Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Worldwide Small Satellite Launcher Picture

In this week's Ars Technica Rocket Report update, I learned of an interesting resource.  The brief overview is that there are more small launch vehicles being developed than one, experienced, engineer can track

The chart is a bit cluttered but shows a total number of small launch vehicles, defined as less than 1000 kg to Low Earth Orbit, of around 150.  As they say on the infomercials; but wait - there's more.  His source materials for these numbers are US Government reports on rockets offered for sale to the US.  Because of that, rockets from nations like Iran that the US won't trade with, and rockets from nations that don't want to sell to the US don't show up.  The true picture is bigger than this.  Further, due to the 1000 kg (2205 pound) cutoff, that cuts out Relativity Space, who's targeting a vehicle over that class, and others.  Consider it a limited sample of what's really going on!

The guy gathering the data is Carlos Niederstrasser, a Northrop Grumman master systems engineer.  Niederstrasser doesn't attempt to judge technical or business viability of the projects, he just reports development programs and a watch list of others trying to raise capital.
The problem for Niederstrasser and anyone trying to keep up with the market is that the list continues to grow. “Every time I kill off one [launch vehicle], two more show up,” he said.
Of the 148 vehicles Niederstrasser has been tracking, eight have flown, including three U.S. and five Chinese launch vehicles, and 41 are active development programs.

Another 58 are on a list of projects that Niederstrasser considers worth watching even though they do not meet all the criteria to be considered active. For example, the companies may not be developing entire space launch vehicles or they may not be sharing information publicly through websites, social media campaigns, news reports or conference papers.
It sounds like a messy situation to try to get a handle on, so you can bet that plot is wrong.  Some of these companies trying to get funded are actually “a couple of grad students with a web site” while others are a bit farther along.  Whether all the numbers are too high, too low or possibly both, we can't know.  As others have said, the big milestone is actually testing working hardware on the ground.  Still, as Niederstrasser says, “the ultimate proof is if the pointy end goes up, fire goes out the other side and you get a satellite into orbit.”

One thing that stood out to me about that plot is the lightest blue bar, on the right.  That shows the number of defunct booster programs.  The number that went defunct and closed up shop for the 2019 survey is over twice the number that closed in 2018.  I can almost hear them saying, ”gee, this rocket science stuff is kinda hard, isn't it?”

Another interesting piece of news I've been watching for showed up in the Rocket Report.
Busy times ahead for commercial crew. During NASA's Advisory Council meeting this week, the agency's manager for commercial crew, Kathy Lueders, provided some updated mission dates. During the week of November 4, both SpaceX (Dragon static fire thruster test) and Boeing (pad abort test) have critical milestones scheduled for their vehicle developments.

And if those tests are successful ... It sets up a busy December. At this time, SpaceX is planning an in-flight abort test of its Crew Dragon vehicle on top of a Falcon 9 rocket early in the month. And Boeing is planning its first orbital flight test of Starliner, an uncrewed mission, on Dec. 17. That test is contingent on rolling Starliner out to United Launch Alliance's integration facilities at Cape Canaveral in mid-November to stack Starliner on top of an Atlas V rocket.
Could get interesting around here.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Exclusive News Scoop - Story of the Day on Hero Dog

Hat tip to 90 Miles for the CNN Babylon Bee story.  

U.S.—Everyone praised the classified "Hero Dog" for taking down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Everyone, that is, except CNN, who quickly searched through the dog's internet history and college yearbooks. Sure enough, CNN found a picture of the Hero Dog partying at obedience school. In the picture, the dog is seen sniffing a butt without consent.
The dog has issued a statement: "I like butts. I've always liked butts. I still like butts, but I never sniff butts to the point of excess. Who's a good boy? I am."
I think the Bee got it wrong, though.  Conan (the dog) is a female, according to The BLOG.  Edit that last line in your head to, "who's a good girl?" etc..

When I saw this I "L'ed My A Off".  Does this sound like a news story that could be true, but that's just a little too far?  The more it makes you look, the more it makes you think it could be true, the better the satire.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Halloween Spirit

My neighbor two houses down has his halloween decorations out again; a giant inflatable ghost with purple or longwave black light in it; various black cats, ghosts and whatnot, along with Halloween colored lights.  They've been up for a while and maybe they got to me, because I'm noticing Halloween stuff this year. 

When I think Halloween, I think Jon Neill, the professional artist who has become a pumpkin carver.  This guy has "mad skilz" as the kids say.

Meet Slushy the Cyclops.  Like most of Jon's work, Slushy is apparently done with your average pumpkin, but another pic from his website appears to show a carving made from an entry in one of those biggest pumpkin contests we hear about this time of year; in this case something called the Fair Oaks Farms Cowtoberfest

No, no mention of how big it was.  Go look around on his website.  The guy has some serious talent.

Monday, October 28, 2019

News From The Lighter Side

I started on a serious piece tonight, but it was just too rough to read let alone write.  Happens sometimes.  Instead, some funnin' around, saved specifically for a night like tonight.

The background is what makes this cartoon.  From Bizarro Cartoons but I don't recall where I found it posted.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

So Near, Yet So Far

For a few brief, shining moments, I thought the lightning episode in the ham shack was over.  Ignoring the 60 pound doorstop of an amplifier, and I thought I could see the light at the end of that tunnel last Tuesday. 

You see, I got my main station radio (rig - in ham speak) back from the service center on Friday.  It had been gone nine weeks, and it was a relief to get it back into place as the center of the operating position.

As refresher, I sent it off because the part that I had to replace was in a package I'm just not set up to work on; among the worst of the surface mount packages, called a QFN.  It has no discernible legs, just tinned areas that are reflow soldered onto the board, with the worst being a large ground tab in the middle of the bottom.  In manufacturing, these are soldered down and removed with hot air.  I have a paint-removing heat gun, but nothing I'd feel comfortable using for this.  (I know - I need to practice on some)  Here's the datasheet drawing of the part's package upside down.

While it was at factory service, I asked the guy in charge if they had a way to do a thorough checkout of the rig before they sent it back.  He said they did and I said "do it."  

For the last several months, I don't think I'd have had a voice mode contact on the radio.  I either operate Morse code (what hams call CW) or one of the many digital communications modes that are run with a computer sound card and software that supplies audio to modulate and demodulates the receiver audio.  Setting up the radio and computer to do these things is something you do once or twice and then forget about, so it's always good for some headaches and anguish until you remember the secrets from last time.  I got everything running by early afternoon yesterday, and for few happy hours, I was just a ham again doing what I had been doing before being so rudely interrupted by the lightning.  

Late in the afternoon, I noticed my station microphone where I had put it aside and thought that I haven't tried verifying the voice circuity since the lightning strike.  A voice in my head said, "ya know, people talk through these radio things - you should try that."  I grabbed the microphone and plugged it in, then found an open area where no one was likely to be interfered with to give it a test.

Nothing.  No output signal at all.  Worse, the radio has an audio feedback to headphones that allows you to hear your audio and there was nothing there.

The obvious question was whether it's the microphone or the radio that's bad.  I didn't have a "known good" microphone handy yesterday; the other radio's microphones have a different connector.  Today, I dug out the microphone that came with the radio and tried it, assuming it's good.  Same result, so I'm 99% positive it's the radio. 

Frankly, the thought of sending it back to get them to fix something that they should have found (in my opinion) makes me sick to my stomach.  Another two months?  Another $100 in shipping and hour of labor?  If everything were to go perfectly, the parts are about $1.50 from Mouser.  They're surface mount SSOP (shrink small outline package), which would be much easier to remove and replace than that QFN36. 

Then there's the thought of whether the radio is just going to fail one part at a time, from being overstressed in the lightning's electric field.  I feel a bit overstressed just thinking about it.

Edit to add 10/19 at 0915 EDT:  This in the comments, but I called the service center and they verified they had tested the mic input and it was good.  I explained what was going on and he quickly led me to a setting screen in the radio that had been unintentionally set which disabled the microphone.  The radio is fine, and it's back to normal life.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Rocket Lab Elevating Their Game

I've been watching New Zealand-based Rocket Lab for nearly two years, with my first piece in December of '17 and the latest a piece on how successful they've been in July.  They've made the transition from a startup to an operational launch company with five successful Electron missions in 2019 and the promise of a couple more before the year ends.  In doing so, Rocket Lab has become the world's first private company to develop a low-cost rocket for small satellites.

On Monday, 10/21 (from New Zealand) they announced plans to elevate their game.  To be specific, they plan to launch small payloads to the moon.
On Monday, Rocket Lab announced that with its "Photon" upper stage, it will be able to send small payloads all the way to lunar orbit. “Small satellites will play a crucial role in science and exploration, as well as providing communications and navigation infrastructure to support returning humans to the Moon," Peter Beck, the company's chief executive, said in a news release. "They play a vital role as pathfinders to retire risk and lay down infrastructure for future missions."

A Rocket Lab spokesperson told Ars that the new service, launching on an Electron rocket, would be capable of sending up to 30kg (66 lbs) into lunar orbit and be available as soon as the fourth quarter of 2020. As for pricing, it was not disclosed. "Pricing is tailored to mission requirements, but we'll be bringing previously impossible missions within reach at attainable prices," the spokesperson said.
The Photon upper stage is essentially a "micro" third stage for their successful Electron booster that will provide maneuvering capability for payloads once in space.  It combines propulsion, power, attitude determination and control, and radiation-tolerant avionics.  What do I mean by "micro" third stage?   Here's a photo from Rocket Lab.

No, not the one on the middle left with the obvious engine bell, that's the second stage.  The Photon is the white (almost) disk on the right.  If you look closely, you can see a thin stick in the middle of the white square (diamond in that orientation); that's the engine bell for the photon.  

If you've got a research satellite that you can fit into that 66 pound payload capacity, or can split into several missions that each can make that limit, you just might have a way of getting to the moon cheaper than you previously thought.  Maybe not cubesat cheap, but cheap.  (Cubesats are quite a bit smaller than 66 lbs (the largest are 18 pounds) and usually flown for free or darned near it, thanks to a NASA program to encourage them).  I can see miniaturization being strongly incentivized here.   

Friday, October 25, 2019

On Drudge Alternatives

Many of you will have read Irish's note that he had given up on the Drudge Report last weekend.  Me, too.  In the case of Drudge, he has been sliding into irrelevancy (by sliding to the left) for a while now.  I understand it was a business decision to move his main advertising revenue to a different provider and had something to do with his father's own website.  According to an article on Investment Watch, linked to by a Twitter comment to Mark Dice, also referenced on Irish (whew!):
 “He recently signed on with a Google affiliated company, which purchased Matt Drudge’s father’s website, RefDesk, as part of the deal.

“Frankly, I’m concerned this is the sole reason Drudge went mainstream and to the left: to satisfy his new advertising agency.

“The agency is called Granite Cubed. The timing of when all this went down is not a coincidence.
I had been noticing the slide to sounding like the usual media on Drudge for a while.  I started going to a place called Rantingly.  After some thinking about where I got the link, I believe it was a comment to a similar article on Stilton's Place.

Rantingly sort of looks like Drudge's layout, with some differences that are easy to get used to.  The right column is Twitter feeds from the conservative universe: the President, Dan Bongino, Candace Owens, Buck Sexton, Tom Fitton and more - in no particular order.  I suspect that changes with activity and how people react to them.  The left column is news stories for four or five screen heights, followed by links to another large block of good sites.  Give it a look.

The other issue that needs to be brought up is that Fox News Channel (FNC) has slipped left, too.  You may recall that over two years ago, we did a piece on the management changes at FNC and that the next generation taking over top management didn't attempt to hide the fact they wanted to kill the network.  Their only problem was they were frustrated that FNC was the goose the just kept laying golden eggs and funding the rest of their empire.
Back on 4/20, when I wrote that Bill O'Reilly's firing didn't bode well for the future of alternative voices on the news, I passed on that Rupert Murdoch's son, James, was apparently going to scuttle the channel.  He "regarded many of the people at Fox News as thuggish Neanderthals and said he was embarrassed to be in the same company with them".
In the Hollywood Reporter piece, James Murdoch is not in the least bit trying to disguise or hide the message that he wants to kill Fox News as we know it.
There's just no real alternative, at least that I can get.  Here's the thing: Fox News has never claimed to be conservative, they've just given air time to a few big-name conservative opinion pundits.  As far as I remember, and I've been watching since around 9/11, they've never used a motto claiming to be constitutionalists, libertarians, or conservatives; the motto has always been, "Fair and Balanced."  Someone's idea of good commentary came to be having two people on screen representing both sides in a debate and then have them talk over each other and bicker like four year olds, instead of waiting for the other guy to give their side.  It drives me nuts. There's a handful of pundits that I just won't listen to because I know they're just going to talk over the other guy.  I find I listen to FNC programs less and less every day.  If James Murdoch wanted to drive viewers away, it's working with me. 

I hear good things about One America News Network (OAN or OANN) and they could be better, but it seems the only way to get them is through AT&T or DirecTV. We cut the cable and switched to internet streaming about 18 months ago, and they're the only major streaming service that carries OAN.  There's a minor streaming service I'd never heard of that carries them but doesn't offer anything else that interests me, KlowdTV.

It seems to me to be a business opportunity.  Depending on broadly you want to define things, people are either oriented to prefer deciding what they want or oriented to prefer being controlled.  Sure that's broad brush, and there are people who describe themselves as "socially liberal but fiscally conservative" and other variants, but either you control your life or someone else does.  In comparison to the number of media outlets that represent that major dichotomy, instead of an equal mix, there are far more that represent the latter ("someone else" controls you) than the former.  The streaming service we use has 12 news channels, with only one, Fox News, putting forward any real conservative viewpoints. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Universal Truth

You can tell that this photo was taken at a range, and is talking about training for shooting, but it applies to everything.  (Picture from Gun Free Zone, 10/21)

It's a universal truth.  It works for anything from learning a musical instrument, to triathlons, to any athletic endeavor.  It works for learning math as well as shooting.

In sports they say, "train your weakness, race your strength."  In learning a piece of music and in martial arts, they say, "if you can't do it slowly, you'll do never do it fast" or "find the part of the song you play the worst and play it over and over again until you get it right."

No matter what you suck at, from calculus to clearing a holster and putting shots in a target's COM, practice what you suck at. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Texas Jury Blocks Father From Preventing His Son's Sex Change

I want to copy and paste some of the Washington Examiner news story here to get the wording exactly right.  It says:
Texas father blocked from stopping gender transition of son James, 7, to girl called Luna.
That's correct but incomplete.  It should read:
Texas father blocked from stopping his ex-wife forcing the gender transition of son James, 7, to girl called Luna.
Sounds different, doesn't it?  A little farther down in the story it becomes clear that the father, Jeffrey Younger, had petitioned a court in Texas to grant him sole custody of his twin sons, James and Jude specifically to avoid this and his ex-wife was granted the sole custody of the boys.  
Anne Georgulas, the mother of the two boys, has advocated for James to transition into Luna and has strongly backed the idea of chemically castrating her son and beginning hormone replacement therapy. The ruling on Wednesday will prevent Jeffrey from having sole custody of his children and paves the way for Georgulas to proceed with the procedure.

The court has ruled that Georgulas will maintain sole custody of her two children and go forward with plans to give James life-altering medical procedures. Her original court filing had sought to limit her ex-husband's visits with their children and require that he now refer to James as Luna.
What caught my attention in this story is that they're talking about puberty blocking drugs for seven year old James, a type of drug I did a story on back on October 7th.  One of the main takeaways from that article is that these are very dangerous drugs and have a disruptive effect on the complete endocrine system of the child, likely putting them onto hormone disrupting drugs for life.  The problems associated with forcing these drugs on a child who may not even need them are irreversible and include cancers, cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and blood clots, suicidal behavior and other psychological disorders, brittle bones, painful joints, and sterility. 

The various news stories go back and forth on it, but to me, the biggest point is that there was testimony from medical professionals (admittedly witnesses for the father) who said James doesn't meet the diagnostic criteria to have gender dysphoria according to the DSM-V, and that his behavior may be trying to fit in with whomever he's around: mother or father.  The doctor claims James doesn't appear to exhibit "distress" when associated with his male identity, a requirement for diagnosis.  Could it be the annulment of the parents' marriage and being involved in a custody dispute is what's bothering James and that's the real issue?  J. Kb at Gun Free Zone put it like this. 
I am usually the first to say “no, there probably shouldn’t be a law” but when it comes to letting a child who still thinks Santa and the Easter Bunny are real decide to claim an alternate gender identity and then use that as evidence for chemical and surgical mutilation of that child, there should be a law against that.
I think this cartoon gets it right for the societal question.  For this family, it seems like the root is the conflict between the parents.  It seems like the mother is trying to get back at the father and, unfortunately, is going to sacrifice and quite possibly kill her son to hurt his father.  I'm sure she'd somehow see it differently.

Pat Cross Cartoons for October 8th.

Hey, what do I know?  I fix radios, not people.  If one of the radios is really behaving oddly, I can redesign it or replace a lot of parts and rebuild it. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Thinking of Tossing In the Towel

On my amplifier repair and trying to recover from the lightning strike.  The last update I posted, back on the 13th, I was optimistic.  Since then, I've gotten a bit more discouraged.

Some deep technical stuff about the PW1 follows.

The amplifier package is about one third power supply by volume and is what many technicians would call a "blivet," defined as 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound package.  The story you'll see on ham radio forums is that if your power supply is bad, be prepared to pay half the price of a new amplifier.  The amplifier weighs about 60 pounds and would cost a lot to send to the factory service guys.  I read that as spending a lot just to find out how much I have to spend. 

My goal here has been to get the amplifier to turn on so that I can see if it still amplifies.  That's more hope than realistic expectation, but the alternative is to spend (guessing) $150 to $175 to ship it both ways, and then probably run up a total close to the price of a new amplifier to get it fixed. Another reason for the hope is that no other piece of radio gear was damaged in its radio portion.  In my main radio, the only damage was my USB port getting blown out.  No other radio had any damage.

When you first look at the schematics, it's not even clear how the thing gets turned on.  It has a remote control head (pictured in that link above) with small on/off switch - certainly not a switch that will handle 240 VAC at high current.  There's a small power supply in the main box that's on any time the amplifier is plugged in.  That supplies 15V to the remote head, where it switches a couple of logic circuits that tell the main box to turn on everything.  At first it seemed possible that only that supply was damaged, then it seemed only things attached to the 220V AC line were damaged. 

I'm sure I've said a bunch of times that the problem is I have no documentation on circuit details.  At first, I had no schematics at all, but was later able to find a set of schematics that had parts drawn, but no values or part numbers.  It's actually worse than that because there's 11 subassembly schematics and not one thing to tell you where those subassemblies are in the unit.

Let me show you what I mean.  This is a screen capture of one of those schematics in pdf format.  It's the portion on which I most recently replaced a blown part.  I deduced where it was in the box by following another few drawings.

The only part numbers on this are in the upper left and I added those.  See that 16 pin IC (IC1) in bottom, toward the left center?  I have only the vague idea that it's "some sort of voltage regulator" but without knowing more about it, probably by looking up a datasheet online, I don't know how to tell if it's working or not.

This turns out to be the heart of the high voltage supply.  The last thing I posted about was that while the lower voltages seemed OK, the 45V supply wouldn't turn on.  When I tested the bridge rectifier (top left) I found it was shorted across any two pins you looked at; what we call a "blob o' silicon" in the biz.   Since the bridge had a part number marked on it, I ordered a replacement from one of the big name distributors (Arrow); they came Friday and I installed the replacement on Saturday.

Before that part got here, though, I recognized that there's a logic line going to that board that tells it to turn on the HV supply.  I had to go through the five or six pages that signal passes through several times before I realized where it was coming from, but not how to fix turning that line on properly.  I figured if I could pull that signal low as a test, it would turn on the HV supply.  Once the diode bridge was in place, measuring like real diodes (power off!), I set up to do the experiment of pulling that line low.  There was a loud noise and a flash of light, followed by the smell of burned electronics.  Uh oh.  Once the dust settled, I was able to determine that the parts I've replaced are still fine, and the unit behaves like it did before I grounded that logic line.  I just found or created new ones to replace. 

I should point out that I had talked with chief technician at the factory service center, the guy who just repaired my main radio (now supposed to be here on the 23rd) about what I had been doing.  He said if the RF deck has problems like shorted power transistors and I tried to turn it on, "it will be loud".  I think there was a DAMHIK implied.

In our long discussion, he basically said I've spent more time trying to get it to turn on than they would because he doesn't have any more documentation on that power supply than I do.  The ironic part is that so far, I've replaced less than $10 worth of parts and have gotten it to power on and look alive.  He said, as the forums say, that their standard repair was to replace the power supply and that's about half the price of a replacement unit.  They can check the amplifiers with a laboratory power supply and verify them or repair them, then replace the big power supply.

Since I don't have anything that's known good, progress is painfully slow.  The most painful part, though, is the uphill struggle of the lack of documentation.  My inner motivational speaker reminds me that, "quitting is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."  Frankly, the motivational speech isn't doing much for me.  

What I haven't mentioned all this time is that I have the ARRL equipment insurance and they do cover this sort of damage.  The insurance value is a replacement price that you enter; you decide how much you want for it.  After the weekend explosion I figured it was time to call the claims office and see what they said about getting started.  I don't know if the guy is a ham, but he was very knowledgeable about the problems I've been facing and suggested I talk to factory service, or anyone with experience with these.  He said if a tech said it was worth scrapping, he'd send me a check. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Speeding Up 3D Printing By Going to Planar Laser Light

In conventional 3D printers, the object is only being printed at one point.  In the case of the common plastic filament printers, the filament is run through a head the melts it to liquid plastic that's extruded out of the nozzle, and prints as a strand.  The head moves in X and Y directions (left/right and forward/backward), and when the layer is complete, the head rises a small distance in Z, (say half the diameter of the spot being extruded, .005"), and extrudes the plastic for another layer.  This continues, one layer at a time, to build up the parts.  Prints can take many hours, and overnight or 24 hour builds aren't uncommon, from what I read.  (No, I still haven't bought or built one).

The early incarnations of 3D printing worked by shining an intense laser at a point on the surface of a liquid resin.  The laser would convert the photosensitive resin into plastic while the resin not hit by the laser remained liquid.  This type of printer is still available and lately seems to have decreased in price more than the equivalent filament printers, although still typically a smaller print volume.  Again, the laser has to scan the entire layer, then the table would drop a tiny amount (say .002") into the liquid and the process repeated, building the part layer by layer.

The key similarity is that all that's getting printed is one spot at a time.  What if instead of printing one spot, one dimensional printing, the printer could sweep across the entire layer as a plane rather than a filament or a spot?  Bring the printing into two dimensions at once.  That could gather enormous improvements in speed!  It has been a holy grail of research for a while, and a team at Georgia Tech seems to be breaking barriers.  They're still working with very small parts but seeing prints coming out 1000 times faster than using a single laser spot. 
Engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a nanoscale 3D printing technique that fabricates small structures a thousand times faster than two-photon lithography (TPL) techniques, the conventional method of making nanoscale components. The new parallelized technique, known as femtosecond projection TPL (FP-TPL), can make parts with depth resolutions of 175 nanometers (6.89 millionths of an inch), which is better than established methods,  and can fabricate structures with 90-deg. overhangs that can’t currently be made.
The key difference is that instead of printing at one single spot of high-intensity laser light, typically around 700 to 800 nanometers in diameter, a million points of light are projected simultaneously in a plane.  This entire plane of projected light that can be patterned into arbitrary structures.  For example, look at this (magnified) image of a sample print of a micropillar forest still submerged in the photopolymer resist.  The inset is an electron microscope image of the micropillar array. 

The printed array contains 900 micropillars over a 7 mm × 7 mm area (just over 1/8" on a side) and was printed in less than 90 minutes, as compared to more than a day of printing with serial techniques.
To create a million points, the researchers use a digital mask similar to those used in projectors to create images and videos. In this case, the mask controls a femtosecond laser that creates the desired light pattern in the precursor liquid polymer material. The high-intensity light causes a polymerization reaction that turns the liquid to solid, where desired, to create 3D structures.

Each layer of the fabricated structure is formed by a 35-femtosecond burst of high-intensity light. The projector and mask then create layer after layer until the entire structure is produced. Removing the liquid polymer leaves behind the part. The FP-TPL technique lets researchers turn out a structure in eight minutes that would take several hours using conventional processes.
35 femtoseconds is 35x10-15 second.  You may have bought RAM rated for 80 nanoseconds, which was considered fast static RAM in the day.  A femtosecond is 1 millionth of 1 nanosecond.  The speed of light in a vacuum is about 11.8 inches per nanosecond.  Which means in 35 femtoseconds, light goes about 400 millionths of an inch. 

This is an example of a structure printed in eight minutes that took hours with existing processes.  Like the existing processes, it's printed with multiple passes of these planes of laser light, building layer upon layer, as with existing printers.

The article also emphasizes they are printing structures with this technique that have never been successfully printed before.   For instance, the technique can produce what the researchers call an “impossible bridge” with 90-deg. overhangs and more than a 1,000:1 aspect ratio of length to feature size.  “We can project the light to any depth we want in the material, so we can make suspended 3D structures” like that.
Researchers have printed suspended structures a millimeter long between bases that are smaller than 100 microns by 100 microns. ...

Beyond bridges, researchers also made a variety of structures that demonstrate the technique, including micro-pillars, cuboids, log-piles, wires, and spirals. The researchers used conventional polymer precursors, but Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Sourabh Saha believes the technique would also work for metals and ceramics that can be generated from precursor polymers.
An interesting highlight here is that groups have been working for years to accelerate the two-photon lithography process used to print nanoscale 3D structures.  Georgia Tech's advancement was to adopt a different way of focusing the light, using its time-domain properties, which allowed production of thin light sheets capable of high resolutions and tiny features.
Using a femtosecond laser let the team maintain enough light intensity to trigger two-photon polymerization while keeping point sizes thin. In the FP-TPL technique, femtosecond pulses are stretched and compressed as they pass through the optics to implement temporal focusing. The process, which generates 3D features smaller than the diffraction-limited focused light spot, requires that two photons hit the liquid precursor molecules simultaneously.

“Traditionally, there are tradeoffs between speed and resolution,” Saha says. “If you want a faster process, you lose resolution. We have broken this engineering tradeoff, letting us print a thousand times faster with the smallest of features.”
This is clearly a lab achievement at this point, but in the high tech world, lab curiosities move into production faster than in fields like medicine.  I don't know how long we're talking before they start getting commercialized, but thousandfold improvements in productivity are pretty hard to ignore. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Air Force Finally Retires 8" Floppy Drives

You may have seen this entertaining little story going around the last couple of days, but the Air Force has finally retired 8-inch floppies from the missile launch control system.  Those would be the strategic missile launch facilities.

Five years ago, Ars Technica reported on how shocked the CBS News program 60 Minutes was to find that 8 inch floppies were still used to store data for operating the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) command, control, and communications network. The system, once called the Strategic Air Command Digital Network (SACDIN), relied on IBM Series/1 computers installed by the Air Force at Minuteman II missile sites in the 1960s and 1970s.  Five years ago, the Air Force offered the view that the hardware (which virtually everyone thought was long obsolete) provided a cybersecurity advantage.  I can see their point to some extent; certainly nobody is going to casually leave an 8" floppy disk in the men's room as has been done with a USB drive

Today, the Air Force is singing a different tune.
[T]he service has completed an upgrade to what is now known as the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), as Defense News reports. SAACS is an upgrade that swaps the floppy disk system for what Lt. Col. Jason Rossi, commander of the Air Force’s 595th Strategic Communications Squadron, described as a “highly secure solid state digital storage solution.” The floppy drives were fully retired in June. 
The IBM Series/1 computers remain, however, in part because of their reliability and security.  
Air Force officials have acknowledged network upgrades that have enhanced the speed and capacity of SACCS' communications systems, and a Government Accountability Office report in 2016 (28 page pdf) noted that the Air Force planned to "update its data storage solutions, port expansion processors, portable terminals, and desktop terminals by the end of fiscal year 2017." But it's not clear how much of that has been completed.
When I think of electronics from the '60s and '70s, my thought isn't "reliability" so much as "end of life".  I have some 1960s radios, in case you're wondering how I know.  Electronic components are often referred to as having a bathtub-shaped reliability curve; steep walls on both ends and a long flat bottom between the walls.  When the parts are first put into service, they go through a short period of "infant mortality" failures as various problems (both in fabrication of the parts and of assemblies they're in) cause the components to fail.  This is followed by a long period in which the failure rate is quite a bit lower and parts fail essentially at random.  Finally, parts wear out and fail - literally dying of old age - and the bathtub side curves upward again.  These computers should be well into these later failures, but they do get constant attention from folks very experienced with these computers; probably the greatest living experts on these systems.  I'm guessing they need this attention.  Along with lots of spare parts.

Ars notes:
Civilian Air Force employees with years of experience in electronics repairs handle the majority of the work. But the code that runs the system is still written by enlisted Air Force programmers.

For those who have forgotten what 8" floppies looked like - or never saw one.  These were pretty much considered obsolete when I first had a computer that I worked on as a technician in the late 1970s.  Our first computers around the house used 5-1/4 floppies that just were a smaller version of these, before the 3-1/2" floppies in a hard plastic case.  So, so long ago...

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Riders and Mamils and Omils, Oh My!

Since the last few posts have been serious, and it's the weekend, I figure I'll be less serious and bring y'all up to date on something else around here. 

Are you puzzling over the title?  Besides it being an homage to "Lions and Tigers and Bears" from the Wizard of Oz? 

In my right sidebar's About Me box, it has included the term "roadie cyclist" for as long as I can recall.  Cycling used to be one of the main activities Mrs. Graybeard and I engaged in; our main exercise/outdoor hobby.  Twenty years ago, a fun Saturday might be to ride up to and through the Kennedy Space Center and back, a ride of about 80 miles round trip from home.  Which is how we'd ride it; we'd leave home in the morning and get home in the late afternoon.  In the last 10 years, since I started the blog, we'd ridden less often, less distance, and eventually stopped riding altogether.  I'm not sure when we stopped but I made a reference to riding in late 2010 and some other posts into late 2011 make me think we were riding then. 

The point being that I had not been living up to that term for quite while. 

Back in August of '18, a random neuron fired in my brain saying, "you really ought to get back to riding again."  I ignored it.  A couple of weeks later it started up again.  We'd never gotten rid of our bikes and gear, just pushed everything into convenient corners.  I started looking at my "indoor bike", a bike far too good to be relegated to riding on an indoor magnetic resistance trainer.  Pumped up the tires, brushed off the spiderwebs and dust.  By the end of August, I took my first indoor ride on the trainer.  I don't think it was 15 minutes long. 

It was also August in Crematoria, where being outside carries the risk of spontaneous combustion, so I rode indoors until I could comfortably do 30 or 40 minute rides on the Magneto trainer (I'd do a link but the model I have is also over 10 years old and not on the websites anymore).  By the start of October I was ready to ride outdoors.  By the middle of October, I rode my bike on what used to be our several-nights-every-week ride, out to a lake west of town.  It's a 13 mile round trip using the backroads I take.  I took this picture January 7th of this year.  You can tell it's January - I still have ice in my water bottle.

All cyclists like to tell you about their bikes.  This is a titanium bike from a company called Airborne (as you can see).  Airborne built very nice bikes and had built some touring bikes for a company that takes tourists on bike tours - referred to as supported touring.  They'd take people across Vermont, for example, and go from town to town, carrying the customers clothes, overnight bags and more, so that they didn't need to hang that stuff from their bikes.  For some reason, Airborne had a few leftovers and put these up on eBay.  I got it for well under a k-buck, while finished titanium bikes like this were easily $2500.  It was setup as touring bike but with odd components and very lightweight wheels.  Within the year I rebuilt it as a comfortable road bike, changed the handlebar from straight to drop style, changed shifters, wheels, tires, and the rear gear cluster, so a rather complete rebuild.  I think with all the parts I bought for the rebuild, it still came in under $1000. 

So what's all this Mamils and Omils stuff?  I ran into the term MAMIL in 2010 and used it in a blog post (which is one way I know I was riding in '10).  As you can see, MAMIL is an acronym for Middle-Aged Men in Lycra.  The only problem is that since I'm 65, I can't claim to be middle-aged, so I changed that into Old Men in Lycra.  By Riders, I'm referring to being too young to claim even Mamil-hood.  I was there once, but I don't remember it.

These days I ride three days a week, by myself.  Retiree privilege allows me to ride at 9 or 10AM on weekdays when traffic along my route is essentially nonexistent.  My rides over the year have ranged from 10 to 20 miles; no full days riding anymore. 

I have many friends who simply can't do this.  I have one friend waiting on knee replacements who can hardly walk.  Others that get around but have various conditions that impact their health in serious ways.  I know that my riding doesn't do a thing for them but I feel that since I can do this it would be wrong not to.  Every time I throw a leg over the bike and leave the house, I feel blessed to be able to do it.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Let's Make It Three Liz Warren Pieces in a Row

First it was about her childish view of wealth, then about her wealth penalty/tax, so tonight will be about the costs of her other plan; "medicare for all".  Kudos to Guy Benson at Townhall for the story.

One of the things that has been going on in the clown car show of the Democratic primaries is how Liz Warren can tell you to the digit how many selfies she has had taken with people while campaigning, but won't tell you within the nearest trillion dollars how much her medicare program will cost.  Other candidates have questioned her about it, but all she'll say is that peoples' total expenses will go down.  Since she often says that when questioned whether taxes might go up, I have to assume taxes will be going up but her advisors say the medical premiums and out of pocket cost reductions will offset that.  That sounds to me like, "if you like your plan you can keep your plan", or "the typical family's premium will go down by $2500 a year," both famous Obama lies.

The cost of her plans has been looked at by independent groups, but the first time there was a link to the Koch brothers so it was dismissed out of hand. 
...the Mercatus Center at George Mason University published a rigorous analysis performed by a former Social Security and Medicare trustee that pegged the price tag of this left-wing dream at $32.6 trillion over ten years.  (Measuring sticks: The US federal government spent $4 trillion total in 2017, and the entire US economy was a bit shy of $19 trillion in 2016).
Let's assume it adds $3.26 trillion per year, when the current total expenditures are $4 trillion (with revenues $1.0 to $1.2 trillion less than that).  As reported in The Atlantic and excerpted at
The Urban Institute, a center-left think tank highly respected among Democrats, is projecting that a plan similar to what Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders are pushing would require $34 trillion in additional federal spending over its first decade in operation. That’s more than the federal government’s total cost over the coming decade for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid combined, according to the most recent Congressional Budget Office projections...In recent history, only during the height of World War II has the federal government tried to increase taxes, as a share of the economy, as fast as would be required to offset the cost of a single-payer plan, federal figures show. There are “no analogous peacetime tax increases,” says Leonard Burman, a public-administration professor at Syracuse University and a former top tax official in both the Bill Clinton administration and at the CBO. Raising that much more tax revenue “is plausible in the sense that it is theoretically possible,” Burman told me. “But the revolution that would come along with it would get in the way.”  [Emphasis in the original - SiG]
Since the Urban Institute is a leftish think tank, this one hasn't been ridiculed and dismissed just yet. It's just a little (4%) bigger than the Mercatus estimate dismissed for being too linked to conservatives.  Instead of attacking this report, the pro-Warren media is saying anyone who wants to know how much this plan will cost are just shills looking for Republican talking points.  Thou shalt not ask potentially embarrassing questions of Lizzie Warren.

It's hard to sum up all the economic damage Warren wants to do to America.  Ignoring the wealth tax that's likely to crash world stock markets, retirement plans and other savings vehicles, here alone she wants to outlaw private health insurance, kill off the industry and make every aspect of it government. That industry alone is about $1 Trillion/year in revenue and 621,000 people's careers.  All of those jobs will be lost.  It's conceivable that because of their experience and knowledge, some will essentially change employers, leaving their job in the private sector Friday and starting as a Government employee on Monday.  It's very likely some percentage will not do that and will join the unemployed or find other employment.

If Medicare for All is like every government health care system I've ever heard of, there will be long waits for most procedures.  Those long wait times and government rationing could also lead to an outcry in favor of supplementary plans, which would raise people's costs even further.  

There's no reason to take the word of a big gubmint weenie like Princess Lieawatha.  She was, after all, part of the administration that said the typical insurance premiums would go down $2500 per year, when they went up by more than $2500.
“In 2013, the average annual cost of a premium for an individual health care plan was $2,784. By 2017, the average annual cost for a premium for an individual health care plan on was $5,712. Thirty-nine states use
The average of $2,784 doubled was $5,568, or $144 less than that $5,712 by 2017.  In 24 states, premiums doubled, and three states had premiums triple over four years.  I'd expect nothing less under Warren's (or Bernie's, or any of their) Medicare for All.

Somehow, this seemed to go here...  If I had graphic editing skills, I'd make AOC into Warren and see what else I could make out of it.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Elizabeth Warren's Bad, Stupid, Unconstitutional, Idea

It's no secret that Elizabeth Warren has been proposing a Wealth Penalty, um, Success Penalty, OK: Wealth Tax.  No surprise from the twit who told a group of factory owners "you didn't build that" years ago while working for Obama.  She's resurrected that argument during this campaign.  Like all good communists, she wants to punish anyone who has been successful and redistribute the money she takes.  I'm sure that's after skimming some off.

Warren proposes to tax the wealth of people over $50 Million at 2%, increasing that to 3% for wealth over $1 Billion.  There's a very important word in there: wealth.  This isn't an income tax for people who get paid over $50 M/year or $1B, this is a tax on whatever they own.  Say they own a nice house, a couple of cars, some nice jewelry or a boat or RV or all of the above.  The value of their properties will assessed and they'll be taxed.  We're not necessarily talking about just money in a bank or investment vehicle, or a mansions, we're talking about anything that a deeply envious legislature would consider material wealth: which would be everything.   

Thinking farther down this road, those assets were bought with money that has already been taxed.  The items themselves probably were subject to sales taxes as well as an array of other taxes, state and federal.  They've probably been taxed more than one time.  She proposes to tax them forever.  2% this year, 2% next year, 2% the year after that and so on, in perpetuity. 

Warren's plan has been written by ... (wait for it) ... a couple of economics professors from the University of California at Berkeley.  (Who else but professors?  From where else but the People's Republic of Berkeley?)  They have said the wealth penalty will raise $2.75 Trillion over its first 10 years.  You probably know I hate guesses like that.  Are they assuming linear distribution at $275 Billion/year, or some growth in revenue so little collected now and more collected every year to year 10?  Could they be considering a decrease in collections over the decade so less is collected over the years, which seems likely to me since the wealth will be bled off by this tax - which is the purpose of the tax, after all.  Personally, I don't believe any of it.  Predictions about revenues from tax increases are virtually always wrong.

The first problem is that this unconstitutional.  Unless it says so in the constitution, they can't just tax whatever they want.  We have private property in this country.  The founders considered and rejected the idea of an income tax; you'll recall it took constitutional amendment (the 16th in 1913) to get an income tax allowed.  This is like an ex post facto income tax.  A tax on income you earned and have been taxed on several times already.  Certainly changing the laws about taxing property one owns after they acquired things is an ex post facto law.

As I talked about in my piece on The Dems Childish View of Wealth yesterday, it will also affect the market values of everything that's considered an asset.  If a billionaire fund manager like Warren Buffet has to sell off part of his Berkshire Hathaway holdings to pay his taxes, that could substantially lower the cost of the shares, hurting everyone who holds shares.  It could cause or exacerbate a market correction, affecting everyone who's not a millionaire or billionaire but simply trying to save money and get some earnings on it, unlike having it in a bank. 

You know that one of the hallmarks of new taxes is that those getting taxed adjust their lives to pay less tax.  Which is why you also know that incomes from taxes never quite agree with predictions (particularly from the Congressional Budget Office - who has said nothing about this one).  If a billionaire can reduce his tax burden by transferring assets to their favorite charity, look for lots of that to happen.  It's hard to imagine people preferring to pay tax than to pay money to their favorite charities.  At least, I've never met anyone who'd rather pay taxes. 

Look for a lot of confusion and hassle about valuations of these estates.  That's a glaring hole in the narrative.  If you think that everyone will agree on valuations, you've never been to an auction - or watched an episode of PBS' Antiques Roadshow.  Expect large numbers of lawsuits over this. It seems to me, and I've never seen this detail, that if one is being taxed on the value of their property that the value shouldn't be expected to remain the same and could go up or down.  Annual appraisals for things that aren't publicly traded, like their houses, cars, and so on? 

This is a really bad idea, poorly studied, virtually certainly unconstitutional.  As always, it will hurt people other than the rich that Warren wants to hurt.  Its only selling point is it appeals to the deeply envious primary voters she's selling it to.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Dems Childish View of Wealth

For the longest time, I've had this vision in my mind about how AOC, Liz Warren and the rest of the Evil Party view wealth.  Their mental image of a rich person is from Scrooge McDuck cartoons, swimming and playing in vast piles of gold coins and other material wealth.

Their reaction to the fact that billionaires exist and are a positive thing in society are just so stuck at this four-year-old mental image.  This Twit's Tweet is a perfect example (name redacted to protect the moron), from an article at FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education).

No, Twit, people like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and the other billionaires aren't human incarnations of Scrooge McDuck; nor are they Smaug the Dragon from The Hobbit.  Smaug didn't play and swim in his gold coins, but he immersed himself in them and slept on them. 

The FEE article is a good starting place, asking the question, "Is Jeff Bezos Smaug the Dragon?"  It's a easy question to dismiss.  With a publicly stated net worth of $108 Billion and the richest man in the world, he doesn't live in a double wide off a dirt road in Arkansas, or a 3BR/2BA ranch house off a two lane road outside Seattle.  He definitely has "creature comforts", five mansions and a private jet, but the nice thing about being a billionaire is that those comforts don't soak up much of your net worth.  More than 95% of his net worth is in the market value of the portion of Amazon and other businesses that he owns.
And what is Amazon made of? Again, we’re not just talking about piles of money and luxury goods here. We’re talking about a business. For example, there’s the massive operation that takes the orders you and I make: warehouses full of computers processing oodles of data every day. Then there’s all it takes to fulfill those orders: facilities that cover acres, 100,000 electric delivery trucks, etc.

Those are the kinds of things that make up most of Bezos’s treasure: not stuff for personal use, but stuff that is made to make other stuff. Economists call such stuff “capital goods.”
Note that Bezos' treasure isn't gold coins or jewelry or things like that.  The capital goods that are the vast majority of his wealth are only worth something if they're being used to make things for other people.  They're not something everyone in the general population would likely want.  

The distinction is vital because of the plans that Liz Warren, Bernie, and all the other communists Democratic Socialists have to "tax the wealthy".  What happens to that wealth if Jeff has to sell some of Amazon to pay his wealth tax?  A sudden mass of Amazon stock on the market, especially if the fund managers and other professionals know he has to sell it, will drive the price down on markets.  The same thing would happen to every other company that another billionaire owns part of when that billionaire needs to pay their wealth tax. 

Maybe the DemSocs don't care: they still get their 2% of all wealth over $50 million and it doesn't bother them at all if Bezos has to sell more shares of stock, driving the price farther down. 

The first major side effect of that, though, is that they lower the net worth of everyone that's invested in those billionaire's companies, from major market movers to working people trying to save for retirement.  That lowers the government's revenues.  Who's to say that with a credible threat to require assets be sold to pay taxes, that all of the world's stock markets won't collapse?  I think Liz Warren would view that as a feature not a bug.

The second major side effect is that Amazon, like most retail companies, isn't a high margin company guaranteed to be around for a long time.  Big, successful companies go out of business all the time.  Just enter “Sears” in your favorite search engine, perhaps with the word bankruptcy. 

In the bad old days the DemSocs seem to long for, there was a two class system: the feudal lords and the peasants.  As long as they have the power and are on top, that's all they care about. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Does The Recent Roh Court Case Destroy Existing Laws on AR-15s?

Background: a few days ago, McThag posted a link to a CNN story about a case that I hadn't heard of against a guy from Southern Californina for manufacturing firearms by completing 80% lowers.  For the benefit of the few who are new and don't know the situation with 80% lowers, they are legally considered "not a gun."  Many writers call them a paperweight, but even that's too specific; they're just a hunk of metal.  BATFE rulings on the subject are that in the case of an AR-15, the lower receiver is the gun, and the act of machining one enough to complete the gun is manufacturing a firearm.  You can make some for yourself.  You can even sell ones you don't care about anymore, but if you do that a few times, they can and will charge you with manufacturing firearms without your FFL. 

Joseph Roh had a small shop and would, at first, finish 80% lowers for people who were willing to pay about $1000 for the service.  Presumably, people who'd pay $1000 for these lowers were people who couldn't pass the background checks to buy new guns from a shop.  Roh eventually automated the process so anyone could complete the the lower receiver's machining by pressing a "GO" button - after they paid $25 to join his gun club so that he could say he wasn't selling to the general public.

Roh's shop - CNN photo. The green button is on the box on the upper right, at the top of column of buttons next to the light colored area.

Seems like an open and shut case.  To the best of my knowledge, I can make a gun for myself, but if I do it for anyone else, that's manufacturing and I need a manufacturer's FFL.  That's where a big turn in the story takes place.
The judge in the case had issued a tentative order that, in the eyes of prosecutors, threatened to upend the decades-old Gun Control Act and "seriously undermine the ATF's ability to trace and regulate firearms nationwide."

A case once touted by prosecutors as a crackdown on an illicit firearms factory was suddenly seen as having the potential to pave the way to unfettered access to one of the most demonized guns in America.

Federal authorities preferred to let Roh go free rather than have the ruling become final and potentially create case law that could have a crippling effect on the enforcement of gun laws, several sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
The problem is that the BATFE's classification doesn't agree with Federal law on exactly what a receiver is, because the design of the AR splits those things between the upper and the lower receivers.
Under the US Code of Federal Regulations, a firearm frame or receiver is defined as: "That part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel."
The lower houses the hammer, and "firing mechanism" (the fire control group), but the bolt is located in the upper receiver.   The lower doesn't have a breechblock. 

US District Court Judge James V. Selna heard the case, after four years of wait, and deliberated on it for a year.  Last April, he issued his ruling stating that Roh was not manufacturing guns because completing the lower receiver doesn't turn it into a gun.
Selna added that the combination of the federal law and regulation governing the manufacturing of receivers is "unconstitutionally vague" as applied in the case against Roh.

"No reasonable person would understand that a part constitutes a receiver where it lacks the components specified in the regulation," Selna wrote.

Therefore, the judge determined, "Roh did not violate the law by manufacturing receivers."

The judge's tentative order also found that the ATF's in-house classification process failed to comply with federal rule-making procedures.
Cam Edwards at Bearing Arms adds that this is the second time Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against people over the definition of a receiver and the second time a Federal judge has essentially nullified the law.  In a word, the BATFE is terrified that they created a situation with no definition for which part of the AR-15 is the gun.
The first case was back in 2016, and involved a convicted felon named Alejandro Jimenez who bought a lower receiver in an ATF sting operation. After a judge ruled that the receiver wasn’t an actual firearm under federal law, the case against Jimenez was dropped.
Judge Selna did, however, find Roh guilty of selling firearms without a license, which carries a prison sentence.  The prosecutors and defense worked out a bargain; Roh would not go to prison "as long as he keeps his mouth shut" about the BATFE's receiver rules being wrong.  No, I made that part up.   
Sources familiar with the agreement said prosecutors wanted to strike a deal in order to prevent Selna’s order from becoming permanent, drawing publicity, and creating case law that could hamper ATF enforcement efforts.

Roh accepted the deal to avoid a permanent conviction — and possible prison time — for dealing firearms without a license.
So where does that leave the 80% lower world?   For that matter, where does that leave the law?  Hell if I know. 

What the rulings seem to be saying is that the AR platform with its regulated lower and unregulated upper is inconsistent with Federal law.  Since it's impossible to redesign the platform with millions of them already in peoples' hands, the solution is for congress to come up with a definition for the lower receiver that's workable.  That's going to be a giant ball of fail; congress never writes laws that require technical details because none of them are qualified.  On the other hand, if someone was to do things that the BATFE frowned on with some lower receivers, we have two cases that say they're going to quit before they get ruled against for all the marbles.  In the words of Dirty Harry, "do you feel lucky?"

80% lowers and 0% forgings posed in my shop. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

After a Break to Change Some Design Details, Boeing Back at Work on SLS

Eric Berger at ArsTechnica has the story this week, that after about a month of inactivity on mating the main engines into the SLS booster, Boeing resumed work.
Nearly a month ago, NASA announced that Boeing had assembled the core stage structure that forms the backbone of its Space Launch System rocket. This meant that all technicians needed to do to complete the full core stage was bolt on four space shuttle main engines and connect their plumbing.

Completing the core stage at NASA's rocket factory, the Michoud Assembly Facility in Southern Louisiana, would represent a significant milestone for the program. However, after assembling the core stage structure in September, two sources familiar with Boeing's work at the factory said the company had to "stand down" operations due to some issues.

Now, NASA officials have provided a little information about the causes of the delay. In a statement, the space agency's headquarters told Ars that "NASA initiated a forward looking corrective action request focused on improving the production system in preparation for Core Stage 2 and beyond." As a result of this corrective action, which was not specified, "Boeing chose to stand down in some areas and ensure the whole production team was aware of the intent behind the corrective action request."
Within the last two weeks, the local paper was buzzing that the SLS pathfinder had arrived at the KSC by barge.  (It might surprise people who aren't familiar with this kind of hardware that it's regularly shipped here from another part of the country by barge.)  The pathfinder just underscores how far Boeing has to go before they're launching the SLS.  The pathfinder is just a full scale mockup of the SLS core stage to ensure all the hardware work among separate facilities is progressing as intended.  Things like crane lifting hardware working with the designed lifting points and that everything needed for the ground work to take place was anticipated and designed for. 
It is not clear what triggered the need for a corrective action, but one source suggested to Ars that Boeing technicians are having difficulty attaching the large rocket engines in a horizontal configuration rather than a vertical position. NASA and Boeing made a late change to the final assembly process, deciding to mate pieces of the core stage horizontally rather than vertically to save time. However, this source said horizontal mating of the engines has created problems.
That said, they seem to have recovered and on Saturday Tracy McMahan, a spokesperson for Marshall Space Flight Center, said,  "NASA and Boeing are expected to have the first engine soft mated to the core stage next week."  McMahan went on to say, "however, there are many steps in engine installation that have to occur before the installation is complete."

Still to come, NASA and Boeing hope to have the core booster completed soon.  That will allow the rocket to be moved by barge from Louisiana to a large test stand at nearby Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi.  There, at some point in 2020, the space agency plans to conduct a full-duration test firing known as a "Green Run" test to ensure the rocket is safe to launch.

The SLS program was nine years old last month, and its first flight was supposed to have been in 2016.  This core stage is expected to fly the Artemis 1 mission for NASA some time in 2021 - launch date not scheduled yet.  If you're counting, that's at least five years over schedule and so far about $20 billion dollars spent on it.  As I've pointed out several times, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby (R), whose state includes the Marshall Space Flight center where the SLS design is coordinated, has demanded that NASA use the SLS rocket to launch humans to the Moon, despite the availability of the Falcon Heavy, which costs significantly less and has already flown three times.

Workers prepare the forward (mounting) areas of one of the SLS core engines.  These are the old Space Shuttle Main Engines.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

First Signs of Life

Last week, while troubleshooting the power supply in my amplifier, I discovered there were blown out diodes in two places.  The board I was working on contained two power supplies and both of them had their bridge rectifiers blown out.  Getting replacements required an order from one of the parts suppliers who will sell small quantities (Mouser, in this case) and getting a few of each part (two is one...). The parts came Friday and I spent some time checking out everything else on the circuit board to check if it looked like it wouldn't blow out the diodes again. 

After getting the nerve to solder down parts and try it, my amplifier powered on today.  This marks the first time it has successfully turned on since the lightning strike August 1st.  The last time I'm sure it was on would have been early to mid-July.  See those green LEDs on the top box?  That's the first sign of life. 

Posing on the top of the replacement antenna rotator controller.  The replacement rotator went up two weeks ago (end of September). 

I rush to add that I'm not out of the woods.  I'm not even sure I can see the end of the woods from here - but I'm not entirely sure of anything in this box.  The power supply board I fixed contains two low voltage supplies.  One of those is converted to 45 Volts for the power amplifier.  Assuming the 45V is supposed to be on whenever the amplifier is enabled (bottom left switch on the black triangular box on top), something in that chain is dead.  I get no voltage on the 45V output terminals.

Getting this to turn on is a positive first step, but only a first step.  Still, it's the most encouraging thing in the fight with this damaged amplifier so far, so I'm stoked about it.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

I Guess I'm In Another One of Those Awkward Phases

This one has to do with hamfests, which are usually annual events in any given city where hams get together to socialize, sell extra gear, buy extra gear, attend talks and more.  By "annual in any given city," I mean that in many places in the country a local ham club usually hosts one annually, but that within a couple of hours of driving there might be a few in a year.  If you're into taking longer trips there's one going on every weekend for various driving distances.

Here in the Silicon Swamp, the annual fest is held by the biggest club in the county, the Platinum Coast Amateur Radio Society.  I know I've mentioned going to it pretty much annually and while we've gone to the granddaddy hamfest in Dayton, Ohio, including the last one actually in Dayton (they had to move to Xenia, OH) we pretty much go to only two every year: Melbourne and Orlando (which is now one of the biggest in the nation).

What I should have done was rented a table to sell off some of my extra gear.  But with the lightning strike and the uncertainties that came with that, I didn't get a table.  The only thing I looked for was a couple of adapters for connecting coaxial cables,  since I had to put one into place when I fixed my antennas.  I found them; paid a little more than I would have preferred, but I got the two I was looking for. If you include the cost of two tickets ($20) and a couple of diet cokes for both of us ($8), the coax adapters were extremely overpriced.

For several years, I've been happy with my radio situation and not really added much to my station since 2011.  Two exceptions come to mind.  I stumbled across a good SHTF ham transceiver at this hamfest five years ago, and bought an unusual general coverage receiver three years ago, but that was it.  I don't buy and sell radios all the time.  We're at the point in our lives when we think more about getting rid of clutter than adding things.  We got to chatting with several friends I used to work with and we're all in the de-cluttering mode.  Confidential to Gen X, and younger - there's going to be a lot of excess gear available as the population bubble ages out of various hobbies.  It's a buyer's market on some things already.

This is rambling (who? me? rambling?) but in all of our hamfest trips in the last 9-1/2 years life of this blog, we've bought next to nothing.  They're a combination of "social trips" and "because we always do."  Orlando is to far and too inconvenient to get a table and try to sell things, so it's either going to be online sales or save it to try to sell next year.

Maybe by then I'll have the amplifier fixed.  Or at least know if it's worth fixing. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

VDH - Is America Entering a Dark Age?

Very few commentators rise to the level of Victor Davis Hanson, Stanford University Professor, classicist and historian - simply known to fans and foes as VDH.  He puts out the premise that America is entering a Dark Age and gives some arguments to back his claim at PJ Media.  As always, I'll drop a few quotes here and encourage you to go read.

VDH opens with a perspective from his life as historian and classicist.  The Dark Age Greeks, he notes, realized they were surrounded by ruins of spectacular buildings they couldn't hope to duplicate.  Largely illiterate, they'd occasionally plow up a piece of fired clay with symbols on it they couldn't understand, and wondered what those meant.  Were they connected to those buildings?
We of the 21st century are beginning to look back at our own lost epic times and wonder about these now-nameless giants who left behind monuments that we cannot replicate, but instead merely use or even mock.

Does anyone believe that contemporary Americans could build another transcontinental railroad in six years?

Californians tried to build a high-speed rail line. But after more than a decade of government incompetence, lawsuits, cost overruns and constant bureaucratic squabbling, they have all but given up. The result is a half-built overpass over the skyline of Fresno -- and not yet a foot of track laid.
America went to the moon in 1969 with supposedly primitive computers and backward engineering. Does anyone believe we could launch a similar moonshot today? No American has set foot on the moon in the last 47 years, and it may not happen in the next 50 years.

Hollywood once gave us blockbuster epics, brilliant Westerns, great film noirs, and classic comedies. ...

Our writers, directors and actors have lost the skills of their ancestors. But they are also cowardly, and in regimented fashion they simply parrot boring race, class and gender bromides that are neither interesting nor funny. Does anyone believe that the Oscar ceremonies are more engaging and dignified than in the past?
As we walk amid the refuse, needles and excrement of the sidewalks of our fetid cities; as we sit motionless on our jammed ancient freeways; and as we pout on Twitter and electronically whine in the porticos of our Ivy League campuses, will we ask: "Who were these people who left these strange monuments that we use but can neither emulate nor understand?"

In comparison to us, they now seem like gods.
Anecdotally, we read reports like modern law school students being unable to understand writings from 1800s leaders, such as Fredrick Douglas.  We read about a widespread drop in IQ scores in the Western world and other stories showing a falling off in academic prowess over the last century.  These stories add to VDH's arguments.

Over the years, I've said (and more often hinted) that what I see in the future is not just the chance of an economic collapse due to the world's unsustainable debt levels.  I see a real chance for another Dark Ages.  The main driving force there is the Postmodernists in academia pushing the idea of "my truth and your truth"; the idea that there isn't anything other than our perceptions of things.  That works fine for simple questions like, "what's your favorite color?" but is completely wrong for "what's the speed of light?", "will this virus survive in air?" or any interactions with the real world.  VDH follows those trends to the conclusion a Dark Age may already be starting. 

The completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, 1869.