Sunday, March 31, 2019

Radio Sunday – A New Series #1

The thing we call radio isn't the product of one particular invention, but rather a culmination of many.  The early experiments were all pure science research.  The concepts of electricity and magnetism were well known, but nobody really understood what they were as the 19th century dawned.  Galvani and Volta had developed an early battery.  Michael Faraday was studying the magnetic fields around a wire.  During the early investigations in magnetism, and the electrical characteristic of inductance, it was discovered that a large coil could induce a spark in a second coil physically separated across the bench, then across larger distances.  Somehow, the magnetism had jumped a gap.  In a sense, the race was on before 1850. 

In the next half century, the understanding of the physics of electricity and magnetism had expanded.  In 1886, Heinrich Hertz was experimenting with devices to create sparks in an effort to demonstrate James Clerk Maxwell's unification of electricity and magnetism into electromagnetics, and observed that the sparks could be detected in another system near the first. 

It was reasonable to think that if he moved the two coils farther apart, until the second one stopped responding, that the electromagnetic field was still there but somehow too weak to cause an arc.  By that logic, if we could increase the strength of the field it would start arcing again.  If there were only a way to make weak fields stronger.  But it was 1887; the devices to amplify signals were still nearly 20 years away. 

The key though, was being found at almost the same time; it was found earlier, just not understood.  Although the effect was known as the Edison effect from his noting it in 1882, thermal emission of electrons was observed before Edison, and long before humanity knew of electrons as a real particle or had a name for them. 

While working to improve his light bulbs, Edison noted a darkening of the glass in his bulbs and inserted a wire into some.  When he hooked up a galvanometer to measure current, he found that current was flowing from his lamp filaments to the wire.  It wasn't long before it was noticed that the current flowed only one way, with this second wire positive compared to the filament, and he could control how much current flowed by how positive he made that wire.  This is the direct predecessor to the vacuum tube diode, which conducts electricity in only one direction.  In 1887, Edison's patent for an “Electrical Indicator” was granted, the first patent that would lead to the development of vacuum tubes.  There was a cascade of inventions, leading to the invention of the three element vacuum tube, a triode, which could be used to amplify small signals making weak signals strong enough to be useful.  The first useful triode tube is credited to Lee DeForest, patented in 1906, which he called the Audion.

A simplified schematic of triode amplifier.

It's tempting to say that with the triode, a way of making small signals bigger, radio was going to be invented.  Except that radio had been going on for years before that, as spark gap transmitters and detectors;  Gugliemo Marconi became the first man to exchange signals across the Atlantic in 1901, five years before DeForest's triode patent.  It was Marconi's radios on the Titanic that allowed it to call for help.

Spark gap transmitters are essentially what Hertz used to confirm Maxwell's equations.  Spark gap transmitters didn't transmit single frequencies; transmitters didn't start doing that for over 10 years after this.  They transmitted Morse code by turning the power on and off giving broad frequency bands of output power.  In the receiver, they depended on detecting the signal with magnetic detectors.

In a roundabout way, this brings us to around the birth of what I'll call modern radio (ignoring the spark gap era which ended not much later).  Which brings us to birth of modern receivers. 

The main problems that a radio receiver has to face are the “three S” problems.  Sensitivity: it has to be able to extract the weak radio voltages and produce usable audio output.  Selectivity: it has to be able to separate two stations from each other; to allow the user to choose which signal to listen to.  Signal handling range: it has to deliver the weak signals the listener wants to hear while not being influenced by stronger signals.  Honestly, in some applications, signal handling range isn't a problem and doesn't need much thought.  For generations, hams and shortwave listeners were indoctrinated to just think of sensitivity and selectivity; it's only the crowding of the bands, starting with the high frequency (shortwave) spectrum, that has concentrated attention on signal range.  

Too much history, not enough radio?  Have you ever built the simplest radio that can be built?  Have you ever built a crystal radio - the modern version of the foxhole radios from WWII?

The antenna on left is a "good length" of wire, whatever you can get up, 20' or more (but don't give up if all you can do is connect it to your window frame.  The ground is either a metal ground rod sunk into the ground, a cold water pipe (real metal, not PVC).  The coil is the made by winding 66 turns of fine magnet wire (#24 to #30) on a 2" diameter plastic or paper tube.  If you use 3" OD PVC pipe, or Quaker oatmeal cardboard container, drop that to 47 turns.  Keep the turns close to each other, not space several wire diameters apart and not scrambling turns every which way over each other (but some extra spaces or some wire turns crossing each other won't mess you up much).  The variable capacitor is out of an old junk transistor radio - these have been standard for a long time.  The diode is a germanium signal diode - kind of an old part but very common.  If you have an old style transistor radio ear bud, that's what you want.  I haven't tried something like modern ear buds.

What this is from an architecture view is a tuned circuit (the coil and capacitor), followed by an AM detector.  It is powered by the received signal. 

As drawn, this will tune the AM broadcast band.  Local stations can be listened to, but if your AM band is crowded, it won't be a pleasant experience.  It's modest on sensitivity, has virtually no selectivity and isn't really good for handling wide ranges of input signals.  But it's about as simple as it gets.  Four parts, some wire, no battery.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Drug Prices: It Takes Government to Really Screw Things Up

There's a meme going around the interwebz, apparently started by this Twitter user, Laura Marston who describes herself this way: "video game attorney, politics nerd, type 1 diabetes since 1996; I advocate for lower insulin prices in the United States" 

Long term readers know that I have no problem with "raging against the machine", but I regularly try to encourage readers the rage against the right machine. 

This is another good example.  Ms. Marston thinks this is the fault of the drug companies, but they are using the system the set up for them to use.  Did the companies lobby the government to set up those laws?  Undoubtedly.  Absolutely.  That doesn't mean, however, that the congress critters couldn't have said, "hell no - you go pound sand".  The fact is, if they're obeying the law and the law is stupid, you have to start thinking stupid lawmakers are your problem.  The drug companies enlisted the FDA, the DEA, the FBI, customs and border security, and a dozen other taxpayer-funded regulatory and enforcement agencies to protect them from real competition with their willing, complicit help. 

The details are from author Laura Williams writing for FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education) in "A Government Guide to Keeping Insulin Unaffordable: 3 Easy Steps to Hogtie a Market" and she does an excellent job of showing just how these laws have destroyed the market.

First step: Limit the Number of Competitors 
Even though insulin treatment itself can’t be patented, improvements in delivery mechanisms can be. These incremental improvements, no matter how small, can be used to extend the 20-year patent on a drug, a process called “patent evergreening.” Sanofi has filed 74 patent applications on its long-acting insulin Lantus—nearly all of them after the drug was on the market—and boxed out generics for decades. Drug makers seek extensions to their exclusivity when they add pill coatings and alter inactive ingredients, extending their monopoly but offering no marginal advantage to patients.

Regulators and pharma CEOs aren’t opposing forces; they’re the same people—sometimes literally. Nearly half of staff reviewers at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will go on to take jobs in the industries they’re tasked with regulating, often as advisors in navigating regulatory policy.
Shades of how financial regulators are in a revolving door relationship with the companies they regulate.  The patent and regulations don't just keep out US competitors, they prevent non-US companies from exporting their insulin into the US.  Even if a factory makes the same insulin for both Canadian and US markets, the foreign maker is forbidden to sell to American patients.

Next:  Exclude Competing Products 
The FDA almost famously drags its feet for years in the approval process.  That makes it practically impossible for small business innovators and researchers to "get into the game".  Faced with insurmountable costs they're likely to drop a new project or sell it to an existing giant with the legal staff to carry the load.

Any new drug must endure an FDA clinical trial and approval gauntlet that, according to independent reports, takes an average of 12 years and $2.7 billion to complete. Those costs must be paid by the manufacturer hoping to bring the drug to market, and only a handful of companies can raise enough.

It's worse than that.  Pay-for-delay settlements are an ugly consequence of a previous attempt to legislate lower drug prices. When smaller, generic manufacturers want to offer cheaper versions of a brand-name drug, its original maker will threaten costly litigation, which lower-margin producers can’t afford. Then they offer a way out, a “reverse settlement” by which name brands can (legally!) pay smaller companies not to bring a generic drug to market.

The hush money buys brands another few years of protection for their soaring profit margins. Insulin makers simply split the profits of their monopoly with anyone who tries to topple it.
First off, we see this sort of reaction from big companies in high tech.  It's why the largest Internet providers were behind "Net Neutrality" - they already have the staff of lawyers that smaller startup companies don't have.  It assures they'll never face real competition.  In this case it's raising the costs of getting drugs to market.  Keeping them high keeps the big companies on top.  The free market has been regulated out of existence.

The one that astounded me was that they could legally pay a smaller company not to bring a generic to market.  That helps the big company and the smaller one.  The FTC  (Federal Trade Commission - Protecting America's Consumers) claims they've "filed a number of lawsuits to stop these deals, and it supports legislation to end such “pay-for-delay” settlements."  It seems that by the essence of their mission statement, they should be able to stop these deals by themselves. 

The final way applies to the entire healthcare sector:  Hide and Distort Prices so No One Can Shop Around 
Patients, and indeed prescribers, have only the foggiest idea of what products are available and their real per-unit cost. Manufacturers like to boast that no one pays “list price”: Patients rely on a patchwork of health insurance, pharmacy discounts, and manufacturer rebates to bring the cost within reach. Such a complicated framework provides a wide scope for manipulation.

Prices paid by patients have risen steadily for a decade, but the price paid by health care actors has fallen. Pharma companies steeply discount the negotiated prices paid by pharmacies, benefits directors, and health insurers. Insulin is re-priced as many as four times other than the “list” price before it can be purchased by a consumer. At each stage, the reimbursement is based on a percentage of the list price. So the higher the list price, the better the returns for each participant in the process—even if no patient ever pays the list price.

Even shadier is the practice of offering steep discounts to insurance companies, benefits managers, prescribers, and other employees whose job is to decide (and limit) which insulin products covered patients can buy. Insurers and health plans pay a negotiated price well below the list cost but often well above what patients will pay. The difference, a percentage of that inflated list price, serves as a kickback from drug companies to anyone who will drive patients toward their priciest products. Class action lawsuits in Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington, and New Mexico are exposing the systematic manipulation of insulin prices by manufacturers, insurers, and pharmacies. 

Through this nebulous network of bully tactics and insider dealings, government agencies and corporate campaign donors conspire to deny patients the benefits of market competition. Desperate patients pay up because they have nowhere else to go—and their distress is deliberate and designed.
If you read Denninger's Market Ticker, he talks about this regularly.  It's among the biggest problems screwing up medical costs: nobody knows what anything costs, and different buyers pay different prices.  There is no posted (or readable) price list.  That's starting to develop some cracks in its facade with some sites that allow you to research costs for some drugs, imaging or other tests, but we have a long way to go. 

Step back and look at all three.  Does this picture look familiar to you?  It's nothing but pure cronyism, like we used to complain about when Obamanoids did it.  Did you think that would go away when we went from a D to an R?  Hah!  All that changes are the names getting the money.  The antidote for cronyism and higher insulin prices is not to increase the power of the government to regulate them, but to get rid of big government.

Friday, March 29, 2019

A Florida Lizard ... Wait...

I'm probably more tired of Florida man stories than most of you.  I reflexively look to see if they're from my city in hopes that it's not someone I've met.  So far it has always been someone I don't know and only been from this county a couple of times. 

But Florida Lizard stories?  I have yet to see any stories starting with "a Florida Reptile..." but I did get an email from the state Fish and Wildlife Commission about "living with alligators".  They provided a helpful pdf, which is this handy poster.

I'll modify this and make my own rules.
  1. The alligator has the right of way  If the alligator comes to your door, don't open the door.  If you're not sure, and you don't see anyone through a peephole, a security camera or something else, ignore the knock and listen for sounds of scratching or clawing.  See the hotline number in that poster.  If you're on the road and come across a gator, don't attempt to run it over.  Unless you have a 4x4 with lots of ground clearance, and then only if you're sure your truck won't tip over.  That was a joke.  Gators are protected species and you shouldn't run them over.
  2. Never feed an alligator.  Gators aren't known for being the sharpest knives in the drawer, so to speak.  You can expect them to mistake the hand offering food for the food being offered.  You don't want to go through the rest of your life being called "Stumpy".  Although it might give you a good bar story. 
  3. Keep your pets away from the water, especially small white dogs or cats.  If you're new here, know that an old story you hear often in Florida is that gators love marshmallows.  White, fluffy marshmallows.  I've always thought that's why they have a preference for small, fluffy, white poodles.  Maybe they just don't like yapping dogs.  I've never heard of them eating a cat, but I wouldn't doubt it.
  4. Don't go swimming if you know there are gators in the water.   Corollary: if your map says "Florida" on it, and you're in fresh water, there are gators in there.  If it's brackish or saltwater, there might be crocodiles with you.  Yeah, it's riskier after dark because they are more active.  It's probably riskiest at sunrise and sunset.  A few years ago, a burglary suspect in nearby Palm Bay decided to hide from police in a lake.  It was early morning, like 2AM.  The gators said "thanks for the meals on wheels" and ate the guy.  Just kidding.  They just killed him and ate pieces. 
  5. When in doubt, remember rule #1.  And remember two things.  First, a gator can sprint faster than you can run for short distances.  They're ambush-style predators and not likely to just attack you on land.  If they're hungry, you're close and not aware, I don't rule it out.  Second, the gators have learned how to climb fences.

Every long time Floridian has some gator stories.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Few Small Pieces of Space News

None of them big enough to justify a story.

NASA had been talking about having the first "all woman space walk", then cancelled it this Monday.  It turns out they both wouldn't appear in public wearing the same outfit.

No, that's a bad joke that I just made up, although it made my wife LOL.  They cancelled the walk for an equally insipid reason: they both wear the same size space suit and no one thought to have two onboard the ISS.
One of the two women on the mission, Anne McClain, will now have to give up her place to a male colleague.

She thought a large-sized suit would be fine but after a spacewalk last week found that the medium-sized was a better fit and would be the most appropriate suit to wear to venture back outside the International Space Station.
It's the essence of identity politics to do stunts like this and whoever is pushing the stories needs to find a real job.  To roughly quote my wife, who was the first female electronics technician in most of the places she worked, 'what is this, 1970?  Why do we need to keep an "oppressed identity scorecard" for every mission?  I thought we were done with this when we were kids.'

Over the last couple of years, I've covered the enormous financial pressures on the space launch business that SpaceX is causing.  In 2013, the launch business was Russia capturing about half of the launches, the European Space Agency at 22%, then Sea Launch at 15%, Spacex had about 7% and Japan at just under that.  By 2018, SpaceX had captured close to 65%, the ESA was up a bit to around 25% (having peaked around 40% by 2014-2016) and Russia was down to 7%.

This week we learn that Russia's Roscosmos is cutting the cost of their Proton launch vehicle's flights to match SpaceX's price.
Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos will cut the cost of launching a Proton-M carrier rocket to the level of a US Falcon 9 (produced by SpaceX) through lower expenses on ground-based preparations, Roscosmos Chief Dmitry Rogozin said on Monday.
You've got to consider this interesting, but with the recent failures of the Proton (example) it's not clear whether international customers will be so motivated by price that they'll overlook the reliability concerns.  They could also cut costs by leaving parts off, Muntzing the vehicle, but I don't think many customers would sign on for that.  The space business selects for people that are very cautious. 

Speaking of SpaceX, the second Falcon Heavy launch is approaching, which will be something I'd watch, regardless of time of day. 
The reported plan is to launch Falcon Heavy as early as April 7 at 6:36 p.m. Eastern from the Launch Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, reported CNBC on March 15. The mission is dubbed Arabsat 6A and would launch a communications satellite built by Lockheed Martin into orbit for Saudi Arabian company Arabsat. 
The iconic image of the two first stage boosters returning to the landing facility on the KSC and landing within about a second of each other has stuck with me.  The fact that the core booster crashed into the booster recovery ship and was lost is an incentive to SpaceX to get it right this time.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

About That Captcha Thing

Two days ago, some of us had some discussions about Blogger's use of Captcha.  Some said the ones showing up on my site were harder than elsewhere. 

I'm using straight up Blogger from Google.  No add-ons.  Nothing fancy.  I thought the only effect I could have on Captcha was either to turn it on or turn it off.  After swapping a couple of chats with experts on their forums, I've found I can't even turn it off.  It's effectively hard wired on. 

According to the webpages they referred me to there's no way for me to affect anything.  I was briefly hopeful I could return to the type 1 Captcha puzzles because those always seemed easy, while with the pictures, I find I mess up often without knowing why. 

(what they call reCAPTCHA V1)

Unfortunately, I don't see that it's even possible to revert to V1.  Their website is stressing a V3 that is supposed to be easier on humans but better at blocking bots.  Users won't do anything - they'll just use the site and V3 will block the spots.  

Does Captcha do anything worthwhile?  Couldn't prove it by me.  I got half a dozen Spam comments today that were all to very old pieces (one was from 2010) and they clearly not were not written by English speakers.  I have no idea what Captcha does besides annoy people because those comments were only stopped by my setting to moderate comments on posts more than 14 days old. 

The Google community folks didn't recognize a way in which my Captcha tests could be harder than any other sites' tests.  

Although I tried to turn it off, I can't even do that.  I'm stuck.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

On The Other Hand, A Stopped Watch is Right Twice A Day

I've mentioned on occasion that I get a daily newsletter from the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and several stories that I've posted over the last few months have come from their articles, even if they just made me dig a little deeper.  The format is generally four or five stories with a teaser and link to the website to read it.

Imagine my surprise when I found they had a quote from legendary liberal economist Paul Krugman and he was right!  More at the story itself, "5 Reasons Raising the Minimum Wage is Bad Policy".
As Paul Krugman explained, "So what are the effects of increasing minimum wages? Any Econ 101 student can tell you the answer: The higher wage reduces the quantity of labor demanded, and hence leads to unemployment."
At first, I wasn't sure if I could handle the brutal unfamiliarity of being in a universe where Krugman is occasionally right.  For years I've reflexively known that if he suggested we do something the safest bet is to do the opposite.  But here it was, in black and white, including a link to back it up.

Then I thought of the adage I heard growing up, "even a blind pig finds a few acorns".  Then the redneck version of statistical significance, "if it happens less than 5% of the time, it's probably a random event."  In a little while, I found it more comfortable and acknowledged that even as reliable a channel marker as Paul Krugman can occasionally drift off its known position.  It's the same universe, we just have to use more means to navigate.

You might wonder why someone like Krugman has the audience he does, or why the Austrian economics never gets equal billing.  Even the ludicrous ideas of Modern Monetary Theory get more positive buzz than the much more sound Austrian school.  It's really simple.  The Federal Reserve uses their monetary powers to swamp out competition.  They buy up all the alternatives.

Early in the month, I mentioned I was reading The Skyscraper Curse, by Dr. Mark Thornton.  I've finished the book, which I hadn't when I posted that article, and Dr. Thornton does a pretty effective takedown of the Federal Reserve in the final chapter.   Take this quote (from pp. 233-234), referring to a study by economist Lawrence White:
The Fed employed about 495 full-time staff economists in 2002. That year it engaged more than 120 leading academic economists as consultants and visiting scholars, and conducted some 30 conferences that brought 300-plus academics to the podium alongside its own staff economists. It published more than 230 articles in its own research periodicals. Judging by the abstracts compiled by the December 2002 issue of the e-JEL, some 74 percent of the articles on monetary policy published by US-based economists in US-edited journals appear in Fed-published journals or are co-authored by Fed staff economists.
How big is that staff?  White noted that the Fed’s staff of economists in 2002 was 27 percent larger than the number of macroeconomists and experts in money and banking employed by the top fifty PhD-granting economics departments in the United States combined.  Why, it's almost a guarantee that if you get a PhD in economics specializing in monetary theory, banking or macroeconomics, you either work for the Fed or you don't work. 

It gets worse from there.  The Fed dominates the editorial review boards of any journal in those fields, at rates of 80 to almost 90% of the editorial boards being affiliated with the Fed. Think that might block contradictory information from being presented?  It still doesn't stop there: the Fed has its own economic journals; nothing gets published there without passing review by the Board of Governors of the Fed.  Taken together we find institutionalized group think of Keynesian economics and an iron gate that prevents any ideas contrary to the Fed's preferences from being published.
Is there any wonder we never hear about sound money based on a commodity standard; gold, silver - heck, even the stone rings of Yap island, something that can't just be created by declaring it money? 

(Krugman also famously said during the Obama years that an alien invasion could stimulate the kind of massive spending he envisioned.) 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Junk Science of Both Kinds

Lately I've been noticing that I have two basic reactions to science stories that I see linked to around the net.  The first reaction is "that's obviously bullshit" and the second is really the same sort of reaction except for being positive: "I hope they didn't pay too much for that study". 

For an example of the first one, a story started making the rounds 10 days ago that this week eggs are bad for us again.  You may be one of the folks who feel like this old Sidney Harris cartoon:

Being a curious guy, I noticed there was next to nothing in the original reports.  It finally made it online a few days later so it was easy to take a quick look at the abstract for some details. 

Let me start with the disclaimer that I'm not a medical doctor or a statistician, but I'm a lot closer to being a statistician than an MD and that's all I need to find what's wrong with this study. 

Leading with the thing about the study that's good, they have a good number of subjects, nearly 30,000.  The big problem with the study is that it's a meta-analysis of six other studies.  Whenever a statistician gathers data from multiple experiments there's a mountain of hurdles they need to overcome, especially if the original studies were of something other than the effect being studied.  Practically, that means you'd want the risk ratio (the amount that the risk of bad outcome increases) to be large - like twice the risk or three times the risk of "non-treatment" group.  This study showed a relative risk increase of 17%.  While I know there's a whole crisis going on over statistical significance limits, I don't think a 17% relative risk increase is likely to be real.

Like the vast majority of these "he-who" studies, "he who eats N eggs per week" relies on food questionnaires.  The accuracy of these surveys has been widely criticized from the standpoint of memory accuracy (how many eggs did you eat per week last March?) and other things.  In this study, the six datasets being pooled might have handled things like recipes that use whole eggs differently with some counting them and some not counting.  Of course, no study measuring correlation can prove causation and that's another big problem with this study.  Finally, for a look at just how bad some of this can be, read my first post on the King of Junk Food Science.

(Table from Five Thirty Eight)

In the other class, "I hope they didn't pay too much for this", yesterday's Daily Mail is reporting that male and female brains are actually different!  Not only that, the differences are apparently observable while the baby humans are still in utero; during the second half of pregnancy.   I'll say it's interesting the difference is detectable, but is there really any doubt that there are differences between the brains of males and females? 

As you can imagine, the people saying that sexual differences are all learned behaviors are upset over this study, calling it ‘unfounded conclusions’. 

What I want to ask those people is if they've ever just sat back and observed male and female cats, dogs, or other animals.  We have a male and a female cat and they are so obviously different one would have to be extremely non-observant to not see it.  Furthermore, they're both neutered and were both neutered young, so it's not their current levels of testosterone or estrogen.  Influence on the brain before birth or up until they were neutered is completely logical.

I guarantee you our male, Mojo, has never played with toy trucks, hot wheels, or Nerf guns.  Likewise, our female, Aurora, has never played with Barbie dolls or tea sets - and while I think she'd use a tea set if she had one, she doesn't have a thing for shoes.  Their behaviors are absolutely not influenced by TV, advertising, or any of those cultural factors the people saying "they're learned behaviors" claim. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Barbecue Day

Since I started writing about my barbecue adventures with sous vide cooking, Barbecue 401, in December,  I've been doing most of my experiments with the smoker rather than finishing in a hot pan.  In addition to brisket, I've made beef short ribs a couple of times and today was the second chuck roast I've done.

For my first chuck roast I followed a recipe that called for 133 for 24 hours, this time I cooked it at 155 for 48 hours.  How temperature and time work in sous vide cooking is that temperature sets the appearance "doneness", while time affects the tenderness.  In other words, the rules of thumb we've grown up with about rare vs. well done kind of go out the window.  Cooked at 133 for 24 hours, it was supposed to have the texture of a medium rare steak, but the long cooking should make it more tender.  It looked like a medium rare pink (bordering on just medium), but it was more tender than any medium sirloin I've had.  You can see the texture looks very steak-like.

Today's roast, cooked at 155 for 48 hours, is another thing entirely.  By temperature, 155 is well done which we think of as tough, but by time, the long hours at the temperature act to break down the tissues that make a well done cut of beef tough.  It figures to come out much more like a pulled beef consistency and it did.  For scale the thickness of the roast is around an inch and a half.  That's a salad fork (in both pictures).  What you can't see is that it's juicy, (the surface literally dried out in the 30 seconds it took for me to go get my camera), as well as tender and delicious.

I should take videos of this to show just how easy it is to separate the groups of muscle fibers (the technical term is fascicles). The lightest twist of the fork pulls them apart, like good pulled pork only made of beef.

The other meal I've done a couple of times with different settings is beef short ribs.  Again, the first time was using an online recipe and that called for 172 F for 14 hours.  These were successful and good, but one of the gurus on a forum suggested 133 for 72 hours, based on an article at Chef Steps. To clarify a little, my cooker is made by Anova and the website they publish recipes on is Serious Eats (plus their own), while the other major brand, Joule, publishes on Chef Steps.  When I asked him to describe what cooking at 133 for 72 hours got me; what they're like, he said, "Like nothing else. Medium rare, steaks, but braise tender. There’s no way but Sous Vide to get them there."  I was off to do the test.

The scale here isn't easy to figure out.  That's a full sized dinner plate and the chunk that's on the left is bigger than my hand.  Rough guess about 2" thick by 6" long.  This guy was right.  The texture is like nothing else. 

I've been doing the smoking at higher chamber temperatures after reading that should help the bark formation.  It seems to have done that. 

I know there are people who say, "it's not real barbecue", but I'm not doing competitions and I don't care.  It has pushed me to considering making some improvements to my smoking and barbecuing setup.  I've needed a grill since my last one rusted out, and I'd like to hit higher temperatures in the smoker.  Doing some reading and research, thinking about the options available: something like a pellet grill or Weber Kettle?   Get an Adrenaline kit for a Weber?  Or just an Amazen for my electric smoker, to get more smoke? 

Like all good hobbies, you can learn this quickly and spend the rest of your life studying how to get better at it.  I do have to eat all the rejects, but so far that hasn't been a bad thing.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

"Receiver Hunting" And Similar Stories

A couple of days ago, I stumbled across a post on Western Rifle Shooters Association called Receiver Hunting.  Sounded right up my alley so I took the link to Outland Tek Musings

In case you didn't read this or don't know what it's talking about it concerns locating receivers by searching for their spurious radio emissions, in particular, the local oscillator.  I'll define that in a minute.  Saying you'll tune for an LO assumes a standard architecture for the radios you're interested in finding.  That's not as good an assumption as it was as recently as 10 years ago, but we're talking going from being almost absolute certainty to 95% of receivers out there.   It's still a good assumption just not a dead giveaway. 

In the earliest days of radio, about a hundred years ago, it was common to try to tune all the circuits in a radio to the radio frequency you wanted to tune in, and amplify the signal from the several millionths of a volt (microvolts) at the antenna to closer to 1 volt to drive headphones or a speaker.  This architecture was called Tuned Radio Frequency or TRF because that's what it was doing!  Every stage that could be tuned was tuned to the same frequency, and changing stations was laborious.  In my career, I saw exactly one modern use for a TRF design, but I've heard they're in some remote controls. 

The architecture allowed listening to radio stations (this was before broadcasting) but was hard to make work over wide frequency ranges.  First, there were a couple of adjustments to tune any frequency, not just one.  Second, almost every amplifier (vacuum tube) available had less amplification as the user tried to tune higher in frequency.  Edwin Armstrong, the closest to a real "father of modern radios" that I can think of, developed what he called the superheterodyne approach to receiver design. 

The approach embodied a couple of very important ideas.  First, it moved some of the amplification (engineers call that gain) to a fixed frequency, and split the gain up into two or more frequencies.  This makes it less likely for weak signals from elsewhere in the radio to leak into an earlier stage and cause problems (you've probably been around a PA or other amplifier that squeals with feedback?  Same principle, different frequencies).  Second, it introduced the concept of having one section, often one component, that tuned to change frequency.  To do so, Armstrong introduced an oscillator into the radio and a component that multiplied the two signals by each other.  Because it was inside the radio, he called it a local oscillator, or LO, as in local to the radio.  Due to the weirdness of trigonometry, when two sine waves are multiplied, you create the sum and difference of the two.  Either the sum or difference is filtered out to become the Intermediate Frequency (IF), the other is effectively discarded. 

Over the years, the technologies for the parts have changed, but the architecture has stayed almost exactly the same.  While I don't have one of those ubiquitous Baofeng Chinesium radios, a standard architecture would work like this, for the amateur 2 meter band.
  • RF amplifier - tunes 144 to 148 MHz with filtering that drops the undesired signals as you get farther from the desired band (that is, they offer more protection as the frequency goes farther above or below where the radio is tuned)
  • IF Filter would be at 21.4 MHz, where very good crystal filters are now readily available
  • Local Oscillator would tune RF+IF or 144.000 + 21.400 MHz or 165.400 MHz to 169.400 MHz 
Getting back to the original story, what Outland Tek Musings was saying was that even if you're not transmitting intentionally, your receiver's local oscillator is running.  By tuning for your LO, an adversary could know (1) someone is there and then, by making a reasonable assumption like this architecture (or by more intelligence gathering) an adversary could find your local oscillator and know what frequency you're listening to.  Which means what frequency they should listen to in order to intercept your communications.

How strong is it going to be?  Not very.  It's going to vary with the quality of the radio because the things that make the LO weaker are (1) the mixer, (2) the amount that leaks (backwards) through the RF amplifier and (3) how well the filter knocks down the LO.  Given an LO putting out 5 to 7 milliwatts,  the LO is likely to be under 250 microwatts.  In a good radio, it can be rather low.  I wouldn't doubt it could be heard from more than a few houses away, perhaps a few hundred feet.

To be honest, my reaction to the post on Outland Tek Musings was mild surprise that it wasn't widely known, and that's really "my bad".  I've been hanging around with too many other Radio Graybeards.  Experienced radio monitoring hobbyists know this.  The idea has even been commercialized as a way of determining what channels TV viewers were tuned to because all TVs used the same IFs and LOs.  That's right, a competitor to the Nielsen ratings did this (1970s IIRC).

Today there are architectures that don't have local oscillators and are immune to this sort of monitoring.  These are called direct sampling radios, and are Software Defined Radios (radios in which some or most of the functions usually done in tuned circuits are done in software).  For VHF and UHF, this is still rather pricey in the ham radio world, but they are available in high dollar commercial radios.  For HF, there are low cost, hobbyist radios

Are you wondering "what's up with this?  What are you really getting at?"  This topic is something that I consider in my home field.  I've designed radios like this for lots of years.  It makes me wonder what folks would like to know about in the wide world of radio.  Perhaps I can post something regularly.  Let me know in comments, or email to SiGraybeard at Gmail. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Kiwis Implement Mosque Shooter's Agenda

Early yesterday, our time, the New Zealand government implemented a ban on semiautomatic weapons and "high capacity magazines", thereby implementing an important part of the (shall remain nameless here) shooter's agenda.
Christchurch, New Zealand -- New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced an immediate ban Thursday on sales of "military-style" semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines in the wake of a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch that killed 50 worshippers. Ardern said the sales ban was effective immediately to prevent stockpiling and would be followed by a complete ban on the weapons after new laws were rushed through.
The ban includes any semi-automatic guns or shotguns that are capable of being used with a detachable magazine that holds more than five rounds. It also extends to accessories used to convert guns into what the government called "military-style" weapons.

It does not include semi-automatic .22 caliber or smaller guns that hold up to 10 rounds or semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns with non-detachable magazines that hold up to five rounds. The guns not banned are commonly used by farmers and hunters.
Gee, they're not taking the 10/22s - as long as you don't use those evil 15 or 25 round magazines.  In his manifesto, the Mosque shooter said he wanted to get gun bans instituted to divide the country.  The tricky detail is that he thought the key was to break the US down into civil war, and although their ban only affects New Zealand, they clearly got his message and enacted his goals.  Miguel at Gun Free Zone talked about this the other day (March 19).
Remember what the New Zealand shooter said in his manifesto (I apologize for not finding the whole text, the media is doing a good job censoring the internet).
He says he also wanted “to create conflict between the two ideologies within the United States on the ownership of firearms in order to further the social, cultural, political and racial divide within the United states.

“This conflict over the 2nd amendment and the attempted removal of firearms rights will ultimately result in a civil war that will eventually balkanize the US along political, cultural and, most importantly, racial lines.”
Consider this: New Zealand has a population of under 5 Million people - close to 4,800,000. Florida alone has a population over four times that 21,640,000.  Which do you think is easier to influence?  No, it's not a trick question. 

While New Zealand has stricter gun laws than the US, making it easier to mount such an attack there than in the US, any church or mosque attacker in the US has to consider they'll come across someone like Stephen Willeford who used his AR-15 to break up the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.  Willeford was home and couldn't react fast enough to keep anyone from being killed; imagine the New Zealand shooter walking into a US church with armed security and a quarter of the parishioners carrying. 

Because it's a tiny country, apparently governed by people incapable of coherent thought, it was vastly easier for the shooter to get his gun grabbing agenda accomplished there than here.  At least for now.  I find it wonderfully ironic that as moronic prime minister Arden is going through Olympic-level gyrations to prove she's better than the killer, and that New Zealand is better than the killer, she's implementing exactly what his goal was.  At least the start of it.

(New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern  - from Business Insider. I chose this picture because she reminds me of AOC more than in other views.  What do you think?  Same IQ, apparently.) 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Problem With Using Kids as Props in the Global Warming Hustle

March 15th worldwide saw school students skipping class to protest "climate change" (and - honestly - how much extra prompting do high school students need to skip class?).  Yet again, the theme was the nonsense that we have "12 years to prevent the end of the world", which is simply not being said by anyone in the IPCC - the "authoritative voice" in the field.

The problem is that we have adults deliberately terrifying children to make them take up these causes and lead protests.  Take the sudden star of the protests in the European Union, 16-year old Greta Thurnberg of Sweden.  Thunberg first came to the public's attention last year when she started a school strike on climate change in front of the Swedish parliament.  She rose to worldwide fame in January when she addressed the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Author Daniil Gorbatenko, a Ph.D. Economist from France, writes in Medium that we shouldn't be focusing on her age.  We should be focusing on how wrong she is.
I believe that people in the age of 16 have as much intellectual capacity as those who are legally adults to understand the issues related to climate change and potential measures that could be taken to mitigate it. However, if 16-year-olds desire to seriously contribute to important political debates, they should, as anyone else, do it without engaging in demagoguery and scaremongering. It is here that Greta Thunberg — in spite of all her genuine sincerity and passion — has failed spectacularly and made the legions of her fans, as well as people who may face the consequences of the panicky measures she advocates, a great disservice.
While I don't disagree that we coddle children to historically unknown ages, and that a 16 year old should have the intellectual capacity to understand these issues, it's obvious from reading anything attributed to Miss Thurnberg that she hasn't done any real research into the things she's saying.  She's parroting a viewpoint she has been marinated in all her life.  You could counter my argument that she's being every bit as mature as Alopecia Occasional Cortex but I think that just reinforces what I'm saying.

Like Dr. Gorbatenko, I'd be willing to bet that it would be pointless to ask her any questions about:
the actual science underlying the climate change issue. To ask her how much the Earth has warmed so far since 1979 compared to computer model predictions. That the bulk of the recent warming occurred during the El Nino stages of the ENSO climate oscillation. Or whether she is aware that the doubling of CO2 can only in itself cause only about 1°C of warming and that to postulate alarmist scenarios one needs to postulate uncertain positive feedbacks, whereas, in reality the net feedback may be zero or negative. That a lot more people die from cold temperatures than from hot ones, and that it is not the extreme cold temperatures that are the most deadly. That increased CO2 concentrations are good for plant life, and so on.
In articles on AOC's 12-year claim it's shown that we could shut down everything in the US and the industrialized world, set carbon emissions to zero, and using the UN's climate sensitivity numbers,  this would merely avert warming by 0.278 degree Celsius by the turn of the century.

Again, nobody in the IPCC is saying that not shutting down all of industrialized society creates some sort of climate apocalypse.
Let us focus on an easier issue and ask whether the latest IPCC report even in the (as usual) distorted summary for policymakers says anything remotely similar to Thunberg’s 11-years-left-till-Apocalypse-unless-we-act claim. Unsurprisingly, the summary — biased as it is in favor of alarm — says no such thing. Thunberg seems to be wildly misinterpreting the statement on page 6 of the summary that “global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 (till which date 11 years remain) and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.” There is no implication in the summary that this extent of warming may cause catastrophic planetary consequences.
We must also reflect on the fact that Thunberg is considered by lots of people to be a global hero. She has even been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. But is it really brave or enlightened to advocate a cause that has long enjoyed the status of a conventional wisdom.
Here I'm going to diverge a bit from Dr. Gorbatenko.  His conclusion is good, but stops short in my mind.
To wrap up, the real problem with the climate change activist sensation Greta Thunberg is not that she is 16 years old. Rather, it is that she is a clueless fanatic who is considered brave and enlightened for promoting a cause that almost everyone agrees with without any study or reflection. And it is the duty of anyone who does not want clueless fanaticism to determine policies affecting billions to call it out as such.
Her ignorance of the truth about what the IPCC is actually saying is her fault.  She doesn't have to be a clueless fanatic.  I was able to find that in minutes with an Internet connection, but I had ideas of where to look; she should have found out those facts with a couple of hours of research.  Let's give her a week to find it - certainly not the months she has been getting media attention.  The celebrity she's getting for that ignorance is the problem of the adults that put her up to it and the adults that shower her with praise while seriously talking about her deserving a Nobel Peace Prize.  Adults manipulating children for political aims aren't that different from adults trafficking children, the way I see it.  They're exploiting children for their own purposes, but damaging only their minds not their bodies and minds.

If you've wondered if there has ever been a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize less-deserving than Barack Obama, just wait and see if Greta Thunberg gets it.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Nancy Pelosi Introduces Equality Act to Mandate Compliance to Transexual Demands

Hat tip to Sense of Events where Donald Sensing links to a Heritage Foundation post on the so-called equality act, which has nothing to do with "equality".  Equality strongly implies that many views are considered and weighed together.  What the equality act does is declare that certain views are right and all others wrong.

H.R. 5, titled "To prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes." goes far beyond that.  Heritage says it's “a bill that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes under federal civil rights law.” They then go on to say, “the Equality Act would further inequality by penalizing everyday Americans for their beliefs about marriage and biological sex,” and discuss some of the wide ranging implications for various groups.

The most obvious implications are for:
Employers and Workers

The Equality Act would force employers and workers to conform to new sexual norms or else lose their businesses and jobs.

This is already happening on the state and local level.

The most high profile example involves Colorado baker Jack Phillips, whose case went all the way to the Supreme Court after the Colorado Civil Rights Commission accused him of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when he declined to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding.

He is not the only victim. Other cases involving disagreement over the meaning of marriage feature florists, bakers, photographers, wedding venue owners, videographers, web designers, calligraphers, and public servants.
What was originally a state civil rights trial now becomes a Federal offense and Federal trial.

The law is no easier on
Medical Professionals 

The Equality Act would force hospitals and insurers to provide and pay for these therapies against any moral or medical objections. It would politicize medicine by forcing professionals to act against their best medical judgment and provide transition-affirming therapies.

The fight is already here. Catholic hospitals in California and New Jersey have been sued for declining to perform hysterectomies on otherwise healthy women who want to become male. A third Catholic hospital in Washington settled out of court when the ACLU sued them for declining to perform a double mastectomy on a gender dysphoric sixteen-year-old girl.
Nor is it easier on
Parents and Children

This politicization of medicine would ultimately harm families by normalizing hormonal and surgical interventions for gender dysphoric children as well as ideological “education” in schools and other public venues.

80 to 95 percent of children with gender dysphoria no longer feel distressed by their bodies after puberty. Yet activists continue to push their own radical protocol: social transition as young as 4, puberty blocking drugs as young as 9, cross-sex hormones as young as 14, and surgery by 18 (or, in some cases, even younger).

This protocol could become mandatory in the future. The latest issue of the American Journal of Bioethics includes an article arguing that the state should overrule the parents of gender dysphoric children who do not consent to giving them puberty-blocking drugs.
Need I remind you Bioethicists have already said post-birth abortion (infanticide) is ethical and should be legal.  In another journal article they declared that it's morally and ethically OK to take the life of someone because, “killing by itself is not morally wrong, although it is still morally wrong to cause total disability”.  That says it's not wrong to murder someone who is disabled - yet they never define "disabled", saying
“[I]f killing were wrong just because it is causing death or the loss of life, then the same principle would apply with the same strength to pulling weeds out of a garden. If it is not immoral to weed a garden, then life as such cannot really be sacred, and killing as such cannot be morally wrong.”
What a twisted world medical ethicists live in if weeds and humans are equivalents!  Let's just say I don't see any particular reason to respect the opinion of bioethicists.  In my view, bioethicists have no marketable abilities, which could be one definition of "disabled", and are only employed because they're in a society so rich it pays for people to come up with crap like this.  Does that mean it's ethical to kill bioethicists? 
Non-Profits and Volunteers

The Equality Act would also hurt charities, volunteers, and the populations they serve.

State and local sexual orientation and gender identity laws have shut down numerous  faith-based adoption and foster care agencies across the country, in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.

These states wrongly treated the belief that children do best with both a mother and a father as discriminatory, and kids are the ones who are paying the price. With 438,000 children languishing in foster care nationwide, we need more agencies working to help kids find homes, not fewer.

Now charities that admit to the reality of biological sex are under attack too.

In Anchorage, Alaska, a biological male twice tried to gain access to the city’s Downtown Hope Center, a shelter for homeless, abused, and trafficked women. In response, the individual sued the center for alleged “gender identity discrimination.”
Finally, in what we talked about in the second part of my post two weeks ago, the equality bill would end women's sports as they exist now.

The Equality Act would ultimately lead to the erasure of women by dismantling sex-specific facilities, sports, and other female-only spaces.

Sexual orientation and gender identity laws that  open up sex-specific facilities like bathrooms, locker rooms, etc. to members of the opposite sex enable sexual assault.

For example, Pascha Thomas was forced to remove her child from school after a male classmate assaulted her five-year-old daughter in the girls’ restroom. The boy had access to the girls’ restroom because the school’s policy that grants students access to private facilities on the basis of self-identified gender identity. Administrators refused to change the policy despite Thomas’ complaints. Federal authorities are now investigating the incident.

The concern with these policies is that predators will take advantage of the law to gain access to victims. Policies like these make women less likely to report incidents and law enforcement less likely to get involved, for fear of being accused of discrimination.

These policies also leave women at a disadvantage in sex-specific sports and other activities.

Two biological males who identify and compete as women easily took first and second place at the Connecticut State Track Championships.

Selina Soule, a female runner, lost the race—and the chance to be scouted by college coaches and selected for athletic scholarships. “We all know the outcome of the race before it even starts,” she said. “It’s demoralizing.”

Females of all ages can expect to lose more and more opportunities like these to biological males who have a natural advantage in sports and physical activities. The Equality Act would defeat the entire purpose of Title IX, which was meant to ensure that women would have the same opportunities as men including in sports, and would leave women vulnerable to sexual assault.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Readers Here Got This Story Eight Years Ago

At least they got an indication it was coming. 

Various news sources are all linking to a story in the New York Times on a growing trend of cities cutting back on recycling as the costs to recycle grow.  Warning: this is the NY Times, so expect a left wing bias. 
Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.
It's easy to spot signs of the problems in those three cities that I talked about here in February of 2011.  The problem is that there isn't a market big enough for the materials being recycled so that the supply vastly exceeds demand and the prices for recycled materials have collapsed.  How bad is it?
Reports are that Germany has millions of tons of recyclable plastics piled up in fields because nobody wants the stuff. And it is literally more expensive to collect some recyclables than to just pitch them. San Francisco’s Dept. of Waste figures it pays $4,000/ton to recycle plastic bags for which it receives $32/ton.  (emphasis added)
Obviously, nobody in their right mind is going to pay $4,000/ton to collect and process something to recycle and get $32/ton for it.  Nobody would think of doing that except government.  The only question is why has it taken eight years to get to this point?  One word: China.  To get back to the original link at the NYT:
Prompting this nationwide reckoning is China, which until January 2018 had been a big buyer of recyclable material collected in the United States. That stopped when Chinese officials determined that too much trash was mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics. After that, Thailand and India started to accept more imported scrap, but even they are imposing new restrictions.

The turmoil in the global scrap markets began affecting American communities last year, and the problems have only deepened.
For seven of those eight years, China imported our recycled waste streams to process.  Until last January when China announced that it would no longer import “foreign garbage.”  That put American communities in a bind and they turned to the companies that were already contracted to handle waste disposal, like Waste Management and Republic Services.  Prices to recycle things started going up.  Suddenly some of the items dutifully separated into recycling bins started getting pushed into the regular trash stream to landfills or incineration. 

Eight years ago, I summed it up this way:
The fact that there's a market for some products to recycle doesn't negate the fact that you can't create a market for something by wishing it into existence.  If there's a use for X tons of waste newspaper on the market that's provided by a handful of companies (and 10 year old boys), when the supply suddenly goes to 10 X or 100 X, the price is going to fall proportionally, and you're still going to end up with tons of newspaper you have no market for.  How much would you pay for something you had absolutely no use for? 
The answer to that final rhetorical question is not only that you wouldn't pay for it, you'd charge the owner to take it off their hands.  That's exactly what's happening here.  
While there remains a viable market in the United States for scrap like soda bottles and cardboard, it is not large enough to soak up all of the plastics and paper that Americans try to recycle. The recycling companies say they cannot depend on selling used plastic and paper at prices that cover their processing costs, so they are asking municipalities to pay significantly more for their recycling services. Some companies are also charging customers additional “contamination” fees for recycled material that is mixed in with trash.
Contamination is a major problem for recycling facilities.  Contamination can be leftover food in a plastic or glass bottle, olive oil residue in its bottle, or it could be things that can't be recycled mixed in with things that can, like styrofoam peanuts or plastic grocery bags mixed in with other plastics.   Don't even think of motor oil residue in a plastic bottle. 

Florida is having the same sorts of problems and has launched a statewide campaign to help stem the red ink flowing in recycling budgets.  They've changed the buzz phrase from its initial, “reduce, reuse, recycle” to “Reset. Rethink. Recycle.” 
“Reset. Rethink. Recycle” is a statewide public education campaign dedicated to increasing Florida’s recycling rate to 75 percent by 2020 and decreasing curbside contamination by helping Floridians rethink what they recycle and reset their behavior to focus on the basics. 
What are the basics?
Q: What CAN I recycle?
A: Focus on 1) aluminum and steel cans, 2) plastic bottles and jugs, and 3) paper and cardboard. Make sure cans, bottles and jugs, and cardboard boxes are clean and dry before going into your curbside recycling bin.
Clearly, this is a major step back from the 20 year old “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra in which everything was recycled and moving more toward trying to sell the things in the trash stream that have long been sellable.  By getting the people who pay for the recycling through their taxes to do some of the labor that recycling companies do, perhaps they can get the cost of recycling down and not lose as much money as they currently do. 

I'd like to think that saner heads might have concluded that they really can't create a market for these used materials by declaring one.  Instead, what I see is that the iron hammer of regulation is going to get flying again.  We have a problem with plastic bags in the recycling stream?  Let's just outlaw them so they can't show up anywhere.  Same thing with those demon plastic straws.  We're getting food containers with oil residue?  We'll track the locations and fine the house that put the dirty container in their reycling. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Proposed NASA Budget for 2020 Cuts SLS 17%

Earlier this week, the White House released preliminary budget goals for 2020 (150 page .pdf - NASA starts on page 102).  While some reports claimed that the Space Launch System (SLS) - NASA's heavy lift vehicle - would have its funding cut out, Ars Technica is reporting a 17% reduction in budget.  Cutting 17% is clearly not zeroing out the program, but it is putting intense pressure on NASA and the contractors working on the program.

The White House plan specifically talks about using a commercial launch vehicle for a planned mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, a mission previously slated for the SLS.  The budget chips away at the SLS in three important ways.
First of all, with the budget cut, the president's proposal "defers" funding for the Exploration Upper Stage. That's the more powerful second stage that would allow a future version of the SLS rocket to lift both the Orion capsule and large chunks of payload to lunar orbit.
The budget also opens the door to commercial launches of cargo to lunar orbit, including comments of its proposed Gateway station there. "Lunar Gateway elements would be launched on competitively procured vehicles, complementing crew transport flights on the SLS and Orion," the document states.
Finally, the budget says that a robotic probe to Europa, due to launch in the 2020s, will not launch on the SLS booster. Instead, it will launch on a private rocket. (As Ars previously reported, this almost certainly would be SpaceX's Falcon Heavy). "By launching that mission on a commercial launch vehicle, NASA would save over $700 million, allowing multiple new activities to be funded across the Agency," the budget document states.
The second one might be the biggest change.  Until now, plans have called for "co-manifesting" the Orion spacecraft alongside modules of the Gateway onto a single SLS rocket, with its Exploration Upper Stage.  Without the enhanced upper stage, the Block 1 version of the SLS isn't powerful enough for such co-manifested missions (see illustration below).

Essentially these downgrades leave just one real task for SLS, which no commercial rocket can presently perform: the direct delivery of a crewed Orion capsule to a high lunar orbit.

An address by NASA administrator Jim Bradenstine at the Kennedy Space Center last Monday unveiled the budget.  He used a word we haven't heard from the space agency in a while:
[He] spoke about "reusability" as an essential cornerstone to the space agency's return to the Moon. By going with reusable systems, Bridenstine said NASA's plans for human missions to the Moon and eventually Mars would be affordable and sustainable.

The agency's large rocket—which has cost NASA $12 billion so far to develop, and has an annual budget of around $2 billion—is an exception to this. "SLS is not reusable, but it is a critical piece of the architecture that enables us to deliver reusability to the Moon," Bridenstine said.
I suppose it's important to point out that this is staking out a starting point, the place where negotiation starts.  In any program as big as SLS, there are jobs distributed around the country, allowing lots of senators and representatives to "bring home the bacon" for their districts or states if they get funding.   Add in the complication that the House is under Democratic control, which could mean none of this gets passed and the SLS program grinds to a halt.  I distinctly recall looking for mention of space flight in the Green Amish New Deal and finding nothing mentioned. 

In years past, the Senate Appropriations Committee, under the direction of its chairman Richard Shelby (R - Alabama), has increased the administration budget proposals for the SLS.  Senator Shelby's state is home to Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.  Marshall is the NASA center managing the SLS program. 

There's no guarantee that any of this stands, but it is interesting.  In my mind, the critical thing (besides the politics) is really how well the SLS contractors continue to perform.  So far, the SLS has been consistently over budget with its schedule slipping to later dates.  Not to single the SLS out as particularly bad, many (I'd say most) programs are over budget and late.  I just think that if the program keeps slipping, the SLS may never fly. 

(source pdf)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Thought For the Day

Since I don't have any thoughts for the day, I grabbed one from the great Sargasso Sea of the internet, Pinterest.

I took four years of French in high school, and it's all true.  Oiseaux is birds and it is pronounced waz-oh.  Not wazoo, the last guys joke. 

With no offense intended to the 90 to 100 readers from France I get every day.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Civil Asset Forfeiture - And the Beat Goes On

In the last few years, the opposition to the practice of civil asset forfeiture across the country has been rising.  The Institute for Justice has cataloged how the states have responded.  Note that some states appear in more than one grouping.  Much more detail at the IJ link. 
  • Three states—North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska—have abolished civil forfeiture entirely.
  • 29 states and the District of Columbia have reformed their civil forfeiture laws
  • Fifteen states now require a criminal conviction for most or all forfeiture cases and a sixteenth, Utah, forbids forfeiture for cases where the claimants are found not guilty and are acquitted.
  • Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require the government to bear the burden of proof for innocent-owner claims
  • Nineteen states and the District of Columbia instituted new reporting requirements for seizure and forfeiture activity
  • Finally, seven states and the District of Columbia have passed anti-circumvention legislation to close the equitable-sharing loophole.
This despite the president and his former attorney general Sessions vocally endorsing asset forfeiture.

Despite these reforms, the beat goes on.  Asset forfeiture is still happening, and local TV WALB in Lowndes County, Georgia tells the story of a what seems to be a routine traffic stop that resulted in the seizure of over $500,000 in Georgia last week.  H/T to the Foundation for Economic Education - FEE
Two Colombian men were headed south on I-75 when deputies noticed them driving erratically and pulled them over.

“In and out of lanes, just moving over the line, actually slowed down, got a very slow limit of speed on interstate, actually thought the driver might be impaired," said Paulk.

Sheriff Paulk said deputies reported that the men appeared to be very nervous, so they called in K-9s to check the car.

“The dogs, they’ll also alert on a large quantity of money like that, not just cause it’s money but because it has drugs attached to it," said Paulk.
How did they decide it was drug money and could be confiscated?
“All of it is wrapped the same way they wrap cocaine, the same rubber bands, the same style of wrapping. So, when you see that you know where that money’s derived from," said Paulk.
Sounds like a rock solid case to me!  I mean it used the same rubber bands!  I say, "rock solid case" deliberately tongue in cheek because "case" implies actual due process.  With asset forfeiture in several states, actual charges of criminal violation and resulting conviction are required. Georgia is not one of these states.

There isn't much to this story besides this allegation.  Personally, if I had to be carrying half a million dollars in cash, I'd be nervous about the prospect of being pulled over for nothing and the money seized.

Of course, the lack of criminal charges and proper due process is what most of us who are opposed to asset forfeiture are complaining about, just as many of us complain about "red flag laws" depriving gun owners of property with no due process, not even a hearing with defendant present, and often charging them for the return of their property.  In so many of these asset grabs they never even file charges.  They just see money so they take it. 
According to a Department of Justice Inspector General report, between 2007 and 2017, the DEA alone seized $3.2 billion from individuals who were not charged with a crime. Cash seizures without charges made up 81 percent of the funds analyzed in that report.

Beyond the DEA, law enforcement agencies around the country generate millions of dollars per year through civil asset forfeiture and are often allowed to keep or sell the property they confiscate. Utah police seized $2.1 million in 2017, and an overwhelming majority of the cases—96 percent—were drug-related, reflecting the widespread ramifications of the decades-long War on Drugs (proponents of civil asset forfeiture have claimed the practice is a key tool in the costly, ineffective policy).
I've been writing about civil asset forfeiture over the life of this blog (example).  Nothing would make me happier than see it disappear.  

(source - judging by the maps on the wall, probably not Lowndes county, Georgia)