Thursday, April 30, 2020

FCC More Than Doubles WiFi Bandwidth Available for WiFi 6

If WiFi scares you, forget 5G cellular that's still years away, a new generation of WiFi is coming and will be here years sooner than 5G.  According to the Microwaves & RF trade magazine daily email news:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules that make 1200 MHz of spectrum in the 6-GHz band (5.925–7.125 GHz) available for unlicensed use. These new rules will usher in Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi, and play a major role in the growth of the Internet of Things. Wi-Fi 6 will be over 2.5X faster than the current standard and deliver improved performance. Opening the 6-GHz band for unlicensed use will also increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi by nearly a factor of five and help improve rural connectivity.
Current WiFi activity, WiFi 5, as most of you know, is located in two frequency bands separated by a factor of (a bit over) 2.  The first, and still most widely used band is at 2.4 GHz, stretching from 2.4 to 2.5 GHz - 100 MHz of allocated channels.  The problem with that band has been that it's very busy with Bluetooth, wireless toll collection and a bunch of other services so data rates can be affected.  The newer and higher frequency band is 5.18 to 5.825 GHz, or almost 810 MHz of allocated channels and over eight times the currently available bandwidth as 2.4 GHz WiFi.  The higher frequency band has much more spectrum than the lower (and first) WiFi band, and can have higher data rate channels, too.

The new allocations from the FCC will extend the 5 GHz band up 7.125 GHz.  Instead of 810 MHz, there will be over 2000 MHz of spectrum, almost 2-1/2 times as much spectrum, allowing higher data rates and relieving the congestion of too many signals in the band.  Since this was only authorized by the FCC this week, I'd expect new WiFi routers that go to 7.125 GHz to start hitting the market by the fall. There's already WiFi 6 out there, but why not wait until you get the wider bandwidth?

The transitions to Working From Home (WFH) brought on by the Kung Flu lock downs have increased WiFi usage and put pressure on the nation's systems.  
The trend toward WFH means an explosion in the need for wireless connectivity, and that means even more reliance on Wi-Fi than ever. According to high-end Wi-Fi provider Plume Design, some 22.6 million people were active online during the workday prior to the coronavirus crisis. Now, about 46.2 million users are flooding the data pipelines.

Many of our devices and routers support the prevalent Wi-Fi 5 standard (a.k.a. “the standard formerly known as 802.11ac” now that the Wi-Fi Alliance has shifted to simply numbering the standards rather than using their unwieldy IEEE monikers; I, for one, applaud the move). But what if Wi-Fi 5’s 3.5-Gb/s maximum data rate, 256-QAM limit on subcarrier modulation, and four spatial streams can’t cut the mustard?

The Wi-Fi standard has already evolved beyond Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6 is with us and promises to alleviate the growing connectivity logjam. It offers numerous improvements over its processor: With eight spatial streams and 1024-QAM subcarrier modulation, Wi-Fi 6 now sports a maximum data rate of 9.6 Gb/s.
Personally, I think this is a wonderful development and more high speed connectivity is a Good Thing.  There are existing users of that spectrum that's being allocated to WiFi (as there almost always are) but the articles make it sound like the FCC is managing the systems to minimize conflict. 

I'm only being slightly facetious about being afraid of WiFi, I know some people are.  Personally, I'd rather have everything in my house wired for gigabit Ethernet but that's for security, not concern over RF.  Chances are that people afraid of WiFi won't be affected by this because they won't have a WiFi router in their house of any kind!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Taking the Long View

There's a saying that goes, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”  I've always taken that to mean when we do things that are for the good of people who come long after us. 

Maybe it's a reach to apply that story here, but Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and MIT Professor Danny Hillis have embarked on project that has an even farther off payoff than planting a tree today.  They've begun construction of a clock that Hillis first conceived of in 1986; it's a clock that will tick just once a year and chime once ever thousand years.  Called The Clock of the Long Now, it's designed to keep time for 10,000 years.  Purely mechanical.  It will be powered by day/night thermal cycles and optomechanically reset daily at solar noon to phase lock the clock to solar time.  Talk about trees whose shade he'll never sit in, Jeff will never even hear this clock chime unless it's in a special qualifications test.

It's safe to say that someone who would fund this has to have money to spare, and while Professor Hillis is a millionaire, the project is being funded by Bezos.  At $42 million, the equivalent of change found between the sofa cushions to the World's Richest Man, the clock is being built on land that Bezos owns in the Sierra Diablo Mountains of west Texas.
How does the clock work? Well, the longness of the time involved is the big engineering challenge. The clock is designed to tick just once a year and chime once per millennium. Experts are blasting rooms out of the interior of the mountain in order to install steampunky piles of gears and flywheels. 

The tweet and video can be viewed here on Twitter.  Jeff has put up a website dedicated to the clock and is soliciting ideas for things it could also do.

If you're puzzled about what could motivate a couple of guys to create a clock intended to keep time for 10,000 years, well, join the club.  The original source I ran across at Popular Mechanics said, “Bezos explained the clock as a way to remind people that the far future not only exists, but will happen to their descendants.”  Wikipedia's article includes this note.
In the words of Stewart Brand, a founding board member of the foundation, "Such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well-engineered, would embody deep time for people. It should be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think."[2]
They're talking up the clock as if it will be some sort of attraction, but it's also remote and hard to get to.  That implies most people will never be able to ever see the clock in person.
The clock itself, though, seems a lot more like a Howard Hughes-esque whim or a Crazy Horse Memorial kind of distant vision. “Visiting the Clock will take a commitment," the website reads. "The nearest airport is several hours away by car, and the foot trail to the Clock is rugged, rising almost 2,000 feet above the valley floor.” 
The self-righteous, environmentalist-sounding aspect of why they're building the clock makes me want to hate them, but I don't.  As far as I can tell, they're doing it all on their own property with their own money and people can do whatever they want with their own money as long as they don't hurt other people.  It looks to me like another situation where a billionaire creates a bunch of jobs.  He wants something and hires a team to do it. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


You may know Heinlein's TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch - but I bet you don't know the second one because I just made it up:  There Ain't No Such Thing As A Law Without Unintended Consequences.  At least the first one is more pronounceable.  (Tahns taffle vs. tahns tahl wook?)

Heinlein's TANSTAAFL is often stated as being roughly equivalent to the second law of thermodynamics.  You can't get something for nothing.  No perpetual motion machines.  In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, where Heinlein first used this phrase, the protagonist talks about the free lunch in a bar and tells another character to consider hidden costs.  Where I'm going with this is for you, gentle readers, to recognize that everything that our leaders think they're doing with their management or government policies has a cost and if they care at all about whether they're doing more harm than good, they should analyze all of the costs and do a Cost Benefit Analysis.  Often, perhaps usually, many of those costs are hidden or unknown unknowns

When they decide that we're going to put the country into shutdown to keep from overwhelming the medical system, they're fooling themselves if they think there are no other costs to putting millions of people out of work.  Further, if the only thing they're tracking is the number of people taking up beds in Intensive Care Units, they're lying to themselves about the epidemic by tracking one cost and ignoring scores of others.  Not only is the medical system not overwhelmed, they're literally laying off, furloughing and otherwise shedding thousands of workers because millions of the so-called elective surgeries aren't getting done.  How many people have had a cancer diagnosis but had their treatment halted because they couldn't get the tumor removed or some other elective procedure?  How many of those people will die because of the delay?  We know by comparing American survival stats to those of the British NHS with its ordinarily much longer waits for that sort of procedure that there will more cancer deaths than usual in the US and our survival rates will look more like theirs.

Dr. Nicole Saphier, a radiologist from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a medical analyst on Fox News put some example numbers out in a tweet recently, picked up at 90 Miles From Tyranny:

Considering how bad every other set of numbers that's been tossed around has been, I'm skeptical of this, too, but it's better than estimating how many cases of an illness we haven't had. 

No policy, no law can save lives.  All that a policy can do is trade one group of lives for another. 
Good policies result in a net positive tradeoff. But we have no idea whether the tradeoff is a net positive until we take a sober look at the cost of saving lives. And we can’t do that until we stop with the “if it saves just one life” nonsense.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Starship SN4 Breaks “The Cryo Test Barrier”

Late last night through early this morning, SpaceX Starship prototype Serial Number 4  achieved something the first three serial numbers never did.  It survived a fueling test with liquid nitrogen (in place of methane).
Late on Sunday night, SpaceX completed a critical cryogenic test of a Starship prototype at its launch site in South Texas. The successful test, during which chilled nitrogen was loaded into pressurized fuel tanks, was reported on Twitter by SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

The vehicle, dubbed SN4—which stands for Serial Number 4—was pressurized to 4.9 bar, or 4.9 times the atmospheric pressure at the surface of the Earth. This pressure is not as high as Starship's fuel tanks and plumbing system are designed to withstand, but it is enough for a basic flight.
The test of SN3 failed back on the night of April 3rd, which was explained to have been due to a testing error, specifically loading the liquid nitrogen by volume not weight, if I understood them.  As with SN3, the plan was to run these cryogenic tests, and then strap one of their Raptor engines to the protoype for a static test.  That could happen by this weekend.  Once the static tests pass, there will be a test flight of the vehicle.  No, seriously. 
Should the static fire test be successful, Musk has said the SN4 vehicle will make a 150-meter "hop" test, much as the "Starhopper" prototype performed in August 2019. The company has yet to receive regulatory approval for this test, so it may not happen for several weeks.
Serial Number 5, well into construction already, has been earmarked for a higher altitude test flight. Musk has said, if all goes well with SN4, the plan is to attach three Raptors to SN5 for a higher flight test later this spring.  How much spring is left?  Seven weeks?

It helps to remember that Starship is just the upper stage for something much, much bigger:  Starship Super Heavy shown here between the Saturn V and a Falcon 9, the Starship Super Heavy's ancestor.  The vehicle was originally named the BFR, which was cleaned up for public consumption by explaining it as Big Falcon Rocket.  Although the corporate website refers to the rocket as Starship and Super Heavy, they also call it the BFR. 

Starship is the "upper stage" of a two-part, fully reusable launch system that SpaceX is developing. The company's goal is for the "Super Heavy" rocket to boost Starship into orbit, where this vehicle can either carry cargo to some destination or carry dozens of passengers.  
I read somewhere recently that Starship is considered much harder to get right than the Super Heavy booster, so that's why all the prototyping to date has been for the upper stage.  I guess SpaceX regards something with liftoff capability along the lines of a Saturn V, but fully reusable instead of three disposable stages, as their expertise or knowledge base, something they have a pretty good idea of how to do.  I expect their development will continue being fun to watch.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sunday Shop Update

It's been a couple of weeks since I updated progress on my Webster internal combustion engine, because I had a side project that ended up taking time away from it. 

I'm working on the piston connecting rod.  Needlessly fancy, but guys who make things like this engine like to do needlessly fancy parts (as a rash generalization) so I'm going to try to capture the details.  This is the Conn Rod:

It could be the same thickness for the entire part, but the guy takes 5/16 thick stock and thins it out by 1/32" on both sides.  Plus, he leaves the round shape of the portion that holds the bearings.  Both of the circular openings on both ends get some bearing bronze inserts.  I had to buy a foot of bearing bronze to cut two pieces that are 5/16" long.  It's a lifetime supply.  Anybody that makes anything, from woodworking to electronics projects to robots to mechanical projects knows the hassles of minimum order quantities. 

My process to make this isn't going to be the way guys do it on a manual mill.  That would entail several setups (I think I see six setups but there might be an easier way).  I'm going to cut the outline under CNC control.  I've put temporary holes for 10-32 screws where the .250 and .375 holes will eventually be and I've screwed a piece of 5/16" stock to a tooling plate to cut out the ends.  I hope to get by with two setups: one for cutting the shape which I'll also use for that 1/32" relief cut, and then flip it over to do the relief cut on the other side.  Finally, I'll drill those holes for the bearings. 

To get the CAM program to work on this, I needed to turn the 2D/DXF drawing that I had into a 3D model and save that as an .STL file (stereolithography - the file format most 3D printers use). 

It took a lot of time to get the tool paths that I want, to cut the outline of the part.  It seems that there was a default setting of the CAM program I use (DeskProto - an old version) that I hadn't gotten set when I installed it on this computer back in December.  It made every X and Y coordinate on the part positive, while I set up my fixture to put (0,0) on the mid-line and on the very left edge of the small bearing holder.  I could change the coordinates of my reference point on the mill's table, but changed the coordinates of the part to just use the drawing. 

A simulation of all of the tool paths looks like this:

It looks different - fatter than the rod itself - because the green lines are offset from the part by 1/4" - the radius of the 1/2" bit I'm going to cut this with. 

I had hoped to have this cut today, but then ran into the problem of, "why aren't the coordinates what I told it they should be?"  Once this is cut, it's still going to be the full 5/16" thick and the Conn Rod's thickness won't be relieved around the bearings and in between the ends.  That's going to be another adventure in making tool paths with the CAM program. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

30 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope, often just called the HST, was deployed 30 years ago today: April 25, 1990.  HST was launched the day before onboard shuttle Discovery, but wasn't fully checked out and declared operational until May 20.  For those of us who routinely criticize the Space Launch System for being behind schedule and over budget, there's this gem to consider (also from Wikipedia):
From its original total cost estimate of about US$400 million, the telescope cost about US$4.7 billion by the time of its launch. Hubble's cumulative costs were estimated to be about US$10 billion in 2010, twenty years after launch.[58]
Gee, just short of 12x the original cost estimate.  NASA has a webpage dedicated to the telescope filled with all sorts of eye-popping pictures.

Probably the thing that the HST is best known for is having a defective primary mirror.  HST's optical design is a type of a Cassegrain reflector called a Ritchey-ChrĂ©tien.  RCs have become the preferred optical configuration in high end research observatories because they provide a wide photographic field with less optical distortion off axis than others.  There are three or four types of optical Cassegrain reflectors, which have a concave primary (big) mirror and a convex secondary mirror that typically is around 25% to 30% of the diameter of the primary.  In the RC, both mirrors are hyperbolic (a hyperboloid of revolution).

Convex mirrors of all sorts are more difficult to test than concave mirrors, and require another calibrated mirror to test against.  It has become common practice in testing optical systems to develop a test system with its own optical surfaces that need to be certified correct and use that to test the system being built.  According to a report in New Scientist in 1990, the issue with the HST was because the test system was built incorrectly and yet certified.
NASA has established how a mirror aboard its $1.5 billion Hubble Telescope came to be the wrong shape. The agency said last week that errors in a test instrument apparently led Perkin-Elmer, which fabricated the optics, to finish the 2.4-metre primary mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope incorrectly. Tests by NASA earlier this month showed that a lens in the test instrument, called the ‘reflective null corrector’, is about a millimetre askew. Preliminary analysis indicates that an error of this magnitude could cause the spherical aberration that prevents Hubble from focusing sharply.

For reference, 1mm is just over .039 inch.  That's more than 1/32" and thousands of woodworkers could make the fixture to that accuracy.  The surface is being judged compared to wavelengths of light, around 20 millionths of an inch.   Because of this error, Hubble's primary was made flawlessly to the wrong prescription.  It has been said that an amateur with a light bulb and a straight edge - a Foucault tester - could have told them their mirror was wrong.  And that amateur would have been ignored because their instrument wasn't certified.

I've mentioned a couple of times that I've made a few telescope mirrors grinding glass and then building the instruments.  I've done a lot of Foucault tests.  I think I could have told them their mirror was wrong.

Hubble's optical system was corrected by adding more optics; a package called COSTAR, The Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement.  You can be sure it would have produced better images without the additional optics of COSTAR but they made the best of a bad situation.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Musk Posts Explanation of March Engine Failure

On Wednesday, before the successful SpaceX Starlink mission, Elon Musk replied to a question on Twitter about what caused the engine failure in the previous Starlink mission, the one that caused the loss of a booster on its fifth flight back on March 8th.

When another Twitter user asked what a "dead leg" is, a third user, David Urry, posted this diagram to explain it, after saying:
My best guess on what the heck Elon's talking about:
  1. Must wash out engine with alcohol between uses.
  2. Gravity must have defeated getting it all cleared out.
  3. Isopropyl would be ice in liquid O2, must be cause of pressure reading error day before. 

According to this week's Rocket Report on Ars Technica:
A source told Ars that the company has already replicated the problem during tests, and that fixing it will require changing some cleaning procedures. This should have no effect on the upcoming Crew Dragon launch.
If you haven't heard the results, Wednesday's Starlink mission was a very successful mission for SpaceX.  First off, all of the Starlink satellites were delivered to orbit as planned.  Next, the booster nailed its landing on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.  Third, both fairing halves were recovered; one caught in the net and the other retrieved from the ocean.  These were already re-used fairing halves, opening the possibility of a third flight for the fairings, which will be a first.  Finally, the mission put the Falcon 9 booster ahead of the Atlas V as the most experienced rocket in the US.
The Falcon 9 rocket has now launched 84 times. This surpasses the total flights by United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket.
The Atlas V rocket first launched on August 2, 2002—about three months after SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk and two other engineers, Tom Mueller and Chris Thompson. Since then, the Atlas V rocket has flown an average of a little fewer than five missions per year. All were rated as successes.

SpaceX first flew the Falcon 9 rocket on June 4, 2010, from Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. It has caught up to the Atlas V rocket by flying an increasing cadence of missions from 2017 onward, averaging 17 flights a year over the last three full years. One of SpaceX's launches, CRS-7 in 2015, failed.
Perhaps more impressively, the Falcon 9 has assumed the mantle of most-experienced rocket while making multiple revisions to its design and incorporating first-stage reuse. In short, SpaceX increased the flight rate of its rocket even as it has aggressively sought to optimize its performance. The company that was once an upstart now stands among—if not above—the blue bloods of the US launch industry.
It's hard to find fault with that last statement from Eric Berger at ARS.

While talking about SpaceX, I should note that serial number 4 of the Starship prototypes was rolled to the test stand at Boca Chica, Texas today.  It's exactly 31 days since they started building SN4 and hours short of 21 days since SN3 failed during it's testing on the night of April 3rd. 

Drone's eye view of SN4 on the pad today.  I prefer this for the sense of scale you get looking down on the cars and trucks as opposed to looking up at the booster from the ground.  If I'm remembering correctly, these Starship prototypes have all been about 100 feet tall and more than 10 feet in diameter.  Photo credit to Elon Musk on Teslarati.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Just a Reminder - Nature Wants You Dead

We had a reminder of that today. 

Actually, Mrs. Graybeard was the target of the reminder today; she went for a walk while I was working on a little project in the radio room. 

She came back in covered in blood and still actively dabbing it away with a blood-soaked tissue.

She had been attacked by a hawk.  It's nesting season around here and the local papers talk about people being dive bombed pretty regularly.  Both of us have heard about this for as long as we can remember, but neither of us had ever been hit by hawk until today.  She says it felt like having a brick dropped on her head and she had no idea what hit her.  She looked around in an instinctive reaction and caught a glimpse of the departing bird.  There are very few coconut trees around here and it's not acorn season so having anything fall out of nowhere and hit your head leads to lots of confusion as you try to figure out what it was.

I helped clean up her head and verified that the claw marks weren't deep enough to require stitches.  Scalp wounds can bleed a lot and she pretty much had blood on every piece of clothing.

I think there will be a visit someplace tomorrow for a tetanus booster. 

And by the most remote of remote coincidences, yesterday while taking the garbage out something made me glance down the side of the house.  Either one of our visitors from 2018 or a relative was on the same side of the house within 3 feet of where that last visitor was standing.  It's in the corner of the lot where trees from the four houses make a fairly dense cover.  As a rough guess, this guy is about 8" tall.

With those talons if he decided to to dive bomb you there would be blood as well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Solar Cycle Update - We Seem to Have Begun Cycle 25

Long time readers will recall that I used to do a “Solar Update” roughly every six months, but it seems my last regular update was in April of '18.  I kind of got out of the habit when the news every month was roughly the same: we're in an extended minimum.  I did a post on keeping an eye on the solar minimum last December when we were about to set a record for the longest stretch of days without a sunspot - and did a couple of days after that post.
UPDATE: Dec 16 1630 EST:  The record was broken Sunday.  From
SUNSPOTS BREAK A SPACE AGE RECORD: Solar Minimum is becoming very deep indeed. Over the weekend, the sun set a Space Age record for spotlessness. So far in 2019, the sun has been without sunspots for more than 270 days, including the last 33 days in a row. Since the Space Age began, no other year has had this many blank suns.
In the last few months, there has been talk among the ham radio propagation watchers that the majority of sunspots since then - around Christmas of '19 - have been new solar cycle spots and that the week around Christmas to New Year's of '20 might end up marking the start of cycle 25.  (New cycle spots are instantly recognizable because they're closer to poles than the solar equator and they have reversed magnetic polarity from those closer to the equator.)

Today we find an article posted on Watts Up With That saying Cycle 25 has just started.  In saying so, the rely on an arcane measurement called the heliospheric current sheet tilt angle, and show that the angle has flattened recently, and they mark the similar points in the previous cycles.

They state that much like “it ain't over until the fat lady sings” ...
The solar cycle isn’t over until the heliospheric current sheet has flattened. The data is provided by the Wilcox Solar Observatory at Stanford University. There were no observations from about 19 December to 5 February; so the values in between have been interpolated from the rotations before and after.
By two measurements; the number of rotations of the sun, (a Carrington rotation or solar day is 27.23 earth days) and by measurements of the 10.7 cm solar flux, they conclude the length of cycle 24 was 11.1 years, which is the average solar cycle length.  Cycle 23 was an outlier with a very extended minimum but this one was average. 

I find it interesting that the planetary A index, a measurement of geomagnetic activity, for cycle 24 continues the trend of being lower than the 20th century “modern warm period.”  This plot shows that from 1932 until 2009 this geomagnetic index never went below values that were on the high side for cycle 24.  I think anyone older than about four could look at this plot and play “one of these things is not like the others.”

A coincidence in timing to be sure, but the ARRL reports that NOAA released their predictions for Cycle 25 and stick with their previous predictions of another cycle like the last one.  
“While this is SWPC’s official Cycle 25 prediction, it’s important to note there is still divergence among various forecasting methods and members of the space weather forecasting community,” Donovan said. “Most forecasts and forecasters agree that the Cycle 25 is likely to be within ±20% of Cycle 24 and is likely to occur between 2024 and 2027.”
To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Valentina Zharkova is still predicting that Cycle 25 will be weaker than the last and that there may be an extended minimum lasting until potentially as late as 2053.  Ish.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Slapping Back at the Eduocracy

Kevin at the Smallest Minority had a post yesterday centered on an article in Harvard magazine attacking homeschooling parents and the very concept of allowing parents to run their children's education.

The Foundation for Economic Education frequently posts articles on homeschooling, often by Kerry McDonald.  Mrs. McDonald specializes in this area.  To quote a portion of her biography from FEE:
Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE  ... She is also an adjunct scholar at The Cato Institute and a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry has a B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. in education policy from Harvard University.
Kerry went after this article in a letter to the magazine, reprinted in full at FEE.  It seems at least possible that an alumnus with a Masters from Harvard might be taken seriously at the magazine.  It's worth a read if you care about the right to educate without going through the school's indoctrination factories.  As usual I'll post some clips from the article.  It's probably worthwhile to start her response with the illustration for Harvard magazine because it's the introduction readers got to the original article.  

The illustration not so subtly attacks the idea that home schools may be supported by the Bible.  As Kevin notes, it also not so subtly hints that the (likely) public-school-educated artist apparently doesn't know how to spell “Arithmetic.”
I agree with the author of the article and Harvard Law School professor, Elizabeth Bartholet, who is widely quoted throughout, that it is critically important that children be protected from abuse. They argue that sending children to school prompts “mandated reporters,” such as teachers and school administrators, to identify possible child abuse. But many parents choose to homeschool their children to remove them from abuse at school, whether it’s widespread bullying by peers or, tragically, rampant abuse by teachers and school administrators themselves. 
One of the more incorrect assertions in the article is the statement that up to 90 percent of today’s homeschooling families are “driven by conservative Christian beliefs.”

... About two-thirds of today’s nearly two million US homeschoolers identify as Christian (equal to the US population as a whole), but the homeschooling population is becoming increasingly diverse, both ideologically and demographically.
Much of the current growth in homeschooling is being driven by urban, secular parents who are disillusioned with a test-driven, one-size-fits-all mass schooling model and want a more individualized educational environment for their children.
Indeed, research on homeschoolers finds that they are tightly connected with their larger community and may have more community involvement and participation in extracurricular and volunteer activities than schooled children due to their more flexible schedules and interaction with a wide assortment of community members. This reinforces similar research on private education more broadly, suggesting positive civic engagement and outcomes.
While there may always be outliers and more research is needed, most peer-reviewed studies on homeschooling outcomes find that homeschoolers generally outperform their schooled peers academically, and have positive life experiences.
Those last two clips may well be the root cause of this attack by the Education Establishment against homeschooling; they're being beaten at their specialty by parents who don't have Ph.D.s in education.  The establishment is being shown to be bad at what they do and to be going about it all wrong. 

In my 10 years and over 3500 posts here, I know I've posted many times that regardless of what we spend on education at the Federal level, it has no effect on education outcomes, meaning those tests that supposedly drive everything.  (One example from early in the blog history.)

Monday, April 20, 2020

Good News Around Florida And the Southeast US

Apparently the Kung Flu doesn't like heat and humidity.  Or sunlight.  Which means there won't be a virus particle within 300 miles of me by about May 1st.   The entire Southeastern US and Gulf Coast should be free of virus by no later than July 1st.  Yahoo News carries the results from the Department of Homeland Security (of all places):
The study found that the risk of “transmission from surfaces outdoors is lower during daylight” and under higher temperature and humidity conditions. “Sunlight destroys the virus quickly,” reads the briefing.
Of course the DHS went on to say not to take them seriously and not to draw the conclusion I just did.  Do I need a disclaimer saying the same? 

Our local forecasts always include a UV index.  Today it was 8 (out of 13) during a period when it was cloudy but not actively raining.  By May 1st, the index often reads, “Fatal within 15 minutes for those not acclimated.”

For local sightseeing, the next SpaceX launch of 60 satellites was originally announced April 16th, delayed to Wednesday afternoon the 22nd, then pushed to Thursday the 23rd, and has now been pulled back to Wednesday again, no earlier than (NET) 3:37 pm (19:37 UTC).  Today's weather brought passing tornadoes to the area, including the Cape.
Launch Update: #SpaceX launch of #Starlink 7 has been moved up a day to Wed Apr 22nd @ 3:37 p.m. EST from pad 39A according to multiple sources. The F9 was inside the hanger today as the tornado moved thru very close to the pad. No damage is reported at this time. # NASA #Space 
The drone ship for booster recovery, OCISLY (Of Course I Still Love You), and nose fairing recovery ships Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief left Port Canaveral yesterday. 

A previous mission's 60 Starlink Satellites - SpaceX photo

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Patriot's Day

It's a shame that Patriots' Day isn't as big a deal in the rest of the country as it is in New England, Wikipedia says it's a holiday typically observed as the third Monday in April, which usually works out to be the Monday after April 19th. They list it as being observed by
  • Massachusetts
  • Maine
  • Connecticut (since 2018)
  • Wisconsin
  • North Dakota (since 2019)
  • encouraged in Florida (not a state holiday)
So of the five states that have Patriots' Day as a holiday, 3/5 are in New England (Maine insists it's Patriot's Day, singular, not the plural Patriots').  On the other hand, it seems to this outsider that the people of Massachusetts and Connecticut don't vote for anything resembling the constitutional republic that began formation on that day, April 19, 1775, with their rabidly anti-gun governments.

There are several articles around worth reading.  ASM826 writing on Borepatch links to one of my favorite stories.  I heard a re-telling of this story at our Appleseed training many years ago, and recalled having heard of it in grade school but had long forgotten it.  John Richardson at No Lawyers, Only Guns and Money also has a Patriot's day article worth reading.  While there, don't miss the previous article on Paul Revere's ride.

Finally, Sam Jacobs writing for does an article on the day and the events leading up to it in a little more depth than usually seen. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Tying Some Posts Together - Now With More Flashback!

This week has had a lot of content on Boeing, the FAA, and NASA; in the first case, I tried to point out that the FAA was responsible for some of the issues people bring up as Boeing problems.  There were a lot of good comments in there and reference to other regulatory agencies like the NRC. 

These are not new concepts around here, and while going through some old posts for my 10th Anniversary year I found one I wanted to reprint here.  I was only mildly surprised that I said some of the same things as I did a few days ago, almost word for word.  A bit surprisingly, the links in it are still good (two gave a 404, so I deleted one link, and the other I left for its name). 

If I Got To Dismantle The Fed.Gov

Yesterday, there was a post on The Smallest Minority, along the lines of "What's Wrong With A Little Socialism?", and commenter Jeff C. posted one of those stupid liberal things you see: a list of government programs that they obviously think are just fantastic and challenge you to say you don't want to use them.  (Most liberal philosophy is on the intellectual level of a bumper sticker; this is too long to fit on a bumper sticker, but at that same level).  Like Obama challenging the idea of faith guiding our daily decisions by quoting Leviticus (I think it was...).

But it got me thinking, despite the "tax the rich" crap we've heard so much it sickens us, we know that it's the spending.  We know, thanks to Dr. Hauser, that tax incomes remain around the same as percent of GDP regardless of tax rates - tax rates determine if the economy grows and creates opportunity for more people to improve their standard of living.  We all know that deep cuts in spending from both discretionary and the entitlement budgets have to be cut if we're going to turn this ship around.   So it got me thinking, if I were king of the forest, what would I cut? 

Some of it is easy, and you've heard it all before.  The Department of Education has not educated a single person, and needs to go.  The Department of Energy was founded to help us get independent of foreign oil, and we have become more dependent on foreign oil.  BATFE is a useless black hole of suck, and needs to go.  The tax code needs to go, and the IRS sent home.

But here's a couple that will surprise you.  I deal with a couple of "big name" agencies that have undeserved good reputations, the FCC and the FAA.  Both of these were useful at some point, but have long outlived it.  The FCC needs to be cut back to a bare bones couple of geeks who help keep services from stepping on each other, maybe monitoring the spectrum to find violators.  Originally, they provided technical direction for the development of radio and television, and helped get broadcasting started.  Now their technical side is routinely stepped on by stupid political hacks with unimaginably stupid ideas like Broadband over Powerlines while the political appointees advance insipid attempts to regulate the content of news and programming, including whether you have the required number of women and minorities.  The FCC probably hasn't done anything useful since the mid 1960s and needs to go.  Upset you saw Janet Jackson's Wardrobe Malfunction?  Complain to the network and the advertisers.  

The FAA is likewise just about useless.  When it comes to the systems that keep airplanes communicating and not flying into each other in mid-air, they leave all the technical decisions to the industry committees who define the systems, and just have you verify you meet the industry standards.  There's no reason we couldn't just report to the industry committees, with minimal changes.  Did you know that the FAA has us certify radios repeatedly, for every different aircraft they might get mounted on, and the cost to put a newer design radio on an old aircraft is so high that airlines just won't do it?  Why have standards-based acceptance if you then have to certify on each aircraft?  Why not just go to the airframe maker and prove you work on their plane?  It's needless duplication of efforts.

NASA needs to go.  This pains me for many reasons.  I grew up in the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo days and idolized them.  I've worked on a NASA satellite, for the JPL, with people who put satellites out at Jupiter.  But events this year have proven that they lost their recipe sometime long ago.  Then, of course, there's this abomination.  Buh-bye.

And don't get me started on the government takeover of student loans.  Or Amtrack.  I could do weeks on this topic.

Friday, April 17, 2020

NASA, SpaceX Set Launch Date for Manned Flight

As implied earlier in the week, NASA and SpaceX have officially set the launch date for what's called the Demo-2 mission.  The first manned launch in history to be performed by a private company, and the first launch from US soil since 2011 is now scheduled for May 27. 
Liftoff for Demo-2 is set for 4:32 p.m. EDT (2032 GMT) from NASA’s historic launch pad 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — the same site that hosted NASA’s storied Apollo and shuttle programs.
Also as mentioned in the Tuesday post, the mission was originally intended to be a short term visit but will be extended to a longer duration mission.  NASA launched a new web page dedicated to the mission, describing it as simply “an extended stay at the space station,” for now.

Doug Hurley (foreground) and Bob Behnken working through mission simulations in the Crew Dragon simulator at SpaceX. 
Behnken and Hurley will join fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who launched to the station on April 10. Many of the details are still being ironed out, but we do know that Hurley will be the mission’s commander, and Behnken will serve as joint operations commander. Each will be tasked with specific duties during flight, with Hurley focusing on launch, landing, and recovery. Behnken will handle docking and undocking, as well as any activities while the Dragon is docked with the station.
I've been trying to find a report on the cause of the engine failure on the previous Starlink launch that prompted investigation by NASA and SpaceX.  I can't find anything authoritative, only a remark that it appears to have been a pump on the failed engine having been damaged during the T=0 abort the vehicle went through.  Supposedly, that was informally reported by Musk soon after the mission.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Why Boeing's Problems With 737 Max Aren't Just Boeing's Fault

Let me lead with my conclusion.  My opinion is that the problem is largely from Boeing’s way of dealing with the FAA’s requirements and that those laws are the root cause of this sort of problem.  This isn't surprising because in an industry as heavily regulated as aviation, the ends up as a partner in every decision.  Exactly who we mean by saying “Boeing” isn’t clear, either; that is, was it high level management, was it lower level management pushing optimistic (and wrong) information up the chain of command or just who?

A friend who knows I worked in the industry sent me this article on the Verge that says the reason they've been unable to fix the software for the aircraft (so far) is partly due to the ancient computers they're using.  This is what prompted this entire post.
Every 737 Max has two flight control computers. These take some of the workload off of pilots, whether that’s through full automation (such as autopilot) or through fine control adjustments during manual flight. These computers can literally fly the airplane — they have authority over major control surfaces and throttles — which means that any malfunction could turn catastrophic in a hurry. So it’s more important for manufacturers to choose hardware that’s proven to be safe, rather than run a fleet of airplanes on some cutting-edge tech with bugs that have yet to be worked out.

Boeing took that ethos to heart for the Max, sticking with the Collins Aerospace FCC-730 series, first built in 1996. Each computer features a pair of single-core, 16-bit processors that run independently of each other, which reduces computing power but also keeps a faulty processor from taking down the entire system.
While that first paragraph has a lot of truth in it, the preference for hardware that as been “proven to be safe” goes beyond preference to having strong economic incentives or disincentives.  These go so far beyond simple preference that the article is telling half the story.  The article makes passing reference to regulatory scrutiny for new hardware but doesn't truly capture the intricacies of why the FAA regulations are so expensive and so strangling.

The basic cause of the problems with the 737 Max is that it was refresh of an old aircraft; the very first of the 737 series, the 737-100, rolled out in 1965.  Aircraft do get modernized, though nowhere near as often as consumer items; the last refresh of the series, the 737 Next Gen, was over 20 years ago in 1997.  One reason for the 20 year difference is the FAA’s requirements for this sort of refresh or modernization; nothing is allowed to fly without re-certification, and re-certification is horrifically expensive.

Let me step back for a moment.  In the case of a totally new aircraft, like the 787 Dreamliner a few years before, the FAA requires that prototypes be tested to extremes and the reams of documentation be submitted and reviewed before the aircraft can be accepted for flight.  As part of the process, every system: computer, radio, hydraulics, mechanical, or whatever's on that aircraft must be certified on that aircraft.  It's a redundant test.  I’ll use the examples of the various radio systems on board because those were my specialty and I’m most familiar with the picture; those boxes are tested to conform with a group of industry standards and compliance verified with a document called a TSO (Technical Standard Order).  Then they're additionally tested to ensure they work on that aircraft.  Since the purpose of TSO testing is that every radio meets the same requirements, every TSOed radio should work on any aircraft.  That means, for example, that any manufacturer's HF radio system should be interchangeable with any other manufacturer's HF radio, if it has passed all the same TSO tests.  That’s not to say they’ll be identical; the TSO certifies compliance to what the industry considered the Minimum Operational Performance Standards and we always took pride in being better than required, but all radios that have a TSO meets those minimums.  

The FAA doesn't accept that logic, essentially insisting when everything is combined together the TSO doesn’t matter; what matters is how they play together.  This view is not that different than insisting it doesn’t matter that the boxes are assembled with interchangeable screws, what matters is that specific screws work in specific holes; it’s dismissing the idea of interchangeable parts, and ignoring the continuous improvement in manufacturing!  What that lack of accepting TSO does is lock an old aircraft, like the 737, into using whatever was certified on that aircraft for the life of that model.  If parts become obsolete and a certain system can't be bought any more, the manufacturer can't just supply a more recent model.  That requires a new round of certification tests for the new system and this applies to everything on the aircraft; from engines to electronics to doors.  Again, for example, if the first 737 was certified with a vacuum tube radio for air to ground communication, they would be required to use that vacuum tube radio as long as they manufactured a 737 or until they certified a more modern radio.

It’s difficult to understate just how big a portion this is of the costs to create a new product in aviation from the airplane itself down to every little portion of it.

That's what trapped the 737 Max.  The main reason for the new version was to improve fuel economy by putting new engines on the plane.  That was going to force some amount of retesting and certification; for example, the bigger (higher bypass) engines required longer landing gear; the longer landing gear interfered with the existing radar system on the 737, so that was replaced with a more modern radar.  That meant the bigger engines, the longer landing gear and the radar required certification tests.  You can see how this could cascade into lots of tests unless they did their best to rein in changes.  The more things that need certification, the more expenses climb and could drag out schedule for years.  The first commandment became, "Thou Shalt Change As Little As Possible":
The new engines, which were larger and heavier than the ones on the Next Generation, did indeed make the Max just as fuel-efficient as its rival. But they also disrupted the flow of air around the wings and control surfaces of the airplane in a very specific way. During high-angle climbs, this disruption would cause the control columns in the airplane to suddenly go slack, which might cause pilots to lose control of the aircraft during a dangerous maneuver.

Boeing could have fixed this aerodynamic anomaly with a hardware change: “adaptive surfaces” on the engine housing, resculpted wings, or even just adding a “stick pusher” to the controls that would push on the control column mechanically at just the right time. But hardware changes added time, cost, and regulatory scrutiny to the development process. Boeing’s management was clear: avoid changes, avoid regulators, stay on schedule — period.
The FAA's rules – these aren’t new rules, everyone knew them going in - put Boeing in a tight spot.  Boeing's management, and I don’t know exactly at what levels, compounded the situation by not recognizing that certifying a more powerful flight computer could help their software fixes.  When they got into trouble, the fixes continued to demand more performance out of software to avoid hardware re-certification, compounding the bad decision to not bite the bullet and certify a new Flight Control Computer.  It looks now like that would still be the smart thing to do, but it would fly in the face of the corporate promises so far as to when the 737 Max will be able to fly again. 

Although I worked in the industry for nearly 20 years at a contractor to Boeing, Airbus, and many smaller aircraft manufacturers, I'm basing this on my experience with other programs.  I worked on the 737 Max, but in a fairly minor role in moving the new radar system from its original use to the new plane.  I retired at the end of 2015 and have not been involved since. 

Rollout of the first (or one of) 737 Max aircraft dedicated to qualifications testing, 2015.  Also from The Verge, 2015.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Oops. Got By Me

Been working on a kind of involved post and I'm just not comfortable that it's clear enough, so it's off to the back burner so I can mull it over some more and revise, revise, revise.  Or toss.

Meanwhile, before the "Best Before Date" gets here:

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Just a Little Space News

If you don't want to talk about the virus, and I don't want to talk about the virus, ditto talking the politics of the virus, it's kinda slow out there.  After all, with so many of us in lock down, it's kind of a slow news day all around.

So a couple of small news items.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says he's “fairly confident” that astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will fly SpaceX Crew Dragon's Demo-2 mission by late May.  With a begrudging admission that it might slip into June, but probably not by much.  It was announced in March that approval for the manned mission partially depended on a resolution of why booster B1048 had an engine failure with seconds to go in its burn to place 60 Starlink satellites in orbit earlier in the month.
[Bridenstine] also stated that SpaceX’s March 18th in-flight engine failure was “not going to impact our commercial crew launch,” confirming that SpaceX already has “a really good understanding of” what went wrong. Most likely, this means that Falcon 9 B1048’s stumble was directly related to the fact that the booster was flying for the fifth time – a first for a SpaceX rocket and orbital-class rocket boosters in general. Crew Dragon Demo-2 will be Falcon 9 booster B1058’s first launch.
There are a couple of parachute tests aimed at “corner cases” - infrequent and improbable combinations of circumstances the system may be exposed to - which will be flown soon.  The last test, scheduled around the end of March, was aborted under peculiar circumstances.
During SpaceX’s most recent parachute test last month, the test rig was dropped from a helicopter prematurely after the craft became unstable over a test site in Nevada. NASA officials said the parachutes were not to blame for the botched test, and the helicopter pilot decided to release the test rig for safety reasons.

“It got unstable,” Bridenstine said. “The pilot dropped the test article, which was basically just a weight simulator. Nothing from that was recoverable, including the parachutes that were on-board. So we’ve got two more parachute tests, and now they’re going to be done out of the C-130 (cargo plane) instead of from a helicopter. We’ve got agreement from the chief engineer and the program manager, and the astronaut office, that those two parachute tests that we have remaining are good to go out of the C-130.”
You probably heard that the Russians just launched a crew of three to the International Space Station back on the 8th.  NASA’s current contract with the Russian space agency to purchase Soyuz seats for U.S. astronauts expires this year.  The commercial crew contracts were awarded to Boeing and SpaceX in 2014 (this was in yesterday's column) but since both are behind the original schedule, it leaves the ISS with a crew of three instead of six until May's test flight.  Hurley and Behnken were originally scheduled for a short visit to ISS but will join the crew for an extended time.

With the COVID-19 delay “until further notice” of the Argentinian satellite SpaceX was to have launched on March 30th, they've been shuffling around and have scheduled the next mission to launch 60 Starlink satellites.  Originally set for NET Thursday 4/16 it has now slipped into next week, tentatively Wednesday the 22nd; that's right: Erf day.   This will be the third flight of booster B1051. 

Booster 1051's first mission was to launch the first Crew Dragon test flight last March, which sort of ties these two stories together.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Boeing Continues Their Fall From Acceptance

A news item on Ars Technica last Friday opened with a quote from NASA's acting chief of human spaceflight, Ken Bowersox, that probably caused collective shivers in the halls of all the big Defense/big Government contractors:
... I have decided to eliminate Boeing from further award consideration.
Let's start with the Boeing 737 Max.  Everyone knows those stories, that the most recent model of one of the most successful Air Transport aircraft has been grounded for a year after two crashes that killed 346 people between them, collectively making for the worst air disaster since September 11, 2001.

I wasn't aware of the issues with the company's KC-46 Pegasus tanker program, which is $3 billion over budget, three years behind schedule, and beset by technical issues.  In March, the Air Force revealed that it had upgraded chronic leaks in the aircraft's fuel system to a Category I deficiency. This is a problem for an aircraft that is supposed to perform aerial refueling.

Of course, we've covered the deficiencies in the Starliner capsule test flights here (one, two, three, four) along with the fact that Boeing is the prime contractor for the Space Launch System, which is several years late and billions of dollars over budget. 
Since December, the company's space issues have also become more widely known following the failure of the company's Starliner capsule to successfully carry out a test flight to the International Space Station. NASA labelled this aborted mission, during which the spacecraft was nearly lost two times, a "high visibility close call." The company has agreed to perform a second test flight without crew to assure NASA of Starliner's safety.
The SLS was supposed to fly by 2017, but now is likely to be No Earlier Than 2021.

The article on ARS summarizes Boeing's meteoric fall from grace with NASA and is worth a read.  I'll extract some highlights here.
But a new document released by NASA reveals the broader scope of Boeing's apparent decline in spaceflight dominance. The "source selection statement" from NASA explains the space agency's rationale for selecting SpaceX over three other companies—Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Sierra Nevada Corporation—to deliver large supplies of cargo to lunar orbit. NASA announced its selection of SpaceX for this "Gateway Logistics" contract in late March. The selection document says that SpaceX provided the best technical approach and the lowest price by a "significant" margin.
When comparing the selection rationale for the 2014 commercial crew contracts with the rationale for the recent Gateway logistics contract, the perception of Boeing's offering could not be more stark. In 2014, Boeing was very much perceived as the gold-standard—expensive, yes, but also technically masterful. In 2020, the company was still perceived as expensive but not ultimately worthy of consideration.
Six years later, the perception of Boeing's bid for the lunar cargo contract is much changed. Of the four contenders, it had the lowest overall technical and mission suitability scores. In addition, Boeing's proposal was characterized as "inaccurate" and possessing no "significant strengths." Boeing also was cited with a "significant weakness" in its proposal for pushing back on providing its software source code.

Due to its high price and ill-suited proposal for the lunar cargo contract, NASA didn't even consider the proposal among the final bidders. In his assessment late last year, NASA's acting chief of human spaceflight, Ken Bowersox, wrote, "Since Boeing’s proposal was the highest priced and the lowest rated under the Mission Suitability factor, while additionally providing a conditional fixed price, I have decided to eliminate Boeing from further award consideration."
NASA itself is in danger of the same collapse.  Looking over 10 year old blog entries, as I've been doing, I recently came across one from 2010 where I advocated shuttering the agency.  I thought they were nothing but an arthritic bureaucracy back then.  But NASA is still relatively admired among government agencies by the public and is currently working with new intensity to meet President Trump's goal of returning America to the moon to stay by 2024.
It is notable that the most likely scenario involves launching crew and a lander on the same rocket, which would require Boeing to both complete the Space Launch System rocket's core stage—under development for nearly a decade now—as well as a brand-new second stage called the Exploration Upper Stage before then.
I lump Boeing getting the SLS and the new EUS flying in time in the "Fat Frickin' Chance" category ("only he didn't say frickin'").  While America seems to largely still admire NASA, the advent of commercial space and SpaceX's emergence as a dominant force in the world's launch industry seems to be getting people to see that commercial companies are results-oriented, while NASA is a typical government income redistribution project, and many in NASA see that as the agency's purpose, where tax money is spread among lots of congressional districts to ensure the program can't be killed. 

Boeing's Starliner capsule after the early end of its December mission.  I'm not going to bet this was Boeing's last launch, but I wouldn't be terribly shocked if it proved be their second to last.  They say there's nothing more permanent than a temporary Government program, but NASA's last few years may have broken the SLS's lock on congress.

Side Note:  Not a big story in terms of things to say, but Rocket Lab, the New Zealand small satellite launch company I've talked about several times, successfully achieved helicopter recovery of one of their Electron boosters.  They're not landing on a ship or concrete pad with engines blazing like a Falcon 9, but adding re-usability has to lower cost and make them a better competitor.  Video here.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Happy Easter!

On the most peculiar Easter of our lifetimes, I thought it was time to re-dress my annual Easter post and drop some of the links that were too old.  Part of my usual posting is hard to drop, because it's part of my personal conversion story, so those parts will still be here.

Coming from my background, it was a large change.  I had studied biochemistry and microbiology in college from the fall after high school through my third year before life imposed some detours, eventually getting my degree and starting life as an engineer.  I had been an avid amateur astronomer from age 12 so between biology and astronomy, I was deeply marinated in the standard model of Cosmology as well as conventional biological evolutionary theory.  Frankly, like the vast majority of students, I wasn't giving it much thought any longer, but my wife had re-affirmed her faith (she had first accepted Christ as child) and I was having all of my mental models disrupted.  She had started a subscription to Bibical Archaeology Review and the constant refrain from archaeologists, not religiously motivated, along the lines of "we thought this was old Jewish folklore, but here it is" got me thinking "if that's true, maybe there's more that's true."  Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ then played a role in filling in the gaps in my historical knowledge. 

Easter is the most important day in Christianity and far more important than Christmas because of the resurrection.  Everyone has a birthday, but only one man in history has been resurrected.  So since virtually everyone, including honest atheists, agrees Jesus was a real man in history (Jesus' existence is better attested in ancient sources than that of Julius Caesar - but no one claims Julius was not a real person) and died on the cross, the question becomes whether or not it can be verified that Christ was seen after the resurrection by someone other than the closest circle of disciples. Strobel says:

Did anyone see Jesus alive again? I have identified at least eight ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, that in my view confirm the apostles’ conviction that they encountered the resurrected Christ. Repeatedly, these sources stood strong when I tried to discredit them.

Could these encounters have been hallucinations? No way, experts told me. Hallucinations occur in individual brains, like dreams, yet, according to the Bible, Jesus appeared to groups of people on three different occasions – including 500 at once!

In the end, after I had thoroughly investigated the matter, I reached an unexpected conclusion: it would actually take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a follower of Jesus.
For a great examination of this, see the 2016 post "Five Confounding Facts About Jesus' Resurrection" at Sense of Events. Donald Sensing put together an excellent piece; simply put, it's preposterous to reconcile the events of that time without saying Jesus rose from the dead that Sunday.  Last year, Sensing outdid himself with several days worth of posts on the historical Jesus, including a rather long piece on exactly why Pontius Pilate executed Jesus.  This is followed by articles put together by working scientists, "Can A Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?" and "Is Belief in the Resurrection Unscientific?"

The other religions of the world are about ritual and ultimately about self, about proving yourself worthy; Christianity is about grace.  You're not worthy on your best day; you're saved by Grace.  No other religion teaches Grace.  Islam teaches that Allah is unknowable.  Christianity teaches that not only is God knowable, he wants us to know him.  Islam doesn't teach salvation, it teaches servitude to a fickle, arbitrary, distant Allah.  Christianity teaches forgiveness by Grace; that you're given a gift you don't deserve by a God who wants a close personal relationship with us.  I like the way the Message translation talks about being saved by Grace (Ephesians 2: 8)
It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. 
Evolution vs. creation? I believe people pay way too much attention to this.  There's no mention of evolution in the bible, but there's no mention of the laws of thermodynamics, Avogadro's number,  relativity or thousands of other such things.  The bible isn't a science book.  Look at it this way: the creation story, how we got here, takes up a page.  The next thousand pages (or more, depending on font size, paper size, and so on) are concerned with how we treat each other while we're here; how we create and maintain a civil society.  Creation is clearly not the emphasis of the book, the other 99.999% is.  It's interesting that the vocal objections to conventional evolution are coming from the Physics and Math departments - the outsiders.   

Saying a fluctuation in the quantum vacuum exploded creating everything sounds remarkably like "Let there be light", especially if someone were trying to explain the standard model of cosmology to people who were mathematically at the level of today's preschoolers.  You got a better way to explain modern physics to kindergartners? 

Enjoy your day.  Enjoy your families. Instead of the usual pork butt I've got a rack of spare ribs going into the smoker.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Shop Update for the Week

I've been doing shop updates on my little engine project on roughly a weekly basis, and since it fills the gaps with the slowdown in Space activities just up the road, it seems to fit. 

Last week, I was talking about making a fixture to drill a couple of critical holes across the piston; that part I've been working on entirely too long.  I felt pretty confident that would work but wondered if that wasn't overcomplicating things.  The alignment relies on two features being aligned; could I eyeball them into proper alignment?  The features are a slot in the piston being horizontal and two tapped holes being vertical.  All of those features are visible in last week's post.

So I spent several hours experimenting, taking pictures and trying to measure how close to properly aligned things were.  I used a gauge pin (.250 diameter) standing on end and then the spotting drill, looking at the picture under magnification and trying to see if lines between the objects looked adequate.  They sure seemed to:

The pin is just a little to far to the left in this shot, the hazard of setting this up by eye and the reason I used the magnification and lines drawn on the photos for reference. 

Once I convinced myself that this method of alignment was close enough, the actual drilling took nowhere near as much time, and I finished the piston in a an hour.

As a side note, it never ceases to amaze me just how dirty things really are that I've just spent time and effort cleaning to get them ready for pictures like this.   You should see the inside of this piston. 

There's a couple of parts that need to be finished for the piston.  The first is the wrist pin that goes in that big hole and through the piston, that's a piece of standard dimension steel rod that gets cut to length and a couple of flats milled on the ends for the setscrews that hold everything together.  The small hole gets a piece of 3/32" diameter brass tubing to carry oil into the piston from an external oil cup.  Since I don't have any tubing like that, I chucked up a piece of 1/8" brass rod, trimmed the diameter to .094 to match the hole and drilled a 1/16" hole along its long direction.  The wrist pin is held in a connecting rod, and I've cut a rough-sized blank to make the conn. rod from.

I mistakenly made the one on the left too long, and in parts this small, it's easier to start over and make another properly.  That's the one on the right.

And that's the state of things today.  A slow pace but much faster than the months when I didn't get near the shop.