prosthetics with no feedback  sensations is more tiring because of the lack of those feedback signals the body is trained for and expects.  Here's where it gets even more interesting to me. Even though prior studies have shown that having that neural feedback reduces phantom limb pain in arm or hand amputees, that had not been demonstrated in leg amputees until this study. 
With just a few minutes of electrical stimulation per day, one patient experienced a complete loss of pain. In the other, pain was reduced about 80 percent, said co-author Francesco Petrini, also of ETH Zurich. Yet the two volunteers had to be present in the lab connected to an external device by a cable to undergo treatment, so current use of the system for pain relief is limited.
The benefits of walking faster, feeling more confident, expending less energy to walk, and reducing pain by feeding back mechanical sensations from the prosthetic leg to the body makes it seem like a no-brainer that this research should go on.  Our bodies are clearly designed to function with those sensations, if taking them away causes pain, and that says that patients should get limbs with this technology as early in their recovery as possible.  The problem is that they don't exist yet. 

ETH Zurich's Dr. Petrini says, “We are working to develop a fully implantable system which will be able to be maintained inside the body of the patients,” like a pacemaker.  Once that system is developed, they will run a larger controlled trial with 60 patients.

Now, in my view, the ultimate answer is tissue engineering to regrow those limbs, so that lost limbs are regrown similar to how primitive vertebrates like the axolotl regrow lost limbs.  People who follow this technology speculate that regenerated/regrown hearts are probably in the range of 10 years away.  There are more types of tissue in a leg than a heart, so they're more complex, but if you're perhaps 40 or younger, you might see legs being regrown in your lifetime. 

One of the types of Össur legs as used in the study; not one of the two initial patients from the experiment.  Photo source

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9/11 Never Changes But We Do

It seems to me that my interpretation of and reaction to 9/11 changes every year.  Like everyone, I will always remember where I was and what I was doing the Day the World Changed. Some years ago, I wrote:
On that bright Tuesday morning, I was out of the office at a small company that we contracted to do some testing on our radios.  As the technician and I were setting up the test, the company's secretary/receptionist came in and said the local radio station had a bulletin that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.  My first reaction, perhaps strangely, was that radio navigation systems can't be that wrong, it must have been a terrible accident.  Act of war did not enter my mind.  As the morning went on, a TV set was put in place and large antenna hooked up outside (there are no local over the air TV channels).  We watched the second plane hit and quickly realized this was no accident.  That's when the thoughts of Pearl Harbor and other acts of war started.  I've heard it credited to Ian Fleming as his character Auric Goldfinger, but the saying goes, "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action."  And so it appeared that day. 

In the days that followed, I learned that friends were affected by the events of 9-11, but weren't directly involved.  A co-worker was on business at Boeing, and had to rent a car to drive home.  A very close friend was waiting at JFK airport to fly home, and saw the attacks in real time.  He also had to rent a car and drive home.  A cousin lives within viewing distance of the Twin Towers and watched it. And now I have friends who have sons in the armed forces in Afghanistan, and others who have been in Iraq.  We need to remember we are at war, even if our enemy isn't a convenient nation-state.  You can pretend we're not at war if you'd like, but if someone swears to destroy you, it's prudent to believe them.
In all, I'm a mix of responses.  The first group of feelz is "remember the fallen", "remember the first responders who ran into the buildings", "remember the dead and wounded servicemen, the ones who came back with missing limbs, or injuries that can't be seen" and "remember their families."  The second group of feelz is along the lines expressed best by Aesop at Raconteur Report in his excellent post in 2018: "Every Day is 9/11. That's Exactly the Problem". 

Despite successes on various battlefields, and serious reductions in the capability of the other side, the fact remains that this is not a fight that's over.  It doesn't even appear to be a fight with a prospect of going away, at least as it's being conducted.  Perhaps Aesop's right and the proper response should have been MIRVs taking out Mecca, Medina and more - turning much of the muslim world to radioactive glass.  As others have said, the other side in this war is determined to play the long game and to destroy Western Civilization.  They've been playing this game for centuries.  Today, look for proof at pretty much all of western Europe, with the one or two exceptions that aren't allowing "refugees."  Or how about Representative Ilhan Omar's view that "some people did something" so she gets to play victim?  The west, mostly led by the postmodernists who are themselves determined to destroy western civilization, don't seem particularly interested in trying to stop the muslims.  Proof?  Look at pretty much all of Western Civilization.

Much like the joke about lawyers, the bad Muslims give the other 1% a bad name.

But we know where talking about carrying out a genocide leads; we have the history of the times it has been tried.  Heck, there are calls now for killing all the whites, and I'm sure if you listened more than I can stomach you'd find calls for the genocide of all sorts of folks.  Without an effort to drastically curtail their efforts to destroy western civilization, this low level fighting against the muslim world will go on for the next 1400 years as it has for the last 1400 - or until they win.  The only times it has slowed in the last 1400 years was when someone ("Charles Martel, Ferdinand of Spain, Vlad The Hero, and the entire interred Knights of Malta" as Aesop put it) responded brutally to brutal attacks.

Then there's the third group of feelz.  That group of feelz thinks that 9/11 was the day the Republic officially died.  That's probably stupidly naive.  That argument can be made going back to FDR, Wilson, and Lincoln.  The USA Patriot Act, the TSA clown circus and all the following laws that have killed civil liberty in the US are simply the ones at the top of the pile and so the most visible.  That group of feelz is just weary of the stories of being involved "over there" for as long as we have.  Stories of peace talks with the freakin' taliban at Camp David, this week of all weeks. 

Condoleeza Rice made an appearance on a couple of talk shows yesterday.  She was one of the brains behind the 9/11 responses, so has to be considered biased, but I want to know what she thinks.  Her point was we've been "involved" in Germany and Japan since the end of WWII - 74 years.  We've been "involved" in South Korea only a few years less.  Why should we think we wouldn't be involved in the Mideast after only 18 years?  It's true the Germans or Japanese don't make killing Americans in their countries a sport, so rewarding that murder by running away will only make it worse.  It will only invite them here.  As if they're not already here.   

In the end, I always think of it by personalizing it.  Imagine you were in those buildings.  It's a normal workday, maybe you had the usual morning rush, getting your kids off to school.  All normal.  You get to work, get settled into your place, start digging into whatever sort of problems your job has you solving.  Just like every other day.  Suddenly, because of a 7th century mandate, as interpreted by a nutjob in a cave half a world away, your building shakes.  Pretty soon it's on fire.  You try for the stairs but can't get there, the stairwell is choked with flames and smoke.  You're trapped.  The fire is getting worse.  There's nobody coming to help you that can give a tiny bit of hope.  The only way out is death.  But staying where you are is being burned to death.  Which way do you take?  Do you burn to death, slowly, agonizingly, or jump and get it over with in one moment, after a long fall to think about it? 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

India's Lunar Probe May Still Be Alive

But probably isn't.

Last Friday, India's Vikram lunar lander was on approach to landing near the moon's south pole when contact was lost with the probe near the end of its descent.  India's Space Research Organization (ISRO) reports contact was lost when the probe was 2.1 km (1.3 mi) above its lunar landing site, and they have been attempting to contact the probe since then.  That aside, the mission has been successful: India has successfully placed a world-class, high-performance spacecraft - the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter - into a safe lunar orbit.  The orbiter is unaffected by this and will likely be returning high quality data to Earth for a long life.  It's expected to live seven years.

So far, only the US, Russian, and Chinese space agencies have landed satellites on the moon.
ISRO lost communication with Vikram just 2.1 km above the surface of the Moon. The lander was traveling a bit less than 80 m/s (180 mph), a speed that can be contextualized as ~95% of the way to landing relative to the lunar orbital velocity it started at.
  • A minute or so before communication was lost, an ISRO graphic showing the spacecraft's altitude, velocity, and orientation appeared to indicate some major issues with attitude control. The lander appeared to be spinning out of control, perhaps the result of a failure of one of its several landing engines, its attitude thrusters, or avionics mechanisms needed for the craft to orient itself.
  • The loss of communication makes it extremely hard to conclude anything with certainty at this stage of the investigation process. The fact that the lander appears to be intact suggests that it could have continued fighting to lower its relative velocity in the final 2.1 km, 

Vikram lander with the Pragyan rover visible on a ramp.  ISRO photo from Ars Technica.
Fascinatingly, rumor has it that the Vikram lander - despite lack of communication and a thoroughly anomalous landing attempt - is actually intact on the surface of the Moon, instilling hope that the lander may still be partially salvageable. According to those unofficial reports, Vikram somehow came to land on the lunar surface with no (or very few) parts visibly missing.
  • ISRO reportedly was able to rapidly capture detailed photos of the landing site with its new Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, visually confirming the intact nature of the lander. However, it also showed that Vikram came to a rest on its side or fully upside-down, dramatically increasing the odds that communication will never be restored.
It's a foregone conclusion that if the lander is upside down or even on its side, the planned deployment of its small lunar rover isn't going to happen.  The rover, named Pragyan, ("Wisdom" in Sanskrit) is small and was not expected to survive the lunar night due to not having enough battery capacity to run heaters over the potentially two week long night.  The 27-kg (60 pound), six-wheeled rover was expected to roam up to 500 meters across the Moon.  

ISRO has been trying to contact and hear back from the lander since Friday using the big dishes of NASA's Deep Space Network, never receiving anything from the probe.  This argues that it's very likely to be dead.

All of the indented quotes are from today's Teslarati email newsletter DeepSpace.  I've tried to find something on the Teslarati website that I can link to, but the newsletter doesn't show up. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Climate Change Hoax is Worse Than You Thought

There's an article on Watts Up With That, featured at the top for some amount of time that stunned me when I read it.  The article is called, "Propagation of Error and the Reliability of Global Air Temperature Projections, Mark II."  Mark I was an article he wrote six years ago and started working to get published in the peer-reviewed science literature; Mark II is the result of six years of revisions.   The author, Pat Frank, is a Ph.D. chemist with the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) in Silicon Valley.  As he puts it, with "30 years of publishing in Chemistry" in his background.

The paper that this is based on can be found here , where it can be downloaded; the Supporting Information (SI) is here (7.4 MB pdf).

It goes without saying you should read the whole thing.  As usual, I'll lift some quotes to get you started.
In my prior experience, climate modelers:
  • did not know to distinguish between accuracy and precision.
  • did not understand that ... a ±15 C temperature uncertainty is not a physical temperature.
  • ...
  • confronted standard error propagation as a foreign concept.
  • did not understand the significance or impact of a calibration experiment.
  • did not understand the concept of instrumental or model resolution or that it has empirical limits
  • did not understand physical error analysis at all.
  • ...
    Climate modelers are evidently not trained in the scientific method. They are not trained to be scientists. They are not scientists. They are apparently not trained to evaluate the physical or predictive reliability of their own models. They do not manifest the attention to physical reasoning demanded by good scientific practice. In my prior experience they are actively hostile to any demonstration of that diagnosis.
    In short, climate models cannot predict future global air temperatures; not for one year and not for 100 years. Climate model air temperature projections are physically meaningless. They say nothing at all about the impact of CO₂ emissions, if any, on global air temperatures.
    From the perspective of physical science, it is very reasonable to conclude that any effect of CO₂ emissions is beyond present resolution, and even reasonable to suppose that any possible effect may be so small as to be undetectable within natural variation. Nothing among the present climate observables is in any way unusual.

    The analysis upsets the entire IPCC applecart. It eviscerates the EPA’s endangerment finding, and removes climate alarm from the US 2020 election. There is no evidence whatever that CO₂ emissions have increased, are increasing, will increase, or even can increase, global average surface air temperature.

    The analysis is straight-forward. It could have been done, and should have been done, 30 years ago. But was not.
    All the anguished adults; all the despairing young people; all the grammar school children frightened to tears and recriminations by lessons about coming doom, and death, and destruction; all the social strife and dislocation. All the blaming, all the character assassinations, all the damaged careers, all the excess winter fuel-poverty deaths, all the men, women, and children continuing to live with indoor smoke, all the enormous sums diverted, all the blighted landscapes, all the chopped and burned birds and the disrupted bats, all the huge monies transferred from the middle class to rich subsidy-farmers.

    All for nothing.
    In a way, author Frank is probably overly optimistic.  Despite evidence of previous papers that should have called a halt to the climate alarmism but were ignored, he's hoping this paper makes a difference.  I hope he's right and some sanity returns to Clown World, but I fear he's not.

    When plots of future temperatures are presented, you usually get what's on the left.  A model showing smoothly increasing measured temperatures.  If the uncertainties are included, errors propagated forward in time, and other standard techniques employed, you get the rescaled plot on the right.  The prediction for the temperature at 2100 isn't that global temperature goes up 4 degrees; it's 4 degrees +22 and -15.  When the uncertainty is 10 times your prediction, your prediction isn't worth much.  Plot from the original article at WUWT.  

    August 40th in the Swamp

    Maybe this is just my weird sense of humor, but today is August 40th and - as is always the case when it gets to the 40th and starts closing in on August 60th - I could use for it to cool off.  This morning, 10:30 local time, I saw this:

    So it's 10:30, and the highest temperature is at least four hours away, maybe five hours away.  It's 88 and "feels like" 98.   And the forecast is for it to be cooler than yesterday.  What's that saying about people in hell wanting ice water? 

    Sunday, September 8, 2019

    SpaceX Posts Results of Crew Dragon Explosion Inquiry

    To be honest, I missed this story back in July.  Strangely, I've gone to a couple of space-related websites ( and Spaceflight Now, IIRC) looking for details on the failure investigation, but didn't find anything until bouncing around like a ping pong ball last night landed me on the website Teslarati.  Teslarati seems to be an "all things related to Elon Musk" site, possibly by, for and about fanboys.  I had to sign up for the site to read it, but it was worth giving my email address up for this.

    Teslarati sums up a July conference call about the explosion this way.
    Hosted by SpaceX Vice President of Mission Assurance Hans Koenigsmann and NASA Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Lueders, the call provided some minor additional insight beyond a fairly extensive press release issued just prior. According to the preliminary results from SpaceX’s failure investigation, Crew Dragon’s explosion was unrelated to the spacecraft’s propellant tanks, Draco maneuvering thrusters, or SuperDraco abort engines. Rather, the cause lies in a more exotic and unanticipated chemical/material interaction between a plumbing valve, liquid oxidizer, and a helium-based pressurization system.
    The problem caused Nitrogen Tetroxide, a very potent oxidizer, to ignite a titanium valve, leading to the explosion that destroyed the crew dragon capsule and part of the ground support hardware.

    In more detail:
    The ultimate (likely) cause of Crew Dragon’s extremely energetic and destructive explosion centers around the spacecraft’s extensive SuperDraco/Draco plumbing and its associated pressurization system, which uses helium to keep the pressure-fed engines, propellant tanks, and feed lines around 2400 psi (16.5 megapascals). Necessarily, this method of pressurization means that there is direct contact between the pressurant (helium) and the oxidizer/fuel, thus requiring some sort of valve preventing the pressurized fluid from flowing into the pressurization system. 

    During flight-proven Crew Dragon capsule C201’s April 20th static fire testing, that is reportedly exactly what happened. Over the course of ground testing, a “check valve” separating the pressurization system and oxidizer leaked what SpaceX described as a “slug” of nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer (NTO) into the helium pressurization lines. Around T-100 milliseconds to a planned ignition of the vehicle’s 8 SuperDraco abort engines, the pressurization system rapidly “initialized” (i.e. quickly pressurized the oxidizer and fuel to operational pressures, ~2400 psi).

    To do this, helium is rapidly pushed through a check valve – designed with low-molecular-mass helium in mind – to physically pressurize the propellant systems. Unintentionally, the NTO that leaked ‘upstream’ through that valve effectively was taken along for the ride with the high-pressure burst of helium. In essence, picture that you crash your car, only to discover that your nice, fluffy airbag has accidentally been replaced with a bag of sand, and you might be able to visualize the unintended forces Dragon’s check valve (the metaphorical airbag) was subjected to when a “slug” of dense oxidizer was rammed into it at high speed.
    The article mentions that the investigation had gone through 80% of their fault tree, which raises the possibility this is not the final word.  Another contributor may be found and the final report may be more nuanced, but it's hard to see how this titanium fire isn't a very large part of the reason for the explosion even if not the only reason. 

    A view of the titanium plumbing for the Draco and Super Draco thrusters.  This is the capsule that will now fly SpaceX’s In-Flight Abort test.

    As I understand it, titanium fires are much like magnesium fires in that once they're started they don't go out on their own.  Oxidizer has to be removed by covering the titanium with sand or something that completely blocks out the oxidizer, not an option in this situation. 
    In itself, this sort of failure mode is not hugely surprising and SpaceX may have even been aware of some sort of check valve leak(s) and accepted what it believed to be a minor risk in order to continue the test and perhaps examine Dragon’s performance under suboptimal conditions. What SpaceX says it did not realize was just how energetic the reaction between the NTO and the check valve could be. SpaceX’s understanding is that the high-speed slug of dense NTO was traveling so fast and at such a high pressure that, by impacting the titanium check valve, it quite literally broke the valve and may have chemically ignited the metal, thus introducing a slug of burning NTO into the liberated NTO system itself – effectively a match tossed into a powder keg.
    Given this scenario, even if not 100% finalized, SpaceX has a workaround for the crew dragon.  A quick and relatively easy redesign. 
    Either way, the solution – as SpaceX perceives it – is the same: instead of a mechanical check valve (simple but still not 100% passive), the barrier between pressurant and oxidizer (as well as fuel, most likely) will be replaced with something known as a burst disk. According to Koenigsmann, only a handful (~4) of those valves exist and thus need to be replaced by burst disks, a relatively fast and easy fix.
    I think it needs to be pointed out that, as I mentioned in a May update, the Draco/Super Draco thrusters had been extensively tested before this explosion.  In my mind, that means the burst disk fix is under-tested compared to the previous design.  There's no mention of how that will affect the schedule.

    I got the link to this article by tracking down another story that SpaceX did a "routine static test firing" of the booster they intend to use to launch the Crew Dragon's first manned flight, expected no earlier than "early 2020".  Before that, the abort test on the Crew Dragon which will test their new burst disk design will be carried out.   

    Friday, September 6, 2019

    Swedish Climate Craziness - or We're Being Punked

    It's hard to take the climate craziness from the 700 hour CNN climate scold-a-thon seriously.  It was a continuous series of one member of the clown posse after the next trying to prove they were the most serious about it and the most radical. 

    Then I ran into the story about the Swedish "scientist" who says we need to overcome the taboos about cannibalism and eat the freshly dead to combat climate change.
    At a summit for food of the future (the climate-ravaged future) called Gastro Summit, in Stockholm Sept 3-4, a professor held a powerpoint presentation asserting that we must “awaken the idea” of eating human flesh in the future, as a way of combatting the effects of climate change.

    In a talk titled “Can you Imagine Eating Human Flesh?” behavioral scientist and marketing strategist Magnus Söderlund from “Handelshögskolan” (College of Commerce) argues for the breaking down of the ancient taboos against desecrating the human corpse and eating human flesh.
    At least Booty Judge, Kneepads Harris, Fauxcahontas, and the rest of the clowns just want to ban plastic straws, hamburgers, cars, cattle farming, air travel, the internal combustion engine, petroleum use and pretty much all of the rest of modern society.  It's just like Agenda 21, as really envisioned; they want policies that will kill off 95% of humanity.  We've talked about this before, but it has been several years.  Aside from Magnus Söderlund they haven't talked about wiping out 5000 years of human history.
    “Is Cannibalism the solution to food sustainability in the future? Does Generation Z have the answers to our food challenges? Can consumers be tricked into making the right decisions?At GastroSummit you will get some answers to these questions—and also partake in the latest scientific findings and get to meet the leading experts.”
    Söderlund seemed incapable of separating the nearly universal prohibitions against eating human flesh from what he called conservatism, despite only about 8% of the audience at his Gastro Summit talks saying they would taste human flesh. I'd expect more than 8% yes answers if rejecting the idea is a conservative principle. 
    When asked if he himself would try it, he replies: “I feel somewhat hesitant but to not appear overly conservative… I’d have to say… I’d be open to at least tasting it.”

    The logo for the talk, titled: “Food Of The Future: Worms, Grasshoppers, or Human Flesh,” features a splash of blood as part of the graphic design.
    I'm not sure what to make of this story, like whether the guy is just a nutjob, if he's punking the world to get into the worldwide news cycle, or what.  There's (again) millennia of human experience saying cannibalism is a bad thing to do.  (I can see the public service announcements: “Cannibalism - it's not just a taboo, it's bad for you!”)  The author at Epoch Times, Celia Farber, brings up New Guinea cannibals called the Fore who lived in isolation until the 1930s.
    [The Fore] believed in eating their dead rather than allowing them to be consumed by worms. This led to an epidemic of a disease called “kuru, or “the laughing death,” caused by ingestion of human meat. This disease was not caused by a pathogen, but rather, a “twisted protein,” (according to an NPR report) that tricks “other proteins in the brain to twist like it, damaging the brain’s cerebellum. Researchers compared it to Dr. Jekyll’s transformation. The last victim of kuru died in 2009.
    When a 16 year old, autistic child (that Greta Thunberg kid) carries on about nonsense like climate change causing the end of all food and the end of the world, I think it's not worth trying to straighten out her misconceptions.  There's a reason we don't let 16 year olds enter into legal contracts and make other important decisions; they're not sophisticated enough.  In her case, her brain isn't sophisticated enough to understand the data-driven arguments against the climate change catastrophism.  When it's an adult, and Ph.D. like this Dr. Söderlund, that's different.  He's probably capable of understanding, he's just deliberately deciding to let someone else think for him.  Stated another way, deciding to remain ignorant.  In the case of the clown car, they're just interested in how much control and power over the world they can have.  They're each trying to be more extreme than the others so they can get all the money and power.  And then kill off the rest of us.

    Magnus Söderlund (source)

    Thursday, September 5, 2019

    Water Filters Compared

    Most of us have water filters for use in the event of Bad Things that might require bugging out.  Perhaps filters for when you're out in the woods, hunting or even just hiking and don't want to lug gallons of water in and out.  Even bugging in - staying locked in your house - can require the use of filters if the infrastructure goes down or isn't well maintained.  After the 2004 hurricanes, we were on boil water advisories for a couple of days, but it's not just then.  We've had water mains break and the pressure go down at random times without the S getting remotely near the Fan, let alone hitting it.  One time, Mrs. Graybeard was in the local hospital and the city lost a water main, rendering all of the water sources in the hospital unsafe.  I bought a diet Coke, patients had nothing to drink! 

    Like many of you, I get notices from a few gun/outdoor/survival related companies calling attention to a big project they've done or a blog post they're proud of.  Ordinarily, I don't post these because I prefer to deliver content everyone else can't, doesn't or won't.  Today, though, I got a link to a water filter test and evaluation from Widener's, the shooting and reloading company. 

    Without a doubt, this is the most thorough and well-documented set of tests I've ever seen.  I looked up some good names, that we have, and was concerned about some of the results I saw.

    The testing group worked with BCS Laboratories, an accredited water testing facility in Gainesville, Florida, to get quantitative results.  They sent water from three sample locations to the lab for assays of bacteria, viruses, and cysts. Then sent sent water from the seventeen filters they tested in to see how well they filtered. 

    Go read.  Long, but worth looking at.

    Wednesday, September 4, 2019

    My After Action Review on Dorian

    The storm missed us by a wide margin, turning north farther east than originally expected and staying well offshore.  The local NWS said we got 0.76" of rain yesterday and 0.37" today.  Let's assume it was all from Dorian, and say we got 1.13".  The highest wind measured at the airport in two days was 38mph and the highest gust was 51.  We were under hurricane warnings through early morning today, which means conditions of sustained 75 mph or greater winds were expected.  The last forecast graphic I have for our area predicted winds from 75 to 110 mph.

    As a result, it's hard to assess an After Action Review because there really was no action.  Yes, we took down antennas, put up shutters, made sure batteries were charged and ice was on hand, but that's routine prep stuff.  We never needed the flashlights, batteries or the ice.  Our generator never came on.  It was just a quiet day here. 

    On the other hand, it's very easy to get cocky over hurricanes and warnings when they're consistently alarmist and, frankly, wrong in critical predictions.  That could lead to people not paying attention when they need to and with this storm, we needed to pay attention.  As Dorian closed in on the Bahamas, it became one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic.  Winds were 185 mph sustained with gusts to 200.  The storm moved at an incredibly slow 1mph over Abaco and then stalled over Grand Bahama Island; DiveMedic at Confessions of a Street Pharmacist posts a pair of  commercial satellite photos of the destruction on Grand Bahama, and they are mind-boggling.  I combined those two images into this one.  It looks like Grand Bahama has been reduced to about 1/3 the amount of dry land it used to be. 

    Everything that's outlined in yellow in upper portion of the bottom picture is land that's no longer there.  All of those light lines in the upper right of the bottom view represent streets and residential areas that don't exist.  I know the official death toll has been announced at 20, it's just hard to imagine that only 20 people would have been lost in that kind of devastation. 

    Since then, I've found a larger scale image on NPR that overlays the two views at identical scales - these views are slightly different scales.

    Government at all levels seems to say "when in doubt, evacuate", but that assumes there's no cost to evacuating which is never true.  I'm talking not just about the cost of gas, and hotel rooms, but also disruption to work.  What if the people don't have a car they could trust to drive long distances?  What if they don't own a car at all?  In this storm, it was possible for people on the east coast to evacuate to the west coast, but there aren't many routes across the state; just more routes than going north out of the state.  The worst thing that could happen might be getting stuck in your broken down car as the storm builds around you. 

    The same atmospheric changes that pushed Dorian away from us are what caused it to stall and wipe out Grand Bahama (explained in great detail here).  It's unfortunately usually true with these storms that any change that's better for one location is worse for another.  The stall caused the storm to stir up the water underneath it so that a cold water upwelling occurred, which started sapping the storm's strength and the winds started dying down.  Essentially there were two competing weather systems, one wanting to steer it north and one trying to push it south.  The steering winds canceled each other out causing it to stall.  An approaching upper level low pushed the system on the west side south allowing the northward motion to start, and the ULL is now pushing Dorian near the Carolinas. 

    Tuesday, September 3, 2019

    Post Mortem on my Lightning Strike

    A little over a month ago, we were blasted awake by an extremely loud blast of thunder and within a couple of hours realized we had the worst damage we'd ever had from lightning and a lot was damaged.  As the weeks have gone by we discovered more of what was damaged and now think we've found everything.  We've have been able to fix some things, replace some, get some serviced and are still working on a few others.  This is still going to take a while. 

    While we experienced damage to a few things elsewhere in the house, the most damage was in the ham shack.  The control box for my antenna rotator blew out, taking out the computer it was attached to, and the computer took out the radio it was attached to (at least on that one function).  One antenna showed up as open, the other two are fine.  Finally, the big thing, I have a linear power amplifier that won't turn on.  I've taken that apart to pull out the power supply for more troubleshooting.  When I found the part that I think is blown in the radio, I realized it's in a specialized package I'm not really set up to work on.  (It's in a 36 pin QFN, drjim)  I opted to send the radio for factory service.  Those guys wince when they have to replace those. 

    Since then, I've been trying to figure out exactly what happened.  I have a small tower by many ham's standards, just 20 feet tall with a mast that gets that up to 26.  Many people would assume the tower was struck, since the damage focused on things in or on the tower, yet there's no damage apparent to it. 

    Off to the tower's northwest is an oak tree that's now in the range of 35 to 40 feet tall, so quite a bit taller than the tower.  To its south are a couple of palm trees that are close to 30 feet tall and to its southwest is a maple tree that 's also in that 35 to 40' tall range, too. 

    I've seen pictures of trees that have been hit by lightning and I've looked at the oak for signs it was hit - the bark splitting or blown off the trunk.  The tree showed no apparent damage.  Sunday, while putting up the shutters for Dorian, I found myself standing over near those two palm trees.  That's when I noticed interesting, telltale signs on the bark.

    There are four or five trails from the top to the bottom of the tree.  More or less straight along the entire trunk, each looking blown out from the inside.  It wasn't until we were done with the shutters that I paid more attention and looked up to where the palm fronds grow out vertically (fronds would be called leaves on any other tree); I noticed one was bent over nearly double near the top of the tree.

    The stem portion of the frond (circled in red) appears broken and even blown apart.  It looks like the palm took the lightning strike, and induced a strong current in the tower, which is about 25' away. 

    I had taken down my antennas on Saturday and inspected the damaged antenna, finding no evidence of damage.  On the other hand, I hadn't taken apart the part most likely to be damaged, a transformer.  I was more interested in getting it sealed well so that when the storm is over I could look into it.  I capped the connector on the cable that attaches to the antenna and sealed it against the rain.  Today, with the storm looking less and less like a threat and with time available, I attached the cable to the bad antenna to my analyzer.  My reasoning is that I know the cable is open now, so if disconnecting the cable from the antenna didn't change the results I must have substituted one open for another.  Today's plot looked exactly like my last plot of the blown antenna. 

    The antenna analyzer has a function that will tell you the distance to an open or a short on a bad length of cable.  That function told me the trouble was 8.9 feet from the instrument.  I realized that meant it was inside the room, and I quickly realized what it was.  I had a surge protector where the cable enters the house, attached to my heavy ground wire.  It was blown.

    Replacing the Alpha Delta Transi-Trap with a dual female connector made the instrument tell me the open circuit was now 56 feet away, which is close enough to how long the cable is.  As luck would have it, I have a replacement surge protector (probably better quality than this one) from a company that got out of that business. 

    Lightning causing damage by inducing current in a nearby conductor might well be the most common type of damage there is.  Lightning strikes vary in their current, but currents ranging from tens of thousands of amps to well over a hundred thousand amps have been studied.  Like an electrical transformer, current surging through a conductor (of sorts) like a tree induces current to flow in other conductors nearby.  How large that current is depends largely on the distance.  It can be coupled by the magnetic or electric field.  I think the current flowing in my radio tower induced currents in power lines in the walls which flowed around the house.  We had concluded earlier in the aftermath that things with long wires attached were more likely to be damaged.  It all adds up.

    I'll know within the next couple of months if the palm will survive the strike or if it's already dead and just doesn't know it.

    Monday, September 2, 2019

    Chinese Dissidents Side with Trump in the "Trade War"

    Free Pressers presents the story of Chinese dissidents, both inside and outside of the country, tend to support President Trump standing up to the communist government in China.  The article focuses on the views of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.  Chen is currently a member of the faculty of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a distinguished senior fellow in human rights at the Witherspoon Institute.  He was imprisoned in 2006 after organizing a campaign against the forced abortions carried out under China’s one-child policy.  
    On April 22, 2012, Chen, a blind legal activist, escaped from house arrest in his home village of Dongshigu in eastern China’s Shandong province. Activist friends got him to Beijing and he eventually found his way into the U.S. embassy. Most of his escape was accomplished on a broken leg.

    “As the world watches President Trump wage a protracted trade war with China, many people are scratching their heads, wondering if he knows what he’s doing when it comes to my home country,” Chen wrote.

    “Trump is regularly criticized for being unpredictable and erratic — praising Chinese President Xi Jinping one moment, then escalating the confrontation the next — for ignoring diplomatic conventions, and for upending a tense but supposedly workable economic relationship.

    “But as someone who has spent years with the knife edge of the Chinese Communist Party bearing down on my throat for my human rights work, I know that the president is on to something.”
     In August, Chen Guangcheng wrote in August 30th op-ed for the Washington Post:
    “Most activists agree that civilized talks behind closed doors have never elicited concessions from the CCP. The only way to make progress is by landing pointed blows, particularly against the party elites and their bank accounts (which are reliant on party-owned, nepotistic, monopolist companies).”
    “Presidents before Trump naively believed that China would abide by international standards of behavior if it were granted access to institutions like the World Trade Organization and generally treated as a ‘normal’ country. But that path proved mistaken, and Beijing ignored Western pressure on matters from human rights to the widespread theft of intellectual property. Trump, whatever his flaws, grasps this reality,” Chen wrote.

    “Unlike many of his predecessors in the White House, Trump appears to understand innately the hooliganism and brutality at the heart of the CCP. He comprehends that — whether in the realm of trade, diplomacy or international order — dictatorships do not commonly play by the rules of democratic nations. While past administrations have curried favor with the CCP (“appeasement” is not too strong a word), Trump has made excising the party’s growing corrosion of U.S. society — from business and the media to education and politics — a focus.”
    It's an interesting article with perspectives I haven't seen elsewhere and my tendency is to think people from the inside have a much more detailed and nuanced view about situations than reporters, even subject matter experts.  Having suffered at the hands of the CCP, Chen is able to see details economic reporters won't see.

    I haven't said much on the so-called trade war with China, and while I prefer and believe in free and fair trade, we are light years from that and can't get there from here.  It's simply not possible to play that game unless both sides are committed to being fair.  In the game of international trade and tariffs, the US has been a patsy.  An American car going to China pays 25% import duty, but a car from China coming to the US only pays 2.5%!  One tenth of the duty for the Chinese exporter.  Is that fair and free trade?  Add to that this tweet from Elon Musk, who also points out,
    Also, no US auto company is allowed to own even 50% of their own factory in China, but there are five 100% China-owned EV auto companies in the US.
    One of the things that got Trump elected is that voters who have been called every insult imaginable for as long as they can recall saw that he was a fighter.  Back in early 2016, John Robb at Global Guerillas wrote a piece about this and focused on Trump doing old-fashioned, New York construction worker-style ball-busting. 
     "From the start, Trump targeted the (mostly) white working class, which happens to be 40 percent of the country. And he’s done it not just with issues, but with how he talks — the ball-busting, the “bragging,” the over-the-top promises...

    But it speaks volumes — whole encyclopedias — about the ignorance of our political and media elites that they’re only now realizing that much of what Trump’s been doing is just busting balls.  It’s a blue-collar ritual, with clear rules — overtly insulting, sure, but with infinite subtleties. It can be a test of manliness, a sign of respect, a way of bonding and much more.
    It seems the Chinese dissidents think that busting balls isn't just a ritual of unionized construction workers from the Bronx or Brooklyn; it's a requirement for dealing with the Chinese Communist Party.  They needed someone with a pair of bricks to slam together on the CCP's collective balls and Trump is the guy.

    Chen Guangcheng from Free Pressers.

    Sunday, September 1, 2019

    Google is Not Just Going After 2A Sites

    They're not just trying to shut down responsible pro-2A voices.  They're going after anything that has to do with liberty and freedom of choice.

    A couple of weeks ago, I reported on a story that the single biggest correlation with living past 100, supercentenarianism, was living in a place that didn't have birth certificates and documentation of age.  Studies of these people found no correlations with the conventional wisdom we're all fed, such as following the Mediterranean Diet, consumption of red wine, legumes, or constant walking built into their lives.  The biggest correlation was pension fraud, not health effects.

    This week, the story shifts to Google.  The story went by in the news that Google was going after "alternative health" sites and directing web searches away from them to the conventional medical sites.  This week we get some numbers posted by Robb Wolf on Instagram, via the same source as the previous story, Mark Sisson's weekly email.

    You will note that traffic to Robb Wolf's site is down 89.89%, while traffic to Mark Sisson's Mark's Daily Apple is down 65.86%, and the only two health sites with increases as presented here are WebMD and the Mayo Clinic - the conventional medical establishment personified. 

    Google is in that strange position of being such a strong brand that their name has become the alternate verb for "to search", so the way they're shunting traffic around these voices is going to drive some of these small businesses out of business.  I know a few of these sites, though not all, but that's not the point.  Why does Google get to decide who stays in business and who doesn't?

    Mark Sisson puts his corporate view like this:
    Some of this is due to Google weighting their algorithms toward "expert" advice, toward opinions and articles written by people with MDs and PhDs after their names. I've tried to overcome this by changing the way I cite research. I've always cited and linked to tons of medical studies, far more than the "experts" like Mayo Clinic and WebMD ever have, but now I'm actually listing a "References" section with those proper citations in the proper academic format. You've probably noticed. It's helped a bit, but the drop-off has been larger than this can account for.

    In my opinion, this development just means that people like me and Robb are over the target. We're a threat, and institutions are worried. We've already had a huge effect on the way people eat, live and exercise. Grandmas are going keto. Grandpas are doing CrossFit. Your kid's school teacher is IFing. Large multinational food corporations are buying boutique avocado oil-based mayo brands for large sums of money. It's an interesting time. Conventional institutions are feeling the heat, and this might be one way to try to stem the tide.

    You see it in the big, concerted, coordinated effort to push fake meat substitutes, switch the entire world over to a diet consisting of half a burger a week, and promote silly conspiracies like keto crotch—often all involving the same players.

    I'm not saying it's nefarious, but it's very curious. 
    If there's a nefarious aspect, it's that across everything we see about them, Google seems to be behaving in such a way that cries out for regulators to crack down on them.  This is something that big companies like because they have the resources to meet the expenses that the laws cause, while smaller competitors are less able to.  It's sometimes referred to as the successful "closing the door behind themselves."   

    Let's put it this way: consider a small startup that has come up with some sort of search algorithms that can threaten Google.  Do you think Google would return the potential Google-killer in searches?