Friday, January 31, 2020

Remembering NASA's (and Our) Worst Week in Spaceflight

We're almost at the end of the worst week of NASA history.  It's a peculiar coincidence that every accident that took the lives of the crew and destroyed the vehicle took place in the space of one calendar week, although those accidents are separated by decades.

Monday, January 27th, was the 53rd anniversary of 1967's hellish demise of Apollo 1 and her crew, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White, during a pad test, not a flight.  In that article, Ars Technica interviews key men associated with the mission and provides, for the first time I've seen, the audio of the test.  In the early days of the space program, one of the larger than life names we all came to recognize was Chris Kraft, who had become well known as the Flight Director who had directed all of the Mercury flights and many of the Gemini missions.  He was widely recognized for this masterful control.
Half a century later, the painful memories remain. “I was on console the day it burned,” he explained, sitting in his second-floor den, just a few miles from the control center that now bears his name at Johnson Space Center.

“I heard their screaming voices in the cockpit of the spacecraft,” Kraft recounted. “I heard them scream that they were on fire. I heard them scream get me out of here. And then there was dead silence on the pad. Within minutes we knew they were dead, and we were in deep, serious trouble. Nobody really said anything for 15 minutes, until they got the hatch open. We were sitting there, waiting for them to say what we knew they were going to say.”
There was plenty of blame to go around—for North American, for flight control in Houston, for technicians at Cape Canaveral, for Washington DC and its political pressure on the schedule and its increasingly bureaucratic approach to spaceflight. The reality is that the spacecraft was not flyable. It had too many faults. Had the Apollo 1 fire not occurred, it’s likely that additional problems would have delayed the launch.  [Note: North American refers to North American Rockwell, the prime contractor for the Apollo capsule. - SiG]

“Unless the fire had happened, I think it’s very doubtful that we would have ever landed on the Moon,” Kraft said. “And I know damned well we wouldn’t have gotten there during the 1960s. There were just too many things wrong. Too many management problems, too many people problems, and too many hardware problems across the whole program.”
The ARS article is worth your time. 

The next day, January 28, is the anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.  Shuttle Challenger was destroyed 34 years ago in 1986, a mere 73 seconds into mission 51-L as a flaw in the starboard solid rocket booster allowed a secondary flame to burn through supports and cause the external tank to explode.  It was the kind of cold day that we haven't had here in some years.  It has been reported that it was between 20 and 26 around the area on the morning of the launch and ice had been reported on the launch tower as well as the external tank.  O-rings that were used to seal the segments of the stackable solid rocket boosters were too cold to seal.  Launch wasn't until nearly noon and it had warmed somewhat, but the shuttle had never been launched at temperatures below 40 before that mission.  Richard Feynman famously demonstrated that cold was likely the cause during the televised Rogers Commission meetings, dropping a section of O ring compressed by a C-clamp into his iced water to demonstrate that it had lost its resilience at that temperature.

There's plenty of evidence that the crew of Challenger survived the explosion.  The crew cabin was specifically designed to be used as an escape pod, but after most of the design work, NASA decided to drop the other requirements to save weight.  The recovered cabin had clear evidence of activity: oxygen bottles being turned on, switches that require a few steps to activate being flipped.  It's doubtful anyone survived the impact with the ocean and some believe they passed out due to hypoxia before that. 

Finally, at the end of this worst week, Shuttle Columbia, the oldest surviving shuttle flying as mission STS-107, broke up on re-entry 17 years ago tomorrow, February 1, 2003 scattering wreckage over the central southern tier of the country with most debris along the Texas/Louisiana line.  As details emerged about the flight, it turns out that Columbia and everyone on board had been sentenced to death at launch - they just didn't know it.  A chunk of foam had broken off the external tank during liftoff and hit the left wing's carbon composite leading edge, punching a hole in it.  There was no way a shuttle could reenter without exposing that wing to conditions that would destroy it.  They were either going to die on reentry or sit up there and run out of food, water and air.  During reentry (a detailed account of the break up), hot plasma worked its way into that hole, through the structure of the wing, burning through piece after piece, sensor after sensor, until the wing tore off the shuttle and tore the vehicle apart.  Local lore on this one is that the original foam recipe was changed due to environmental regulations, causing them to switch to a foam that didn't adhere to the tank or stand up to abuse as well. 

There's film from inside Columbia until the moment the vehicle is ripped apart by the aerodynamic forces.  I suspect the forces ripped apart their bodies just as fast.  

January 27 to February 1 is 6 days.  Not quite a full week.

On a personal note, I remember them all.  I was a kid living in Miami when Apollo 1 burned.  I was living here and watched Challenger live on satellite TV at work.  Instead of going outside to watch it as I always did, I watched it on NASA Select.  Mrs. Graybeard was working on the unmanned side on the Cape, next door to the facility that refurbished the SRB's between flights, and was outside watching the launch.  It took quite a while for the shock to ease up.  I saw those spreading contrails everywhere for a long time.  Columbia happened when it was feeling routine again.  Mom had fallen and was in the hospital; we were preparing to go down to South Florida to visit and I was watching the TV waiting to hear the double sonic booms shake the house as they always did.  

I found out last year via Reddit that there's a memorial on the moon to the astronauts and cosmonauts who died in the line of duty trying to make it to the moon.  No person has seen it since the Apollo 15 crew left it in 1971 when this picture was taken.  Has it survived?  Most likely.  There well may be micrometeoroid impacts, but probably nothing big.  The moon gets a meteor impact big enough to be seen from Earth on occasion; I'll bet that if they knew the Apollo 15 site had been hit, we'd have been told.  Whether it's legible or not is a different question.  

The failure reports and investigations of all three of these disasters center on the same things: the problems with NASA's way of doing things.  They tended to rely on "well, it worked last time" when dealing with dangerous situations, or leaned too much toward, "schedule is king"; all as a way of gambling that someone else would be the one blamed for delaying a mission.  Spaceflight is inherently very risky, so some risk taking is inevitable, but NASA had taken stupid risks too often.  People playing Russian Roulette can say, "well, it worked last time", but having worked doesn't change the odds of losing.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

TDS May Be Reaching Into Space

Ars Technica reports that Last Friday, a US House of Representatives Committee released H.R. 5666, called the ‘‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2020’’.  This is a regular occurrence in DC, and bills like this neither require the agency to do anything, nor do they fund anything.  They're sort of a summary of what the particular committee would like to see, the “sense of the House” in this case.

Ars sums it up that House legislators want to hand NASA’s human spaceflight program over to Boeing.
The big-picture takeaway from the bipartisan legislation is that it rejects the Artemis Program put forth by the Trump White House, which established the Moon as a cornerstone of human exploration for the next decade or two and as a place for NASA astronauts to learn the skills needed to expand toward Mars in the late 2030s and 2040s. Instead, the House advocates for a "flags-and-footprints" strategy whereby astronauts make a few short visits to the Moon beginning in 2028 and then depart for a Mars orbit mission by 2033.
I suppose that I start by saying I have no allegiances to Artemis, NASA, Boeing or anyone, it's just that the opposition doesn't make sense to me.  What I think is good about Artemis is a handful of things that can most succinctly be summed up by saying spaceflight has changed tremendously since the Apollo days.  Private companies now are setting the standards for spaceflight and I honestly think they will be putting crews on the moon for various missions whether or not NASA is involved. 
Artemis recognized that spaceflight has changed in 50 years. The Artemis program included new players in the industry, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as up-and-coming companies like Maxar, along with the established aerospace giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. NASA's plans, essentially, invited everyone to the table. Over time, the companies that provided the most reliable services at the lowest costs were likely to get more contracts.
Much as NASA doesn't have a monopoly on lifts to orbit any more, Artemis also emphasized that NASA wasn't going to be the only customer.  The more companies and, yes, countries involved in spreading out into the solar system, the more sustainable the effort will be.
[Artemis] placed an emphasis on private investment in rockets and spacecraft—asking contractors to put more skin in the game. By opting for fixed-price contracts for the Human Landing System instead of cost-plus deals, the Artemis Program attempted to obtain services at lower costs while also giving contractors incentive to deliver on time.
For readers who have not been involved in the world of government contracts, cost-plus contracts are those for which a contractor would be paid documented costs plus a guaranteed margin (profit).  This started out in recognition of the fact that when a company is doing something that has never been done before, they're likely to not be able to include every expense in their bid.  The bidding company submits  their best estimate (sometimes called Best Available Guess at the Time of Estimate (BAGATOE)) and then keeps meticulous records of every cent spent and why.  They're then paid based on those costs plus the guaranteed profit.  A firm, fixed-price contract is what its name implies; the company will sell NASA rides on a rocket capable of getting them to the moon in compliance with a mission NASA specifies.  NASA buys that ride for X dollars and if it really costs more than they're paid, the seller eats the cost.

It might not be immediately apparent that there's a built-in incentive in cost-plus contracts for the contractor to be inefficient.  They get paid for hours worked so if the employees have a hard time getting anything done the company still gets paid and actually gets a bigger profit.  When I started in government contracting, engineers had bare bones computers while secretaries had the latest, fastest machines.  If it took a long time to run a circuit simulation, that was fine.  They got paid for the longer time waiting.  The same goes for time spent getting 500 approvals for the smallest expense. 

Over to Eric Berger at Ars Technica for the summary:
The House authorization act, which will now be considered in committee before going before the full House, rolls a lot of this back. Its proposed Human Landing System, which will take astronauts from lunar orbit, offers the prime example of this. The bill states that:
  • The United States should retain "full ownership" of the Human Landing System, and unfettered insight into its design and development. In other words, it must be let under a cost-plus contract
  • The lunar plans should utilize "the Orion vehicle and an integrated lunar landing system carried on an Exploration Upper Stage-enhanced Space Launch System for the human lunar landing missions.
  • The Gateway to Mars shall not be required for the conduct of human lunar landing missions.
The net effect of this is to shut down all potential competition and cost savings for the lunar lander. It is particularly telling that there is only one company—Boeing—that has proposed building an integrated lunar lander, has the contract for the Exploration Upper Stage, and is building core stages for the Space Launch System rocket. Boeing has also tried to minimize use of the Gateway.

With the House bill, legislators seem to be trying to take NASA's human exploration program and give it over to the Boeing Company, going back to an era of cost-plus contracting.
By extension, it goes back to bigger government control and less work for the private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and so on.  Wanna bet there's a version of the Campaign Finance Shuffle going on here, like with Planned Parenthood or the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)?  Congress gives tax money to the organization and the organization gives money back to the congress critters who gave money to them.

(source pdf)

In case I haven't been clear enough - this seems largely political.  I'm sure you'd bet with me that no matter what approach Trump's team came out in favor of, the House Donkeys would come out opposed to it.  H.R. 5666 comes out of the majority Evil Party House and will have to be reconciled by the majority Stupid Party Senate.  The Senate is free to create its own version of this sort of bill in a “sense of the Senate” equivalent. 
Further discussions will take place on February 10, when the White House releases its 2021 budget request, which will contain a five-year funding plan for Artemis along with a request for Congress to fund it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

SpaceX Puts Another 60 Starlink Satellites In Orbit

After a few days of delays, SpaceX successfully placed another 60 of their Starlink satellites in orbit with a launch at 9:06 this morning Eastern time.  It was “one of those days” from my viewing site (the east side of my backyard); there were just enough clouds in just the right position that I didn't see even a glimpse of the launch.  Once it reached 1st stage cutoff and there was no chance of seeing anything, I came inside to watch them stick the landing.  This video should start just before the video switches to watch the first stage landing on their drone ship.

The video is one hour 15 minutes long, their entire launch coverage, so it includes all the milestones you'd want to see plus every minute of wait time (that you can fast forward through), if you're interested.

In addition, they continue to attempt to catch payload fairings with two recovery ships on the calculated target for the fairings.  Recovery vessel Ms. Tree caught one of the two payload fairing halves. Ms. Chief just missed the other one, the company said on its webcast.

Ars Technica reports this is the fourth flight of this Falcon 9 first stage and the successful recovery means they'll probably go for a fifth.  The design life is supposed to be five flights and I'm personally interested in seeing if they'll attempt a sixth launch of some booster.  My gut feeling is that they'll find a test mission or something without a paying customer and try a sixth. 

Finally, this mission contains a test of some new technology for the Starlink satellites.  The last time I talked about these, 18 days ago, I mentioned that there was growing concern in the astronomical community about reflections from the satellites ruining meticulously arranged photography.
In response, SpaceX has begun experimenting with darkening treatment and will consider other measures. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said he is sympathetic to the concerns of astronomers and will take steps to ensure the fidelity of astronomical observations.
A darkening treatment, not exactly like Virginia Governor Jolson Klanrobe's blackface, but more like an optical black anodizing treatment.  It will be interesting to see how well that works.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Count Me as “None of the Above”

I ran across an interesting little article on Business Insider about the differences between generational groups in which brands they find the most trustworthy (H/T to FEE).

For a business, creating a brand that users trust is one of the most important goals they can have and, as a side note, why I can never understand it when companies decide to alienate their customers, as so many (*cough*Gillette*cough*Dick's*cough) do.  Given that...
Data-intelligence company Morning Consult conducted 16,700 interviews per brand for almost 2,000 brands. Each participant was asked "How much do you trust each brand to do what is right?" and given the options of "a lot," "some," "not much," "not at all," or "don't know." Morning Consult's website says its trust ranking "is determined by share of 'a lot' responses."
They then present the results.  The aim of the story is apparently to say “those crazy Gen Z kids trust different brands that those old Boomer farts!  Zomg!!”  Instead, I'll try to just present results.
The survey found that the youngest and oldest consumers diverge sharply when it comes to how much they trust brands — and which brands they trust. Gen Z shoppers have an average brand trust rating of plus 10; less than the average boomer rating of plus 21.

And when it comes to the brands that they trust the most, Gen Z gravitates toward tech, ranking Google, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and Playstation as its top picks. Those rankings have no common ground with those of the baby boomers.

For older shoppers, the United States Postal Service delivers the most when it comes to trust. The federal mail service is followed closely by the United Parcel Service, Hershey, the Weather Channel, and Cheerios.

For their part, the age groups sandwiched between Gen Z and the boomers favor a mix of those companies. Millennials most trust Google, UPS, Amazon, Paypal, and Netflix. Gen X puts a lot of stock in USPS, Google, Amazon, Hershey, and Paypal.
I don't align with any of those groups, call me “none of the above,” although by age I'm in the “older shoppers” group.  I agree that I respect both UPS and the USPS but have no use for Hershey, the Weather Channel or Cheerios.  I'd drop those three and add Amazon from other groups' lists, but that's about it.  I don't think Google is particularly noteworthy for doing the right thing under either its YouTube or Google names.  Despite the fact that the study summary (first indented paragraph up above) said they queried about 2000 brands, they only show about 25 on their summary page (by demographic groups).

If I had to pick the top five who most often do the right thing, I'd keep UPS, USPS, Amazon and then I struggle with who to pick for the other two.  Contenders would have to include Springfield Armory, Sig Sauer, Hornady, and Federal Premium.  But I could see other brands, too: Ryobi Tools, Bessey Clamps, Irwin tools, Mitutoyo measuring tools and on an on.  It would take some sitting down and working at it to come up with my top 5. 

I think the reality is that surveys like this are pretty meaningless.  If you have a company, it's only worth paying for a study like this if the survey participants include your customers, or people you're trying to reach. 

I'm sure if we went to people from any of those groups, we'd find others who say they don't match their age group.  It's one of my sayings around here that there's no such thing as groups.  There's only individual people. 

Fun fact: as you click through the group names on top, Amazon stays #3 until you get to Boomers and then it falls to #11. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Have You Been Noticing Precious Metals?

The prices on precious metals have been a little gonzo lately, with the biggest WTFs going on over two of the lesser known metals, palladium and rhodium.

Both of these are white metals, like silver, and both have served as alternatives to silver.  The phrase, "cheap rhodium plated metal" comes to mind, but I don't think that was ever true.  I mean, both base metals and silver would be rhodium plated to give them a white luster that didn't get the black patina that sterling silver gets, but rhodium wasn't cheap.  It sold for many times the price of silver.  The only reason it had minimal impact on the price of jewelry was that tiny amounts of rhodium would be plated.  Rhodium's pricing has historically always been volatile, but at it's cheapest in the early 2000s, it would have been around $500/oz, and was frequently a couple of thousand dollars/oz while silver was in $5/oz range.  Today, rhodium sellers are asking in the vicinity of $10,000/oz.  Bidders are holding back from that, but we have to figure they're agreeing at some point, or there'd be no sales.

Palladium is another white alternative to silver that has always been several times the price of silver.  In that same period in the early 2000s that I was just referring to, palladium was “a few” hundred dollars/oz. - this was a period when I first started paying attention to precious metal prices and sort of had my financial awakening, so those numbers and relative prices are my reference points.  Today, palladium sellers were asking $2366/oz.  This Money Metals Exchange chart shows palladium's price in the last year.  You'll note that the chart seems to be divided in half horizontally, with the left half (until August) being little changed, but after that, the prices have been more steadily increasing. 

So what's going on?  Those of you familiar with precious metals as an investment might know this instinctively.  There are two main ways people invest in precious metals.  The most direct is to buy the metal and hold it; either at their home or in a safe deposit box in their bank.  The other way is by buying shares in a metal fund, frequently called an Exchange Traded Fund or ETF; that fund, in turn, will buy and hold the metal but the funds vary in how much and how often they buy the metals and how easily buyers can get metal.  There are advantages and disadvantages both ways, depending on your situation, but the story Money Metals Exchange is saying is the palladium funds have been claiming they have metal that they don't have.   Buyers are saying they want their palladium and the funds are having to pay more to get metal to deliver to their customers.
People have complained about this practice in precious metals markets for decades.

More and more contracts have been sold, but inventories of actual physical metal have not kept pace. Price discovery is broken when the paper price of metal is detached from physical supply-and-demand fundamentals.

Today, there are hundreds of paper ounces floating around for every ounce of physical metal eligible for actual delivery.

As soon as a few contract holders lose confidence in their ability to redeem the paper for actual metal, the jig is up. The rush for physical bars will drain exchange vaults quickly and anyone still holding paper when the music stops will be out of luck.

That may be happening now in the market for palladium.
Palladium and rhodium are genuinely rare - the Money Metals Exchange page says palladium is about 1/30 of the occurrence of gold and 1/15 of that of platinum.  On the other hand the Wikipedia page on abundance of elements in the Earth's crust lists two sources who provide concentration in parts per million of mass; two sources that have very different numbers.  I'll copy the few metals here (you can read the decimal numbers as milligrams of metal per kilogram of crust):
    • Metal         Source 1         Source 2
    • Gold           0.0011            0.0031
    • Platinum       0.0030            0.0037
    • Silver         0.0700            0.0800
    • Palladium      0.0006            0.0063 
    • Rhodium        0.0002            0.0007 

Many things go into pricing a metal and while traders always complain the market is rigged, that can only be part of it.  The cost of extracting it and the need for that metal (instead of some other metal) are the biggest factors.  Palladium, for example, is used in automotive catalytic converters (as is platinum); the industrial demand has to be a large percentage of setting the price. 

Speaking of precious metals, I'm sure many of you have noticed that the Kitco spot silver price link on the top of the right sidebar is misbehaving badly.  Instead of updating almost in real time, it seems to update once a day at some random time.  I'm all but certain the problem is at Kitco.  I've gone through their options a few times, tried everything I could see and nothing improved.  I also looked elsewhere for a similar way to track prices from someone else and couldn't find anything.  

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Details on the Saturday Diversion

What made my Saturday unusual and led to the unplanned way of spending the day is that I watched an antenna cable joint fail due to corrosion essentially right before my eyes.  On Friday afternoon, it looked like it had every time I had used my antenna analyzer on it; by Friday night it looked weird and by yesterday afternoon, it was an entirely new level of weird I'd never seen.

Fixing joints, whether coaxial cable connectors or plug-in connections, is not a new thing.  There are whole product families of contact cleaners to fight this issue.  It's just the first time I've ever watched one go from working to failed in real time.

Two years ago this past week, I had started trying to think of ways of getting my lowest frequency antenna to work on the last band lower in frequency that hams are allocated.  It's called 160 meters after its approximate wavelength and its frequency limits are 1.8 to 2.0 MHz.  For the newbies, ham radio has a schizophrenic (but useful!) tradition of referring to their bands by a wavelength in meters instead of frequency.  Any frequency can also be specified by a wavelength; 160 meters exactly is 1.875 MHz   My lowest frequency antenna, a Cushcraft MA8040V, is an electrically short antenna for 3.5 - 4.0 MHz, 80 meters and 7.0 - 7.3 MHz, 40 meters.  My antenna is slightly shorter than 1/8 wave on 80 so around 1/16 wave on 160. 

The problem with electrically short antennas is that they tend to be low impedance and act like capacitors.  It's a law of RF design that optimum power transfer occurs when the source and load are the same impedance and one way of doing that is an external circuit that tunes the antenna to make it match 50 ohms.  I think it's fair to say there are no radios on the market today that are designed for something other than 50 ohms resistive.

Impedances can be thought of as series resistor/capacitor (RC) or resistor/inductor (RL) circuits.  Transmitters are designed for 50 ohms resistive.  My antenna was 2 ohms resistive at one frequency; at others it was close to 2 ohms in series with a capacitor while at one spot above the 160 band it looked like it was in series with an inductor.  In Smith Chart* format, it looked like this (red trace along the left circumference and table of values below the chart):

Matching an impedance ratio of 2 ohms to 50 (25x) brings trades and limits that are hard to deal with (have I ever mentioned that physics is a bitch?).  I decided to find an approach that would get me on the band, even if it wouldn't be broad enough to include the whole band.  That circuit is in yesterday's post

Over the course of a few days, I got an impedance transforming circuit to work but never really tried it out.  There's a handful of reasons, but in the last several months I've looked at this circuit and wondered if it was actually useful.  It's possible to transform the antenna into a reasonable load but still have crappy results due to other reasons (too much loss in the cable to the antenna, or problems with radiation angle from the antenna, for example).

When I installed the mandatory Windows 10 "upgrade" on the ham shack computer last week, it refused to allow the cable I used for the USB to serial port connection on my antenna analyzer.  After fighting that for a day, I surrendered and ordered a new USB to serial port cable.  That came Friday.  When I got it to work with the analyzer, I retook the same measurements I had taken on the antenna two years ago and got a very similar plot.  Not identical, but “within experimental error.”   The circuit sweep looked like this (just focus on the red curve - where it's lowest is the best).

As Friday afternoon turned into Friday night, I put my matching circuit inline with the radio, and found it didn't work.  I hooked up the analyzer again and the antenna as viewed through the circuit looked different.  “That’s weird.”  Then I tried the antenna on bands that I always use it on without this little circuit, 80, 40 and 30 meters, and some of those wouldn't work.   I thought it would be best to try experimenting on the antenna during the day yesterday.  Because these bands are busiest at night, I figured if I worked on it during the day I wouldn't interfere with other stations.

Yesterday afternoon, I swept the antenna again and this time it looked even more different.  In place of the three curves above were three lines sloping a bit downward to the right, but very flat.  The unusual appearance extended over the entire 1.7 to 10.5 MHz spectrum I tested.  That would be very hard to do deliberately.  More experimentation followed, and I eventually tested my two other antennas.  Those worked fine, which tells me whatever it was that went wrong, it was just this antenna.

Eventually, I sat down on a work stool at the 80/40 antenna and took the connection between my buried cable and the antenna apart, finding it was horribly corroded.  I cleaned it up with sandpaper, files, and a spray on contact cleaner, eventually getting it to look more normal.  Then I decided the prudent thing to do would be to replace the connectors and treat them as a new antenna.  When I retested the antenna, the new plot laid almost perfectly on top of the one with the formerly corroded connectors. 

I tried the antenna out last night around 9PM on 160m and found it seemed to work well.  There was a contest going on, which leads to lots of people calling CQ (contact with anyone) and lots of chances to see where you contact.  I worked a handful of states, from Arkansas up to New York, and two Caribbean islands: Aruba and Grand Cayman.  I didn't spend much time testing it out on the air, just about an hour.

* Looking back at the blog, I see I've never done a "meet Mr. Smith Chart" tutorial post to link to here, so I'm not quite sure where a good one lies.  Spread Spectrum Scene has a page with a lot of links that you might find useful.  One of the most useful freeware programs I've ever come across is SimSmith by Ward, AE6TY, where you can not only analyze and simulate circuits on the Smith chart but can do things like filter simulations.

PS - I know if I called this post “Putting the Cushcraft MA8040V on 160 Meters,” I'd get a whole different bunch of readers.  Maybe five or ten. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

One of Those Days When Things Don't Go As Planned

We all have them now and then. 

The story can be as simple or as involved as you'd like.  It's to test this circuit. 

That was supposed to happen this afternoon, but problems got in the way.  On the left is my antenna for 80 and 40 meters.  On the right is a radio tuned to 160 meters.  That makes the antenna very short electrically, and rather low impedance. 

Results tomorrow.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Convergence of a Couple of Ideas - Neither of Them Newsworthy

Just two ideas that have come up this week that relate to a central lesson in life.  Too many people don't realize just how good we have it in life. 

Mrs. Graybeard and I have a family tradition of having chicken wings for dinner on Fridays.  It started out that we'd have wings and watch something we had recorded during the week; last year it would have been Marvel's Agents of Shield; the year before, perhaps the X-Files.  Sometimes it's nothing like that.  Lately, unfortunately, there has been nothing to watch but we have wings anyway.  Because Friday. 

A week ago, I'm finishing my last bites and something didn't feel right.  A little probing revealed the problem, I had lost a filling that was on the back surface of one of my lower front teeth.  That was a recent filling, more like 10 years than 30, but I'd be lying if I said I knew when I got it.  The important part is it wasn't a cavity and the tooth wasn't sensitive, I just had to get through the weekend to go get it fixed. 

Monday morning I called my dentist.  The cheerful girl on the phone said, "when's a good time?," to which I replied, "Anytime is good."  She took a few seconds to say, "how about 1PM today?"  It was not quite 8:30AM.  Naturally, I was there. 

There are no significant details to relate; the dentist said something along the lines of, "this should be easy.  No local anesthetic needed, we'll be done in no time."  And we were.  Less than hour after I sat down in the chair I was walking out with my tooth repaired.  Like all modern fillings, instead of mercury amalgam, it was UV-cured epoxy, then meticulously ground to the right size. 

At some point along the way I had the thought; imagine it was a few hundred years ago.  The richest kings in the world couldn't get what I just had done, in a small city in a flyover county.  I allowed myself to think farther down that line.  Forget the richest kings in antiquity; I don't think the richest men alive 100 years ago could get a simple filling like that. 

Later this week, the folks at FEE (The Foundation for Economic Education) reprised an article with the same line of thought.  The average person today has material riches John D. Rockefeller didn't have.  A February 2016 article in The Atlantic talked about life a hundred years ago and became, in turn, the FEE article.  It was life before widespread electricity, before antibiotics, before good heating systems in homes, and all of John Rockefeller's money couldn't buy it.  Travel from the east coast to the west coast in the US would take four days by rail (to most of the west coast).  Letters took days to cross the country; with no commercial aircraft there was no airmail. 

Remember, in 1924 the 16-year-old son of president Calvin Coolidge would die of an infected blister that he got on his toe while playing tennis on the White House grounds.  Today, antibiotics to fight that infection are practically free.

Record players were radical new technology and horribly low fidelity to modern audiences.  Phones were wall mounted, not carried in your pocket or on your belt. 

Last April, I posted part of an essay by a millennial woman writing about writing at a coffee shop.  She quoted AOC saying, “An entire generation ... came of age and never saw American prosperity.” The author concluded the complete opposite.  AOC and her cohort have never seen anything but prosperity. 
Why then, with all of the overwhelming evidence around us, evidence that I can even see sitting at a coffee shop, do we not view this as prosperity? We have people who are dying to get into our country. People around the world destitute and truly impoverished. Yet, we have a young generation convinced they’ve never seen prosperity, and as a result, elect politicians dead set on taking steps towards abolishing capitalism. Why? The answer is this, my generation has only seen prosperity. We have no contrast. We didn’t live in the great depression, or live through two world wars, or see the rise and fall of socialism and communism. We don’t know what it’s like not to live without the internet, without cars, without smartphones. We don’t have a lack of prosperity problem. We have an entitlement problem, an ungratefulness problem, and it’s spreading like a plague. 
I have no dental insurance which means this was a pure out-of-pocket expenditure.  Are there things I'd rather spend that money on?  Actually, no.  No, I'm happy to spend that money to get my tooth repaired - and extremely grateful to be alive in time when I can get it fixed and not have it continue to get worse.  Something John D. Rockefeller couldn't have done with all his millions.   

 John D. Rockefeller - 2nd from right.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

How The Tea Party Was Murdered

It's not often that I rerun pieces I've written in the past, but I think I have good reason. 

Blog Brother Borepatch (one of those of you who got me started) put up a piece this morning auspiciously about how Charles Martel turned back the caliphate but that was really addressing what 2A supporters - especially in Virginia and other states where rights are under attack - need to do in the wake of Monday's rally against Governor Jolson Klanrobe's anti-gun antics (Jolson Klanrobe is the memorable name Kurt Schlicter at used today - paywall warning). 

His punch line, repeated several times, was “Yeah, this is hard and not as much fun as a rally.  Campaigning to win is hard.”

This immediately brought back thoughts of the Tea Party and the perception it was brought down from the inside.  That's only true if you think of the inside as much broader than it was.  The Tea Party was killed by organized political operatives taking advantage of the naivety of Tea Party members.  Here's where I quote from a piece I put up in 2016, How the Tea Party Was Killed Off.  This is a lesson everyone in Virginia, here in Florida, New Hampshire, and anywhere else a rally is being held should keep in mind.  Presented here with some word smithing so it makes sense to me, the author, over 3 years later.

How the Tea Party Was Killed Off

Remember the Tea Party?  They were a political force to be reckoned with in the 2010 elections, but by the 2012 elections had been rendered ineffective.  It turns out it wasn't a natural occurrence and it certainly wasn't that they ran out of things to do.  At least according to this operative, who says he was involved, the tea party was killed off; murdered.   What killed them was the very corruption and cronyism they rose up to fight. 
What began as an organic, policy-driven grass-roots movement was drained of its vitality and resources by national political action committees that dunned the movement’s true believers endlessly for money to support its candidates and causes. The PACs used that money first to enrich themselves and their vendors and then deployed most of the rest to search for more “prospects.” In Tea Party world, that meant mostly older, technologically unsavvy people willing to divulge personal information through “petitions”—which only made them prey to further attempts to lighten their wallets for what they believed was a good cause.
The tea party actually started to rise during the last years of the W; so it absolutely didn't start as reaction to Obama (the reflexive reaction of the media and the left was, of course, to call the tea party racist).  Instead, the impetus was a reaction to the profligate spending along with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  When Obama swept into office, of course, both of those things continued.  Add in the passing of Obamacare, the only major social program in history to be voted in by one party, along with the lies that went along with it ("if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor", "we have to pass the bill to see what's in it" and more), and anger at Washington exploded.  Tea party rallies started happening.

As Peggy Noonan noted in 2010, the tea party wasn't a wing of the Republican party, as the left wing media thought, so much as a critique of it.  The tea party wasn't a national organization and it originally had little or nothing to do with the idea we saw widely displayed on signs, "Taxed Enough Already".  It was an organic uprising; a leaderless system, or starfish organization as they're called.
Republicans inside the Beltway reacted to the burgeoning Tea Party with glee but uncertainty about how to channel the grass-roots energy usually reserved for the left. A small group of supposedly conservative lawyers and consultants saw something different: dollar signs. The PACs found anger at the Republican Party sells very well. The campaigns they ran would be headlined “Boot John Boehner," or “Drop a Truth Bomb on Kevin McCarthy.” And after Boehner was in fact booted and McCarthy bombed in his bid to succeed him, it was naturally time to “Fire Paul Ryan." The selling is always urgent: “Stop what you’re doing” “This can’t wait.” One active solicitor is the Tea Party Leadership Fund, which received $6.7 million from 2013 to mid-2015, overwhelmingly from small donors. A typical solicitation from the TPLF read: “Your immediate contribution could be the most important financial investment you will make to help return America to greatness.” But, according to an investigation by POLITICO, 87 percent of that “investment” went to overhead; only $910,000 of the $6.7 million raised was used to support political candidates.
I don't think I get many uninformed readers here, so you know that as a rule in life, when someone talks to you with the urgency seen in those examples ("stop what you're doing"... "this can't wait"), you're being hustled.  Walk away or ignore it.  It's like the slimy car salesman who hits you with, "what can I do to get you into this car today?" 

Personally, I've always been suspicious of the Tea Party Patriots and a few other groups that put themselves forward as leaders of the leaderless organization.
Today, the Tea Party movement is dead, and Trump has co-opted the remnants. What was left of the Tea Party split for a while between Trump and, while he was still in the race, Ted Cruz, who was backed by Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. In 2014, the Tea Party Patriots group spent just 10 percent of the $14.4 million it collected actually supporting candidates, with the rest going to consultants and vendors and Martin’s hefty salary of $15,000 per month; in all, she makes an estimated $450,000 a year from her Tea Party-related ventures.
Folks, have you ever heard of Charity Navigator?   No, they don't - can't - have a file on every group that's going to ask you for money, but it's a good place to start.  I Will Never Give a Dime to an organization that puts 10% of what it collects into its stated purpose, like the Tea Party Patriots.  That's even worse than the 13% cited for TPLF in the first quote by POLITICO.  Another good place to go is  You can view a group’s track record in minutes. How much goes toward candidate contributions or so-called independent expenditures, which are supposed to be spent on the candidate (though even those can be thinly veiled solicitations if the "ask" or landing page directs to the PAC and not the candidate).

I'm not going to cite the whole article, you should definitely read the whole thing, but I will leave you with the author's summary of what happened.
But any insurgent movement needs oxygen in the form of victories or other measured progress in order to sustain itself and grow. By sapping the Tea Party’s resources and energy, the PACs thwarted any hope of building the movement. Every dollar swallowed up in PAC overhead or vendor fees was a dollar that did not go to federal Tea Party candidates in crucial primaries or general elections. This allowed the GOP to easily defeat or ignore them (with some rare exceptions). Second, the PACs drained money especially from local Tea Party groups, some of which were actively trying to grow the movement electorally from the ground up, at the school board and city council level. Lacking results five years on, interest in the movement waned—all that was left were the PACs and their lists.
It's really common to hear people complaining about what a corrupt place DC is (you've heard "Den of Criminals") is.   I say that and think that.  I didn't know anything compared to what's in that article.  To grab a quote from Walter Hudson at PJ Media, where I first saw the link to this story:
This is where our attention needs to be. This is the real establishment, not elected leaders in Washington, but a swirling flock of vultures that feed on the corpses of great expectation.

These PACs, that preyed upon Tea Party supporters like a flock of vultures feeding on an injured but still-living prey animal, are the real reason they're gone.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Boeing's Starliner Test Flight Went Worse Than We Thought

Boeing's Starliner test mission to the ISS a month ago aborted its main objective when a timer error caused it to miss its critical orbital insertion burn.

Today, Ars Technica reports that the mission also had failures in its thruster performance. The mission failure reported at the time that because of the timer error, the thrusters on the service module fired much more than the mission profiles call for.  They're now saying that, “Many of the elements of the propulsion system were overstressed.”
The NASA [initial information] release did not mention thruster performance, but an agency source told Ars that engineers are looking closely at the performance of the Starliner propulsion system. In addition to four large launch abort engines, the service module has 28 reaction control system thrusters, each with 85 pounds of thrust and 20 more-powerful orbital maneuvering thrusters, each with 1,500 pounds of thrust.  [Note: text in brackets added - SiG.]

During the post-flight news conference Jim Chilton, Boeing's senior vice president of the Space and Launch division, said the service module thrusters were stressed due to their unconventional use in raising Starliner's orbit instead of performing one big burn. As a result, the company had to shut down one manifold, which effectively branches into several lines carrying propellant to four thrusters. "We even shut down one manifold as we saw pressure go low 'cause it had been used a lot," he said.

The NASA source said eight or more thrusters on the service module failed at one point and that one thruster never fired at all.
 Ars asked for a comment from Boeing, and they were given the following statement:
"After the anomaly, many of the elements of the propulsion system were overstressed, with some thrusters exceeding the planned number of burns for a service module mission. We took a few cautionary measures to make sure the propulsion system stayed healthy for the remainder of the mission, including re-pressurizing the manifold, recovering that manifold’s thrusters. Over the course of the mission we turned off 13 thrusters and turned all but one back on after verifying their health."
In my opinion, after Sunday's successful SpaceX test, this puts Boeing a bit behind the eight ball.  After all, the emphasis up 'till now has been (my interpretation) trying to determine if they could claim the mission met all requirements.  Since the Starliner capsule never completed its primary mission of docking at the ISS, it seemed to be a stretch and everything else had to be superb.  With these apparent thruster issues, it seems to me Boeing would have to show the specifications for the thruster system and demonstrate, line by line, how they proved it worked per the specifications and here I'm assuming the design went through Critical Design Reviews where both Boeing and NASA signed off on the requirements, agreeing to them.

Two weeks ago, NASA and Boeing committed to a two month schedule to complete the analysis of the timer anomaly, while concurrently determining if another test flight is required.  My bet is that they'll have to redo this test flight essentially in its entirety.

Starliner on the pad on 12-19-19.  Trevor Mahlmann photo.

During Sunday's post-testflight press conference, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine repeatedly emphasized that he wants more than one ride to the ISS.  He wants both Boeing and SpaceX to succeed and he wants a vibrant private sector in space.  Everything he said sounded reasonable to me.  Both Bridenstine and Elon Musk commented that they could have the Crew Dragon ready to fly to the ISS by mid-March, but that with other considerations on the table they collectively said “second quarter.”  I'll be keeping my ears and eyes open for any changes.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Dumb Quote of the Week

It turns out Bernie's Dr. Stephanie Kelton isn't the only one spewing idiocy.

I get a daily email from a precious metals dealer called Money Metals Exchange, and they'll feature any great monetary idiocy they come across.  They link to Narayana Kocherlakota, the former President of the Federal Reserve bank of Minneapolis, who wants you to know the Federal Government can never borrow too much money.  He wrote an opinion piece for Bloomberg online that has a couple of astounding quotes.

The first is setup:
Policy makers and voters often express concern about the level of the federal deficit, which topped $1 trillion last year, and the national debt, now more than $23 trillion. But, unlike a household that owes money to a bank, the U.S. government has the ability to tax its creditors. This power means that the federal government can afford any level of debt that is owed to American taxpayers.
And the payoff is a few paragraphs later.  First the setup: the government's debt is $100 Million per person in the US (he doesn't specify every taxpayer in the US although he implies that), an amount that's many times the current debt, then specifies that the interest rate is 5% which is higher than the current rates.  How can the government begin to pay this, a figure that amounts to $5 million per person per year?  It's here I find the QoTW. 
Suppose first that all U.S. taxpayers are exactly the same financially and so they each own the same amount of U.S. government debt. Then, the government can tell each person: your tax bill for this year and every year thereafter is equal to $5 million. People can pay this seemingly huge tax by handing over the $5 million in interest that they receive from the government.  The entire process of taxation and debt finance ends up being a complete wash. 
That means every single taxpayer buys government bonds that pay them $5 million interest every year,  and then turns that $5 million over directly to the IRS!!

Why exactly would anyone who could afford to buy $100 million worth of bonds buy bonds that pay them a net zero?  What if the Chinese or another government actually paid them interest that they could keep?  He doesn't propose or answer this simple question. 

After this, he says there's nothing special about these numbers, and goes on to say:
Indeed, if it wanted, the government could retire its entire debt in a similar fashion, rather than simply paying the interest.
In other words, today's national debt is $23.2 trillion, which reduces to a mere $187,629 per taxpayer.  The government could retire its entire $23.2 trillion debt if you'd just pay them $187,629.  Now would be fine.

I do have to give him some credit.  He recognizes that debt owed to other countries is different than debt owed to ourselves. 
The logic of the argument does depend -- critically! -- on the debt being owed to U. S. taxpayers. When the U.S. government borrows from non-taxpayers, such as the Chinese government, it becomes much more like a household that is borrowing from a bank. There is, accordingly, a limit on the level of debt or deficit that can be considered sustainable.
He goes on to say that we currently pay 30% of one year’s gross domestic product to foreign entities, and argues that translates into a non-taxpayer interest obligation of less than 1% of GDP which is “eminently affordable.”

As is often the case, I'm left wondering if he really believes this or he's just trying to sell us on it.  He says, “The government can borrow as much from taxpayers as it wants,” but that's not what's going on.  The fed is creating currency out of thin air.  The Fed is selling bonds to themselves with it, and they're selling bonds to China, Japan, the EU and other foreign entities.  I'm sure some Americans buy American bonds, but it's nowhere near the total amount of debt.  His already-lame arguments don't even seem to apply to the situation he's talking about. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

SpaceX Aces Critical Abort Test

It took them a couple of days to get the weather acceptable for launching the Crew Dragon abort test, but the mission went off without a hitch at 10:30 EST this morning.  The original schedule was for 8:00 AM yesterday (“no earlier than...”) but that was cancelled due to the strong winds not easing, as was forecast Friday.  The test was rescheduled for this morning at 8:00 AM and then rescheduled for 10:00, then 10:30.  Since it's a suborbital test, the launch window wasn't critical and extended to 2:00 PM.  On the plus side, the weather allowed them to test the system at the limits it would ever be allowed to fly in, including splashing down in rough seas.

We were still socked in by clouds, only catching a glimpse or two of the Falcon 9 booster during it's 1:37 second lifetime.  We came back in and watched the test unfold on SpaceX's feed on YouTube.

This is a screen capture from their video, showing virtually the moment that the F9 is shutdown and the Crew Dragon escape rockets fire. 

Ten seconds later the F9 booster exploded - this was expected to happen, but was dramatic to see.

The post-test press conference declared that all objectives have been met.  That was the last test involving the full vehicle, but there are still some tests required before the system will be pronounced flight ready and a manned mission to the ISS would be allowed.  Those sound like isolated hardware tests, parachutes and some other systems, which should go more quickly than full system tests requiring launches of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon.

The post-test conference is optimistic that the first Crew Dragon flight from the KSC to the ISS will happen this year, probably in the second quarter of the year; that is, before summer.  That will be the first manned launch from US soil since the final flight of the Shuttle Discovery in 2011

Saturday, January 18, 2020

California - Killing Jobs Since Forever - Freelance Writers Hardest Hit

I had heard of California's Assembly Bill no. 5 (AB5) as an attack on the Gig economy, but hadn't read much about it until this week.  The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) put up a look at the bill with details I'd missed.  The law doesn't specifically prohibit freelance work, but it severely constrains it and that is putting a lot of freelancers out of work.

They start out with an example to catch a lot of people's interests, and talk about the two most popular streaming programs on TV: Disney's The Mandalorian and Netflix's The Witcher.
In The Mandalorian, the title character (nicknamed Mando) is a bounty hunter who works, and gets paid, on a case-by-case basis for specific contracts. He’s a member of a bounty hunting guild, which is not his “employer,” but rather a cross between a credentialing association and a job board.

In The Witcher, the title character is Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter for hire who roams the Continent, clearing out dangerous beasts that threaten the lives and livelihoods of others. Sometimes the contract is offered by the local nobility, sometimes it comes directly from the common folk. Witchers also have a guild that credentials its members.
In both cases, the freelancer takes on a specific job for a short period of time and once the fugitive is found by bounty hunter Mando or the monster dispatched by Geralt of Rivia, the contract is over.  Employer and employee part ways.

That's what AB5 is outlawing.  The law redefines “employee” in a way that makes freelance work nearly impossible. While it was aimed at work arranged through on-demand apps like Uber, Lyft, and Taskrabbit, it impacted freelancing in general.  Writer Andi Loveall (@ms_andiloveall) tweeted,
They're forcing any company that hires a freelancer for more than 35 gigs a year (which is nothing, I can do that in a week or two) to hire the freelancers as employees. But my company only uses freelance writers. So I lost my ability to work there. And so did many others.
Another writer, who just goes by the name Amy (@MazingAmy) tweeted:
35 submissions a year? I have to write 80 a month to support myself.
But naturally, the wonderful state thinks they've made these peoples lives better by making them unemployed.  The reality is the law was written without the slightest care for writers like these two women.  It was written to protect cab drivers from Uber and Lyft, and wreck any other choice of working arrangements people might like.  Note the condescending attitude of the "AB5 cosponsor"
When writers who lost contracts with Vox Media told AB5’s sponsor about their troubles, the lawmaker said those “were never good jobs,” and the loss was limited to “contractors who don’t want a job.” The fact that until recently they had jobs, with the freedom to work where and when they wish and never do unpaid overtime, didn’t seem to matter.

It’s worth noting that the bill’s sponsor, a lawyer, included an exemption for her own profession and a dozen others with the political juice to get one while arbitrarily rendering all other such arrangements illegal. The real beneficiaries of the law—powerful labor unions—just cut their small-business competition off at the knees.
Of course, it's not just writers vs. Uber drivers.  Independent truck drivers, who buy their own trucks and prefer to work for themselves are also hard hit, as are musicians and all sorts of artists.  For a virtually endless stream of stories, check out the #AB5Stories and #AB5 hashtags on Twitter. 

KUSI photo.  

Friday, January 17, 2020

Concept Cars from the Consumer Electronics Show

When I hear the term concept car, I think it's a test bed for a group of undeveloped technologies, but a group that the car makers' most forward-looking, system architects think are likely to be used in their cars no sooner than three to five years out.

This year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), pretty much the leading indicator for at least the next year in consumer electronics, was held last week, the 7th to 11th, in Las Vegas.  The usual tech web sites, like c/net, covered lots of details from the show, but an article in Electronic Design on some concept cars caught my eye.  Mainly because I look at them and say, “just what is the concept?”  For example, here's the Mercedes Benz concept:

I didn't think this at first (I think my actual first thought was, “WTF??”) but they say it's inspired by James Cameron’s “Avatar.”  It's called the VISION AVTR.
The interior and exterior have an “inside-out design structure” with its stretched "One Bow." It does not have a conventional steering wheel. Instead, a multifunctional, curved, touch-activated center console supports a project menu selection interface.

The car is supposed to use an organic, graphene-based battery technology that uses recyclable materials instead of rare earths and metals. Hey, it’s a concept car.

The vehicle also has 33 "bionic flaps" on the back that are “reminiscent of scales of reptiles.” The front and rear axles can move in the same or opposite direction, allowing the VISION AVTR to move sideways by about 30 degrees in a so-called "crab movement."
Of the four cars shown, this is the most surrealistic.  My reaction to the car, thinking about sitting in that seat, forced into that position, with see-through doors that would offer no protection from a side collision was, “Nope.  Nope.  Nope.”

Sony (of all companies) presents a pretty normal looking car, rather full of cameras and other electronics more associated with Sony than cars.  There's a dozen cameras in the Vision S.
There are plenty of other sensors as well, including a dozen ultrasonic sensors, five radars, and three solid-state LiDARs. One might scoff at the plethora of sensors, but this will likely be standard fare in the future of self-driving cars. 
Besides the Sony, Nissan's fully-electric Leaf SUV looks like you could find it on the lot now, and the article says it's the closest to production.  Toyota's Yui, though, goes back in the direction of the Mercedes VISION AVTR but goes nowhere near as far.

Yui is supposed to bring a “warm and friendly” experience to driving.  ...

Inside there's a 3D, full-color, head-up display (HUD) along with futuristic, contour seating. The car targets SAE Level 4 driving support and includes an automated valet parking system developed jointly with Panasonic that also helped with the HUD's development. The interior also makes extensive use of embedded LED lighting from floor to ceiling. The headlights employ digital micromirror devices (DMDs), allowing for focused beams that can avoid blinding other cars and pedestrians.
Notice that the doors go back in the direction of the see-through design of the Mercedes.  Honestly, do you really want to look at the butt and thighs of the people you see on the road?  Or their garbage piled on the floor?  Do you really want the world looking at your butt and thighs through a window like that?   To be honest, they both reminded me of this plumber's ad concept.

Confidential to the artists, there's only a handful of people in the world who look good in that view, and they work as models - or could if they felt like it.  And to the managers of the car companies who put the artists there, you'll get more sales by making the doors more conventional. 

Overall, I'm confident that see through-cars like these are highly unlikely to make it to production.  More rational heads will prevail.  Still, I think the overarching lesson here is that artists shouldn't be let too close to the concept car line.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Sometimes, Reality Interrupts

But you know that, right?

Last night as I'm getting ready to draft a post, I hear an unknown sound, but somehow a familiar sound.  It was clearly an alarm of some sort, but it didn't sound like anything I knew and could identify.  It was loud enough to make the cats run for cover, and I quickly localized it to the kitchen, but what was it?  An alarm from one our wireless freezer alarms?  No, the digital displays looked normal.  The door ajar alarm from the refrigerator?  No.  It took me a while to realize it was an alarm that we'd set up in 2016, but that had never gone off - and I didn't know what it sounded like.  It's a water detector with its sensor under the dishwasher, along the back wall (lowest point) so that if there's a leak back there we have a better chance of knowing it before we have thousands of dollars worth of damage.  Like we did in 2010.  Or just 3-1/2 years ago, summer of '16 (not as bad as '10).

It was almost like this:

The alarm did its job.  I don't know how much water was down there, or still is, but we shut off the dishwasher, and using the 2-1/2" hole cut through the cabinet base for the alarm sensor, vacuumed up or absorbed water with towels, sponges or whatever I could cram back there.  My little battery powered shop vac got very little water out of there.  With luck, it didn't soak plywood, and once we figure out why it's leaking and fix it, the whole thing will be over with.  Meanwhile, the major inconvenience is washing dishes by hand, and if washing dishes by hand is your biggest problem in life, you've got a sweet life.

As long as I'm using column space for some “Me Me” stuff, after a few weeks of putting it off, we went to see Star Wars 27: The End of The Universe (just kidding).  Our local multiplex has an early morning special that gets the two of us in for under $9, and going for that price was part of the decision.  There might have been 10 people in the theater, which isn't bad for a starting time just before 10AM. 

I'm a bit of two minds about it.  If you're just going to a movie, it's fun and worth the price.  Space opera type adventure.  Lots of flash, lots of CGI, lots of action.  I've read bits and pieces about a few of the actors here and there: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and John Boyega, for a few, and they seem to come across as basically good kids, not “Hollyweird snots.”

On the other hand to millions, it's not just a movie, it's part of the Star Wars universe and story lines.  First off, if you go to this without having any idea of who the characters are and what they're talking about, you'll probably be too lost to make sense out of it.  If anyone can make sense of it, because as a coherent Star Wars universe story, they kind of stretch the ideas beyond recognition.  I'm sure you've heard that - Bayou Renaissance Man did a piece on that including a Bill Whittle video.  Like any movie, there's willing suspension of disbelief and then there's that point where (at least) my brain says, "WTF was that?"  It's fun unless you're looking for a coherent Star Wars story.

At times, it seemed like a collection of short stories that are written by entirely different authors, yet somehow sold as one book.  We all know these movies are written as distinct acts and scenes; it's like each act is a sub-movie but the integration of those acts into a coherent whole wasn't quite there.

So I say that there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours, like lying on the floor working on a dishwasher, and it's even a decent movie.  It's just got a lot to live up to and falls short.  Still, I walked out of the theater entertained and diverted for a couple hours, and that's a pretty good way to spend those hours.

And, listen: since the current version of Darth Vader is Kylo Ren, and the most twisted cartoon show in the '90s was Ren and Stimpy, you might want to do an image search on Kylo Ren and Stimpy.  That's all I'll say.

The principal characters in the movie (more or less).  In the background, Poe - Oscar Issac, and Finn - John Boyega.  Foreground Chewie - Joonas Suotomo and Rey - Daisy Ridley.  Disney photo.  (The original Chewbacca, Peter Mayhew, retired in 2015 and passed away last April, 2019)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

It's Nice to See Project Veritas Publicize the Fascist in Bernie's Stable, But...

Kyle Jurek, Iowa Field Organizer, isn't the scariest or most dangerous member of Bernie's team.  He's just, um, maybe, the most obvious fascist.  He wants to send anyone to Bernie's right to the Gulags and education centers.  Or be executed.  After all, he's quoted as saying
Kyle Jurek says liberal democrats should be placed in gulags or be put to death: “Liberals Get the F***ing Wall First.”
In big picture sense, though, he's a nobody.  All bluster and thunder and either gone by now or will be soon.  Much like the doctors who do colonoscopies, in a few weeks we'll see Kyle Jurek's name and think he's just some asshole we've seen before.  

The one more dangerous than Jurek would be Dr. Stephanie Kelton, Bernie's senior economic advisor, who is a strong advocate for Modern Monetary Theory.   Modern Monetary Theory is a recipe for hyperinflation and destruction of the currency.  We've seen this movie before.  Countries like Zimbabwe, and today's Venezuela come to mind.  Let me borrow a Tweet from Dr. Kelton that I've used before:

Kelton and the other MMT always cite these bad analogies.  Is it stupidity, dishonesty, or are they just expecting anyone reading it to be stupid?
  • The carpenter can run out of inches of wood, inches of nails, or inches in his tape measures.  Or anything that is used to create real things of value.
  • A stadium doesn't have anything to do with points to run out of.  The officials can't give out points the teams didn't score and retain any credibility.  The stadium rents out seats, sells food, and maintains a playing surface.   It can run out of all of those. 
  • The airline can run out of Frequent Flier miles that they can redeem: they can run out of seats to put passengers in. 
  • The USA can run out of dollars if we want them to be worth something. 
All of these MMT theorists cite illogical lines like this; they confuse numbers with numbers of real things.  Numbers are infinite; resources aren't.  If the carpenter tried to build with more inches of wood than they had bought, they couldn't do the job.  If an airline offered more miles than they could redeem, they'd lose customers.  And if a country created more money than its economy could possibly justify, its money would mean nothing and be worth nothing. 

In a way, the MMT theorists are like Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  They've got “a million ideas. They all point to certain death.”

Monday, January 13, 2020

On The September Saudi Oil Field Attacks

Reports at the time claimed these were drones, slightly bigger/better payloads than hobbyist drones, but not sophisticated weapons.  Geostrategy Direct (paywall warning) has a very different take on this, as excerpted on Free Pressers.
On Sept. 14, 2019, Iran attacked Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia with cruise missiles. However, the Iranian cruise missile used in the attack was previewed in a Feb. 17, 2018 Iranian TV report from Imam Hossien University, shown next to Chinese missile designs.

The Iranian cruise missile was similar to the Chinese Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) C-705 export cruise missile.

CASIC has a longstanding record of cruise missile sales to Iran.

This view of the damage at the Saudi Abqaiq facility.  These are Liquified Natural Gas storage tanks, and each has puncture in essentially the same spot.  Despite last weeks' Iranian attacks on Iraqi facilities showing extremely poor results, they can clearly hit targets precisely when they want to.  Defense Update reports. 
The damage from the September 14 attack seems to be caused by a small explosive shaped charge, (guided weapons?) rather than large cruise missiles such as the Soumar. The Iranians do have small, stealthy suicide drones that can cause such effects or drones that carry multiple PGM that would cause this damage. However, flying such drones over this protected site would be extremely difficult. Photo: DigitalGlobe.
The truth is probably not a question of small drones vs. cruise missiles, it's probably both.  The Geostrategy Direct column's emphasis is that Iran isn't acting completely alone as the agents provocateur in the middle east; Iran is teaming up with China.
China has used disinformation to conceal its role in promoting conflict with Iran in the wake of the spike in Persian Gulf and even global military tensions following the Jan. 3 American drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq, that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.

Two days later, on Jan. 5, Chinese state media organ Global Times stated: “China won't use proxy warfare in the Middle East or coerce countries in the region to choose sides. China's joint naval drill with Russia and Iran is not an attempt to seek its sphere of influence, pursue military expansion, or fight against other countries in the region. China is seeking amity with all Middle Eastern countries, engage in cooperation with them and contribute to regional security.”

These claims are all false; since the 1980s China has been a principle backer of Iran’s radical Islamic regime, providing decades of military technology and assistance, while becoming the principle source of foreign revenues as the largest customer for Iran’s petroleum. Iran, in turn, gives Chinese weapons to terrorist groups in Lebanon and Yemen, which respectively, are fighting Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

China claims to be seeking ‘amity with all Middle Eastern countries’ but starting on Dec. 27, 2019 it sent a major Chinese Navy warship to exercise with Iran’s Navy, showing clear support for Iran.  Free Pressers photo. 

It seems to be common belief that this was an attack that the Houthi rebels in Yemen carried out - with the implication that it was unsophisticated, and that any determined street gang could duplicate it.  It wasn't.  It was disguised to look like that - if one doesn't look too closely.