Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Great Adventure Slog is Slower Than Anticipated

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

I'll keep plugging at it.

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


Friday, November 29, 2019

Now The Weekend's Adventure Really Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Something I'm Thankful For This Thanksgiving Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Who You Calling Turkey, Turkey?

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

When Everything's Important Nothing's Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image source)

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

Offered for your consideration...

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Rising Attacks on DIY Guns

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

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

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

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

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

Here's mine: 

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

SpaceX Blows Their First Starship Apart in Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Auto Giants Line Up Behind Trump and Feds On MPG Standards

This is an interesting development.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Strange Reality of Hauser's Law

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Some Americans Could See Tax Rates Over 100% Under Warren Plan - Analysts

That's the headline of an article in the Blaze email today; it links to an article of nearly the same name in Wall Street Journal. As usual, the WSJ is a paywall that won't let you read if you're not already a subscriber.   

They say that Warren is calling for raising the top marginal rate on income taxes to 39.6 percent, a 14.8 percent tax on Social Security, and an annual tax of six percent on accumulated wealth.  That's up from the 2% wealth tax I took a look at two weeks ago.  Quoting from the WSJ:
Consider a billionaire with a $1,000 investment who earns a 6% return, or $60, received as a capital gain, dividend or interest. If all of Ms. Warren's taxes are implemented, he could owe 58.2% of that, or $35 in federal tax. Plus, his entire investment would incur a 6% wealth tax, i.e., at least $60. The result: taxes as high as $95 on income of $60 for a combined tax rate of 158%.

The rate would vary according to the investor's circumstances, any state taxes, the profitability of his investments and as-yet-unspecified policy details, but tax rates of over 100% on investment income would be typical, especially for billionaires.
It's hard to sum up all the economic damage Warren wants to do to America, but for an avowed socialist like her, it's probably a feature not a bug that this would probably collapse the US.  Her 6% wealth tax would very probably crash world stock markets, retirement plans and other savings vehicles.  That's not all.  She wants to outlaw private health insurance, kill off the health insurance industry and make every aspect of it government-run. That industry alone is about $1 Trillion/year in revenue and 621,000 people's careers.  She has said that some of those people in the health insurance would go into other areas of insurance, but that simply begs the question of whether (1) there are job openings for them and (2) the fields have enough in common that they could make the change.  By analogy, when she says that health insurance workers can move to auto insurance, is that like telling a cardiologist, “you work on internal organs, why don't you fill in doing colonoscopies?”

The wealth tax is going to unsettle all the stock and bond markets in the world, as investors do their best to limit losses.  Do you remember the big hubbub in the news starting around last March when the bond yield inverted and that started fear we were going into recession?  The reason the yield inverted (short term bonds paid higher interest than long term bonds) was that there was very high demand for long term US bonds from overseas.  The high demand meant we didn't have to pay as much interest to get them to lend us their money.  The reason the demand from overseas was high was that we aren't at negative interest rates like so much of the world.  Getting a low guaranteed yield from a US bond looked better than a guaranteed loss from a German or other country's bond at negative interest rates! 

When the US desperately needs to sell bonds to raise money for her giveaway schemes, we'll need more buyers for our bonds, so we'll need to pay higher yields to attract buyers and even then might not get enough.  How many places can buy the estimated $3.4 trillion we'll need to borrow for Medicare for All - every year?

Expect to see massive capital flight out of the US, collapsing our stock markets.  This will ripple around the world and destroy retirement accounts for everyone that has one.  Liz is so naive she probably thinks she's just taking a few gold coins out of Scrooge McDuck's swimming pool, or Smaug's castle

I don't think she has a prayer of getting the revenues she thinks she will.  There hasn't been a repeal of Hauser's law that I know of - Political Calculations blog says it has held up remarkably well.  Even Democratic stalwart economists are warning about this.  Back to the Blaze article:
Another critic of Warren's wealth tax is former economist Larry Summers, who worked in the Obama and Clinton administrations. "We do need to study pretty carefully why it is that most of the European countries, who usually are more progressive than we are and had wealth taxes, have decided over the last 15 or 20 years to eliminate those wealth taxes and why almost none of them get anything like the kinds of revenue that Sen. Warren is aspiring to get," he told CNBC in January.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Having an "I Got Nothing" Kinda Day

When I run into one of these, I usually run a cartoon I've saved.  

A small addition first to note that we've been enjoying some fall temperatures for a change here.  Not setting cold or snow records like so many of you, just cooler.  The record cold gripping the Eastern half of the country isn't here and it was never forecast to get this far south, but our temperature has dropped to a cooler than normal range for a couple of days last week and now this weekend.  Not setting records but not warmer than normal and all the locals are enjoying it; it was 56 this morning and the record for this date is 30, so far from a record.  Tomorrow morning is forecast to be 52.  Normal is 59.  It's forecast to be below that until Tuesday.  Don't laugh, Cederq

From Pat Cross Cartoons, but you read that.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Got A Couple of Hours?

On Wednesday night, Glenn Beck did a two hour presentation in the open on YouTube and available a couple of other ways.  The subject is the story of the Deep State and the impeachment hearings.  The video is still freely available here.   Two hours.  One short potty break at the top of the second hour with no other interruptions.  That's right; no commercials.

The program is called The Democrats' Hydra, a reference to the shadowy evil organization in the Captain America movies from the Marvel cinematic universe.  In mythology, the hydra was a multi-headed monster and it was said that if you cut off one head, two will grow back to take its place.  That became part of the MCU story of the criminal/terrorist group Hydra.  I've used the analogy for the Fed.Gov for most of the life of this blog.  Beck shows its origins.

Such a report couldn't be done without thorough research, so they used FOIA requested documents, Wikileaks releases, documents from trials in the Ukraine and many other places.  There's a summary posted online as well.  He points out that he knows that he's going to be accused of spreading conspiracy theories, but that's not what this is.  Conspiracy theories don't have documentary evidence backing them up  - some of them emails from the person committing the crime.  This is evidence that would probably stand up in a court of law (of course, IANAL).  As he puts it, it's the difference between conspiracy theory and conspiracy facts. 

By the end of the first hour we see the state department operating independently.  It doesn't matter who the president is - the office which sets foreign policy according to the constitution - they're going to do the things that their agenda calls for.  Which is why the state department is in open rebellion against the president. 

The documentary gets to the modern era in the second hour.  We find current state department employees actively working to start revolutions all around the globe.  We find current state department employees actively training citizens in other countries how to take down their governments.  We find little details like that the state department used taxpayer money to print Saul Alinsky's “Rules for Radicals” in Macedonian (the language) to enable revolution in that country.  We find details of an initiative started as soon as Obama took office and renamed a year later (by the Hildebeest) as “Civil Society 2.0.”  Be aware of that phrase.  Like all propaganda, the things actually done by people acting under Civil Society 2.0 have virtually nothing to do with being civil. 

It's quite the story.  In a way, it validates all the worst things you've ever thought were going on in our country.  Definitely worth the two hours to watch.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

SpaceX Pulled Off Two Firsts on Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Movie for Techie History Buffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veteran's Day 2019

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

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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

November 9th was Another Milestone

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

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

Liftoff at 7:00 AM - NASA archive photo

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

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

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

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Saturday Round Tuits

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

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

The new heater was running by Thursday evening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 8, 2019

Deutsche Bank Dying? Probably Not This Calendar Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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